Injustice for Pit Bulls

Writers note: The opinions expressed in this post are my own, and stem from my own research (EKC and AKC resources) and experience (as a kennel assistant, walker, sitter, owner). I encourage readers to respond in ways they feel appropriate. I love conversations, especially on a topic like this.

This evening, the Enumclaw City Council voted to potentially lift a 25 year ban on pit bulls in city limits. The vote came under much scrutiny, and among strong opposition, the city council decided late Monday evening to keep the ban in place.

This was an unfortunate blow to the push for cities and municipalities to lift their antiquated bans on pit bulls and other bully breeds. The hatred and opposition that exist towards bully breeds stems from misinformation and a gross misuse of media headlines. In a post on SeattleDogSpot.com, Robert Pregulman recounts how media outlets like KIRO in Seattle grossly misinterpret statistics to mislead public perception and sway public opinion. For example, KIRO cites a study where pit bulls are 8 and a half times more likely to bite then any other dogs. A closer look at the study shows that the study only compared bites between pits and Labrador retrievers. They also only compared fatal bites, not over all biting incidents.

The post also cites a series of statistics dedicated to the reasons behind dog biting incidents:

  • No able-bodied person present to intervene (87.1 percent)
  • The victim had no familiar relationship with dog (85.2 percent)
  • The owner failed to neuter/spay dog (84.4 percent)
  • The victim’s compromised ability to manage interactions with dog (77.4 percent)
  • Owner kept dog as resident rather than pet (76.2 percent)
  • Owner’s prior mismanagement of dog (37.5 percent)
  • The owner’s abuse or neglect of dog (21.1 percent)

I am a believer that bully breeds are the victim of media sensationalism and by dog owners who do not understand the breeds they deem “violent”. Here’s what I know. In the early 1800’s, bull baiting and dog fighting was a huge source of entertainment in England. Breeders wanted to create a dog that was nimble and strong, and through selective breeding eventually created what was to become the Staffordshire Terrier. This new breed combined the strength and tenacity of the old world bulldog (much taller and more nimble then today’s standard) and the agility and eagerness of the old school terrier. The result was a dog with a strong jaw, but was loyal and not aggressive towards people. Staffordshire Terriers were bred to respect and obey their handlers and be friendly towards people.

By the time bull baiting and dog fighting became illegal, the new breed had already caught fire with dog owners. Efforts to create a dog more suited for the home and not the ring resulted in the breed’s recognition in the EKC in 1935. In the UK, the dog became known as the “nanny dog,” admired by families for its protective and gentle instincts.

By this time, the Staffordshire Terrier had caught popularity in the US, where Americans admired their strength and loyalty. American’s also bred the dog so that it was bigger than its English counterpart, eventually resulting in the American Staffordshire Terrier, or Am Staff. The breed is characterized by a docile demeanor, allowing for the dogs to be handled. These dogs have also endured decades of discrimination and restrictions because of a past filled with irresponsible breeding and handling.

A study by the CDC tracking fatal dog bites from 1979-1998 brings up a couple other points. According to the study, 330 fatal bites over the 20 year span (including several from dachshunds, a yorky and a lab). Yet, if we isolate the data from 1994, there were over 1.4 million non fatal bites across the country. If fatal dog bites only represent 0.00001% of dog bites nationwide per year, how can we reasonably use that as a means to levy legislation? Beyond that, the study points to many different factors, including heredity, socialization, mental and physical health, and victim behavior as key factors in whether a dog bite occurred.

Here’s the skinny. Am Staffs are head strong, devoted, loyal dogs that require a strong hand in training them. They are also docile, kind and protective over the ones responsible to care for them. They have a history of being sweet family dogs, and unfortunately also being over bred and neglected.

Personally, I have been bitten three times by dogs in recent memory. Once by a retriever, once by a labradoodle and once by a blood hound. Each time the dog was responding to quick and unfamiliar movements made by my hands. I put the dog in an uncomfortable situation, and the dog responded the only way they knew how. Was I upset, sure. Can I blame the dog, no way. One incident does not determine a dogs personality, and I’m certainly not going to advocate for the banning of labradoodles because I was bit once.

My point is that we should not judge a breed because some were dealt a bad hand. Should municipalities work to help owners to be educated about their dogs? Yes. Should they step up leash laws and work to eliminate uncomfortable confrontations with dogs and people? Yes.

Should governments pass broad legislation that restricts dog owners from owning particular breeds of dogs? I say no. It’s time for people to become educated and understand that not everything they read is true. Do the research, then come back to me so we can have a real discussion.

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