Writing Effective Letters to Officials
One of the most difficult things for those new to fighting laws that target specific breeds of dogs or breed specific legislation (BSL) is expressing your feelings to the law makers who have proposed it. There are some very important things to remember when communicating with officials:
First and foremost, ALWAYS BE POLITE AND RESPECTFUL in your communications with officials. I cannot stress enough how very important this is. Do not be combative or argumentative, regardless of the difference between your point of view and theirs. Our dogs are worth putting our personal feelings aside in order to communicate effectively. The best way to shut down a debate and ensure the other side tunes you out is to berate, belittle and be rude.
Stick to the facts. Try to avoid being emotional. It is a given that you love your dogs or you wouldn’t be fighting for them. The simple truth is, the officials do not care how much we love our dogs – they care about the safety of their constituents and the community they were elected to represent. To that end, the facts and statistics related to the inefficiency of breed specific legislation, as well as the integral part that irresponsible owners play in dog attacks are important facts to get across to them.
I have put together some talking points that you can use in conjunction with your own words when writing letters or making presentations to officials. The talking points hit on important flaws of breed specific legislation, and should give you a good groundwork to customize and build your own arguments
**DO NOT use all the below talking points in one letter. Pick and choose two or three issues you feel are most important, or use the ideas below to map out your own talking points. Hit your points, and keep it short and sweet. Sending an official a letter that is more than 2 pages long is a good guarantee it won’t be read.
BSL has been proven ineffective in reducing the number of dog bites in areas where it has been enacted. In fact, bite reports tend to either stay the same or even trend upward after breed-specific legislation is enacted in a particular city or region.
- In the Netherlands (which banned “pit bulls” in 1993), dog bites continued to rise after the ban was enacted. The law was repealed in 2008 because, according to the Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg, it did not lead to a reduction in the number of biting incidents. In its place, Verburg introduced a measure that judged dogs on their behavior, not their breed.
- In Ireland, the incidence of dog bites has risen by more than 50 percent since eleven breeds were banned from the country in 1998.
- The United Kingdom passed the Dangerous Dog Act of 1991, which banned 4 types of dogs. A report issued in 2008 showed that dog bites increased by 50% between 1997 and 2007. Moreover, 30 people have died in dog-related incidents, with 21 involving dogs of breeds/types not prohibited by the law. In fact, dog bites continue to rise every year. The 2008 study also highlighted that London residents reported an increase in aggressive dogs, with 40% saying that pet owners don’t take adequate responsibility for their dogs.
- In April 2009, Italy repealed its law banning several breeds of dogs. The Health Undersecretary stated in an interview: This is a historic day because we have established for the first time the responsibility of the owner [in charge of the animal]. The measures adopted in the previous laws had no scientific foundation. Dangerous breeds do not exist. With this law we have overcome the black list, which was just a fig leaf over the larger problem."
- Denver, Colorado banned “pit bulls” in 1989. Between 1995 and 2006, Denver had almost six times as many dog-related hospitalizations compared to Boulder, even though Denver’s population is less than twice that of Boulder. During that 12-year period, Denver experienced 273 dog-related hospitalizations, while Boulder experienced only 46, according to statistics provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Boulder does not have a breed specific ordinance. “Do dog breed bans work?” Peter Marcus, Denver Daily News, 3/3/09
- Prince George’s Co., MD banned “pit bulls” in 1996. A task force charged with accessing the law found that “the public safety benefit [of the ban] is unmeasurable.”
Unreliable “Statistics.” According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds because the data reported is often unreliable. This is because:
1. The breed of a biting dog is often not known or is reported inaccurately.
2. The actual number of bites that occur in a community is not known, especially if they don't result in serious injury.
3. The number of dogs of a particular breed or combination of breeds in a community is not known because it is rare for all dogs in a community to be licensed.
4. Statistics often do not consider multiple incidents caused by a single animal.
5. Breed popularity changes over time, making comparison of breed-specific bite rates unreliable. However a review of the research that attempts to quantify the relation between breed and bite risk finds the connection to be weak or absent, while responsible ownership variables such as socialization, neutering and proper containment of dogs are much more strongly indicated as important risk factors.
