Do We Still Need Pit Bull “Awareness”?
The answer to that question is very simple: Yes. In my biased opinion, we do. For those immersed in all things pit bull, this likely seems obvious. For others, who may not be actively involved, whether personally or professionally, in their day-to-day lives, with pit bulls, it may seem that we’ve come so far we can rest on our laurels, think it will never touch us (as I naively did) or think that we are doing more damage than good. And it’s easy to see how someone might come to those conclusions- pit bulls HAVE become more mainstream, many of us are safe from discrimination and quite honestly, not all advocacy is equal.
First, we have to address the fact that visual identification is still pretty much the standard for determining which dogs fall under the pit bull umbrella and which don’t.
I live in Pennsylvania, where Breed Specific Legislation does not exist, but insurance discrimination does and homeowners associations and landlords have the right to deny someone housing based on their dog’s breed or type.
My bias says there’s much more work to do and though we have come very, very far and many have done great work well before I joined the party, we are by no means done. And unless you’ve got a viable alternative to the words “pit bull”, and can make it stick, there’s not much point in saying that we need to get rid of the label. I’m not a big fan of the word “mutt”, which technically describes pit bulls and millions of other dogs, but has long also been used as a derogatory term used to describe a person of mixed racial descent. I prefer the term “mixed breed” and would love to see that used as a primary label for shelter dogs, but that doesn’t change the fact visual identification may still be used by homeowners associations, landlords , insurance companies, animal control agencies, law enforcement and, indeed, entire municipalities and not everyone can just pick up and go or has the resources or knowledge to be able to fight it.
So, back to my original question: Do we still need pit bull awareness? Yes, we do. We need people to know that our dogs are, in fact, dogs. That they learn the same way as other breeds and that the media sensationalism we see is just that- sensationalism. At YPBY, we focus on learning, on training and on behavior. We don’t talk much about BSL, prejudice, bias, hate, misunderstanding and all of the other stuff that can come with pit bull territory. And that’s not because we don’t think it doesn’t exist or that it’s not important, it’s just not our field of expertise. But, some anti-pit bull sentiment existing in one’s own quiet community can cause one’s eyes to be forced wide open. You learn fast how to best protect your dog. You learn what the laws are, you learn what people think of your dog that they haven’t even met. You learn that the fight isn’t over when someone says “I believe all pit bulls are born killers” standing at a microphone in front of a crowded room. You learn that the pit you feel in your stomach is pure fear.
We’ve not made a big deal out of Pit Bull Awareness Month or Pit Bull Awareness Day for a couple of years. In part because there are organizations that focus on issues like BSL that do it better. In part because it feels a bit like a Hallmark holiday, another made up thing to get people to Buy Stuff. And I don’t say that to dismiss the efforts of my colleagues, I say it because it’s my bias, my opinion and my feeling. None of that makes it true.
ASPCA on Breed-Specific Legislation
Dog attacks can be a real and serious problem in communities across the country, but addressing dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs can be a confusing and touchy issue. Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals. However, the problem of dangerous dogs will not be remedied by the “quick fix” of breed-specific laws—or, as they should truly be called, breed-discriminatory laws.
Who Is Impacted by Breed-Specific Laws?
Regulated breeds typically comprise the “pit bull” class of dogs, including American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and English Bull Terriers. In some areas, regulated breeds also include a variety of other dogs like American Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers or any mix of these breeds—and dogs who simply resemble these breeds.
Many states, including New York, Texas and Illinois, favor laws that identify, track and regulate dangerous dogs individually—regardless of breed—and prohibit BSL. However, more than 700 U.S. cities have enacted breed-specific laws.
Are Breed-Specific Laws Effective?
There is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals. Following a thorough study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to strongly oppose BSL. The CDC cited, among other problems, the inaccuracy of dog bite data and the difficulty in identifying dog breeds (especially true of mixed-breed dogs). Breed-specific laws are also costly and difficult to enforce.
What Are the Consequences of Breed-Specific Laws?
