If my research into the pit bull controversy has persuaded me of anything, it’s that instead of arguing about which dog is the most dangerous, we need so start focusing on how we can make all dogs safer. In this article, I will pose suggestions that coincide with the topics covered to date: fear, aggression, and breed-specific legislation. Then I’ll end with some general sound principles.
In addressing public fear, proponents of the pit bull encourage people to remember the past. Although I’m still in the process of finding more information about the history of the pit bull, several sources do suggest the pit bull used to be perceived as a family dog, working dog, and celebrity dog. History then should serve as evidence that the problem is not the breed but how the breed is mistreated.
The National Canine Research Council recommends that rather than discriminate against select breeds, communities should take responsibility for dog ownership and management practices. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) both recommend an approach to dog bite prevention that focuses on “improving the quality of human-canine interactions and the care of all canine species”. The AVMA provides online information about bite prevention and hosts Dog Bite Prevention Week. Dogs and people have hundreds of billions of daily interactions. Multiple studies of dog bites to children recommend education about safety around dogs, both for the parents and for the children. According to the AVMA, there are many ways the public can avoid dog bites, ranging from proper training and socializing of dogs to how to approach a dog.
Leerburg Enterprises are among many dog-training groups who contend that an aggressive dog “does not just rear its ugly head one day and become a monster.” Rather, throughout a dog’s life, it has displayed warning signs that it’s not a normal friendly pet. As such, a pet owner has the responsibility to learn how to respond to these warnings. On the Leerburg Enterprises web site is an article about the different types of aggression that dogs will display and how owners should deal with the problems related to those particular types of aggression. According to the article’s author, “understanding where aggression has its roots will help people understand the methods used in controlling the problem.”
BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION
Senior Director of Legislation & Legal Training at the ASPCA offers a couple of concrete suggestions regarding Breed Specific Legislation. First, DNA blood testing should be used to determine a dog’s lineage. The DNA-based breed identification tests currently on the market are not yet accurate enough for widespread use, nor are they cheap or quick. At the same time, DNA testing is sometimes the best solution a pet owner has. One well-cited example is of a man in Kansas who won his eight-month legal battle with the city to keep his dog, after DNA testing proved Niko wasn’t a pit bull. The dog was housed at animal control for the entire eight months, but has since returned home after the ordeal.
Second, behaviorists should be allowed to evaluate suspect dogs. Senior Director of Legislation & Legal Training at the ASPCA gives the example of the American pit-bull terriers that were seized from Michael Vick. Some animal welfare groups were actually calling for the dogs to be euthanized, under the assumption that pit bulls used in dog fighting were beyond saving. A judge eventually allowed the ASPCA to lead a team of behaviorists to evaluate the dogs. The team concluded that only one dog out of 49 had to be euthanized due to temperament. The remaining 48 dogs were dispersed to rescue groups and sanctuaries throughout the United States, where they now thrive. You can learn more about their sojourn at Bad Rap or Best Friends Animal Society.
All of us can practice responsible pet ownership practices. Simply providing veterinary care, proper diet, socialization, and training is reported to decrease animal bites.
Following leash and licensing laws also falls under responsible practice. Ireland actually mandates that any dog on its Breed Specific list must be kept on a strong, short lead by a person over 16 years of age who is capable of controlling it. Given that one European study, described by National Canine Research Council, also found that all of the bites to children from unfamiliar dogs outside of the home could have been prevented by simply leashing the dogs, Ireland’s law seems reasonable for all dogs. The editor of an online publication called City Journal noted that the Canadian city of Calgary, which had a problem with dangerous dogs in the eighties, cut aggressive incidents in half through strict licensing enforcement.
If you don’t own a pit bull, the web site Real Pit Bull, recognizes that the breed isn’t for everyone. Moreover, it’s typically not the best fit for the first-time dog owner. Pit bulls are energetic, intelligent, and strong-willed dogs who need consistent leadership from their owners, along with a commitment to their training, daily exercise and socialization. Owning any powerful breed of dog comes with this additional responsibility.
If you do own a pit bull, Mutts Matter Rescue notes that you need to be prepared for negative comments and bias towards your dog, and ready to respond to them in a positive way and address them in a positive way. You must also lead by example and make sure your dog is an ambassador for the breed. Actually, what surprised me is how realistic many pit bull groups seem to be. They often recognize that the pit bull (among many other breeds) has the potential to be aggressive, and therefore call to properly prepare for ownership of one. Groups such Pit Bull Rescue were also blunt about how adoption, fostering, and spaying/neutering are essential to the breed’s survival.
In regards to spay/neuter, Pit Bull Rescue quotes one rescue in California as saying, “The pit bull population has now risen to 40% of all the dogs in 12 shelters in Los Angeles. That means that almost half of the entire Los Angeles dog population is pits or pit mixes! Most are strays, tossed out like dirty laundry. It’s heartbreaking.” The rescue then puts forth the emotional statement, “Anyone who sees these statistics must agree that not neutering an animal is irresponsible!”
Perhaps a little more objectively, the site STOP BSL writes, “considering the strong correlation between intact dogs and dog bites, it seems wise as a preventative measure to encourage spay/neuter.” The site goes on to note many other benefits to spay/neuter too. For example, those who provide the spay/neuter could use the opportunity to educate dog owners about their responsibilities, discourage the use of dogs for guarding or protection, and provide additional resources for owners who are dealing with a dog’s behavior problems. At the time of spay/neuter, dogs can be reframed as a valuable companion requiring an investment of money and time, rather than a cheap disposable toy.
Best Friends Animal Society believes so strongly in spay/neuter as a solution, it offered a grant for these purposes. As a recipient of this grant, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors has created The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers for only $25 per dog. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. LAA chose these Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers because they are the most difficult breeds for shelters to place.
The tragic fact is that the majority of euthanized dogs are pit bulls. If you have an unaltered pit bull terrier, you owe it to your canine friend to take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.
- Animal Farm Foundation: Special Projects
- Bad Rap
- Best Friends Animal Society: Pit Bull Initiatives
- Don’t Bully My Breed
- Pit Bull Rescue Central
- Pit Bull Myths and Facts