BREED SPECIFIC LAW - LEGAL ISSUES                                  Material on this page © The Animal Council 2006-2017


Breed specific laws were an unwelcome novelty in the early 1980s and widely thought to be unconstitutional, at least arguably
enough to be avoided as public policy.  A 1984 law review note optimistically supported this thinking.  University of Cincinnati Law
Review, Volume 53, No. 4, 1984.  The New Breed of Municipal Dog Control Laws: Are They Constitutional?

Potential legal issues include the Constitutionality of the laws themselves under the Federal or possibly respective state
Constitutions, propriety of enactment procedures under government law, enforcement issues and plaintiffs’ standing in particular

A decade later, this field of law had developed sufficiently for a topic in American Law Reports, a multi-volume legal reference
publication containing articles, called annotations, summarizing the law on particular topics including cases on both sides of
issues and providing citations to both primary (cases, statutes and regulations and secondary sources (texts, forms and law
review articles.)   80 ALR 4th 70, supplemented as a “pocket part” in the back cover of the volume.    ALR, published by West, is
now in the 6th edition, can be found in law libraries.

A more recent article details case law over the 20 years after Cincinatti:  
, Devin Burstein, Animal Law Vol. 10:313, 2004.  Mr. Burstein graduated Cum Laude, Order of the Coif from the
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where an earlier version of this article won the Benjamin N. Cardozo Writing Award for the
Best Course/Independent Research Paper.

A body of case law now exists, typically challenging local ordinances in state court on the issues of lack of substantive due
process under the federal Constitution for either lacking a rational relationship to the legislative objective or vagueness.  Lesser
legal issues have included standards that are over- or under-inclusive, take private property without compensation, have
oppressive standards, lack procedural due process notice and hearing provisions and require excessive bond or insurance.  
Unsuccessful issues have included First Amendment and Commerce Clause claims.   Collateral issues may include whether
plaintiffs have standing to assert claims and enactment or enforcement procedures.

Over time, drafters have tended to use language that has been judicially upheld.  For example, the Municipal Research and
Services Center of Washington provides express advice on how to do this in Washington state:

“Breed-Specific Regulations

Some cities, in adopting ordinances based upon Ch. 16.08 RCW, have modified the definition of "potentially dangerous dog" and/or
"dangerous dog" to include reference to a specific breed such as the "pit bull terrier" breed. In these cities, the restrictions that
apply to either "potentially dangerous dogs" or "dangerous dogs" are made to apply automatically to a specific breed.

A few cities have adopted ordinances that completely ban the ownership of particular breeds including pit bulls, wolf-hybrids, and
others. The city of Yakima's ordinance banning pit bull terriers was challenged and upheld in
American Dog Owners v. Yakima, 113
Wn.2d 213 (1989).

In the case of breed specific ordinances, local governments should be able to show that the breed has some unique traits and
characteristics that pose a greater threat of serious injury or death to humans than other breeds. Breed-specific ordinances must
also clearly define the particular breed being regulated so that owners or potential owners are given sufficient notice of
requirements and violations.”

A more extensive article from the perspective of local government is
by Jeannette Cox in "Local Government Law" Number 106 November 2004,  publication of the School of Government at
the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  
Article Link Revised 2/22/2017

A 2006 article reflecting more recent developments Legal Q & A  Animal Control: Breed Specific Regulations.  Roger Huebner,
General Counsel, Illinois Municipal League; Jerry Zarley, Paralegal, Illinois Municipal League;
85 Illinois Municipal Review 27, No. 1 (January 2006)  
 Article Link Revised 2/22/2017

    Unofficial copies of cases provided for educational purposes.  Use official editions for citation purposes.

