Monday, December 05, 2005

Pit Bull Terror
Newspaper headlines paint a horrifying picture of the American Pit Bull Terrier A.K.A. the Pit Bull. All across the nation headlines depict gruesome attacks by Pit Bulls. Legislators are bombarded by concerned citizens to enact breed specific Pit Bull bans. The banning of Pit Bulls has become very controversial. One side states that the Pit Bull is more deadly than any other breed of dog and therefore must be banned. The other side states that it is not the breed that is the problem rather people who raise the dog improperly.
The Pit Bull was created in the early 1800’s in England. They were trained to fight bulls in the ring purely for human entertainment. Later “bull baiting” was outlawed and the breed became popular for dog fighting. The Pit Bull’s physical attributes and fighting techniques are different than any other breed of dogs which made them ideal for fighting. The Pit Bull has a very large head and is bred to have very large musculature surrounding its jaw that gives it the ability to hold and lock its jaw around its adversary. The dog is stocky and has greater muscle proportion than other breeds. Unlike most dogs when the Pit Bull attacks it holds and shakes its prey. There are also excellent attributes related to the breed. They were trained to show no human aggression because the owner of the dog often time stayed in the ring with the dog when fighting. Other personality attributes of the dog are strength, courage, and their willingness to please their master (Huemer, 32-33).
People claim that these inherent traits are what make the breed aggressive. Yet there are many other things that can contribute to aggressive behavior in a dog. Randall Lockwood, an authority on dog behavior with the Humane Society of the United States says, “… [One] of the best predictors of canine aggression is whether a dog has been neutered, or surgically stripped of its sex organs” (qtd. in Ebersole, 4). Another factor could be the dog is instinctually protecting its territory. This is seen when people are attacked when trying to enter a private property. One more example is when a dog attacks because it is with a group of dogs. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University and author of the book Dogs Behaving Badly says “evidence from several hundred fatal dog attacks suggests that some domestic dogs will return to those savage instin[cts] when they gather in a pack” (qtd. in Ebersole, 4).
Yet the biggest contributing factor that results in dogs turning aggressive is irresponsible owners. Irresponsible owners are those that encourage or reward aggressive behavior. “Lockwood, an authority on dog behavior states "In most cases of [fatal] dog bites, a person has encouraged or allowed a dog to become dangerous" (qtd. in Ebersole, 4). In addition aggressive dogs come from those who do not know how to raise a dog. Leslie Sinclair, a veterinarian formerly employed by HSUS states, "A lot of pit bulls involved in attacks have never had a chance to be around people," attesting to the devastating effects of social isolation upon an
animal” ( qtd. in Huemer, 33)
Many people go out and buy a dog on impulse without fully informing themselves on how to raise that particular breed. A classic case of this was seen when the movie 101 Dalmatians was released. Hordes of people went out and purchased a Dalmatian and then later found it unsuitable for their busy lifestyles. Many children were bitten by these hyper-active dogs. Thousands of Dalmatians where abandoned at shelters. Pati Dane, a Dalmatian enthusiast and founder of Dalmatian Rescue in North Miami Beach, Florida stated:
“January 1st, people were knocking on our door, bringing us Dalmatian puppies, whose family-run rescue center took in 250 Dalmatians in the first six months of 1997 -- triple the number they'd taken in during any previous full year” (qtd. in Nissen).
The problem seen here is what is happening with Pit Bulls. The demand for these dogs is created by the media. The dog becomes popular amongst drug dealers and the like and people run to get them. Norma Woolf part of the Dog Owner's Guide says, “Market demands increase, commercial kennels and breeders produce more puppies, and registrations rise. Commercial kennels and casual breeders produce litters of these dogs, often leading to a decline in health and temperament in the rush to sell puppies” (Wolff). This is destructive for any breed.
The news coverage of Pit Bulls creates a double edged sword. First it informs citizens of the dangers these dogs could possibly pose, but they do not educate the community on how to protect themselves. Sometimes this causes people to be over cautious creating new problems. Children who have heard the horror stories of Pit Bulls panic when they see one. They often times will scream and run which makes any dog instinctually chase even if it is not aggressive. Additionally, dogs are able to pick up on human fear and when they sense this fear it can often times make them nervous and cause them to attack. Secondly the media coverage makes them popular and creates a demand for aggressive bred Pit bulls by those who favor those traits. The Pit Bull is now seen as a status symbol amongst drug dealers/users, criminals and deviant youth. You go through the neighborhoods where you know drugs are a problem and in every other yard there is a Pit Bull. An undercover officer from a meth lab clean up unit in Spokane says 80% of the meth homes they go into have Pit Bulls, 20% of these dogs are shot on site and the others are sent to shelters were they are most likely euthanized.
What are our possible solutions to the problem? Victims and the media argue that we should ban the breed entirely. In fact many countries across the world already have. In Ontario Canada Pit Bans already have been enacted. Those that already own Pit Bulls are allowed to keep them yet the dogs must be muzzled when it is out of it fence and are required to be spayed or neutered. The Attorney General of Toronto supports this bill he states, "People want to be protected from the menace of these dangerous dogs. Some of these dogs are nothing but a loaded weapon waiting to go off and so we are taking action to make our communities safer" (Crone).
There are many arguments against this harsh solution. First, the bans on Pit Bulls do not address the true problem which is that bad owners create the problem not the dog itself. Bad breeding and improper raising of these dogs is ultimately the true cause of Pit bull attacks. If you ban the breed this does not truly get to the root of the problem. When you ban the Pit and they are no longer available a new breed of dog becomes popular such as the Rottweiler or the Doberman Pincher. It is then trained to be aggressive like the Pit Bull. This has been seen through out the century. It started with the German Shepard. They were trained for herding yet became very popular after World War I as guard dogs. This proved devastating for the breed. It faced the same fate as the currently popular Pit Bull. Rory Frost, author of the history of German Shepherds writes,
