Gavin Newsom and BSL


In which Jill considers what the Newsom campaign really thinks—if it’s thinking at all.

I have an eclectic group of friends. They are a mix of races and creeds. Some are extroverts; some are introverts. Dark hair, fair skin, freckles, bunions—you name it, each of my friends has a set of features that make him or her unique. The one thing they have in common is that I love them.

The same can be said of my dogs. I have two pit bulls and a hound. Otis and Frosty, my two pits, love other dogs. Otis is more outgoing, while Frosty hangs back a little before rushing up to say hello. Ozzie, my Coonhound, sniffs random dogs’ butts when he’s in the mood—which is not often. Otis can’t eat chicken. Frosty has a perineal hernia. Ozzie’s aloof. The one thing they have in common is that I love them.

Given the differing proclivities of my friends and my dogs, you won’t be surprised to learn that I view BSL (Breed-Specific Legislation) as unfair. BSL (also known as “Breed Discriminatory Legislation” and “Canine Profiling”) singles out dogs with specific traits, usually bully breeds, for special treatment. In other words, it relies on stereotypes.

Do I think pit bulls are special? Yes. I think they’re smarter and more affectionate than most dogs. Likewise, I find Coonhounds more fun to hike with, but German Shorthaired Pointers are easier to train on recall.  Bully breeds often have breathing problems, and never get a hound if you have a cat! I really just prefer mutts because they don’t have all those health problems.

See what I did there? It’s convenient to label a dog based on its prevalent breed. But it’s also unfair. Pit bulls (and German Shepherds before them, and Rottweilers before them) are the latest dog type to be labeled dangerous. The media fans these flames, of course. One media researcher found that simply teasing a dog incident as a “pit bull attack” attracted more viewers to the evening news.

An alleged supporter of BSL is California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom.  Social media has skewered Newsom, rallying around his 2005 comment—made after a pit bull tragically mauled a child: “People like pit bulls, but there’s a reason we don’t have polar bears or mountain lions in the city.” The Facebook group Pit Pulls Against Gavin Newsom intermingles sweet puppy photos with reminders of his mayoral push for BSL legislation.

Voting for Newsom is a conundrum since I agree with him on most other issues. I’m not a single-issue voter, but I’ll admit that BSL does tip the scale.  So I read the following statement from the Newsom camp with interest (coaxed from the campaign by the intrepid Hannah Rice):

“Gavin believes that public safety is best served when dog owners are trained about best practices with their dogs. He believes that money spent on enforcing breed-specific legislation could be better used to enforce the laws that we know work. As Governor, he’s committed to finding innovating [sic] ways to meet the state’s twenty-year-old policy that no adoptable or treatable animal should be euthanized. He is proud to side with the CDC, the American Kennel Club, the ASPCA, and the Obama administration on this issue.”

I’ll admit I’m a bit flummoxed by this response. I find references to the CDC and ASPCA—both of which ultimately rejected BSL—encouraging. The implicit support of the Hayden Law is also a good sign. If Newsom were ever pro-BSL, his campaign may now be walking it back.

But the wording itself represents the characteristic double-speak of the practiced politician. Euthanasia is only one of many bad outcomes that befall misunderstood or mislabeled dogs. And what ARE the best practices, anyway? I like to think of Gavin Newsom as experienced, studied, and thoughtful. This response was vague enough to leave room for any number of BSL-type proposals.

With respect Mr. Lieutenant Governor, let me help you out with some best practices. How about:

  • New breeding permits should be difficult to obtain.
  • California’s spay and neuter laws should be enforced.
  • Owners should have adequate liability insurance.
  • Animals should never be chained or tethered.
  • Dogs should have proper and regular behavior training.
  • Illegal puppy mills and backyard breeders should pay hefty fines.
  • Shelter managers should be measured by the number of live releases.

What I’m saying is this isn’t a breed issue—it’s an issue of responsible stewardship of our companion animals. And if you disagree, don’t get a dog.

Or run for governor.

PHOTO CREDIT: "Gavin Newsom" (CC BY 2.0) by jdlasica
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