Breed Identification. Another important flaw with breed specific laws is breed identification. With respect to “pit bull bans” specifically, it is extremely important to note that “pit bull” is not a breed of dog but, rather, a generic term used to describe a grouping of dogs with similar physical traits or characteristics. There are several breeds that possess the physical characteristics of pit bull type dogs. The “Find the Pit Bull” game is an excellent tool to demonstrate the difficulty in identifying “pit bulls.”
· - Most animal control and/or law enforcement officers are not able to identify specific breeds of dogs with any degree of accuracy because the commonly stated physical characterizes are similar in many breeds.
· - Because breed identification by animal control officers is subjective (in other words, the individual opinion of the person making the identification)it opens a city to liability and litigation issues in the event of mistaken breed identification.
- Breed bans carry with them too much potential for arbitrary or improper enforcement: inaccurate breed identification by officials and difficulty enforcing breed bans against mixed-breed dogs.
Breed specific legislation is opposed by several professional organizations.
- American Dog Owners Association (ADOA)
- American Humane
- American Kennel Club (AKC)
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- American Working Dog Federation (AWDF)
- Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)
- Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)
- International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP)
- National Animal Control Association (NACA)
- National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA)
- National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI)
- In 2013, the Obama administration issued a statement in response to a petition against breed specific legislation. The full statement is as follows:
We don’t support breed-specific legislation — research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at twenty years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people and that it’s virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.
The CDC also noted that the types of people who look to exploit dogs aren’t deterred by breed regulations — when their communities establish a ban, these people just seek out new, unregulated breeds. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.
For all those reasons, the CDC officially recommends against breed-specific legislation — which they call inappropriate. You can read more from them here.
As an alternative to breed-specific policies, the CDC recommends a community-based approach to prevent dog bites. And ultimately, we think that’s a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners.
Failure to Address Irresponsible Owners. Perhaps the most compelling argument with respect to why breed specific legislation fails is that it simply does not address the issue of irresponsible, reckless and/or careless dog ownership. BSL places all the blame on the dogs and removes the responsibility from the dog owner. Dog ownership is a responsibility, and dog owners must be held accountable for the actions of their dogs.
· "Problem dogs” are the result of “problem dog owners,” and implementing a law that ignores the root of the problem leaves the community at risk.
· Restricting breeds of dogs does not address the real issue of irresponsible owners. Only when such owners are held accountable for the actions of their dogs, will adverse dog incidents be reduced.
· Because breed specific legislation fails to address irresponsible and reckless dog owners, many areas that have enacted breed regulations have actually experienced an increase in dog bite/attack incidents of the dog breeds NOT covered by the breed specific law.
· Only when you see more owners committed to providing the proper training, care, socialization and supervision for their dogs, will dog bite incidents be reduced significantly.
· Owners should be held accountable in the judicial system for the actions of their dogs, not the other way around. Only then will we see owners committed by providing the proper training, care, socialization and supervision that every dog requires – regardless of breed.
General Talking Points:
Any legislation that targets specific breeds of dogs in ineffective, costly to the community, and a poor alternative to a strong, breed-neutral dangerous dog ordinance which encompasses all breeds, and places irresponsible dog owners accountable for the actions of their dogs.
Restricting breeds of dogs does little, if anything, to protect citizens in the community. Moreover, breed bans perpetuate the myth that certain breeds are inherently “bad.” It also indemnifies all of the unnamed breeds as being “safe” by exclusion. In doing so, breed specific legislation promotes a false sense of security for the public.
The lack of enforcement of existing laws is the primary contributing factor to dog bites – not specific breeds of dogs. Every area should have strictly enforced leash laws since dogs at large are the primary source of the problem.
It has been found that breed restrictions are, by far and large, unenforceable, and unfairly penalize responsible dog owners who properly train, socialize, care for and supervise their dogs.
Breed-specific laws have a tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety. When limited animal control resources are used to regulate or ban a certain breed of dog, without regard to behavior, the focus is shifted away from routine, effective enforcement of laws that have the best chance of making our communities safer, such as dog license laws, leash laws, anti-tethering laws, laws that require all owners to control their dogs, regardless of breed, laws preventing animal abuse, and programs easing/assisting spaying and neutering.
An effective solution is not to make more laws that punish responsible owners and entire breeds, but to enforce existing leash laws and enact generic dangerous dog laws that are not breed specific and punish irresponsible dog owners.
