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Proposed dog breed ban goes too far

In "Minority Report," a 2002 film starring Tom Cruise, people are arrested and imprisoned not because they’ve committed crimes, but because they are going to commit crimes — preventative justice, in other words.

In that same vein, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, is promoting legislation that would ban several breeds of dogs from Minnesota. Spurred by a string of attacks in the Twin Cities over the past year, Lesch’s proposal targets pit bulls, rottweilers, Akitas and chow chows. If the measure is passed, it’s safe to assume that many dogs with perfect behavioral records will be exiled or destroyed, based solely on what they might do at some point in the future.

Such legislation would trump Rochester’s current position, which treats all dogs equally, regardless of breed, and can be summarized as follows: "One strike and you’re out — almost."

If an unprovoked dog attacks a person or pet in Rochester, or shows aggression to the point that such an attack appears likely, the city can declare it to be a dangerous dog. The owners don’t have to get rid of the dog, but they probably will want to after they see the bill for the required warning signs, microchip implantation for identification, special tags and registration fees — not to mention the $50,000 surety bond that must be posted with the city clerk to compensate any future bite victims.

Still, legislation similar to Lesch’s is not unprecedented. Some cities, most notably Denver, have enacted breed-specific bans, and there is a certain logic behind them. Pit bulls and rottweilers are responsible for a disproportionally large percentage of fatal dog attacks across the nation each year, and all too often children are their victims. One dead child is one too many, so it’s not surprising that municipalities would say: "Enough is enough. Move or get rid of your dog — or we’ll get rid of it for you." More than 1,000 pit bills have been euthanized in Denver alone.

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Minnesota, however, isn’t Denver, and a statewide ban on specific dog breeds goes too far. People in rural areas should be able to own watchdogs that make would-be criminals think twice before breaking in, and there’s no question that a rottweiler or German shepherd is more intimidating than a Labrador retriever or Jack Russell terrier. A well-placed "Beware of the Dog" sign at a driveway entrance has more teeth when there might be a pit bull chained in front of the machine shed.

But what about in Rochester? Is there a place for pit bulls and rottweilers in a city filled with kids, bicyclists, joggers and small pets?

The answer is a qualified yes, because the majority of "aggressive breed" dogs never hurt anyone. A pit bull purchased from a reputable breeder and raised by a responsible owner can be a loyal, safe pet. And, given that the Rochester city clerk currently has just one surety bond on file for a dangerous dog, it would appear that Rochester’s strict regulations have made it difficult for anyone to keep an unsafe animal.

The city has done its part, without pre-judging an animal based on its breed. The rest is up to the dog owners, who ultimately are responsible for their pet’s actions.

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