Holt v City of Maumelle, 307 Ark. 115,
817 S.W.2d 208 (Ark. 1991)  
Appeal from summary judgment for City:
whether ordinance prohibiting Pit Bulls/other
breeds from city was unconstitutional?
Order granting summary judgment
Banning specific breeds not
impermisably vague; including APBT and
"Pit Bull" in banned class not
unreasonable; city did not have authority
to delegate its legislative function to
re-enact breed ban in settlement of prior
litigation with plaintiff.
State Supreme Court
Beebe & American Dog Owners
Association v. City of Union City,
1989, California Superior Court,
Alameda County (Trial Court)
Petition for Peremptory  Writ of Mandate,
Muni Code Chapter 8.36, unconstitutionally
vague; violates procedural due process for
failure to provide hearing before or after
seizure of dog.  
Order to cease and desist enforcement of
Muni Code Chapter 8.36.
Not appealed.
City liable for attorney fees
Zuniga v. County of San Mateo
Health Department and Peninsula
Humane Society, 218 Cal. App. 3rd
1526, 1990.
Could pit bull puppies born of mother
impounded pursuant to dogfighting case be
declared and found "inherently dangerous"
under County dangerous dog ordinance?  
(NOTE: ordinance did not mention breeds.)  
2-1 published decision of First District
Court of Appeal:  must have evidence via
expert witnesses -behaviorial experts and
dog trainers as to whether a dog or puppy
who has not done anything except be
born could be vicious.   Impounded
puppies released.  
1st District Court of Appeal
Colorado Dog Fanciers v. City and
County of Denver , Colorado
820 P.2d 644 (Colo. 1991)
Action for a declaratory judgment on the
constitutionality of the "Pit Bulls Prohibited"
ordinance, Denver, Colo., Rev.Mun.Code §
8-55 (1989), and injunctive relief to prevent
Ordinance did not violate procedural due
process where the ordinance is not
fundamentally unfair and the burden of
proof upon the dog owner in the civil
context is valid; evidence of pit bull
determination in a civil context may not
then be used to bring criminal charges
against the owners; ordinance not
overbroad in its classification of pit bulls
as dangerous; ordinance not vague, as it
provided fair notice of the conduct
circumscribed by ordinance; no violation
of dog owners' rights to equal protection
as ample evidence exists to establish a
rational relationship between the city's
classification of certain dogs as pit bulls
and the legitimate governmental purpose
of protecting the health and safety of the
city's residents; valid police power
exercise to protect the health and safety of
the citizens since the evidence showed pit
bulls to be inherently dangerous.
City and County of Denver v. State of
, December 9, 2004
Whether Denver ordinance upheld in above
case is valid and enforceable following
enactment of C.R.S. 18-9-204.5 given State
Constitution Home Rule status of Denver?
Denver ordinance is valid and
constitutional except as to inter-city
transportation provision which is severed
by the Court under the severability clause
contained in ordinance.  
District Court, City and
County of Denver
Sonya Dias, et al., v City and County
of Denver, Colorado
Civil Action No.
March 20, 2008
Plaintiffs' case not barred by "issue
preclusion", ie. no privity w/Colo Dog
Fanciers; no violation of procedural due
process for lack of pre-seizure hearing when
post-seizure hearing is available; plaintiffs
did not have standing to  challenge alleged
unwritten policies that could be
unconstitutional; ord. is not
unconstitutionally vague; no equal protection
claim; no substantive due process claim.  
Motion to Dismiss granted
Sonya Dias, et. al. v City and County
of Denver, Colorado
No. 08-1132
May 27, 2009
Plaintiffs lack standing to seek prospective
relief having not shown risk of future
Dismissal of vagueness claim correct as
not vague in all applications; Erred in
dismissing substantive due process claim
as pit bull ban is plausibly not rationally
related to a legitimate government interest.
Dismissed in part; Affirmed in part;
and Reversed in part and

2012, case settled
Sonya Dias, et. al. v City and County
of Denver, Colorado
No. 08-1132
September 29, 2010
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
McNeely v. U.S.
District of Columbia
874 A.2d 371 (D.C. App. 2005)
Pit Bull and Rottweiler Dangerous Dog
Designation Emergency Amendment Act of
1996 "A pit bull or a Rottweiler that causes
injury to or kills a human being or a
domestic animal without provocation shall
be humanly [sic] destroyed and the owner of
such dog shall be fined up to $20,000 and
may be sentenced to not more than 2 years
of imprisonment." 43 D.C.Reg. 2158
temporary act was in effect for only 90
days and never re-enacted.
Conviction under emergency Act affirmed,
Act did not deprive defendant of fair
warning of the proscribed conduct;  
prosecutor's improper comment was
rendered harmless by the trial court's
curative instructions.