Effective alternatives to BSL
Responsible dog ownership is the most effective way to reduce the number of dog bites and attacks. To encourage responsible ownership, legislation should focus on:
Education: Education is the key to preventing dog attacks and promoting safer interactions between humans and dogs. Research shows that just 1 hour of dog safety training in grades 2 and 3 can reduce these attacks by 80%. The city of Calgary, Canada, which has by far the most effective animal control ordinance (with the statistics to prove it), spends a considerable amount of money, time and effort on dog safety public awareness and education campaigns.
Leash laws: Enact, strengthen and enforce leash laws. Owners are responsible for containing their animals, and far too many times, existing leash laws are simply ignored. Quite frankly, if a community cannot enforce the simplest of laws such as a leash law (where there is no question as to whether a dog is or is not on a leash), how can they possibly expect to enforce a breed ban, wherein animal control officers will be forced to question what breed a dog may or may not be?
Hold owners accountable: Strengthen and enforce penalties for irresponsible dog owners. Rather than create dangerous dog laws, we should instead focus on “dangerous owner” laws. Problem dogs are the result of irresponsible, negligent and careless owners, and greater focus on the cause of the problem will result in a community that experiences less issues with both “dangerous owners” and their dogs.
Generic dangerous dog laws which address the underlying cause of most dog-related deaths and injuries – irresponsible dog ownership – are a key point in preventing dog related incidents in the community. Good dangerous dog laws place the owner in the position of ensuring that their dog(s) comply with all state and local requirements. Fines for violations can vary, but the leading principle is that dog ownership should be more costly to the irresponsible individuals.
Strengthen animal abuse and dog fighting laws. Dogs can become aggressive as the result of cruelty, abuse, neglect and/or otherwise improper care, and proper attention needs to be focused on the owners who inflict these living conditions on their dogs.
Regulate Dog Breeders. Breeders play an important role in the temperament of the dogs they produce and sell. Irresponsible breeding plays a very important role as the mating of two dogs with poor and/or unacceptable temperaments will no doubt result in puppies with unstable temperaments. Moreover, if irresponsible breeders do not screen the individuals they sell their dogs to, you have the potential combination of ill-breed dogs in the hands of irresponsible owners. A disaster in the making.
Provide low cost spay/neuter options for communities. Unneutered dogs, particularly males, are far more likely to attack a human than either neutered males or spayed females. In analyzing over 448 dog attack cases, Karen Delise, author of Fatal Dog Attacks, determined that overwhelmingly, most dogs involved in the attacks were unneutered male dogs that were maintained for reasons other than to be household companions (i.e., yard dogs). Providing lost cost options for the healthcare of dogs, including spay and neuter services, is an excellent way to help dog owners better care for dogs and take more interest in their dog’s healthcare and well-being.
General Letter Writing Tips:
· Send your letter as soon as you hear about a proposed law.
· It is not necessary to type your letter. In fact, a handwritten letter has a tremendous impact (as long as its legible!)
· Be brief and to the point. Try to limit your letter to one or two subjects. Include all ordinance/bill titles and numbers whenever possible.
LETTER WRITING 101
If you still have trouble putting together your own letter, below is a sample letter to use as a guideline when writing to officials. This is simply suggested language that can (and should be) modified to fit the situation at hand. I do encourage you to customize your own letter by combining some of the above points and your own words, as well.
The Honorable Ray Spivey
City of Doyle
104 Hall Street
Doyle, TN 38559
Re: Proposal to consider ban on “pit bulls”
Dear Mayor Spivey and Board Members:
I am writing to you about the proposal that was brought up at the Town Board meeting on April 3, 2018 with respect to banning “pit bulls” from the Town of Doyle. Passing this type of ordinance will have a negative impact on the responsible, law abiding dog owners of Doyle, while those who do not abide by the law will simply continue to do so. The root cause of “problem dogs” is “problem dog owners,” and any law that restricts the ownership of dogs based solely on their breed does nothing to promote community safety. I am strongly opposed to this ordinance, and I ask that you vote against it for the following reasons:
[INSERT TALKING POINTS HERE]
A much better and effective alternative to breed-specific legislation is to support reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws to govern the ownership of dogs and to hold irresponsible dog owners to a higher accountability.
I ask that the Board decline consideration of this proposal because any law that targets specific breeds of dogs in an effort to enforce animal control does not address the real problem: irresponsible and careless dog owners.