In the Disney movie “101 Dalmations,” the Radcliffes ultimately save Pongo and Perdita from Cruella De Vil and adopt the puppies and 99 others and live, happily ever after, on their estate in London. This storyline would have a much dissimilar ending if it were set in, say, Los Angeles, where residents are not allowed to keep more than three dogs. (A proposed law would up that limit to five dogs per household.) In fact, many towns and cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, limit the number of pets, including dogs, that people can own. Why?
Supporters of dog-limit laws say restrictions placed on dog owners can decrease the likelihood of animal abuse and lower incidents of public nuisances, such as incessant dog-barking, overpowering odors and dog attacks, from bites to maulings.
But I believe a governing body, whether local, state or federal, should not legally limit the number of dogs a person can own. First of all, who can answer the question: How many is too many? Philadelphia says 12 is too many; Dallas, six; Los Vegas, three. In Miami, the limit is four, six or eight, depending on property size. So, why all the discrepancies? As one blogger put it: “Pet laws are arbitrary. . . . There is no data to support the idea that a given number of pets are too many. The Joneses might be able to easily manage eight dogs while the Smiths are in over their heads with two!” (“Five Reasons Pet Limit Laws Are a Bad Idea,” blogs.bestfriends.org.)
In fact, most of the problems associated with irresponsible dog-ownership (noises, smells, attacks) can be solved through the enforcement of local laws already in place. For example, if a neighbor’s dogs are barking throughout the night, preventing you from sleeping, you can call the local police department and that dog owner could receive a penalty for creating a public disturbance. The same scenario would apply to properties creating overpowering smells of urine or feces.
Yes, in places where people live really close together, this could create a problem. But a place like New York City, where millions of people literally live on top of each other, does not have dog-limit laws. Some people say, and I agree with them, that imposing such restrictions on personal property (pets are considered property) is yet another unnecessary infringement on personal freedom from the government. In Enoch, Utah, where a dog-limit law was being debated, a man was quoted in the local paper as saying: “This is just the beginning,” said the man, Joe Marshall. “Next they are going to tell you how many horses you can have and how many kids” (www.thespectrum.com).
The claim made by supporters of dog limits that such laws increase public safety because it could lower the incidents of dog bites and attacks is a strong and emotional one. Anyone who has ever experienced having an unchained dog approach them in an aggressive way is likely not to forget that. There are 4.7 million incidents of dogs biting people every year (www.americanhumane.org). Last September, a woman named Mary Jane Girardi was one of the 800,000 people each year who required medical care after a biting incident, after a pit bull attacked her in Wooster Square Park, in New Haven. People have the right to be in a public space and not get attacked by dogs. But, those incidents can be at least curtailed through stricter enforcement of existing laws that require owners to keep their dogs on leashes. Limiting the number of dogs a person can have would not have a significant effect on dog attacks if dog owners followed existing dog rules. Of all fatal dog attacks, 75 percent of them involved an unchained dog. And, to include another pet-issue, 92 percent of fatal dog attacks involve male dogs – and in 94 percent of those incidences, the dog was not neutered (www.americanhumane.org).
Restricting the number of dogs a person can own could also result in more dogs in shelters being unnecessarily killed. For example, in Los Angeles, 26,000 dogs are currently in shelters. Limiting dog ownership narrows the pool of potential adopters. And, finally, there have been two cases in the U.S., in Minnesota and in Pennsylvania, where courts have ruled such dog-limit laws to be unconstitutional. In Minnesota, a local town forced two women (a rescuer of Newfoundlands and a trainer/breeder) to lower the number of dogs they owned. The women sued the town, Sauk Rapids, Minn., and a court ruled in their favor, saying the town had “abused powers to create laws to promote general health, safety and welfare” (www.nokillnow.com). And in Pennsylvania, the court ruled the laws “unconstitutional.”
So, in sum, there are real problems caused by dogs but those problems can be solved by stricter enforcement of existing laws, such as those meant to keep dogs on leash and public disturbances to a minimum. Pets are property and if people can own property responsibly, government should not get involved. If they can’t, government should get involved, through use of laws already passed, not on creating laws limiting the number of dogs a person can have. It is intrusive, arbitrary, lowers the chances of survival for dogs in shelters and, according to at least one court, is unconstitutional.
If someone wants a Dalmatian Plantation, let ’em.