Since the introduction of this week’s Bad Bill of the Week, there has been a lot of talk about criminal background checks. No, not for potential gun buyers – criminal background checks for dog ownership. House Bill 956, or the Act to Regulate Aggressive Dog Breeds, would impose a number of regulations and restrictions on breeds that the state has arbitrarily labeled aggressive. Drafted by Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg), H956 is full of constitutional questions, nanny state meddling and unintended consequences.
Under H956, any Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Mastiff, Chow, Perro de Presa Canario or wolf hybrid would be classified as an “aggressive breed.” To take ownership of any of these breeds, the owner would be required to submit to a criminal background check, take a 4 hour course on dog safety through the Humane Society or another approved rescue organization, notify the issuer of any applicable homeowner’s insurance, and pay a $25 fee to obtain a special aggressive breed permit. Any offender could receive up to a Class 3 misdemeanor.
A number of questions immediately arise. As mentioned in this 20 year study from the CDC, determining the breed of an animal is often more difficult than one would assume, and even experts can disagree on a dog’s pedigree. Outside of DNA testing and pedigree analysis (both expensive and time consuming), there is no objective way to measure the precise breed of a dog. Prosecuting offenders of breed-specific statutes would prove expensive and difficult.
In addition to practical concerns, H956 ignores an obvious unintended consequence- any dog breed can be raised to be aggressive. Evidence that any particular dog is more or less likely to bite based solely on breed is uncertain at best. In fact, the same CDC study showed that over the last 20 years several breeds not mentioned in H956, including German Sheperds and Huskies, have been involved in significantly more fatal dog attacks than most of the breeds listed in the bill. On the other hand, it is widely accepted that a dog’s early social experiences play a substantial role in its demeanor as an adult. Neglect and abuse can make any similarly sized dog just as dangerous as a pit bull conditioned for dog fighting. This is why breed-specific legislation is unlikely to do anything to reduce the number of aggressive animals in North Carolina. Rather than Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, the state could see a spike in aggressive and neglected Golden Retrievers and Labradors. All this bill does is make it harder for responsible dog lovers to go through the trouble of giving these dogs a good home. Legislation aimed at negligent dog owners, not a specific breed, would perhaps be more effective.
What is most concerning about this bill is its Nanny State tendencies. This is not a bazooka or machine gun- it’s a dog. It does not matter if a family wants to get a pit bull for home protection or because they think it’s “cute”- they should be able to do so without the government forcing them to undergo a criminal background check. It is bad policy for North Carolina to impose additional obstacles for responsible dog owners because others have proven negligent in the past. Because H956 is ill conceived, expands the nanny state, and is unlikely to do any meaningful good, it is this week’s Bad Bill of the Week.