Should Pit Bulls be Subject to Breed Specific Legislation?

Should the American Pit Bull Terrier be subject to Breed Specific Legislation? For those who don’t know what this legislation entails, it’s a law that bans OR restricts certain types of dogs because they are perceived as dangerous. A ban requires that all dogs of a certain appearance be removed from the municipality wherein the ban has been implemented. Restrictions may instead require an owner of a targeted breed to contain, muzzle, spay/neuter, or even hang a warning sign on the dog’s neck.

A main criticism of Breed Specific Legislation when it comes to pit bulls is that the breed is being banned solely based on their appearance. The online website Dog Bites disparage the claim that the average person cannot correctly identify a pit bull. Their basic reason is twofold. First, the pit bull is a class of dogs made up of several close dog breeds and so, in their opinion, “this false claim is designed to confuse the public just like the breed’s history of changing names is intended to do”. Second, they consider the ‘Can you identify the pit bull?’ challenges” are designed to confuse media, policymakers, and the public. In their opinion, “these tests are inaccurate and intentionally crafted to show that the average person cannot correctly identify a pit bull.” To them, if it looks like a pit bull, it usually is.

The problem with this logic is that Dog Bites seems to be deliberately ignoring the existence of mutts. Yes, if all dogs were purebred, it might be easy to spot the pit bull. The reality though is that many mixed breed dogs look similar to pit bulls. As such, there is not a definite profile of what the pit bull is.

A survey conducted by Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine confirmed the unreliability of visual breed identification. In the summer of 2012, an array of dog experts–breeders, trainers, groomers, veterinarians, shelter staff, rescuers and others–offered their best guesses as to the breeds shown in a series of photographs. More than five thousand of dog experts completed the survey. Their visual assessments were then compared to DNA breed profiles of the dogs. Each dog in the survey had at least 25% of a single breed in its DNA profile. A response was considered accurate if it named any of the breeds DNA analysis had detected in the dog, no matter how many other breeds had been detected, and whether or not the breed guessed was the predominant one. Therefore, for every breed detected in a dog, there were that many opportunities for an expert’s guess to be correct. The five thousand respondents were correct less than one-third of the time.

Even if breed identification were one hundred percent accurate, I have other concerns about Breed Specific Legislation. It does not take into account how the owner has raised, trained, or managed the dog. Nor does not take into account the dog’s actual behavior. Dogs are deemed guilty based on their breed and not on their actions.

Something then every dog owner needs to consider is when that legislation might impact them. Consider that the following breeds are known for dog bites: chow chow, collie, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Saint Bernard, springer spaniel, Siberian husky. One blogger suggests that all dogs over forty pounds should be muzzled in public. An obvious problem with this solution is that many friendly dogs would be subjected to muzzle, simply based on their breed rather than their temperament. Another issue is that while that might reduce bites from the aforementioned dogs, small dogs can also bite. Those known for inflicting serious injuries include: Jack Russell terrier, Lhasa Apso, and shih tzu.

One would think that if a breed is dangerous that the public would always fear that breed. Yet that hasn’t been the case. In different points in our country’s history, the public has demonized many different breeds. For example, a paper published as part of the proceedings of the Annual AVMA Convention, July 2009, pointed out that as public opinion turned against slavery, so too did it turn against the bloodhounds that were often used to catch escaped slaves. Other dogs that have received a bad rap from the public include the Doberman Pinscher (associated with Nazis) and the Rottweiler (portrayed as the guardian of Satan’s child in THE OMEN). Now it’s the pit bulls turn, or so contends another paper that notes that in 1976 the Federal government amended the Animal Welfare Act to make trafficking in dogs for the purposes of dog fighting a crime. The pit bulls instead of the drug lords made headlines.

From the bloodhound to the pit bull, which breed will be demonized next? Will it be yours? These questions may make you think twice about Breed Specific Legislation.



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