Irresponsible Pet Owners Essay Contest

What The Experts Say!

Victoria Stilwell, president of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior, and CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training

“Without exception, I stand firmly against BSL. The research has shown time and time again that BSL does not reduce dog bites in the areas where it is enacted, and has caused many innocent dogs to be taken from their families simply because of the way they look. Reducing dog bites starts instead by teaching the public to better understand their dog’s body and vocal language, promoting responsible guardianship and educating children, in particular, how to be safe around dogs.”

Jean Donaldson, founder and principal instructor of The Academy for Dog Trainers

“PPG’s position is to follow the evidence, which to date strongly suggests that BSL does not achieve the objective of decreasing dog bites or serious dog attacks. Instead, dog guardians should be held responsible for their pets’ conduct, regardless of breed, and dogs who have not offended should not be targeted.”

Janis Bradley, director of communications and publications, National Canine Research Council

“There is a growing awareness that BSL does not improve community safety and penalizes responsible dog owners and their family companions… If communities wish to implement effective dog bite prevention programs, recommendations continue to shift in favor of multifactorial approaches focusing on improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of dog behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs, and consistent enforcement of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities. Effective laws hold all dog owners responsible for the humane care, custody, and control of all dogs regardless of breed or type.”

Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinarian

“Any dog is capable of biting, regardless of breed, sex, or size… BSL has not been shown to effectively decrease the incidence of dog bites. Dog Bite Prevention should instead focus on an individual dog’s behavior, as well as educating people on the best ways to avoid bites from occurring. With BSL, the veterinary community is put into a challenging position of being asked to identify dog breeds based on appearance, and to report dogs who seem to fit a specified description. Most studies have shown that the visual identification of a breed rarely accurately identified the proper breed when compared to genetic testing.”

Louise Stapleton-Frappell, faculty member DogNostics Career College, and steering committee member The Pet Professional Guild and Doggone Safe

"Breed Specific Legislation causes untold suffering to countless dogs and their families around the world - dogs whose only 'crime' is that they are of a certain breed or type.  These dogs are both judged and condemned - often to incarceration and ultimately death - because of their appearance; with no regard being taken of their positive behavioral history, character traits, socialization, training or home environment.  Statistics clearly show that BSL does nothing to promote greater safety in the community. This costly, ineffective and discriminative legislation should be replaced with humane, effective legislation making all owners responsible for the appropriate care of their pets and accountable for their actions, whatever the breed." 

Niki Tudge,President of The Pet Professional Guild, The DogSmith, DogNostics Career College and Doggone Safe

“PPG’s role is to educate and engage more pet professionals and pet owners, promoting the science based, result based force-free message, philosophy and training practices. As founder and president of PPG, I believe that this same goal should be applied to all pets. Research shows us that all animals learn in the same way and that each animal is an individual regardless of its breed. Many of our professional members interact, either personally or professionally, with many, if not all, of the breeds affected by breed specific legislation and will bear witness to the fact that animal learning is not breed specific. Just as important, it is critical to the welfare of our pets and their owners that animals are trained using force-free, positive reinforcement philosophies to prevent and mitigate aggressive behaviors due to fall out from the application of using punishment and fear to modify and change."

Lori Nanan, Canine Behavior Education Coordinator Women's Humane Society, Bensalem, PA, staff member The Academy for Dog Trainers and founder of Your Pit Bull and You.

"Breed Specific Legislation has a long history of targeting the wrong end of the leash. As policy, it causes responsible dog owners and their dogs to be held accountable for the actions of the irresponsible. Responsible dog owners know that things such as following leash laws, making sure that all dogs are registered or licensed and using humane training methods are key to ensuring safety for the community. These actions are in no way, and should not be in any way limited to owners of targeted breeds. These items, as well as anti-tethering laws, supervision of children and dogs and enforcing existing laws are key to reducing dog bites, breed bias and to building safer communities. And, in order to build safe communities, we must acknowledge our shared responsibilities to each other."

