Breed Specific Legislation or “BSL” is a law that either bans or restricts ownership of certain dogs based on their appearance. This type of legislation is usually enacted by local municipal or county governments and operates under the presumption that certain physical characteristics make some breeds of dogs more dangerous than others. The law may ban a breed of dog completely or call for owners to adhere to regulations like licensing, muzzling and insurance, or something in between. BSL made its appearance in the late 1980’s, following increased media attention surrounding dog attacks on community members. Danger and a duty to public safety are core themes in breed specific legislation. In actions challenging such ordinances, courts have found that local governments are within their right in passing BSL, as a valid exercise of police power in support of community safety.
Laws like this have gathered both supporters and critics. Some call BSL a necessary regulation to protect against dangerous dogs, while other profess that there is no correlation between dog breed and presumptive dangerous. Shortly after the introduction of BSL, some state legislatures responded by choosing to preempt breed bans by passing anti-BSL ordinances and outlawing regulation based on breed. Although states like Colorado have in a sense overruled BSL with state law, some cities still maintain their anti-pit bull laws decades later. Denver is one example; the city has had widely enforced BSL on the books since 1989, despite the Colorado Legislature amending the law in disapproval of BSL in 2004. Denver’s BSL was allowed to stand under a “home rule” exemption that effectively deemed dog regulation a local municipal matter, rather than an issue for the state to take up.
As mentioned, BSL has been around in some form for over thirty years. It has led to dire consequences for thousands of pets and families across the United States. This has inevitably led to conflict, litigation, and protest from dog owners and breed advocates. Ordinances outlawing pit bulls have at times clashed with disability rights by discriminating against owners with service dogs of a certain breed. Despite long-standing BSL, pit bulls have remained a popular choice as family pets and loyal companions. They are also the dogs most commonly seen in shelters, as well as the least likely to be adopted. Their legal status remains at issue in subsequent the fall out of BSL in the form of barriers to housing, insurability, liability and social stigma.