Case analyzes due process challenge as
to issues of standing, vagueness and
constitutionality of strict liability felony.  
The Act only applied to dogs causing
death/injury in unprovoked attack and not
otherwise a prohibition on owning.  
District of Columbia Court of
American Dog Owners Assn., Inc., et
al. v. Dade County,
Florida, et al.
728 F.Supp. 1533
(S.D. Fla. 1989)
County ordinance required registration,
leashing, muzzling, confinement of 3
specific  AKC/UKC breeds or dogs
substantially conforming to characteristics;
grand-fathering w/ban; civil fines; potential
destruction of dog.  Action for
pre-enforcement declaratory relief,
injunction.  Was definition so vague as to
violate due process under Fed. con.; were
FL con. standards violated by lack of
enforcement standards.  
Dismissed with prejudice; plaintiffs failed
to meet burden of proof.  Ordinance was
not facially vague: the term "pit bull" is
understood by dog owners who know or
can determine their dogs' breed.  
Enforcement standards did exist so as
not to be impermissably lacking on a
pre-enforcement basis.  Court noted that
federal courts must construe state law as
constitutional when reasonable
construction can be applied and that
plaintiffs had not challenged County's
factual basis, leaving County's valid
exercise of police power and rational
relationship to government interest
assumed in this case.  
United States District Court,
Southern District of Florida
State of Florida v. Peters
534 So.2d 760
(Fla.App. 3 Dist. 1988).
City of North Miami Ordinance No. 422.5,
required pit bull owners to carry insurance,
post a surety bond, or furnish other evidence
of financial responsibility in the amount of
$300,000 to cover any bodily injury, death or
property damage that may be caused by the
dog, register their pit bulls with the City and
confine the dogs indoors or in a locked pen.  
Ordinance did not violate equal protection
clauses of Florida or United States
constitutions, did not violate dog owners'
right to due process, and was not
unconstitutionally vague.  
District Court of Appeal of
Third District
Peters v. State
542 So. 2d 1334  (1989)
Petition for Review
State Supreme Court
American Dog Owners Association,
Inc., Responsible
Dog Owners of
Iowa, Inc.; Roger
Anderson v City of
Des Moines
469 N.W.2d 416 (Iowa 1991)
Appeal from trial court upholding
constitutionality of ordinance requiring
special licensing/confinement of designated
breeds/mixes and dogs having the
appearance of these breeds.  
Ordinance provisions for designated
breeds was NOT unconstitutionally
vague, but provisions applying to mixes or
"pit bulls" other than designated breeds
WAS unconstitutionally vague.  Severance
of the unconstitutional portion only was
State Supreme Court
Randy L. Hearn v. City of Overland
Park, Kansas
772 P.2d 758 (Kan. 1989)
Kansas Supreme Court
Was city ordinance regulating ownership of
Staff. Bull Terriers, American Staff. Terriers
or American Pit Bull Terriers
unconstitutional?  Plaintiffs sought
injunction and damages.  
Ordinance not unconstitutionally vague or
overbroad; does not violate the due
process rights of plaintiffs under the
United States and Kansas Constitutions;
does not violate the equal protection
clauses of the United States and Kansas
Constitutions;  the district court did not err
in dismissing the plaintiffs' claim for
damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State Supreme Court
Michael Bess, Timothy Poe v.
Bracken County Fiscal Court
NO. 2005-CA-000541
December 1, 2006
Was 2004 local ordinance prohibiting Pit
Bulls, as defined, inconsistent with generic
dangerous dog statute based on individual
dog's acts?
Trial court (Bracken Circuit Court) dismissed
plaintiff-appellants' motion for TRO and
complaint.  Kentucky Court of Appeals
Breed specific ordinance does not conflict
with state generic dangerous dog law but
provides a more comprehensive "plan of
protection" for the public based on use of
police power; takings pursuant to police
power rather than public use purpose do
not require compensation of owners;
ordinance contemplated hearing prior to
disposition, thus no deprivation of due
process; no violation of constitutional right
to travel, because travelers are not
entitled to greater rights than local
residents regardless of rights in their
home jurisdiction.    
Commonwealth Of Kentucky
Court of Appeals
American Dog Owners Assn., et al v.
City of Lynn
533 N.E. 2d 642
City enacted a series of ordinances: 1st
imposed breed specific restraint
requirements; 2nd repealed any
inconsistent terms and imposed ban except
restraint on owners' property; 3rd replaced
previous and repealed inconsistent terms,
imposing new requirements, restrictions;
Trial Court declared 3rd ord. void for
vagueness; a 4th ordinance was enacted.
Enactment of the 4th ordinance rendered
moot the controversy and action on the
prior 3, requiring vacating the trial court
judgment.  The court suggested that if
based on the same facts and arguments,
the 4th ordinance might also be
unconstitutionally vague.  
City of Pagedale v Murphy
142 S.W.3d 775(Mo. Ct. App. 2004).
Appellant Murphy appealed conviction ($100
fine) under ordinance for possession an
American Stafforshire Terrier when the
ordinance referred only to a "pit bull".  
Court of Appeals held ordinance not
defining "pit bull" is not unconstitutionally
vague and whether a specific dog is a "pit
bull" is a question for the trier of fact and
not one of constitutional law.  
State Supreme Court
denied application for
Garcia et al v. Village of Tijeras
767 P.2d 355 (1988)  New Mexico
Court of Appeals
(AKC as Amicus Curiae)
Appeal from District Ct. of Bernalillo County
upholding ordinance banning
ownership/possession of American Pit Bull
Terrier.  18 of 80 households had 1 or more
pit bulls.  
Court of Appeals held ordinance not
unconstitutionally vague as to Plaintiffs' pit
bulls; not violative of substantive or
procedural due process; not a taking of
private property without just
State Supreme Court
denied Certiorari
Vanater v. Village of South Point
717 F. Supp. 1236 (D. Ohio 1989)
US District Court Ohio, Southern
District of Ohio
Criminal ordinance prohibiting Pit Bulls as
