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Comment on "Elijah's Law" - NY HB A10169

By Joseph Steinfeld

A bill, A10169, popularly known as "Elijah's Law" (after a child who was mauled by a dog), has been introduced to the New York State Assembly.

  • This bill would, among other things, require dog owners to carry liability insurance on all dogs over the age of 4 months.
  • It would be illegal to sell or place an uninsured dog (imagine the burden on shelters and rescue groups).
  • Covered dogs would be required to wear an orange tag (around where I live, animal control is lucky if they can get people to license and vacinnate their dogs as *already* required by law).
  • A list of "dangerous" breeds would be generated based on reported bite statistics. Owners of "dangerous" breeds would be required to post warning signs, and municipalities would have the authority to require that "dangerous" breeds be muzzled when in public. Insurance premiums would doubtless be higher for these breeds.

It is alleged that funds raised through the enforcement of this bill would be used to "educate" the public around issues of bite prevention, etc.

I feel that this bill deserves attention and opposition. Full details can be viewed at People outside of NY State should understand that similar legislation has passed in other states. Beyond merely presenting expense and inconvenience to dog owners, this bill is yet another sad example of a clumsy bureaucratic response to the safety needs of children. Assessment of risk, be it from humans or canines, is a complex task involving past behavior, context of behavior, environment, physical abilities, and other factors. It is a joke to think that public safety is served by "racial profiling" of dogs based on statistics. Is the Assembly convinced that reports of bites gives an accurate picture? Is an individual of a breed with many reported bites (because it is a popular, commonly-owned breed) inherently more dangerous? Are they willing to bet that any given individual from a breed with few reported bites isn't? Is a representative of a toy breed with many reported bites truly "dangerous"? What about mixed breeds, some of which, like designer drugs, are a direct response to legislation? The ASPCA and other organizations with experience in this area consistently speak out against breed-specific legislation, and expend considerable resources on education. They must feel like voices crying out in the wilderness, but obviously the Assembly feels better qualified to educate the public.

Clearly, the safety of children around dogs is an important concern. For anyone seeking solid information on this complex topic, an excellent starting point is Fatal Dog Attacks by Karen Delise (Anubis Press, Manorville, NY). The content is predictably grim, but it is an intelligent analysis of the facts behind the statistics, typically revealing incredible degrees of human stupidity and cruelty in the "stories behind the stories" (my personal favorite is the "adult" who held an infant up to the face of a wolf hybrid WHILE SHE WAS WHELPING). A major factor is dogs who are kept outside, never being allowed to bond with people (as they crave to do), yet are described as "family dogs" when they bite someone whom they in effect know on a casual basis.

The relationship between the human and canine species is a long and complex one. We routinely expect incredible levels of tolerance and discrimination from dogs. Any display of canine aggression is immediately deemed a "behavior problem," while everything from verbal nastiness to lawsuits to capital punishment is an institutionalized part of human society. We expect dogs to intuitively know friend from foe, despite the inability of our intelligence agencies to do the same. When there is an actual problem, it is my experience from having worked fairly intensively in both areas that dogs are a hell of a lot more malleable than people. A final statistic from Fatal Dog Attacks that, sadly, will probably not be much of a surprise to many Zero readers: dogs account for about two infant deaths per year in the US. Parent/guardians account for about 250.

I'd encourage any NY State residents with feelings on bill A10169 to contact their assemblyman. If you're not sure who that is, look it up here.


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