American Pit Bull Terriers have a reputation as a dangerous dog. This breed is often associated with dog fighting, and is the breed often targeted in Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), legislation that often follows incidences of pit bulls attacking and killing a child, or children. BSL restricts or prohibits ownership of a pit bull, or bringing a pit bull into the community. People who are educated on this breed believe that pit bulls are the unfortunate victims of their reckless and irresponsible owners, who mistreat them or train them to act aggressively.
Regardless of your view of pit bulls, BSL and its restrictions and bans will face a tough challenger: federal law in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pit bulls are being used as service animals by people with disabilities, and service animals, regardless of breed, are protected under the ADA.
Pit bulls are strong and hardy, particularly useful when pulling a wheelchair. Pit bulls have a reputation of being very reliable in detecting seizures in people with epilepsy. Because pit bulls used as service animals are protected under the ADA, banning their ownership or prohibiting them from entering city limits would, absent other facts, be in violation of the ADA. The Department of Justice, which is the enforcing and rulemaking agency of Titles II and III of the ADA, stated in its latest rules that “if an individual uses a breed of dog that is perceived to be aggressive because of breed reputation, stereotype, or the history or experience the observer may have with other dogs, but the dog is under the control of the individual with a disability and does not exhibit aggressive behavior, the title II entity cannot exclude the individual or the animal from a State or local government program, service, or facility.”
Two recent cases highlight the result when state or local bans on pit bulls run into the ADA. It can be expected that more challenges are ahead, unless BSL makes an exception for service animals, or is repealed.