defined "... any Staffordshire Bull Terrier or
American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog,
or any mixed breed of dog which contains,
as an element of its breeding the breed of
Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American
Staffordshire Terrier as to be identifiable as
partially of the breed of Staffordshire Bull
Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier by a
qualified veterinarian duly licensed by the
State of Ohio."  Complaint sought
declaratory judgment and permanent
US District Court found ordinance
valid exercise of police
power, there is a presumption of
constitutionality, there was a rational
relationship to a legitimate government
interest,  not unconstitutionally vague,
underinclusive or overbroad, and "United
States Constitution does not empower
this Court to second guess state officials
charged with the difficult responsibility of
protecting the safety and welfare of its
United States District Court
State v. Robinson
541 N.E. 2nd 541
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Clermont
Defendant appealed conviction under state
law requirement to securely confine pit bulls
(R.S. 955.22(D)(1)  
Court of Appeals affirmed and upheld
state law as not unconstitutionally vague,
over-broad or violating due process
protection.   Court noted "Courts, however,
frequently upheld against vagueness
challenges laws, which, like pit bull
statutes and ordinances, describe
objects" as distinguished from laws
conduct being more likely to be
found violative.  
Court of Appeals of Ohio,
Clermont County
City of Akron v. Tipton
559 N.E. 2d 1385
Akron Municipal Court
Defendant filed motion to dismiss charges
of violating city ordinance with breed specific
restrictions and regulations.  
(Defendant did not appeal his
subsequent conviction.)  Court upheld
ordinance as constitutional.  (Court noted
that both sides "spent considerable effort"
and  "the city's brief tends to emphasize
the case law and ...defendant's brief, the
Akron Municipal Court
Singer et al v. City of Cincinnati  566
N.E. 2d 190
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Hamilton
AmStaff owners appealed trial court finding
that municipal code provision prohibiting
owning/keeping/harboring pit bull in the city
is constitutional.  This ordinance followed
previous restrictive ordinances.  
Upheld:  Ordinance involved no
fundamental right or suspect class of
persons so that evidence to disprove
rational relationship to public safety would
have to meet clear and convincing
standard: no violation of constitutional
due process or equal protection rights.  
Ordinance is not unconstitutionally vague
as to persons who know that their dogs
are included.  
Court of Appeals of Ohio,
Hamilton County
George M. Anderson v. Ohio
501 U.S. 1257, 115 L.Ed.2d 1067
Petition U.S. Supreme Court of
Ohio v. Anderson
Petition for writ of certiorari to
Supreme Court of Ohio denied.
U.S. Supreme Court
State of Ohio v Anderson, 57 Ohio St.
3rd, 168; 566 NE 2nd, 1224.  
February 13, 1991
Ohio Supreme Court
Charges under R.C. 955.22(D) failure to
confine vicious dog, R.C. 955.22(E) failure to
obtain liability insurance for vicious dog, i.e.
pit bull.  Trial court dismissed charges;
found R.C. 955.11(A)(4)(iii)
unconstitutionally void for vagueness.  Ohio
appealed.  10th District Court of Appeals
affirmed, October 12, 1989.  
Upheld R.C. 955.11(A)(4)(iii) NOT
unconstitutionally void for vagueness.
State Supreme Court
State of Ohio v. Ferguson, 57 Ohio
St. 3rd 176; 566 NE 2d 1230.
February 13, 1991
Ohio Supreme Court
Whether statute requiring confining vicious
dog known as a "pit bull" unconstitutionally
vague?  Defendant's conviction had been
reversed by Court of Appeals.  2 unconfined
dogs killed 2 yr old child.  
Reversed (remanded on other issues)  
"commonly known as a pit bull dog" is not
vague and defendant had registered his
dog as "American Pit Bull Terrier."  
State Supreme Court
City of Toledo v. Paul Tellings
Trial Court No. CRB-02-15267
July 8, 2004
Charges under Toledo ord. prohibiting
owning more than 1 vicious dog as defined
under R.C. 955.11 or a dog commonly
known as a Pit Bull or Pit Bull mixed breed, 3
counts failure to obtain vicious dog
Convicted on all counts.  State statute and
Toledo ordinance upheld as
Toledo v. Tellings Mar. 3, 2006,
Court Of Appeals Of Ohio
Sixth Appellate District
Lucas County
No. L-04-1224
Decided: March 3, 2006
Appeal conviction on 4 issues:
State statue and Toledo ord.
unconstitutional for lack of procedural due
process; violated rights to equal protection
and substantive due process for lack of
rational basis to single out pit bull as
inherently dangerous; improper taking of
private property without just compensation;
unconstitutionally vague because no rational
basis to identify pit bull.
State statue and Toledo ord. found
unconstitutional for lack of procedural due
process; violated rights to equal
protection and substantive due process
for lack of rational basis to single out pit
bull as inherently dangerous;
unconstitutionally vague because no
rational basis to identify pit bull.  
Appellant's issue of improper taking was
found moot and not decided.  
Toledo v. Tellings.  (see page 6)
Lucas App. No. L-04-1224,
Motion for stay of execution of
judgment. (pending appeal)  
Motion granted.  6-1, Justice Alice
Robie Resnick dissenting.  
Toledo v. Tellings
114 Ohio St. 3d 210
871 N.E. 2d 1152
The state of Ohio and the city of Toledo have
a legitimate interest in protecting citizens
from the dangers associated with pit bulls,
and that R.C. 955.11(A)(4)(a)(iii) and 955.22
and Toledo Municipal Code 505.14 are
rationally related to that interest and are
REVERSED  7-0, Justice Maureen
concurring opinion disapproving
state law provision classifying pit
bulls as dangerous
Toledo v. Tellings
9/26/07, Case Announcements
Paul Tellings  v. City of Toledo
No. 07-8545
522 U.S. ___
Petition for a writ of certiorari and
motion for leave to proceed in forma
Petition for writ of certiorari denied
Paul Tellings v. City of Toledo
No. 07-8545  
522 U.S. ___
Petition for rehearing
Starkey v. Township of Chester
628 F.Supp.196 (E.E.Pa. 1986)

