In the summer of 2008, there was a significant dog attack in the city of Omaha in which a 2 year old girl was badly injured. Because of the hysteria of the moment, the city council in Omaha began looking at changes to their dangerous dog law.
Instead of listening to the experts in their community: veterinarians, trainers, rescuers, etc; the council instead took its law-making advice from the victim's mother -- who had virtually no animal handling or animal law experience (and was incidentally working with the folks at dogsbite.org to create the ordinance). The law ended up singling out 9 different breeds of dogs that would have to be muzzled in public unless the owners completed their Canine Good Citizen Test.
Since the law has been in place, it has done nothing to improve public safety, and has only cost taxpayers more money (Nebraska Humane Society took a $100,000 annual pay increase to enforce the new ordinance). While responsible owners have jumped through the hoops put in place by the ordinance, the irresponsible owners (the ones who caused the problems in the first place) have not, causing not only an increase in fees paid, but also an increase in bite incidents. All in the name of public safety, right?
So the following are the dog bite numbers for Omaha as supplied by the City Clerk's office over the past 7 years:
2006 - 916
2007 - 821
2008 - 808 (the new ordinance targeting specific breeds of dogs was passed in the summer of 2008. In June of 2008, the city was on pace to be 14% below the 2007 numbers which would have put them below 700 dog bites on the year. However, the second half of the year had 41 more dog bites than in the same 6 months a year prior, causing only a minor decrease from the year prior).
2009 - 875 (the first full year of the ordinance)
2010 - 913
2011 - 834
2012 - 981
So, while the city was actually seeing a downward trend in 2008, after the passing of the law, they have essentially seen an upward trend in dog bites (with a small blip downward in 2011) since the law was passed -- and the single fewest dog bites they've had in nearly a decade was the year BEFORE the dog law was passed. Nice work.
Meanwhile, a deeper look into the numbers shows part of the reason. Based on a news report (which is based on numbers supplied by NHS), the following breeds were the top biting breeds in Omaha in 2012:
Labrador Retrievers: 92 bites - 9% of the total (labs also led in 2010, the only other year I have this data for).
Stray/unidentified dogs - 56 - 6% of total
German Shepherds - 46 -5% of total
Boxers - - 41 - 4%
Chihuahuas - 32 - 3%
Pit Buls - 31 - 3%
So while the law went into effect targeting 9 different breeds of dogs, you have to go down to the #6 breed to even find one that was restricted. This then causes a disproportionate number of animal control resources making sure the dog owners of the restricted breeds are jumping through their hoops, while taking resources away from targeting other types of dogs that may show themselves to be aggressive. It's worth noting that while Labs are the most frequent biters, breeds beyond the top 6 make up MORE THAN 70% of the total bites. Thus, the list of biting breeds is very, very deep (as would be expected).
This is why resources are always best spent targeting dogs that show themselves to be aggressive based on their behavior, regardless of breed, and not based on their looks (which is very arbitrarily enforced).
Over the past couple of years the city has had to make several changes to the law -- from removing a $200 fee to remove "dangerous dogs" from the dangerous dog list to reducing fines for dogs running at large from $300 to $100 because they realized they over-reacted and were being overly restrictive. It appears to be time for the city to take a closer look at the law and remove the breed-specific clauses entirely.
Meanwhile, I think there are several things about the media coverage of this situation that are interesting.
#1) Note the picture of the Labrador Retriever used in the media story, and that even while reporting that the dogs are the top biters in the community, the image used is of a very docile dogs. I agree that Labs, like all breeds of dogs, can make great family pets, it's just interesting when compared to imagery used in other breeds.
#2) I think it's interesting that the media seems to dismiss the higher number of Lab bites because they are popular dogs....but pit bulls, which are also extremely popular dogs, are never given the same benefit of the doubt.
#3) While the total dog bite numbers are easily available via open records requests, NOT ONE SINGLE MEDIA OUTLET in Omaha has bothered to report on the increase in dog bites since the breed specific law was passed in 2008.
The Omaha ordinance has been, and continues to be, a major failure in animal welfare legislation and protecting public safety. Residents in the community are not safer; the law is more costly, and it focuses on just a tiny percentage of the dog bites in the community.
It is far past time the council listen to the expert consensus against breed-specifc policies.