Breed Bans Not a Solution, Cat Crazy about Coffee, Truth about Coca Mulch, Chocolate and Dogs
Written by Steve Dale   

      Q: I’m a dog groomer and own a boarding kennel, and I want to know what you think about breed specific legislation. D. D. Indianapolis, IN 

      A:  I agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), American Veterinary Medical Association and Humane Society of the United States just to mention a few organizations diametrically opposed to breed specific legislation (BSL). Instead of seeking to blame a breed, I endorse what I believe is a better idea. Look at the factors which prompt dogs to attack, and address these issues.  

  • Dogs involved in crime or used as accessories to crime.
  • Dogs involved in the particular crime of dog fighting.
  • Dogs purchased for the sole purpose of ‘protection.’
  • Dogs that are tethered – they break through from tethers and create havoc in the neighborhood; and tethered dogs’ entire disposition often changes as a result of being tethered.
  • Unaltered male dogs – not because they are inherently more aggressive – but because they yearn to roam to meet, well, a hot looking babe; they find ways over or under fences and roam neighborhoods, sometimes threatening people in the process.
  • Public complaints about individual dogs that are not acted upon by animal control and/or police.  

    I ‘m all for laws to enhance public safety by protecting people from any dangerous dog whether that dog happens to be a Pomeranian, pit bull, poodle or mix of unknown origin. I concede a pit bull bite can do more harm than a Pomeranian attack. But any dog can attack. Having said that, you’re more likely to land in an emergency room because you fell out of bed than because you were bitten by a dog (according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2003).

      Communities with breed bans and restrictions have no fewer problems. Since dogs are considered family members, people with good dogs often move somewhere else when such restrictions are imposed, taking their canines and their incomes to another city.. Responsible owners who do stay in the community with the bans or restrictions comply with the law. Guess what – gang bangers flaunt the law. Similarly, reckless people who yearn for a macho dog merely hide their dogs; which means they don’t have a shot at being socialized,  increasing the odds of them being a threat.

      The way most breed restrictive laws are written, the American Staffordshire terrier (a breed that’s as family friendly as they come when well socialized and well bred), and the dog who won Westminster (Rufus, the delightful little colored bull terrier you’ve seen on “Ellen” and “Regis and Kelly”) would be banned or need to wear a muzzle. Some communities don’t ban, but automatically deem this breed (or any dog who resembles a bully dog) as dangerous and require expensive insurance. That’s a de facto ban since insurance carriers charge an exorbitant dollar sum for dangerous dogs, particularly if they happen to look like a pit bull. It doesn’t matter if that individual dog can pass temperament tests, and even goes into nursing homes as a therapy dog.

      When I ask dog trainers, breeders and veterinarians – people who work with dogs daily – the real experts - they overwhelmingly agree that pit bull-type dogs aren’t a public safety threat. Groomers agree also.

      In Chicago, I co-chair a task force which crafted ordinances which begin to get at the origin of why any dog may become vicious, and also have developed ways to give animal control and police tools to deal with problem people who have problem dogs. I hope Indianapolis follows our lead, rather than a politically expedient but certainly ineffective route of breed restrictions or breed bans.

 You can read testimony I offered against breed specific restrictions, and more about what we’re attempting to do in Chicago at  

      Q: My Persian cat is crazy about coffee, always trying to get at my cup. Is coffee dangerous for cats?   L. H., Chicago, IL. 

      A: “The dose is the poison,” says veterinary toxicologist Dr. Steve Hansen, director of the ASPCA Center for Animal Poison Control, Urbana, IL. “Truth is a few sips won’t hurt a cat. However, drinking a lot of coffee could pose a problem. I’m also concerned that the cat could sip from a scalding hot mug causing serious burns. This isn’t a habit I’d encourage, even if a few sips would do no harm.” 

      Q: “I read an email that a dog died as a result of eating cocoa mulch. I like the smell, and that’s why I buy it. I’ve never seen my dog eat the mulch, but she does sniff like crazy for a few days. Is that harmful? L. T., Bloomfield Hills, MI

      Q: “There’s an email I received about a dog who suffered a seizure and dog as a result of cocoa mulch. Should this stuff not be used by people who have dogs?”  N. D., Oceanside, CA 

      A: Dr. Steve Hansen, director of the ASPCA Center for Animal Poison Control, Urbana, IL is very familiar with the email you mention which has made the Internet rounds, but has no way to prove it’s veracity. Dogs who sniff cocoa mulch don’t die on the spot (although no one knows long term effects of sniffing cocoa mulch, if there are any at all). Now eating the mulch is another matter, and this can cause severe stomach upset (the severity depends on the individual dog, and how much mulch was ingested), but to Hansen’s knowledge no dog has ever died, Perhaps this one dog described on the Internet is legit – and the story of this dog having a fatal seizure really did happen, but until this person comes forward, we’ll never know. Even then, the dog might have succumbed as a result of another problem.

      It’s the theobromine (a substance in caffeine) which causes any problems, according to Hansen, who is a veterinary toxicologist.  “The old literature, dating to the 1940’s, does indicate a serious potential danger if the mulch is consumed,” he says. “But the mulch is prepared differently today. No one really knows the exact potential threat. If you personally have serious doubts, of course, don’t use cocoa mulch.” 

      Q: Is it true, or is an old wife’s tail that chocolate is bad for dogs? My dog scrarfed down a chocolate bar, and he’s just fine.  P. C., Tacoma, WA 

      A: I’m glad your dog is okay.  Veterinary toxicologist Dr. Steve Hansen, director of the ASPCA Center for Animal Poison Control, Urbana, IL says, “It’s a matter of how much chocolate a dog consumes, the size of the dog relative to the amount eaten and   what an individual dog’s level of susceptibility is. But this is not an old wife’s tail – chocolate can be lethal.” Dark chocolate or cooking chocolate seems to have more of an effect, but chocolate is never a good idea for any pet.