BSL carries a host of negative and wholly unintended consequences:
Dogs Suffer. Rather than give up beloved pets, owners of highly regulated or banned breeds often attempt to avoid detection by restricting their dogs’ outdoor exercise and socialization—forgoing licensing, microchipping and proper veterinary care, and avoiding spay/neuter surgery and essential vaccinations. Such actions can have a negative impact on both the mental and physical health of these dogs.
In addition, breed-specific laws can create a climate where it is nearly impossible for residents to adopt and live with such a breed—virtually ensuring destruction of otherwise adoptable dogs by shelters and humane societies.
Owners Suffer. Responsible owners of entirely friendly, properly supervised and well-socialized dogs who happen to fall within the regulated breed are required to comply with local breed bans and regulations. This can lead to housing issues, legal fees or even relinquishment of the animal.
Public Safety Suffers. Breed-specific laws have a tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety. When animal control resources are used to regulate or ban a certain breed, the focus is shifted away from effective enforcement of laws that have the best chances of making communities safer: dog license laws, leash laws, anti-animal fighting laws, anti-tethering laws, laws facilitating spaying and neutering and laws that require all owners to control their dogs, regardless of breed. Additionally, guardians of banned breeds may be deterred from seeking routine veterinary care, which can lead to outbreaks of rabies and other diseases that endanger communities.
Breed-specific laws may also have the unintended consequence of encouraging irresponsible dog ownership. As certain breeds are regulated, individuals who exploit aggression in dogs are likely to turn to other, unregulated breeds. Conversely “outlaws” may be attracted to the “outlaw” status of certain breeds. The rise of pit bull ownership among gang members in the late 1980s coincided with the first round of breed-specific legislation.
What Are the Alternatives to Breed-Specific Laws?
There is no convincing data to indicate that breed-specific legislation has succeeded anywhere to date.
The CDC has noted that many other factors beyond breed may affect a dog’s tendency toward aggression—things such as heredity, sex, early experience, reproductive status, socialization and training. Conversely, studies can be referenced that point to clear, positive effects of carefully crafted breed-neutral laws. A breed-neutral approach may include the following:
1. Enhanced enforcement of dog license laws
2. Increased availability to low-cost sterilization (spay/neuter) services
3. Dangerous dog laws that are breed-neutral and focus on the behavior of the individual guardian and dog
4. Graduated penalties and options for dogs deemed dangerous
5. Laws that hold dog guardians financially accountable for failure to adhere to animal control laws
6. Laws that hold dog guardians civilly and criminally liable for unjustified injuries or damage caused by their dogs
7. Laws that prohibit chaining, tethering and unreasonable confinement, coupled with enhanced enforcement of animal cruelty and animal fighting laws
8. Community-based approaches to resolving reckless guardian/dangerous dog questions that encompass all stakeholders, available dog bite data and recommended realistic and enforceable policies
You are considering adopting or buying a dog, and one breed you are considering is a Pit Bull Terrier, or one of several breeds that are closely related to this breed. It is important that before you take any steps towards becoming an owner that you thoroughly research the breed so that you understand the challenges of owning this loyal, yet controversial breed.
99% of issues that arise with pit bulls have to do with owners who are idiots. The truth is that this breed has many good traits. A super-dog, if you will. And although the media focuses on the negative aspects, in reality they can be awesome pets for the smart owner. Here are six reasons why:
1. Pit Bulls are Affectionate Companions
Pitbulls are wiggly, cuddly, affectionate dogs. If you don’t like dog kisses then consider another breed, because most pitbulls love licking. The same goes if you have children and you don’t want them to be a regular target for face washes.
Pitbulls are not aloof – they like to remind you regularly of how they feel about you, and in general this means a lot of tail wagging and kissing.
2. Generally Healthy and Easy to Care For
Yes, pit bulls require a reasonable amount of attention. They do not, however, need a lot of care. They have short coats and are normal shedders, and only need to be brushed semi-regularly.
They don’t tend toward genetic disorders like some other breeds, although they should be inspected at puppyhood for signs of hip dysplasia, but this is a good idea for most medium to large breeds anyway. Most pit bulls do not get larger than 50 to 60 pounds, although there are some larger sub-breeds.
