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Good News For Missouri Pit Bulls Could Be Bad News For Dogs

Missouri could be the next state to ban breed-specific legislation (BSL), a type of ordinance that singles out particular dog breeds as "dangerous" and limits people's ability to keep them as pets. But lawmakers' efforts to end discrimination against certain dog breeds (specifically pit bulls) could have unfortunate consequences. State legislators recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the regulation of specific dog breeds altogether, effectively shutting down one of the state's most successful spay-neuter programs and leaving countless dogs vulnerable to euthanasia.

According to the bill, no municipality will be allowed to enforce any ordinances that apply differently to particular breeds. Bob Baker, director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, says this change is a double-edged sword. "We think of the bill as overreaching and we're concerned it's going to undo some good things," Baker explained. "We support the original intent, but we think it's going to do more harm than good."

A number of municipalities have instituted responsive ordinances, which are meant to undo some of the negative effects of BSL. These ordinances include stricter standards and home checks for people who want to adopt pit bulls, to ensure that the dogs will not be used for nefarious purposes like dogfighting. But the ordinance that would be most affected by the change, Baker says, is Kansas City's spay-neuter mandate just for pit bulls, which was enacted in 2006 in an effort to reduce the number of pit bulls ending up in shelters.

"A disproportionate amount of pit bulls were ending up in shelters, because breed-specific ordinances forced many people to abandon their dogs," Baker said. "Pit bulls only make up 6% of the total dog population in this country. But if you go into shelters, the predominant breed are pit bulls. The animals that are victimized, abused and neglected -- they're pit bulls."

According to Baker, Kansas City had nearly a thousand pit bulls in its shelters in 2005, before the breed-specific spay-neuter policy went into effect. The numbers spiked immediately after the law was implemented, he says, because people could no longer use stray pits for breeding. But in the long-term, Kansas City has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of pit bulls who need homes; in 2013, there were fewer than 200 in the city's shelter.

"Opponents have claimed mandatory spay-neuter programs don't work, but you can't convince me when you look at Kansas City," Baker said. "The real concern is that, in the short term, cities are going to increase the number of dogs that are taken in. They're just looking at short term. In the long-term, these programs work. And to end the program in Kansas City, the second-largest metropolitan area in the state -- well, that I just don't understand."