Advocates Push for Dog-Friendlier Housing Policies for Military Families

Common sense would say that if you put your life on the line to protect and serve the United States of America as a member of the military, that you would be afforded common courtesies, such as being allowed to live with your family dog on a military base. Well, not necessarily. There is a little-known administrative regulation that prohibits active members of the military in certain branches, living on certain bases or installations, from living with certain types of dogs. This, fellow dog lovers, is another manifestation of the always controversial breed-specific legislation (BSL).

All the usual suspects are targeted by variations of this regulation [PDF]: pit bulls (most commonly defined as American Staffordshire Bull Terriers or English Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Rottweilers, Chows, and Doberman Pinchers. BSL appears to have first popped up in 2004 in an Air Force Base Family Housing Brochure [PDF], which modified a previous breed-neutral pet policy. From there, it continued onto Fort Hood [PDF], Texas, army base and spread further at the beginning of 2009 after the U.S. Army asked their partners [PDF] in the Residential Communities Initiative (RCI) Privatization Program to streamline the agency’s pet policy. Unfortunately, rather than just repeal the Fort Hood policy, since it was an anomaly at the time, RCI went the other way and chose to implement BSL at more locations. And, it’s continued to (metaphorically) infect other divisions of our armed forces. The Marine Corps have since implemented [PDF] BSL. Camp Lejeune, for example, observed a ban for new residents moving onto base, but not existing residents. By the end of next month, that will no longer be the case and an outright prohibition will be enacted.

Animal welfare leaders, people who actually work with dogs, and experts on dog behavior all agree: breed bans do not produce their intended public safety benefit. Moreover, they’re a pain in the-you-know-what for families who love their pets.

Fortunately, dog advocates, from as far away as Hawaii, are pushing a grassroots plan to stand up for dog-owning military families. Hawaii Military Pets, Dogs on Deployment, and Pets for Patriots, have teamed up to organize a petition to call for the standardization of military pet policies. The petition asks not only for breed-specific regulations to be repealed, but also remove weight restrictions – which often discriminate against large breeds – and institute a consistent pet limit across the branches. So far, they’ve acquired 10,000 signatures. But they are dreaming big with a goal of 100,000 signatures set.

These groups are not standing alone. Recently, Best Friends Animal Society also called on President Obama and Congress to urge military leadership to re-evaluate their breed-specific policies and opt for behavior-based regulations instead. Best Friends has a track record of repealing breed-specific laws with their most recent success occurring this year in Ohio, where they led the charge to end the statewide law strictly regulating (the always vague) “pit bull.” Let’s hope they can maintain their momentum.

Researchers have tried on multiple occasions to draw the correlation between so-called “dangerous breeds” and dog bites, and repeatedly fail. The best remedy to the problem of actually dangerous dogs is a predictable one: education on dog bite prevention and laws that hold reckless owners accountable.

For service members and their families affected by breed bans, this seems like one more demand placed on folks who are asked an awful lot of already. They stand up for our rights on a daily basis. Let’s stand up for theirs. Consider supporting one of these organizations’ efforts to create dog-friendlier pet policies for military families.

Jessi Freud is a dog advocate who has been volunteering with rescues and shelters for nearly 10 years. Most recently, she was a volunteer news writer for Best Friends Animal Society and an active volunteer with Texas-based shelter Austin Pets Alive! This fall, Jessi begins her first year in law school where she plans to get involved in the world of animal law. Follow her on Twitter.

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