And as long as you exercise the dog regularly, a pitbull can be very comfortable in a small dwelling.
3. People-Orientated, When Socialized Properly
Pitbulls love people. Although this breed frequently gets a bad rap in the media, if you have ever met a pitbull that was raised by a loving, conscientious family then you will understand how much they like to be with people.
The downside of this personality trait is that they can get overexcited when they meet new people, which is something that needs to be addressed through training and positive reinforcement.
4. Pit Bulls are Loyal to their Owners
Your pit bull will be you and your family’s best friend from the day you take them home to the day they pass away. While they will be naturally protective of their family and their property, because pitbulls are so people-orientated they do not make good guard dogs.
Unless you just want them to smother intruders with hugs and kisses.
5. Eager to Please
A pitbull will always do it’s best to make you happy, as long as you are clear about what you expect from them. Many people will mention the fact that this breed is notoriously stubborn, but once they realize that you are the boss, they will work hard to ensure that you were happy with them.
This breed can be challenging, and is not recommended for first time dog owners as you need to be comfortable and confident that you can handle the breed, otherwise they will pick upon the fact that you are less than sure of yourself.
6. High Tolerance for Pain
Sometimes presented as a negative trait, the fact that pitbulls have a high pain tolerance makes them exceptional family dogs. They easily (and happily) put up with the rough play of children without reacting. At the same time, pitbull owners may have to invest in prong collars, as the shoulder and neck strength of the pitbull means that sometimes an average collar will not do.
It is important that when considering a pitbull as a pet that you carefully screen all puppies and adult dogs to ensure that they respond positively. Dogs of any breed that show fearfulness or aggression towards people or other dogs should be avoided, particularly as a family pet, unless you are willing to put in a lot of extra time and money into behavioural training.
To be a successful and responsible pitbull owner you need to at all times have your pet under control. Dogs should never be left unsupervised with other dogs or children, and should never be allowed to roam off leash except in controlled dog-friendly spaces. Remember that as a pitbull owner you are charged with showing the positive side of this breed, so make sure that you always have a friendly and well behaved pet.
Breed-specific legislation is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals. In practice, it generally refers to laws pertaining to a specific dog breed or breeds. Some jurisdictions have enacted breed-specific legislation in response to a number of well-publicized incidents involving pit bull-type dogs or other dog breeds commonly used in dog fighting, and some government organizations such as the United States Army and Marine Corps have taken administrative action as well.
This legislation ranges from outright bans on the possession of these dogs, to restrictions and conditions on ownership, and often establishes a legal presumption that these dogs are prima facie legally “dangerous” or “vicious”. In response, some state-level governments in the United States have prohibited or restricted the ability of municipal governments within those states to enact breed-specific legislation. It is generally settled in case law that jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have the right to enact breed-specific legislation; however, the appropriateness and effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing dog bite fatalities and injuries is disputed.
One point of view is that certain dog breeds are a public safety issue that merits actions such as banning ownership, mandatory spay/neuter for all dogs of these breeds, mandatory microchip implants and liability insurance, or prohibiting people convicted of a felony from owning them. Another point of view is that comprehensive “dog bite” legislation, coupled with better consumer education and legally mandating responsible pet keeping practices, is a better solution than breed-specific legislation to the problem of dangerous dogs. A third point of view is that breed-specific legislation should not ban breeds entirely, but should strictly regulate the conditions under which specific breeds could be owned, e.g., forbidding certain classes of individuals from owning them, specifying public areas in which they would be prohibited, and establishing conditions, such as requiring a dog to wear a muzzle, for taking dogs from specific breeds into public places.
Finally, some governments, such as that of Australia, have forbidden the import of specific breeds and are requiring the spay/neuter of all existing dogs of these breeds in an attempt to eliminate the population slowly through natural attrition. A study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2000 concluded that while fatal attacks on humans appeared to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates, and that since fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans, there are better alternatives for prevention of dog bites than breed-specific ordinances.