What’s Next: End Dog Breed-Based Discrimination

What’s Next with Nicole is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

While Virginia prohibits communities from banning dogs based on breed alone, that discrimination still exists in housing.

In Arlington, where 70% of homes are in apartment buildings and 60% are rented, that law is practically useless to the majority of our population.

Virginia Code states that “No dog or crossbreed should be considered a dangerous / vicious dog solely because it is a specific breed, nor is it prohibited from owning any particular breed or crossbreed.”

While it is sensible to ban animals that are considered dangerous or vicious and to ban dogs or animals altogether, it seems unreasonable to allow certain breeds of animals but not others – especially if this practice is banned at the local level. This has a detrimental effect on certain breeds with a high risk of death, such as crossbreeds of pit bull terriers, and the living conditions of their owners.

As a real-life example of how the flexibility of racial discrimination works in housing here in Arlington, I’m going to use an experience I had three years ago when I had a roommate with a pit bull terrier. My experience of looking for an apartment with a pit bull was what initially spurred my advocacy for tenants’ rights.

At the time, we couldn’t find a single two-bedroom apartment in a building that would allow pit bull-related breeds. We had to move to a single family household run by someone I would classify as a slum lord. At the time, small landlords were stripped of basic services like providing running or hot water, which didn’t work 30% of the time we lived in this house. Since the far-reaching improvements made by the Tenant-Landlord Act of 2019, this is now illegal. Having a restricted breed dog is one of the many factors that discrimination plays in people who move into questionable life situations.

Locally, Prince George’s County, Maryland banned pit bull-related breeds to reduce serious dog bites in the county. Their own Vicious Animal Task Force found that this ban did not reduce pit bull biting incidents to any level of importance. Even so, in Prince George’s 900 pit bulls are confiscated every year because of this law and 80% of them are euthanized.

While I’m glad Virginia is one of 22 states that have Race Specific Legislation (BSL) prohibiting racial discrimination, it doesn’t help that it doesn’t extend to housing. I encourage the Board of Directors to look into ways to extend our state requirement to ban racial discrimination to residential units, if this is not prohibited by the Dillon Rule.

Nicole Merlene is a native of Arlington and a former Virginia State Senate nominee. She has served as a community leader on boards of directors for the Arlington County Civic Federation and the North Rosslyn Civic Association, serving as Arlington Economic Development Officer, local transit planning groups, and civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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