Breed bans, pit bulls and service dogs

November 3, 2010

Dog Law, Expert Witness, Robert Forto

Pit bulls as service dogs?

There was a very interesting story coming out of Denver, CO this past Monday. No doubt it was on the eve of Election Day where Colorado would be pivotal in the mid-term elections and it’s political slants could affect the leanings of the national elections in 2012. No this story isn’t about P-BO or the hotly contested governor race in the Centennial State it is about dogs. Pit bulls to be precise.

On Monday the Denver City Council delayed until December 6 a vote on whether to create an exemption to the city’s pit bull ban that would allow disabled people to use these dogs as service animals.

As many of you know, Denver has one of the toughest breed bans in the nation. Not only does it ban pit bulls but nine other breeds as well. Many of these breeds are rare and many pet owners don’t know much about them such as the Cane Corso. Aurora, CO, a city on the Denver border has a population of about 300,000 has just as strict bans on many of the same breeds as well as several other Colorado communities.

For months the Denver City Council has wrestled with a proposed exemption, which was recommended by the city attorney’s office following a new regulation by the U.S. Justice Department.

[ Rewind: Pit Bulls, Service Dogs and the Breed Ban ]

That new regulation, issued in July of this year, says that disabled individuals have the right to pick any breed of dog to serve as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Feds gave cities until March 2011 to come into compliance with the new regulation.

We have talked many times about his subject on our radio program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show. I have several issues with this.

First and foremost I think the breed ban is a shotgun approach to cure a problem that was not well researched. Sure many pit bulls have bitten people, but so have Poodles, Labradors, Dobermans, German Shepherd and Siberian Huskies. In fact, I deal with a far more number of small dog aggressive cases than I have large breeds, and I have never dealt with an human aggressive pit bull, In Denver or anywhere else. I would be willing to bet that the ratio to bites to reporting the bites (as required by statute in many cities) is skewed. Many people do not report bites for the fear of losing the family pet.

Second, pit bulls get a bad wrap. Let me make one thing clear. This is not a soap box for me. But when the media sensationalizes a story that leads to other stories and so on and so on.

[ Rewind: Service Dog Training Program ]

Third, pit bulls SHOULD NOT be used as service animals. They were not bred for this type of work. At Denver Dog Works we train dogs to be service animals and through years of research we have found what breed works best for a particular task and a pit bull is not genetically wired to work well for humans. Look at this way: Do you think that poodles should run in the Iditarod? NO. A musher attempted that in the 80’s and failed miserably and now the rules for the race specially state that only Northern Breeds will be allowed to run.

Do you think your Pomeranian would do well in a hunting trial? A Basset Hound as an agility champion?

Look folks, the reason we have 160+ breeds of pure bred dogs is that we, as humans, adapted a species in such a way that would work best for a particular task. We did not develop pit bull as having the abilities (drive, conformation, stamina, intelligence) to work as service animals. We just didn’t.

Lastly and most importantly, I think the federal government should stay out of the affairs of local governments. The states (and/or the city’s) should have the authority to govern their population as voted on by the people but also do what is best for the people. I am not only talking about pit bulls here but about other things as well. Sure we learn in junior high school civics that the Feds trump the state but maybe that should be changed.

I don’t think that the new federal regulation was well researched and most likely resulted from a law suit somewhere by someone who wanted a pit bull as a service dog. Maybe even in Denver, who knows.

You are just asking for problems. Lets see how well this works out three, four, maybe five years from now when we have hundreds, if not thousands of dogs as service animals that were not bred to do the work. That is where the trouble will come from.

In my opinion the U.S. Justice Department should work on establishing a certification program for animals that is recognized throughout the country, sort of like a drivers license for service dogs. Right now there is none and there are 100’s of trainers and pet owners training their dogs to be service animals for individuals that have no idea what they are doing and that is where the real problem lies.

I don’t know how many times someone has walked into my training center and said they wanted to certify their Chihuahua was a service animals so they could take him to the grocery store.

I welcome your comments and opinions. Lets keep this discussion alive.

Robert Forto | Team Ineka | Alaska Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works


Dr. Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio shows, Mush! You Huskies and The Dog Doctor Radio Show

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About robertforto

Robert Forto is the owner of Dog Works Training Company in Alaska, a canine behaviorist, mushin' down a dream, sports nut and radio show host. Robert writes a lot about his observations in Alaska, pop culture, music, and of course dogs!

View all posts by robertforto

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