Note:  Federal District Court
Motion for preliminary injunction re
Township ordinance regulating "Pit Bulls" -
Hi fee licenses; $20K bond; confined or
muzzled; removed/destroyed if attack
Motion denied:  Ordinance met rational
basis test, thus no violation of equal
protection rights.  Chances of prevailing at
trial too slim to grant preliminary
injunction.  First Amendment and
Commerce Clause claims "frivolous".   
United States District Court,
Eastern District of
City of Richardson v. Responsible
Dog Owners of Texas
794 S.W.2d 17
(Tex. 1990).
Dog owners sought injunction and
declaratory relief based on issue of whether
state law preempted criminal ordinance
when some ordinance provisions were
based on state law.  Dangerous animal
ordinance included special registration for
pit bull dogs.  
Reversed:  State law on topic did not
completely preempt but requires
reasonable construction when there is
only small overlap of narrow statute and
broad ordinance written as a
comprehensive approach to animals
including just a small provision limited to
dogs.  Court stated;  Under article XI,
section 5 of the Texas Constitution,
home-rule cities have broad discretionary
powers provided that no ordinance "shall
contain any provision inconsistent with
the Constitution of the State, or of the
general laws enacted by the Legislature
of this State...."  
Responsible Dog Owners of Texas
v. City of Richardson
781 S.W. 2nd 667
Court of Appeals of Texas, Dallas
Dog owners had sought injunction and
declaratory relief based on issue of whether
state law preempted criminal ordinance
when some ordinance provisions were
based on state law.  Dangerous animal
ordinance included special registration for
pit bull dogs.  Trial court held for city.  Dog
owners appealed.  
Court of Appeals reversed, based on
state law preemption of differing local
criminal ordinance with same provisions,
holding ordinance void.  

