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Last updateFri, 04 Jul 2014 5pm

PBLN Crew Testify at Massachusetts Committee Regarding Boston's Proposed Pit Bull Regulation

Massachusetts Legislature hearing room, before testimony

Fred M. Kray, Laura Hayes, and Amy Conrad from Pit Bulletin Legal News all testified in a packed committee chamber room against a proposal for Pit Bull regulation. Several legislators on the committee expressed their opposition to the bill as well.

Last year Massachusetts enacted a comprehensive overhaul of animal control laws that, inter alia, banned breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), including Boston's Pit Bull ordinance. This year, Senate Bill 969 (S. 969) was put forth. This bill--written and sponsored at the urging of Boston officials who had championed BDL in the past--would allow municipalities to get an exemption from the state prohibition of breed discrimination.

 

Boston Animal Control Director Sole Proponent of Bill

Only one person showed up to testify on behalf of S. 969, Mark Giannangelo, the director of Boston Animal Control. Massachusetts State Senator Madden expressed scepticism when Giannangelo testified that the bill did not target breed but would be based on "municipal attack data." Madden acknowledged that Giannangelo was "on the hot seat today" and said he would not bother to question him further. Another committee member asked Giannangelo how many Pit Bulls were in Boston, a question that he could not answer. Giannangelo read from a brief statement, saying that Boston Animal Control needed Pit Bull regulation to go after the bad guys, and this bill would allow them to do that. He did not provide any data on behalf of S. 969. He threw out several off the cuff statements without any justification, including "for every one responsible pit bull owner, there are three who are not." He did nothing to actually rebut any of the testimony that preceded him.

PBLN Gives Presentation

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PBLN presented 10 minutes of testimony and gave the committee notebooks containing data, studies, and law. Fred M. Kray testified about the abysmal record of BDL in increasing overall public safety. "There is not one scientific peer reviewed study that supports the idea that breed discriminatory legislation has ever reduced overall dog bites," he declared. Kray also pointed out that Boston Animal Control had only produced two documents in response to a FOIA request, and the data produced showed that dog bites went up after BDL was introduced in Boston in 2004. Kray went on to describe the overwhelming opposition to BDL by professional groups, legal scholars, state legislatures and around the world. The unreliability of visual identification was also pointed out, and Cardelle v. Miami Dade County (which holds animal control officers are not qualified to tesify about breed based on visual identification) was provided to the panel. Kray also criticized the language of the bill as being overbroad, and giving Boston Animal Control complete discretion on what would be required in "deeming a breed dangerous."

Amy Conrad covered the UKC and AKC standards, and how they were never intended to be used to determine breed. The standards assume the breed of the dog is already known through its pedigree. A letter from the UKC to Dade County requesting they stop using the UKC standards was presented to the committee, along with quotations from the AKC to the same effect. The UKC and AKC standards were used to identify Pit Bulls as part of Boston's original 2004 law. 

Laura Hayes testified that the purpose of dangerous dog laws are to regulate behavior, not appearance, and that based on the current understanding of dog genetics, appearance is a very poor proxy for behavior. She told the committee that only a quarter of a percent of a dog's genome relates to appearance and used the example of racing greyhounds to illustrate how unpredictable the inheritance of behavior is even within a closed gene pool.

It was a great experience and we learned a lot. We'll be following the S. 969 and report on its progress as it becomes known.

 


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