Check your lease, you're living in dog city.
July 19, 2012 5:46 PM   Subscribe

How specific is breed specific legislation?

I've been looking at dogs to adopt, and, as you may know, the majority of shelter pups are pit bulls or pit variants. I work in the dog care field, and I have never, ever met a bad breed, only bad owners, so I'm not worried about the actual dog. I'm worried about breed specific legislation.

I live in Rhode Island, and in a lot of towns I'm seeing legislation mentioning mandatory warning signs, outright bannings and what-have-you. There is mention of exclusions for animal shelters, which is where I'm looking, but I'm still wondering:

A) How much of a legal problem would it be to have a pit or similar breed/mix?


B) How specific are "You can't have a pit bull" laws? A lot of people can't tell a boxer from a Staffordshire terrier, and I have a feeling that landlords and police might not differentiate between pit bulls and dogs that kind of look like pit bulls.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
Regarding landlords, many will likely have stricter policies in place than are legislated in your area. Where I live owning a pit bull is legal, but it is harder to find rentals that agree.

My lease specifically calls out certain breeds (pit bulls, German shepherd, etc) but other leases around here say "non-aggressive breeds only" and require landlord approval. Mine also tries to get around the "but no, it's a mutt that happens to look awfully pit-like" issue altogether by specifying a weight limit of 40lbs. I know other places have 30-60lb weight limits.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:21 PM on July 19, 2012

Oh, and meant to mention that while I worked at Justice Talking in NPR, we did a show on pet legislation.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some insurance companies will not insure your house if you own certain breeds of dog. And even many people who work with animals are notoriously terrible at guessing a dog's breed, so anything remotely bully looking is a pit bull, even if it's a boxer. Most places with pit-bull related bans expand it to include all the bully and bully-type breeds, if someone thinks it might be a pit bull, it's a pit bull.

(all this breed specific nonsense is just going to push the assholes who make their dogs aggressive away from manageably-sized mean Pit Bulls to gigantic mean Fila Brasilieros or something similar, which aren't outlawed)
posted by biscotti at 6:36 PM on July 19, 2012

Are you looking for specific problems *you* might have or problems anyone might? As a homeowner, I cannot have certain breeds of dogs that are called out in my homeowner's insurance. I don't know how enforceable that is, but currently, it would be enough to keep me from owning a pit bull because I would want to avoid the risk of not being covered.

I would be curious if your landlord's ban on breeds might be somewhat tied to this (although I would agree with you that people tend to focus too much on the breed versus the particular dog, and a ban might be more based on this).
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:38 PM on July 19, 2012

To clarify: I do not have a current landlord issue, but the laws seem to imply that I will need to post notice if I do adopt a pit. I'm also worried about my future living prospects.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 6:40 PM on July 19, 2012

The problem is not that BSL is so specific, but that it is so arbitrary. Here and everywhere.

I wouldn't worry about landlord issues so much as having a much-loved pet seized and then needing to mount a fight to save it. (RIP Lennox) I had a Rottweiler, and renting was not so hard - we provided letters of reference for her from our trainer, vet and landlord. The insurance company, when we bought our home, suggested "lab mix" themselves, and were more concerned that I not keep any laundry close to the water heater. But should someone have taken our dog away, the fight for her would have consumed our lives. Back then, I'd have given my all with my husband right beside me, but we can't do that to our lives now. We no longer have the expendable income, or the ability to engage our energies in such a battle.

What would you do in the worst-case scenario, not merely the landlord issues?
posted by peagood at 6:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If a mix, just call it a "terrier/[otherbreed] mix" on any official paperwork (license, rabies). Most people couldn't spot a real pitbull out of a lineup of assorted stocky brown-and-white coated dogs; and if not outright papered (rare from a shelter), well then, you haven't broken the law.
posted by pla at 7:06 PM on July 19, 2012

I own a pit bull-type mutt. After my insurance agent basically accused me of being a child murderer for rescuing a pit bull-type dog, he explained that these we have a couple of options. We don't have to do anything now up until next year when the policy expires. The dog is covered for the time being since we got him after we purchased the insurance. The company, however, does exclude his breed. Next year, we can either:
- Get a dog bite exclusion on your home insurance policy. You can get sued for everything you own if your dog attacks, and it's not recommended for people with substantial assets.
- Switch insurance companies when our policy is up – most national companies (Safeco, Farmers, Amica, State Farm, Farmers etc.) do not discriminate against breeds. We can no longer stay with most small, local companies though.

As far as apartment living goes, you can pretty much be certain that you won't be allowed in any residential complexes or any rental properties managed by a professional company (confirmed by my friend who manages apartment buildings) but you might be able to rent privately, i.e. directly from an owner.
posted by halogen at 8:52 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

To actually answer your question, according to my vet and the dog's trainer: any dog that looks like a pit bull (any bulldog/terrier mixes) is basically considered a pit bull. It's not really a particular breed; that's why DNA tests are useless for these dogs. Having said that, if your vet is particularly pit bull-friendly (and chances are, she is – every dog-related place in Seattle I've talked to, and that includes the vet, doggie daycare, groomers at large chain-stores and a boarding facility has assured me that they love pit bulls) she might agree to issue documents that list him as a "terrier mix" if that helps with rental agreements.

If your dog, however, does attack or defends himself (it happens: my dog was recently attacked by an illegaly off-leash pit bull and got bitten but fortunately didn't hurt the other dog), however, what his papers say won't make any difference and he will be judged on the basis of being a pit bull-type, i.e. likely to be put down regardless of circumstances.
posted by halogen at 10:11 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love pits. I think they are, by and large, absolutely wonderful pets.

I live in Denver. Denver has one of, if not the most, aggressive stance against pitbull and other bull type breeds in the country. It was put in place in 1987 after a pitbull attacked an individual. In 2006, after years of not enforcing the laws the city set about rounding up any dog that was suspected of being a pit and put them down. Estimates range as high as over 3,000 dogs were destroyed.

I bring this up because while your location may have minimal legislation in place today you will want to keep up on any changes to the laws as well as be cognizant that should you have to move to another city/state you may be limited in where you'll be able to confidently move and keep fido safe.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:07 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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