(Note, no breed specific issues were
decided in this case which was based on
the breed specific ordinance provision
causing it to differ from and conflict with
state law to the point of state
Greenwood & American Dog
Breeders Association  v. City of North
Salt Lake
817P.2d 816
Appeal from Davis County District Ct
upholding 1987 city ordinance imposing
requirements for special licensing,
insurance, confinement, muzzling for vicious
dogs including certain breeds (included
Tosas and Shar-Pei).  Trial Court found
definition of "vicious animal" alone void for
vagueness, and the City did not appeal this
Plaintiffs did not show that the trial courts
findings of fact were clearly erroneous as
to determination of breed; ordinance not
unconstitutionally vague on its face or as
to plaintiffs; does not violate 14th
Amendment right to equal protection for
over-breadth or under-inclusiveness.  
American Dog Owners Association
v. The City of Yakima
113 Wn.2d 213, 777 P.2d 1046
City of Yakima ordinance 3034 banned pit
bulls, specifically the breeds Bull Terrier,
American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull
Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier,
as well as dogs "identifiable" as having any
pit bull variety as an element of their
breeding, allowed pit bulls licensed prior to
the enactment to be kept subject to certain
rules and allowed a judge to release
apprehended dog on showing dog will not
return to city or was misidentified.
Ordinance was not
unconstitutionally overbroad or
Steve Hardwick and Sharon Nalley
v. Town of Ceredo
No. 11-1048
FILED, January 14, 2013
November 12, 2009, petitioners convicted
(misdemeanors) in the Municipal Court of
Ceredo for violations of the Codified
Ordinances of the Town of Ceredo, § 505.16
ownership of pit bull terriers within the Town
of Ceredo.  Upheld on appeal to Circuit
Court of Wayne County.  Appealed to
Supreme Court of Appeals.
Memorandum Decision with Circuit
Court's decision attached.  West Virginia
Code § 8-12-1, et seq., grants
municipalities general police powers to
protect their communities.  Regulation of
dogs within town limits does not exceed
home rule limits. Ordinance is rationally
related to legitimate interest to impose
safety regulations to insure health and
protection of citizens; not
unconstitutionally vague nor violate due
process of citizens.  
Dog Federation of Wisconsin &
individuals v. City of South
Milwaukee  504 N.W.3d 275
(Wis.App 1993)  
Appeal from trial court decision
upholding ordinance banning "Pit
Bulls" not registered/licensed by
Ordinance was not unconstitutionally
vague and did not violate right to equal
protection under Fourteenth Amendment
of  US Constitution or Art. I, sec. 1 of
Wisconsin Constitution.  Overbreadth
doctrine applies only to First Amendment
Court of Appeals of

NOTE 6/2016 City Council
declines to discuss repeal,