Animal Law-Discrimination Based on Appearance: The Dangers that Fear, Misidentification, and Overreaction Pose for All Dog Owners.

By Lindsey Bailey*

Maumelle, Arkansas is one of many communities in the United States that has a local ordinance banning dangerous dogs inside its city limits. Maumelleā€™s ordinance does not simply define a dog that is dangerous or potentially dangerous based on any threatening or vicious behavior; rather, Maumelleā€™s ordinance bans particular dogs from the city belonging to, or possessing the physical characteristics common to certain breeds, namely ā€œpit bullā€ type dogs. Maumelleā€™s ordinance prohibits keeping certain breeds of dogs within the city, including the American Pit Bull Terrier.

In 1987, Steele Holt filed suit against the city, alleging that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, that it unconstitutionally included the pit bull within the classification of banned dogs. In 1991, The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the ordinance that named American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Staffordshire Terriers as banned breeds in Maumelle. The court declared that the ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague in its classification of banned dogs, which includes: ā€œany dog whose sire or dameā€ is one of the banned breeds; any dog whose owner registers or admits the dog as being one of the banned breeds; any dog ā€œconforming or substantially conformingā€ to one of the banned breeds as defined by one of two kennel clubs; or any dog ā€œwhich is of the breed commonly referred to as ā€˜pit bullā€™ and commonly recognizable and identifiable as such.ā€ The court also concluded that the city had a reasonable basis under the stateā€™s police power for including specific breeds in the list of banned dogs, namely for the purpose of preventing injury to people and property by dogs.

In August 2012, the American Bar Association (ABA) took an unprecedented step toward protecting dogs that are unfairly targeted by vague ordinances like Maumelleā€™s. ABA House Resolution 100 urges all states and local governments to repeal breed-specific bans and other legislation that place overly burdensome restrictions on owners of certain dog breeds. Rather, it encourages the lawmakers to implement breed-neutral policies that focus on dog behavior, as well as owner responsibility and accountability. The ABAā€™s decision follows the example set forth by a significant number of jurisdictions that have recognized the unfair prejudice of breed-specific legislation and its ineffectiveness at reaching its primary goalā€”reducing the number of dog bite injuries.

This article urges the city of Maumelle, along with municipalities in Arkansas and other states, to heed the recommendation of the ABA and repeal breed-specific dog ownership laws in favor of breed-neutral legislation. The analysis will examine jurisdictions that have enacted both types of laws as well as the subsequent results of each. Then, this article will argue that breed-specific legislation, such as the Maumelle ordinance, raises constitutional concerns, is ineffective in reducing the number of injuries caused by dog bites, and that breed-neutral legislation is a more effective and less discriminatory alternative. This article proposes a model ordinance, which is crafted upon an analysis of the cause and effects of breed-specific legislation as well as the reasoning behind its repeal in favor of breed-neutral laws. Finally, this article will conclude by urging municipalities to adopt the model ordinance set forth, because although most jurisdictions have upheld breed-specific legislation as constitutional, the vagueness and discrimination embedded in such legislation still welcomes a significant number of lawsuits that would not arise under the model ordinance.

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*Lindsey Bailey is a lifelong Arkansan, born and raised in Pocahontas, Arkansas. Lindsey received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 2007 and has since resided in Little Rock. She plans to graduate from the William H. Bowen UALR School of Law in May 2014 with honors. While in law school, Lindsey served as a member and Associate Editor of the UALR Law Review, was a law clerk at the Association of Arkansas Counties, and was named the 2013 Janet D. Steiger Fellow with the American Bar Association and the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division. Lindsey plans to continue her legal career in public service in Little Rock after graduation.

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