We are nearing the end of the legislative session in most states, and a lot of states are passing some solid animal ownership laws, and deciding against some of the policies that have proven to be bad policy. While none of these policies is perfect, they at least are movements in the right direction because they are focusing on a) actual causes of dog bites, b) irresponsible pet owners and c) policies that have proven themselves to be effective. I haven't read all of the wording of each of these laws, so if folks in these areas have read the entire laws, I'd love to hear your takes on them. But at least, on their face, they appear to be steps in the right direction toward how we deal with canine laws.
Here are a few of the policies and some pros and cons (mostly pros) of the passed state laws:
Nevada Anti-Tethering Law -- passed
The Law, SB 132, makes Nevada the 3rd state to specifically limit the number of hours a dog can be tethered or chained each day. Beginning October 1, 2009, a dog cannot be chained for more than 14 hours a day and a tether has to be at least 12' long.
The good: most professional organizations that deal in canine behavior admit that tethering as a sole form of containment often leads to canines that are undersocialized and can lead to frustration which can build to aggression. The statistics show that a fairly large number of major bites and attacks occur with dogs that either bite people that approach (often unwary children) or break free from their tethers and attack. I think overall, minimizing the amount of time and the way a dog can be tethered is a good way to improve overall public safety.
The bad: I still worry about what happens to dogs that's owners are in violation of the law. Are they immediately confiscated to where they end up in the overcrowded shelter system where death is a likely option? Are there programs set up for low-income owners who cannot afford fencing and their landlord will not allow the dogs inside the rental home? The devil is in the details with these as while I support the idea of laws that limit the amount of time a dog is tethered, I am always concerned about not creating situations where unware owners with good intentions lose their dogs, or where the laws are used as an excuse to confiscate animals that end up dead in our shelters. I'm not a believer that being on a chain (for most dogs) is a "fate worse than death". If these laws can be enforced in a way that allows for the vast majority of dog owners -- even those with a first-time violation -- to keep their dogs, I'm in favor. If the laws are used to increase the number of animals killed in shelters, I am not. I would prefer that any anti-tethering law preclude seizure for first time offenders.
Illinois "vicious dog" bill - passed
This bill prohibit people convicted of violent or drug-related felonies from owning an unaltered dog for up to 10 years after being released from prison. It also prevents them from owning any dog legally declared vicious based on its behavior. Felons who are covered under the law include those that have been convicted of the sale or production of methamphetamine, marijuana, other drugs, deadly weapons offenses and dog fighting offenses.
The Good: A lot of bad policies are created in an attempt to eliminate dog fighting and the use of protection dogs for drug houses. This type of law will put restrictions on people who would be considered 'high risk' of running illegal operations in the future, including owning dangerous or fighting dogs. While some states have tried to pass similar laws to preclude any dog ownership to people who fall into this category, I think that this actually undermines the effectiveness of a lot of good prison dog programs where dogs are used to help many prisoners develop compassion and for rehabilitation before they are released. I think these programs are too valuable to undermine. But allowing them to own any dog, of any breed, as long as it is sterilized, is a good way to provide limitations on high risk dog owners, without undermining good, successful rehabilitation programs.
The Bad: I don't see a lot of downside to a law like this, except I don't think anyone who has been convicted of felony animal cruelty or felony dog fighting should be allowed to own dogs again and that might be a way to tighten this law up in the future.
Nebraska Dangerous Dog Law -- passed
This law essentially is the three strikes law that targets habitually irresponsible dog owners. If a dog owner owns a dog that is responsible for a 2nd attack, the owenr could face up to 1 year in jail and a $1000 fine. If there is a 3rd attack by the owner's dog, the owner could face a felony penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The dog just has to be owned by the same owner, it does not have to be the same dog.
The good: This is certainly targeted toward habitually irresponsible dog owners who repeatedly own dogs that attack. Many times the laws are written to target the dogs, but this one takes the "dog" out of the equation and really targets the owner who is at fault. This could really help get after the very tiny percentage of owners that cause a large part of the problem.
The bad: I don't know how "attack" is defined here. I hope there is some common sense in this definition that doesn't nail someone for having a "nippy" dog that ends up sending someone to jail for a couple of small nips.
Florida Mandatory Spay/Neuter Bill -- Failed
Wisely, the Florida state legislature killed a bill that would have mandated spay/neuter for all pets over the age of four months. Mandatory spay/neuter ordinances have consistently led to an increase in shelter killing and science is indicating that juvenile spay/neuter may create long-term health problems, especially in large breed dogs. It is great that these bills are falling out of favor at the state level.
It sounds like mostly this legislative session has been a winner for canine laws. Thoughts?