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What’s Next: End Dog Breed-Based Discrimination

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

While Virginia prohibits municipalities from banning dogs based on breed alone, this discrimination still persists in housing.

In Arlington where 70% of homes are in multi-unit buildings, and 60% rent, this law is essentially rendered useless for a majority of our population.

Virginia Code states that “No canine or canine crossbreed shall be found to be a dangerous/vicious dog solely because it is a particular breed, nor is the ownership of a particular breed of canine or canine crossbreed prohibited.”

While it is reasonable to ban animals that have been deemed dangerous or vicious, and ban dogs or animals all together, it seems unreasonable to allow for certain breeds of animals but not others — particularly when this practice is banned at the municipal level. This has an adverse effect on certain breeds that are at high risk for euthanasia, such as cross-breeds of pitbull terriers, and the living situation of their owners.

For a real world example of how flexibility on breed discrimination in housing plays out here in Arlington, I will use an experience that I went through three years ago when I had a roommate with a pitbull terrier. My experience in search of housing with a pitbull was what initially spurred my advocacy for renters rights.

At the time we could not find a single two bedroom apartment in a building that would allow for pitbull related breeds. We had to move into a single family household that was run by someone I would classify as a slumlord. At the time, small landlords were exempt for basic services such as providing running or hot water, which were not working 30% of the time we were living in this home. Since the sweeping improvements provided by the 2019 Tenant Landlord law that is now illegal. Having a breed restricted dog is one of many factors that discrimination plays in people moving into questionable living situations.

Locally, Prince George’s County, Maryland banned pitbull related breeds in an effort to decrease serious dog bites in the county. In their own Vicious Animal Task Force it was found that this ban did not reduce biting incidents from pitbulls to any degree of significance. Despite this, in Prince George’s 900 pitbulls are impounded a year because of this law and 80% of them are euthanized.

While I am glad that Virginia is one of 22 states to have breed specific legislation (BSL) to ban breed discrimination, it is unhelpful that this does not extend to housing. I would encourage the Board to look at options of extending our state requirement of banning breed specific discrimination to housing units, if not prohibited by Dillon Rule.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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