Breed-Specific Bans and Other Animal Control Ordinances Affect Veterinarians

On April 8, 2005, Denver, Colo., joined at least 200 U.S. cities and at least 26 Canadian municipalities that have breed-specific bans, laws that affect the ownership and treatment of pit bulls and at least seven other dog breeds. These laws and other proposed changes to Animal Control Ordinances, such as changes to owner/guardian language and banned procedures like declawing affect veterinarians, said Gregory Dennis, Esq., who urges veterinarians to keep abreast of such proposals. “Some of these slip by and nobody knows about them until they’re enacted,” he explained.

That was not the case in Denver, where the Colorado VMA (CVMA) and Denver Area Veterinary Medical Society negotiated a policy that allows veterinarians to treat and transport pit bulls despite the ban. Denver won a legal fight against the state, which tried to prevent breed bans last year, citing home-rule authority and reinstated its pit bull ban in April, which allows Animal Control officers to remove pit bulls from homes. Since May 9, 2005, about 126 dogs have been taken from homes, said Doug Kelley, director of Denver Animal Control. “Veterinarians have an obligation to educate their clients [about the ban], which includes dogs that show any characteristics of a pit bull,” he said. “It’s just good customer service.”

Nationally, several veterinarians have been called upon by clients to prove that their dogs do not fit the description of banned breeds, Dennis said. “You can take many characteristics and apply them to any breed,” he explained. Most of the attempts to prove that dogs are composites not pit bulls or rottweilers have been unsuccessful, he added.

“My concern for veterinarians is that there doesnt appear to be any clear guidelines on whether or not a practitioner is required to report the possession of a banned breed [and] whether such reporting is an appropriate exception to a veterinarians obligation to maintain client and patient information confidential,” said Douglas Jack, an attorney in Canada who specializes in veterinary cases. “Generally speaking, I believe that the veterinary community is wary of the new legislation as it does not clearly set out a practitioners responsibilities.”

Breed-specific laws vary widely. In Ontario, Canada, a pit bull ban was passed March 2, 2005, that prevents people from acquiring the dogs and requires owners to neuter and muzzle dogs. In Kansas, owners of pit bulls and rottweilers are required to obtain special insurance and the dogs cannot leave the property, Dennis said.

“Breed-specific laws don’t really accomplish much for the public safety, but it makes the city council feel like they’re doing something,” said Keith Roehr, DVM, assistant state veterinarian for Colorado. “It’s a brutal law.”

NEWStat Legislation & regulation