Ineffective Policies

Ineffective policies do not achieve their intended results and form rifts between animal services and the communities they serve.

What makes a policy ineffective? 

  • Difficult and impractical to enforce
  • Discourages compliance with responsible pet ownership practices
  • Costly and diverts resources from real solutions
  • Over and under inclusive
  • Punishes responsible pet owners
See the below video by Bill Bruce, former director of Calgary’s Animal & By-law Services, on ineffective laws: 

What types of policies are ineffective?

 Breed-specific legislation (BSL): 

BSL is any law that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds.
  • BSL is based on the incorrect notion that certain breeds of dogs are more likely to bite or injure than others. BSL has not succeeded in reducing dog bite-related injuries wherever it has been enacted. 
  • BSL is extremely difficult to enforce, as it requires the visual identification of certain breeds (and mixes) of dogs by law enforcement, despite the fact that visual breed identification has been proven to be inaccurate. 
  • BSL is very costly, as it diverts resources (taxpayer dollars) from animal services, and is open to legal challenge from pet owners. 
  • Please click here for additional information on BSL.


The best ways to reduce dog bite-related incidents in a community are multifactorial approaches that focus on improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of canine behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs, and consistent enforcement of breed-neutral dangerous dog / reckless owner ordinances in communities.


Mandatory Spay/Neuter (MSN):

MSN laws require the sterilization of owned pets (usually dogs or cats, but might also be breed-specific).
  • MSN laws are based on the incorrect notion that owners of unaltered pets simply do not want to have them spayed/neutered. On the contrary, research done by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) found that cost was the number one reason why owners of unaltered animals did not sterilize their pets.
  • MSN laws are also based on the misguided notion that requiring all owners to alter their pets or face punishment will result in fewer animals entering shelters or animal control. On the contrary, MSN laws can cause pets that were already in homes to be surrendered or impounded because their owners did not have the resources to comply with the mandate.
  • MSN laws punish responsible pet owners who do not have access or available resources for veterinary services such as spay/neuter. 


Community-based outreach programs that focus on removing barriers and extending information and resources to under-served communities in a compassionate way have been shown to be very effective in increasing the number of altered pets in a community without legal mandates.

For additional information on methods and results, see the HSUS “Pets for Life” toolkit

Pet Limits

Pet limit laws establish a maximum number of pets allowable per residence at any one time.
  • Pet limits are based on the incorrect notion that arbitrarily limiting the number of pets a resident can own will eliminate nuisances and result in higher standards of care for the community’s animals. For example, one pet owner may be able to care for four dogs with a very high standard of care and responsibility, whereas another may allow their one dog to bark all day. Consequently, pet limits punish responsible pet owners while failing to address the problem of irresponsible ownership.


 If the concern is standards of care (including cruelty and neglect), or nuisances (barking, picking up poop), check the municipality’s existing laws, as most already have these in place, making the common goals of pet limits redundant. If either of those types of laws are not already in place, cruelty and nuisance prevention policies would be much more effective to pursue than pet limits.

Overly Complicated Tethering Ordinances
Overly complicated tethering ordinances include those with: time limits, equipment specifications (including tether weight and length relative to a dog’s body), and temperature / weather restrictions etc.
  • Ordinances with extremely specific rules and requirements are very difficult and impractical to enforce, as they demand a vast amount of resources from animal services. For example, time limit tethering ordinances require an animal control officer to stop by a home once to start a clock, and then re-check the same home later to see if the same pet is still outside after a defined time. For ordinances requiring the tethering equipment be proportional to the dogs own body size, an officer would have to stop by a home with equipment to weigh and measure the dog as well as the tethering equipment in order to see if a pet owner is in violation.


Community-based outreach where animal services or humane organizations work with pet owners to understand motivations individual owners have for tethering can be a more effective approach to change because it builds a relationship with the owner rather than leading with punishment. 

For more information on progressive approaches to community outreach based animal control, please see “Support, Inform, Then Enforce:"​

Specific types of complicated tethering ordinances, such as those with temperature and weather restrictions, may already be covered by a town’s general cruelty and neglect ordinances, making their addition on a tethering ordinance unnecessary. 
  • If a legal limit on tethering is still sought, there are more enforceable policies, such as laws that only allow tethering when an owner is outside and supervising the dog. This law only requires an officer to check and see if an owner is present with the dog to determine if the owner is in violation. 

What are the Consequences of Ineffective Policies?

  • Failing to address problematic owner behavior.
  • Discriminating against responsible pet owners.
  • Placing unequal financial burdens on some, but not all, owners. 
  • Potential lowered compliance with other responsible pet ownership ordinances (e.g.: licensing).
  • Placing a burden on already strained public departments and private nonprofits who must deal with an influx of animals when owners are forced to comply with new laws.
  • Creating unsolvable enforcement problems for animal control officers.
  • Wasting precious public resources and/or diverting funds for enactment and enforcement.
  • Costly and time-intensive legal challenges.
  • Setting neighbors against each other.
  • Altogether failing to solve the problem they were created to address.
Updated March 9th, 2021