Jen Maxwell Miller affectionately refers to her 11-year-old pit bull as a "pibble."
"We joke and say she thinks we're calling her a 'people.' She thinks she's human," Maxwell says.
To Maxwell, her husband and her two stepdaughters, ages 12 and 16, Stella the "pibble" might as well be human. Their other two dogs, Boomer, a 13-year-old husky-lab mix, and Booger, a 5-year-old boxer-pit bull mix, might as well be, too.
"My dogs are family," Maxwell says. "Wherever I go, they're coming with me."
But what happens when ordinances regulating or banning certain dog breeds limit the homes, neighborhoods or even cities in which one can live — which was recently the case for Maxwell?
Earlier this year, after applying for postdoctoral fellowships throughout the Southeast, Maxwell, who lives in Cleveland, Tennessee, received an offer from Lexington's University of Kentucky, one of her top choices. When she began searching for homes, however, she found no rental company that would allow her dogs due to them being "bully breeds."
The term "bully breed" does not refer to a dog's temperament, but rather to the origins of the breed. All bully breeds descend from Molossers, an ancient dog that was bred for protection and distinguished by its large-boned and muscular body, short muzzle and pendant ears.
The list of “bully breeds” includes more than 100 breeds from around the world. Here are some of the most familiar:
American Pit Bull
American Staffordshire Terrier
Bernese Mountain Dog
By definition, this encompasses a vast range of dogs, from bullmastiffs to French bulldogs to golden retrievers. However, breed-specific legislation and ordinances typically target only select breeds within that category. These most commonly include pit bulls, rottweilers, Akitas, Great Danes, Siberian huskies, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and chow chows, though the last is not technically a bully breed.
In the U.S., there are approximately 550 local governments with breed-specific legislation. Homeowner associations, rental companies and insurance companies have the power to enact restrictions, too.
Most pet owners, Maxwell included, are aware that having pets means often having to make compromises when it comes to living arrangements. Eight years ago, she faced a similar challenge when searching for rental properties in Cleveland.
In both 2018 and 2017, the most recent data available, “bully breeds” ranked among the most popular in the U.S., according to the American Kennel Club.
1. Labrador Retriever
2. German Shepherd
3. Golden Retriever
4. French Bulldog
"I wasn't ready to buy, but I couldn't find any places [in Cleveland] that would let me rent with multiple large dogs. It wasn't a breed restriction thing, it was just a dog thing," she says.
So, to accommodate her pets, she bought a fixer-upper home. "It was pretty unfinished inside, but it was in my price range," she says.
Today, Maxwell's family is willing to compromise again should she accept her Kentucky offer. They'll find a place outside the city, she says, which would mean a longer commute and possibly having to enroll her daughters in private school.
"It definitely complicates things. But I can't fathom anything happening in life that would make me get rid of my dogs," Maxwell says. "It's like having children. If you can't feed them, you get a second job. You don't give them up. You just do what you have to do."
Here's a look at breed-specific legislation in nearby East Tennessee and North Georgia communities. The vast majority target pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
Cities that ban pit bulls and pit bull mixes:
South Pittsburg, Tennessee
Cities that declare pit bulls and pit bull mixes as "vicious," a designation that often requires special licensing:
Jefferson City, Tennessee
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Cities that declare pit bulls, rottweilers and chow chows as "vicious":
Additional breed-specific legislation:
Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, bans pit bulls and pit bull mixes from dog parks.
Wartrace, Tennessee, restricts pit bulls and pit bull mixes, requiring that the dogs be specially registered, muzzled when leashed, or confined indoors or in a locked pen or kennel. Moreover, pit bull owners are required to post "Beware of Dog" signs and take out a public liability insurance policy on their pets.
Protect Your Pooch
The American Kennel Club offers a Canine Good Citizen program for dogs of any breed and age. Recognized in 48 states, the training and testing could net you a discount on your homeowners insurance if successfully completed.
If you’re unsure what makes up your mutt and worry he or she could be mislabeled as a “bully breed,” consider getting your pooch DNA tested.
Typically, homeowners insurance will cover pet damage to another person's property (though not your own) — making some companies more likely to restrict or ban certain dog breeds. A few of the big-name companies that do ban certain breeds are Farmers, GEICO, Nationwide and Allstate.
Conversely, State Farm does not ask the type of breed when writing homeowners or renters insurance.
The national nonprofit American Temperament Test Society administers a uniform temperament evaluation of dogs, measuring aspects such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness and friendliness, as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness toward its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat.
The higher the percentage, the more favorable the breed’s overall personality.
Of the breeds with at least 10 dogs tested, the Polish Lowland Sheepdog scored the lowest, with only 54.5% passing. Here’s how some other common breeds stack up.
French Bulldog: 96.2%
Labrador Retriever: 92.2%
American Pit Bull: 87.4%
Golden Retriever: 85.6%
German Shepherd: 85.3%
Doberman Pinscher: 79.5%
Miniature Poodle: 76.7%
Shetland Sheepdog: 68.9%