Deirdre Franklin, CEO/President of Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc

"The focus needs to shift to the basic reasons that dog bites exist: tethered/chained dogs, dogs at large, unattended children, and focus on spaying and neutering. These are easy areas to target. These are not expensive areas to target. We have overcomplicated a very simple issue."

Organizations Worldwide

  • "RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions." (American Bar Association, 2012).
  • “Although multiple communities have been studied where breed-specific legislation has been enacted, no convincing data indicates this strategy has succeeded anywhere to date (Klaassen et al., 1996; Ott et al., 2007; Rosado, 2007). Conversely, studies can be referenced that evidence clear, positive effects of carefully crafted, breed-neutral laws (Bradley, 2006). It is, therefore, the ASPCA’s position to oppose any state or local law to regulate or ban dogs based on breed. The ASPCA recognizes that dangerous dogs pose a community problem requiring serious attention. However, in light of the absence of scientific data indicating the efficacy of breed-specific laws, and the unfair and inhumane targeting of responsible pet guardians and their dogs that inevitably results when these laws are enacted, the ASPCA instead favors effective enforcement of a combination of breed-neutral laws that hold reckless dog guardians accountable for their dogs’ aggressive behavior.” (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 2016).
  • "Frequently breed-specific legislation focuses on dogs with a certain appearance or physical characteristics instead of an actual breed. “Pit bulls” are the most frequent victims of breed-specific legislation despite being a general type rather than a breed, but specific breeds are also sometimes banned including Rottweilers, Dobermans and boxers. Breed-specific laws can be tough to enforce, especially when a dog’s breed can’t easily be determined or it is of mixed breed. A recent study showed that even people very familiar with dog breeds cannot reliably determine the primary breed of a mutt, and dogs are often incorrectly classified as “pit bulls.” By generalizing the behaviors of dogs that look a certain way, innocent dogs suffer and may even be euthanized without evidence that they pose a threat. Responsible dog owners are forced to give up their dogs or move. Cities and states spend money enforcing restrictions and bans instead of putting that money to better use by establishing and strictly enforcing licensing and leash laws, and responding proactively to target owners of any dog that poses a risk to the community."(American Veterinary Medical Association, 2016).
  • Experts have proven that Breed Specific Legislation does not make communities safer for people or pets. It is costly, ineffective, and undermines the human-canine bond. Regulating breeds puts the focus on the dog, without addressing owner behavior and the owner’s responsibility to the animal and the community. In an environment of breed discrimination, the breed identification of a dog can have serious consequences with municipal authorities, animal shelters, landlords, and insurers, all of which will compromise the bond between a family and their dog. There is no evidence to support breed specific legislation.” (Animal Farm Foundation, 2016).
  • "The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to decrease the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans.The AVSAB’s position is that such legislation—often called breed-specific legislation (BSL)−is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.The importance of the reduction of dog bites is critical; however, the AVSAB’s view is that matching pet dogs to appropriate households, adequate early socialization and appropriate training, and owner and community education are most effective in preventing dog bites. Therefore, the AVSAB does support appropriate legislation regarding dangerous dogs, provided that it is education based and not breed specific." (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, 2014).
  • "Why should you fight breed discrimination in your community? Besides the fact that BDL wastes tax dollars and fails to protect people from dog bites, it can result in the deaths of thousands of wonderful family dogs who have never bothered anyone. If a breed ban is instituted in your community, law enforcement officials may be forced to take dogs away from their loving families and place them in already crowded animal shelters, where they will most likely be killed. Families can file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the ordinances, but that can be expensive." (Best Friends Animal Society, 2016).
  • “Responsible ownership is key to preventing dog bites or strikes. We believe that dog behaviour results primarily from the rearing and training provided by the owner and only in part from inherited characteristics. In principle, we are opposed to any proposal or legislation that singles out particular breeds of dogs rather than targeting individual aggressive dogs. The problems caused by dangerous dogs will never be solved until dog owners appreciate that they are responsible for the actions of their animals - the "deed not breed" principle.” (British Veterinary Association, 2014).
  • “Any animal may exhibit aggressive behavior regardless of breed. Accurately identifying a specific animal's lineage for prosecution purposes may be extremely difficult. Additionally, breed specific legislation may create an undue burden to owners who otherwise have demonstrated proper pet management and responsibility.” (National Animal Care and Control Association , 2013).
  • “Mistaken beliefs about dog-specific characteristics have often diverted us from a consideration of critical factors pertinent to the discussion of community safety and dog ownership... Responsible pet ownership practices are the foundation: the community institution of basic standards for owner responsibility has been shown to dramatically decrease dog bite incidence. These standards include humane care (providing proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), humane custody (licensing and providing permanent ID), and humane control (following leash laws and not allowing pets to become threats or nuisances to the community).” (National Canine Research Council, 2013).
  • “The RSPCA does not support breed specific legislation, also known as BSL. RSPCA Australia considers that any dog of any size, breed or mix of breeds may be dangerous and thus dogs should not be declared dangerous on the basis of breed or appearance. Each individual dog should be assessed based on their behaviour. The RSPCA does not believe that BSL is in any way effective in preventing or reducing dog attacks or in protecting the public from dangerous dogs. (RSPCA Australia, n.d.)There is widespread agreement that a dog’s individual tendency to bite depends on at least five interacting factors: heredity, early experience, socialisation and training, health, and the behaviour of the victim.” (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia, n.d.).
  • “BSL results in punishing and ultimately driving away responsible owners of the targeted breed(s) while having little to no impact on the actual cause of problems, those using dogs for illegal or immoral purposes. Instead of enacting BSL, communities should be more aggressive in enforcement of dangerous dog, anti-fighting, and anti-cruelty statutes. More emphasis must be placed on owner responsibility, as the majority of attacks are due to owner neglect or mistreatment. Targeting the actions and non-action of owners will be more effective and sensible in realistically decreasing dog attacks.” (United Kennel Club, 2016).

