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— January 24, 2012 —

Let’s Ban Pit Bulls.
(and other dumb ideas)
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Well, this Tuesday’s Tail is really only about one dumb idea, the title is just to add a little humor to a very serious subject.

I’ll admit it, I am a Pit Bull lover. I think they are some of the best dogs ever created. I choose the term “created” intentionally. Remember that. I’ll explain why later.

First I want to dispel a few rumors about the “Pit Bull.”

Myth 1: There is a breed known as a Pit Bull.
Truth: The breed “Pit Bull” doesn’t exist. There IS a breed known as the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). There are similar breeds like the American Staffordshire Terrier and the diminutive Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but they are not “Pit Bulls.” What the media identifies as a “Pit Bull” is any short haired muscular dog that does something bad. Recently a friend in Georgia told me that someone accused her of having “Pit Bulls.” Her dogs are Italian Mastiffs (not even close). This indicates just how easy it is for the public to be mislead about what a “Pit Bull” is.

Myth 2: “Pit Bulls” are aggressive/dangerous/baby killers, you name it.
Truth: The APBT, which the media blames for everything from baby killing to jogger attacks, has little resemblance to the mongrels that do these terrible things. There’s a saying, “Dog bites are not news. Pit Bull bites are news.”

Myth 3: Locking jaws....really? Do I even have to go there?

This is just a little example of the intentional misinformation that happens to get people excited about “Pit Bulls” and by extension the actual breeds associated with muscular type dogs. Stereotypes and mistaken identity are not what this article is about. How many nice Pit Bulls I‘ve met is not what this article is about.

(I will continue to use the term “Pit Bull” in this article strictly for illustration. I will try to draw a line, where necessary between “Pit Bulls” and the actual breeds that get lumped together. For an interesting exercise, try to pick the actual American Pit Bull Terrier out of this lineup.)

This article is about using breed bans to eliminate dog attacks v/s addressing the real problem.

When I was a kid, my mom taught me a few things about dogs. She taught me not to tease dogs, to treat them the with respect and to ask before I approached a strange dog. Those were good rules and they probably saved me from many dog bites. Today, however, I read of bite after bite that could have been prevented if only the person bitten had followed those simply rules of doggie etiquette.

We also made it a point to keep our dogs on our property. Dogs running at large always present a danger to the public or themselves. I remember one sad day where my family’s car accidentally struck a dog on the highway. It was an accident and we couldn’t have avoided it. It also made me very aware that it’s my responsibility to keep my dogs safe and under control. Coincidentally, while your dog is properly secured at home, there is absolutely no chance he’ll be out with friends attacking joggers on the lakefront.

If only everyone followed those two simple lessons, we would see significantly less dog attacks.

Banning Pit Bulls, however, will have ZERO impact on the problem of dog bites for a few reasons. The main reason is that not all bites are committed by Pit Bulls. While the media is busy demonizing muscular dogs, there are hundreds of cute fluffy dogs out there biting people.

A more important fact is this. We humans created every single pure breed dog in existence. Two hundred years ago, there were no Puggles, Teacup Yorkies or Shia Lhassa Fluffler Doodles. Remember where I said I’d get back to that earlier point? Here it is. We created these breeds and we’re still making new breeds.

Breeding and genetics are easily manipulated. Even if it were possible to eliminate a particular breed, the plasticity of genetics means that another, more dangerous breed could be created to replace it. Within the last few decades there have been a few of these new breeds (Canis Panther, Dino Dog, Donovan Pinscher) that have come along. While there are great dogs from these programs, some of these breeding experiments have produced truly dangerous dogs.

This raises the following questions. Where do we draw the line? Do we ban only registered pure breeds? Do we ban all 50% Pit Bulls? Do we ban any dog that looks like a Pit Bull? How can we do a breed ban that actually works?

Glad you asked. It’s been tried before.

In September of 2003, Italy placed into effect laws that banned or restricted 92 breeds including not just controversial breeds such as the Rottweiler and Pit Bull, but breeds such as the Corgi and Border Collie. In April 2009 Italy dropped the deemed dangerous list to 17 breeds and later removed the restrictions all together. In light of the the ban being lifted, Italian Health Undersecretary, Francesca Martini said “This is a historic day because we have established for the first time the responsibility of the owner or the person who is momentarily in charge of the animal.” (Source: Charlotte Enos Dog Rescue Examiner June 30, 2009)

I only hope that we learn from Italy’s mistake. If not, thousands of great dogs will die for our ignorance. Today countless Pit Bulls, both American Pit Bull Terriers and look-alike mix breeds are working as therapy dogs, guide dogs, Police dogs and family companion dogs. There are literally millions of Pit Bulls out there that have never hurt anyone.

There are many other examples of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) being lifted because it has proven to be completely ineffective. I truly believe that education is more effective than legislation. Education is the solution. Owners need to be educated on what it takes to properly train their dogs and keep them secure. Owners who refuse to responsibly secure their dogs should face real penalties versus a slap on the wrist. Children should be taught the same simple rules I learned as a child and dogs should go through training to help them relate properly to humans. These are things will apply to all breeds, not just Pit Bulls. Right now Pit Bulls are the breed of choice, but the next popular breed will benefit from this as well.