Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ASPCA Policies and Positions: What a difference an "A" makes!

(Another "compare and contrast" - to the SPCA guidelines and Halifax By-Law A300)

ASPCA Position Statement on Dangerous Dog Laws

The ASPCA recognizes that there are dogs who by virtue either of training, or lack of training and socialization, especially in combination with a genetic predisposition to be wary of strangers, aggressive toward other dogs and/or predatory toward other animals, may pose a serious threat if inadequately supervised and controlled by their guardians. In order for dogs to live harmoniously with people and with other companion animals, it is critical to hold guardians responsible for the proper supervision of their dogs and for any actions on their part that either create or encourage aggressive behavior.

At the same time, laws that address “dangerous dogs” must be mindful of the rights of pet guardians and must afford them due process. They should target only those dogs who truly pose a serious, unjustified risk to other animals or to people, and they should recognize that there are situations where aggressive behavior is justified, such as when a dog is protecting himself or herself, her guardian, her offspring or her home, or where the dog has reason to fear a person or animal who has harmed her in the past.

ASPCA Position
The ASPCA believes that dog guardians should be held responsible for unjustified harm or damage done by their pets. Guardians who breed dogs known to be aggressive, or train dogs to be aggressive, or to fight, should be liable not only civilly for damage done by their dogs, but also under criminal provisions that prohibit such conduct. The ASPCA opposes “dangerous dog laws” that designate/define specific breeds of dogs as “dangerous,” “vicious” or potentially “dangerous” or “vicious” without regard to the temperament or behavior of the individual dog.

Dangerous dog laws should be narrowly drawn to define dangerous dogs as those who without justification have either attacked a person or other animal, causing injury or death, or who exhibit behavior that creates a grave risk of such an attack, as determined by a certified applied behaviorist, board-certified veterinary behaviorist or other trained and experienced expert.

Dangerous dog laws should focus on the behavior of the dog and all of the circumstances surrounding it, including those that may justify the dog’s actions. The law should ensure that common puppy behaviors such as jumping up, rough play and nipping are not deemed evidence of dangerousness.

Once a dog is deemed dangerous, the court should have at its disposal a range of dispositions from which to select those that suit the needs of the particular case. The choice of dispositions should include:

- Evaluation by a certified applied behaviorist or board certified veterinary behaviorist and completion of any training or other treatment as deemed appropriate by that expert;
- Spaying or neutering;
- Secure humane confinement in a manner that permits the dog adequate exercise, protection from the elements and that prevents escape and unauthorized contact with the public;
- Direct supervision by an adult eighteen years of age or older whenever the dog is on public premises;

- Restraint on a leash whenever the dog is in public;
- Muzzling in public in a manner that prevents the dog from biting any person or animal but that does not injure the dog or interfere with his vision or respiration;
- Microchipping.

Euthanasia or permanent confinement of the dog, being the most extreme remedies, should only be utilized when the dog, without justification, attacked a person and caused serious physical injury or death, or where a qualified behaviorist who has personally evaluated the dog determines that the dog poses a substantial risk of such behavior and that no other remedy will make the dog suitable to live safely with people.

Dangerous dog laws must accord pet guardians adequate due process to challenge the charges, including a full opportunity to be heard, the right to appeal a dangerous dog finding, and a stay of the disposition pending such appeal.

Enforcement of dangerous dog laws is ultimately the responsibility of local government authorities, and it is important that they exercise their responsibility with vigor and discretion to protect both the public and responsible pet guardians.

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This position statement, pubished on the website of the ASCPA in New York, is respectfully directed to Mayor Peter Kelly, the HRM Council, the SPCA, and the Animal Services division of HRM Regional Police. The document's many points of departure from the current version of By-Law A300 strongly suggest the desirability of, and offer an appropriate basis for, a comprehensive review of the latter. Such a review may be taken up and conducted by groups constituted within HRM bodies as part of administrative or legislative processes, or by HRM citizens in advisory and/or advocacy roles.

In other words: there's an awful lot of work to do out there. Thoroughly necessary, eminently doable work. The road map is there. What could be easier?