Determining the extent of the fad is difficult. The National Association of Realtors says it does not track the trend. But it is clear that for some sellers who bought high in the 1980's and do not want to sell low in today's sluggish market, the idea has come to seem like the answer to a prayer.

Bill Mosca, who now makes his living as an essay contest consultant, said his phone rings 70 to 80 times a week.

"There are no states I haven't heard from," he said. "Will it go on forever? God knows. But it has been more than a year now and I'm still getting calls. There's a tremendous interest out there."

Despite the interest, even Mr. Mosca is unaware of anyone who has managed to attract enough contestants to unload a house. The Neros said they had heard about a South Carolina couple who had run a successful contest, but they did not know the couple's name.

The Moscas' contest drew more than 7,000 entries -- each accompanied by a $100 check and a 250-word essay on why the person wanted to own an inn in Center Lovell, Me. The Moscas returned 2,000 entries because they had set a limit of 5,000, and they awarded the inn to a young couple from Maryland.

Mr. Mosca likes to call the contests a win-win situation.

"The person who writes the best essay wins something they would probably never own," he said. "The others know going in what the chances are. And the owner gets to sell his or her property."

Mr. Mosca also got a thriving business. A Matter of Legality

"I get calls from all kinds of people," he said. "What people basically are trying to figure out is whether this is legal."

The answer to that question varies from state to state. Massachusetts prohibits the contests. Maine, probably the leader in essay giveaways, does not.

In New York and Connecticut, as in most states, the contests are legal as long as contestants demonstrate a skill to show that winning is not strictly a matter of chance. Hence the essay. Otherwise, the contest would be an unauthorized lottery.

Still, the New York State Attorney General's office is wary. "If it's a contest of skill, that is not prohibited," said a cautious Terry O'Brien, a spokesman. "We don't endorse it, by any means."

New Jersey officials are less equivocal. "Our position is, it's gambling," said Deputy Attorney General Carol Henderson. "You're betting on the outcome of the essay contest."

Twice the state has been dragged into court on the issue, and twice lower court judges have upheld the state, ruling that the contests are illegal.