“Any dog with erect ears became a new 'Wolf Dog' and business was brisk. Anyone with a spare cellar, an unused back yard, coal house, woodshed, outhouse, box, or cage bred 'em. The the[sic] media ever ready to fan flames, campaigned against these 'half wolves let loose on British society'. It was a mess.”
Next came the Doberman Pincher in the 1950’s and now the Pit Bull and Rottweiler of today.
Proponents for Pit Bull bans often times site The Center for Disease control which reports that, “pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of the deaths for which the breed was known.” The problem with this statement is the term pit-bull type dogs. You must ask yourself what is the pit-bull type dog? Does it include the Staffodshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, and American Pit Bull or does it include all the dogs that are not properly identified by the victim and the media. As a matter of fact, there are twenty five breeds that are often times mistake as the pit bull ( The other assumption made and created by the media is that there is problem with Pit Bulls to begin with. Judy Cohen and John Richardson performed a study on the rising “Pitt Bull Panic” caused by the media, they stated:
“Of the 72 stories that the New York Times published on Pit Bulls between 1987 and 2000, 26 (over one third) covered Pit Bull attacks on people. Twenty two stories covered legislation restricting Pit Bull ownership; nine described Pit Bull owners, who are portrayed as the dregs of society. Interestingly, in the last few years, five articles were favorable, or at least more evenhanded, towards Pit Bulls.”
Examining the statistics the C.D.C used, I have also come to the conclusion that the problem is not as big as portrayed (Phillips, 837). In fact, the National Safety Council shows you had a 1 in 15,966,734 chance of being killed by a dog. In other words, you had a greater chance of a death from tripping and falling than from dieing from a dog attack in 2002(
The second argument against Pit Bull bans is that if you ban the breed you end up punishing the victim, the dogs, not the true culprits, the owners. Each Pit Bull ban is different. Some, such as the bans in Denver, allow for ruthless treatment for the Pit Bull. Rowland Nethaway a senior editor of The Waco Tribune-Herald writes,
“Never mind that there is no such official breed as a pit bull, the Denver pit-bull ban authorizes animal control officers to confiscate any dog they think resembles a pit bull. The dogs, according to an Associated Press story, are put on death row in the city's animal shelter where they are destroyed at an average of more than three a day.”
Hundreds of these dogs were family pets and had never been in trouble before. In addition some of these dogs were not even pit bulls but they resembled Pit Bulls and were therefore euthanized. (Nethaway)
The third argument against pit bull banning is what many are calling the “slippery slope”. Once one breed is banned another breed is popularized and then later banned. This is especially evident in Italy where they have restricted over 92 breeds of dogs; such breeds include corgis and border collies, writes Greg Narbey a professor of politics at Humber College in Toronto. Yet the American Kennel Club, which registers purebred dogs, officially recognizes just over 150 different breeds of dogs ( Italy is over halfway on their way to restricting all dogs. What essentially happens is that once you tell legislators it is morally right to restrict one breed of dog they then slowly add to the list of dangerous dogs.
As you can see breed specific laws are not solving the problem. One solution supported by many such as, the Center for Disease Control, dog lovers, and human societies is that education is the key to solving the dilemma of the Pit Bull and other perceived aggressive breeds. Education would include many components. First would be the effort to educate people on how aggressive breeds are created. Instead of focusing on the dog as the root of the problem, emphasis would be put on the owners and their responsibilities as owners when raising a dog. Secondly, educating children and parents on how to avoid dog attacks is essential. This includes the behavior of the dog and why it is most likely to attack.
The next solution is to create stiffer laws for those that have aggressive dogs. When a dog bites or attacks someone the owner would be forced to pay large fines and face jail time for negligence. Essentially, if they are responsible for someone’s death because they were irresponsible then they should have to face the normal punishment a person would receive for manslaughter, murder or assault. In addition, they would be required to go to dog behavior classes and training. The dog would be evaluated to see if it is safe for the public. If the dog is involved in an incident again, it would be taken away from the owner and evaluated for adoption. As well, the owner would be restricted to own or have in possession another dog regardless of breed. The owner would be required to pay for all expenses involved with the process.
Lastly and the most controversial of the approaches would be to regulate dog breeding. This means breeders would be required to take classes on dog behavior, raising and selling dogs. The breeders would have to get certification to raise breeds of dog that have been deemed aggressive by a large panelist of specialist. This in turn would create better educated breeders. Because the breeders would have to pay for the classes to sell these dogs, it would be necessary for them to raise the cost of the dogs. This would decrease impulse buying. This would also decrease the amount of criminals buying these dogs because they could no longer afford it. Laws could be created that requires that any aggressive breed would be required to be spayed and neutered. Microchips would be placed in the dogs, just like the safe and effective microchips dogs have now, that would help regulate the dogs and would record any problems the dog has had.
Arguments against these approaches usually are centered on cost and regulation. Who is going to pay to regulate these laws? In response, the revenue would come from breeders who have to pay for certification and fines from bad owners. These laws would actually help local shelters. They would reduce the number of abandoned and lost pets, therefore reducing the amount of money spent on these two issues. This extra money could be used for educational purposes and for more animal control officers. Hospital visits would decrease allowing government to add additional money to the cause.
The only real solution that keeps both the citizens and the dogs safe is obviously the last three proposed solutions combined. Although these seem extensive at first glance, you must think of the safety of your children. If you ban the Pit Bull new breeds will be adopted. They will be trained to kill like the Pit Bull has and will then later be killed off. The next one could be your beloved Labrador. Now is the time to start at the root of the problem and begin regulating those that are responsible.

