Excerpt from a 1897 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Sentell v. New Orleans & Carrollton R. Co., 166 U.S. 698 (1897)
Decided: April 26, 1897As it is practically impossible by statute to distinguish between the different breeds, or between the valuable and the worthless, such legislation as has been enacted upon the subject, though nominally including the whold canine race, is really directed against the latter class, and is based upon the theory that the owner of a really valuable dog will feel sufficient interest in him to comply with any reasonable regulation designed to distinguish him from the common herd. Acting upon the principle that there is but a qualified property in them, and that, while private interests require that the valuable ones shall be protected, public interests demand that the worthless shall be exterminated, they have, from time immemorial, been considered as holding their lives at the will of the legislature, and properly falling within the police powers of the several states. Laws for the protection of domestic animals are regarded as having but a limited application to dogs and cats; and, regardless of statute, a ferocious dog is looked upon as hostis humani generis, and as having no right to his life which man is bound to respect. Putnam v. Payne, 13 Johns. 312; Hinckley v. Emerson, 4 Cow. 351; Brown v. Carpenter, 26 Vt. 638; Woolf v. Chalker, 31 Conn. 121; Brent v. Kimball, 60 Ill. 211; Maxwell v. Palmerton, 21 Wend. 407.