Even when the contests are legal, contestants should beware. The winner will probably be responsible for transfer taxes and title fees, and could be liable for any liens against the property. And many owners will not allow contestants to tour the house before entering.

"You don't know what you're getting," said Steve Schwane, a lawyer with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. "For all you know, there could be a toxic waste dump in there." For Some, No Regrets

But Rick and Jan Cox have no regrets about entering the Moscas' contest. More than a year after winning the Center Lovell Inn, the two still seem giddy about their good fortune.

Mrs. Cox said the 200-year-old inn needed a lot of work. Working 18-hour days, the couple have shored up the inn's foundation, repaired the septic system, replaced the beds, rebuilt a chimney and scraped and painted woodwork until their hands were sore. They list the backbreaking projects like honeymooners describing the islands they have hopped.

"Things are going wonderfully," Mr. Cox said.

He said that he would advise people to consider the work that a property might need, but that in most cases, the gain would be worth the risk.

"Think of all the money you waste during the course of a lifetime," Mr. Cox said. "Take a chance." Big Costs Possible

But if contestants are taking a chance, so are sellers. Running a contest can be expensive. One man in Maine spent $31,000 promoting his unsuccessful contest. The Neros said they spent more than $4,000 on publicity and supplies.

"If your property is not selling, partly it's the market," Mr. Schwane said. "But partly it's probably because it's not such an attractive home."

Dottie Munro's 15-room Victorian home in Easton, Md., sat on the market for more than a year before she decided to run a contest. "I got offers, but gee whiz, forget it," she said. "I'm not looking for a profit, but at least I'd like to get my investment back."

With the help of appearances on CNN and a national television newsmagazine, Ms. Munro has received about 3,000 entries. Three contained marriage proposals. But her goal of 4,500 still looms far in the distance, so she has extended her deadline until October. Promotion Matters

Clearly, promotion is the key to a successful contest. As one of the first to run a contest -- if not the first -- the Moscas rode a wave of publicity that included an appearance on the "Donahue" show and articles in People magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

The Neros, who contacted Mr. Mosca but declined to pay his fee of several hundred dollars, have received publicity from newspapers and television stations in the Hudson Valley. Mr. Nero estimated that between April and July, nearly 3,000 people toured the couple's house.

"I'm wondering why we had so many 'ohs' and 'ahhs' and only got 50 entries," he said.

Of course, the Neros have promised to refund all the money sent to them if they do not get enough contestants. Train Tracks Adjacent

The Nero home sits on a hill overlooking the Hudson, across the river from Poughkeepsie. It has four bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a garage and a pool. It also has train tracks at the foot of the hill, but the Neros said none of the people who toured the house seemed to mind the occasional freight trains that rumble through.

Mrs. Nero bought the house eight years ago, and said she spent nearly $100,000 renovating it. She said that she hated to leave the house, but that her new husband, the hair salon he owns and their church are farther north in Hudson.

To sweeten the deal, the couple is including all the home's furnishings in the giveaway. But apparently, even that was not enough. The Neros said most of the people who did enter failed to follow the guidelines. Instead of telling them why they wanted to Own a Furnished Victorian Home by the Hudson River, most people plied the couple with stories of hardship and despair. One man only sent $50; he said that he was living on a fixed income and that he hoped the Neros would understand.

John Bordi, the Neros' realtor, said relocation companies that buy the homes of transferred executives in the area have helped drive down home prices. Mass layoffs by I.B.M., a major employer in the mid-Hudson region, have also hurt the market. The Nero home was appraised at $300,000 two years ago, but has probably lost a third of its value today, Mr. Bordi said.

The Neros bristle at that suggestion. They have extended their contest through September, in hopes that all those people who toured their home just went away in August and forgot to send their entries in. But the "For Sale" sign is back out front. And at this point, anyone who walked up the steep stairway could probably buy themselves a Victorian for $250,000.

"We don't want to have to go through the winter with it if we don't have to," Mrs. Nero said.

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