Works Cited American Kennel Club. 03 Dec. 2005
CDC. Center for Disease Control. 03 Dec. 2005
Cohen, Judy and Richardson, J.” Pit bull panic.” Journal of Popular Culture (2002): 285-317. Research Library. ProQuest. JFK Library, Cheney, WA. 4 Dec. 2005
Crone, Greg. “Mcguinty Government to Introduced Pit Bull Ban,” 15 Oct, 2004. Retrieved 03 Dec. 2005. Ministry of Attorney General Link
Ebersole, Rene "Bad dogs." Current Science 14 Sep. 2001. 03 Dec. 2005. Research Library. ProQuest. JFK Library, Cheney, WA.
Frost, Rory. “A History of the German Shepherd Dog.” Retrieved 03 Dec. 2005
Huemer, Ariana "Scapegoats and underdogs: The pit bull dilemma.” The Animals' Agenda (2000): 30-33+. Research Library. ProQuest. JFK Library, Cheney, WA. 4 Dec. 2005
Narbey, Greg “Greg Narbey” The Globe and Mail.Com 22 Sep. 2005. Retrieved 03 Dec. 2005.
Nethaway, Rowland Pit bulls and our unfounded fears. Daily Breeze [Torrance, Calif.] 5 Aug. 2005. ProQuest Newsstand. JFK Library, Cheney, WA. 4 Dec. 2005
Nissen, Beth. “A Dalmatian pup under the Christmas tree…” CNN.COM 27 Nov. 2000. 03 Dec. 2005. Link Safety Council. 03 Dec. 2005
Officer of Meth Task Unit. Personal interview. 28 Nov. 2005 Pit Bull Rescue Center. 03 Dec. 2005
Phillips M. K. Dog bite law. 03 Dec 2005
Woolf B. N. “Breed selection: One size doesn't fit all…” Dog Owners Guide. Retrieved 03 Dec. 2005. Link


barrymoses said...

I guess I can see both sides of the argument. I suppose it's true pit bull owners are the real "culprits" when a dog attacks; but then again, the breed does make a difference. Nobody gets hurt if an ignorant dog owner fails to properly manage a toy poodle. Perhaps a compromise is possible. Maybe pit bull owners should have to carry a special license showing certification of essential training and management skills.

Chelle said...

I agree that the damage inflicted by a pit bull is often times much more devastaing than a smaller breed of dog. Yet, when you punish a whole group of individuals for the problems of one individual wouldnt you consider that being a little unfair. It is like saying that black people are inherantly crimanal and therefore they all should be locked up. That is how I view it. There has only been 64 death due to pit bulls from 1989-98 that really isnt that much. You cant even trurst that all of those attacks were done by just the American Pit Bull Terrier because it was never stated. I also agree that owners who want aggresive breeds such as the Pit Bull should have licensed to own them, maybe even registering them as a weapon, like martial artists have to do. You just have to focus on how effective they will be. Once one breed is banned another takes its place, it will continue in that fashion untill you attack the root of the problem.