Do You Need a License for a Pitbull? (The Facts)

american pitbull pup

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Pitbulls gained a bad reputation over the years because underground fighting rings primed them to be more angry and aggressive. Therefore, the breed (and others like it) has since become the target of breed-specific legislation (BSL) around the US.

Do you need a license to own an American Pibull Terrier? 

You need a license to own a Pitbull in most states across the US because all dogs need a license. However, some states have launched BSL targeted at the breed, which could make the license for Pitbulls costlier. Some of them also mandate spaying or neutering your pitbull. 

Are you thinking of getting a pit bull in your state? The rest of the article will look at what you need to know about pitbull licenses in various parts of the country. 

Why You Need a License for Your Dog

You need a license for your dog to help establish your relationship. If your dog goes missing, the licensing details will help you reunite with him. The small fees paid for a dog license also help the government cover the cost of running a shelter for dogs yet to be reunited with their owners. 

Also, a license will help prevent the misidentification of a dog in the event of a legal situation. A licensed dog makes people feel safer as such dogs are often immunized and healthy. 

I don’t agree with licenses for a dog, but I can understand why the fees make sense. However, special licenses targeting specific breeds like Pitbulls are unfortunate. 

Places Where You Need Special Licenses for Pitbulls

pitbull eating

Today, many states in the US have counties and cities with BSL laws targeting specific breeds. Pitbulls are always included in these laws. However, as an American Bully owner, I know all too well that the laws are lax when it comes to what breed qualifies as a Pitbull.

Other breeds targeted include Dobermans and Rottweilers. Two examples of places where those laws exist include the following:

San Bernardino

San Bernardino started cracking down on Pitbulls more than a decade ago. In 2014, they enacted laws mandating a breed-specific license for all Pitbulls older than four months. The county’s Department of Public Health Animal Care and Control also mandates all Pitbulls above that age to be neutered or spayed. 

Springfield City

In 2017, Springfield city announced a ban on new Pitbull registrations. 

Existing owners were allowed to register their pets and maintain an annual registration. The ordinance threatened to “seize and dispose of” unregistered Pitbulls and also mandated them to be spayed/neutered and microchipped. 

Other cities and counties have since followed the footsteps of Springfield and San Bernandino. While some states haven’t passed any laws, they’ve allowed local governments to have BSLs within their borders. 

Some of the states with lots of active BSLs include: 

  • Iowa 
  • Kentucky 
  • Louisiana 
  • Michigan 
  • Arkansas 
  • Mississippi 
  • Wisconsin 
  • Missouri 
  • Ohio 
  • Kansas 

Iowa, for example, has more than 90 municipalities with documented BSL ordinances, while Kentucky has 30. 

How Pitbulls Are Identified

well brushed pitbull

Many states with BSLs against Pitbulls classify all dogs that “appear” dangerous as Pitbulls. Therefore, if you own an American Bully or other imposing breeds, you may still be mandated to get a special license and spay or neuter your dog. 

An animal control officer talking about the Springfield city ordinance essentially said an owner calling their dog a Pitbull makes it a Pitbull. That may be a poor attempt at poking fun, but it should give you an idea of how the laws are interpreted. 

States Where Pitbulls Aren’t Targeted

Pitbulls are allowed (or at least treated like other dogs) in states with no BSL laws. The states include the following: 

  • Virginia 
  • Utah 
  • South Dakota 
  • Rhode Island 
  • Pennsylvania 
  • Oklahoma 
  • New York 
  • Florida 
  • Texas 
  • New Jersey 
  • Colorado 
  • Illinois 
  • New Hampshire 
  • Alaska 
  • Connecticut 
  • Hawaii 
  • California 
  • Arizona 
  • Nevada 
  • Maine 
  • Minnesota 
  • Massachusetts 

Some of these states have laws that prohibit any form of breed-specific discrimination and have also prohibited local governments from making their own laws. If you live in any of these states, you likely only need to get a standard dog license for your Pitbull. 

California’s position on that list is also up for debate since they have special restrictions on “potentially dangerous” dogs. The laws mandate all such dogs to be licensed and vaccinated, and they should be kept indoors or in a fenced yard at all times. 

The laws don’t target Pitbulls only, but any large-sized dogs are fair game. The state’s Penal Code 399 PC also makes it a crime for you to fail to control a so-called dangerous dog with offenses punishable by up to three years in county jail. So, while California doesn’t have BSL guidance, their broad legislation most likely affects pitbull owners. 

What Happens if You Don’t License Your Pitbull?

If you don’t license your Pitbull in a BSL jurisdiction where the breed is a target, you’re putting the dog at risk of getting seized and euthanized. In jurisdictions where Pitbulls aren’t targeted, you may be forced to pay a fine. 

Owning a Pitbull in a jurisdiction with BSL laws is unsafe for your dog if you don’t get the required license. You’ll essentially have to lock up your dog in your house to ensure it doesn’t get caught or reported by your neighbors. As you probably know already, that’s a bad situation for any dog to be in. It’s even worse for a Pitbull that needs to exercise. 

If you must live in these jurisdictions, it’s best to get the recommended license. As we’ve seen above, the license may involve spaying or neutering, so you should make sure you’re comfortable with stopping your dog from reproducing. 

Even when breed-specific laws don’t take your dog away from you, you may have to pay hefty fines. The fines in non-BSL jurisdictions likely won’t be as hefty, but they could be as high as $250. So, find out what laws apply to your dog and act accordingly. Talk to your vet for guidance as they’re often well versed in the latest laws. 

Will Federal Laws Eradicate BSL?

Federal laws are unlikely to eradicate BSL. Pressure groups have done well to overturn the negative reputation of these dogs, but the legislation still exists unchallenged in many places. 

If you own a Pitbull, it’s your responsibility to keep it safe from these draconian laws. Before moving to a new state or municipality, you have to do your homework. These days, you may also need to check with your intended neighborhood and the landlord to find out if your dog is welcomed in such places. 

If you have to move without your dog, you have to take steps to ensure you’re not just signing his death sentence. Your dog won’t be adopted in a shelter—definitely not as an adult. Therefore, it’ll most likely get euthanized a few months after you leave it. Even worse, the dog may be adopted by a supposedly good family and taken to the underworld as cannon fodder for fighting rings. 

Until the federal government stands up to BSL laws, you have to actively shield your Pitbull and keep him in your thoughts with every plan you put in motion. 

Final Thoughts

Many neglectful dog owners have given Pitbulls a bad name. Some owners see them as animals meant to scare off people and train their dogs to be as aggressive as possible. The result is a vicious attack that’ll fuel support for BSL and mandate special licenses for your dog. 

If you live in a place without BSL laws, you don’t have to get a special license for your dog. The same $10-$20 registration licenses may still apply. 

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