In animal welfare and sheltering circles, it doesn't take long into most conversations for the topic to come up about the sheer number of pit bulls in shelters. Even within no kill shelters, 'pit bull-like' dogs are often the most common type of dogs in the shelter, and are usually there longer, providing particular challenges.
Such numbers have caused some communities to take breed-specific steps to trying to "solve" the problem such as breed-specific spay/neuter laws or other breed-targeting solution -- usually with poor results.
However, New York appears primed to tackle this issue from the source by with two bills targeting a solution that would address one of the primary reasons the dogs are ending up in the shelter in the first place -- the issue of housing
In New York there are two bills that are moving through their general assembly that would address one of the biggest issues surrounding pit bull-like dogs entering shelters -- and that's the issue of housing.
NY A02065 is a bill that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against owners based on the breed or size of dog.
NY A03696 would prohibit insurance companies for refusing to insure people based on the type of dog owned.
According to the ASPCA Pro research, 20% of all pets that end up needing to be rehome, are rehomed due to housing issues. That's already a lot, but housing issues are THE top reason pets need to be rehomed for people who rent -- which is now 37% of the people in the US -- the highest rate of renters vs homeowners since the 60s (35.4% of people in the Kansas City Metro rent, so very near this national average)
So, if the rate of renters is at a 50 year high.
And pet ownership is at an all-time high.
And the biggest reason pets into a shelter is because of housing issues (particularly for renters).
And many landlords and insurance companies discriminate against certain types/sizes of dogs.
Based on this data, is it any wonder that these types of dogs are entering shelters in large numbers? It shouldn't be a surprise.
What makes this potentially even more interesting is that this discrimination isn't based on research, but, instead, a form of race/culture based redlining that stems back decades. In Bronwen Dickey's amazing book Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon she laid out how the insurance industry and landlords turned to a form of "moral hazards" to replace racial ones as a way of denying people of different race and class from getting insurance.
"As overt race and class discrimination became less socially acceptable [Scholar and former insurance underwriter] Brian Glenn explains, 'The rhetoric of insurance exclusion changed to appear more scientifically based, keeping the underylying narratives about groups buried and undisclosed.' Even today, he says, "the numbers, data, and forms merely hide the fact that applicants are still judged according to their standing in society."
My own personal experience with insurance would reflect this type of discrimination, having our insurance rates increase dramatically when we moved into a zip code that is only 29% white and then having lost the insurance provider permanently based on the type of dog we decided to adopt in our new home (we've not filed a single claim in 11 years at this location).
So what New York is making progress in doing is instead of trying to create a breed-specific solution -- it's trying to undo the breed-specific discrimination that is causing much of the problem in the first place. Not only is it hurting the dogs and causing them to enter shelters, it is also negatively impacting their families -- who are most often lower income and minority.
While some have expressed concern that this will simply lead landlords and insurance companies to deny coverage to all pet owners, I'm not as concerned about that. Roughly 65% of American own a pet -- and that's a lot of potential revenue for both sides to turn down by discriminating entirely. And most places will make the decision that gives them the largest audience, and thus, the largest potential revenue opportunity. I think ultimately this will be a win/win for everyone and we will see legislation like this spread throughout the US. We'll be watching closely.
On a related note, Bad Rap has been working hard to try to tackle the landlord issue in the San Francisco Bay Area -- and have found that a few bad apples have definitely made things harder for pet owners. They have recommended the idea of a "pet resume" for a potential landlord and I really like the idea to help people work through the challenge of finding rental housing when they have a pet. It's worth a read (and watching the 90 second video).