Doing Right by Pit Bulls
The Jack Russell as mini man stopper.
I own a breed that is known to occasionally rip the bottom lip off of small children.
Does this happen very often?
Almost never, in fact.
But I tell this to people with small children who want a Jack Russell Terrier, because I want them to know the potential of the dog.
Not only do I tell people with very small children who want a Jack Russell Terrier this gruesome little vignette, but I also point them to the "Bad Dog Talk" section of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America web site which very explicitly says "this is a hunting dog".
A Jack Russell Terrier may kill your cat, your kid's hamster, and your neighbor's chickens.
This is not "out of character" for the breed.
Please do not buy a hunting dog that was breed to kill rats and fox and then act shocked that it might kill your hamster or your neighbor's fox-like feline.
The genetic code can explode.
Will that always happen? Of course not.
Will it happen with your dog? Probably not. But I want everyone to know the potential of owning a breed that has been game-bred to go to ground for more than 200 years.
The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America -- the largest Jack Russell Terrier registry in the world -- wants you to know that potential too.
They runs picture ads in every major off-the-shelf dog magazine telling people NOT to get a Jack Russell terrier without doing real research on the breed.
The JRTCA wants you to know that this breed of dog is not "Wishbone" or "Eddie" or any of those other cute TV Jack Russells you might have seen.
The JRTCA does not apologize for what the breed is, not do they tell you it is something that it is not.
Most Jack Russells are fine (if energetic) family pets.
That said, there is a potential killer lurking in the heart of every Jack Russell Terrier, and anyone thinking about owning this breed should be prepared to meet that facet of their dog at some point, even if it is only after it kills a rat, or chases a squirrel.
On this blog, I do not sugar-coat Jack Russell Terriers or working terriers. I warn people away.
- In a post entitled "Jack the Ripper," I detail a study showing how prevalent bites from Jack Russell Terriers are.
- In a post entitled "Jack Attack," I detail the story of a woman in New Zealand who was seriously maimed by a Jack Russell Terrier.
- In a piece entitled "A 15-Year Mistake," I have posted an article setting out the trials and tribulations that too often come from owning a Jack Russell terrier.
Why am I saying this? What's my point?
Simple: Anyone who tells you all breeds are alike is either a fool, an ignorant, or a liar.
A Jack Russell Terrier in not a Pug.
And yet, there's no shortage of people who will claim that all dogs are alike.
Just hang out with the Pit Bull community for a while.
On the one hand, these folks will tell you their dogs have been bred for hundreds of years to battle other dogs, catch wild pig and cattle, kill escaping slaves, and guard prisoners and farm stock.
On the other hand, they will tell you that every Pit Bull down at the local pound is as gentle as a lamb, and would never harm a fly unless it has been "raised wrong."
Surely, we can agree there is a mixture of nature and nurture in every dog?
Surely we can agree that a large dog that has been bred for 100- or 200-or 400-years for heightened prey drive might retain a small part of that personality bubbling away just beneath the skin?
And what if that breed is still being purposefully bred for prey drive and aggression, as is the case with at least some American Pit Bull terriers?
Surely, that too might enter the equation and give us "cause for pause?"
Why is saying this controversial?
And yet it is.
The Pit Bull community wants their breed to be treated like every other large breed.
They will agree that Pointers and Setters have been bred to be particularly "birdy."
They will admit that Retrievers have been bred for biddability, love of water, and a desire to bring things to hand.
They will aver that 12-pound Jack Russells and Patterdales have been bred to kill rats and go down holes after fox, badger and other wildlife and have real game drive.
But Pit Bulls? They are the same same as every other dog!
Never mind the illegal kennels that crank out line-bred fighting dogs like Pez from a dispenser.
Never mind the history of this dog as feral hog hunter, pit fighter, and junkyard protector.
To even suggest that a Pit Bull might come with a different genetic code than a Standard Poodle, a Wirehaired Pointer, or a Saluki is to be accused of being a breed biggot.
Standard Poodles? Wirehaired Pointers? Salukis? Those are the worst and most violent breeds, the bobble-headed Pit Bull owner will tell you.
Some of these folks will say anything, such is their desire to make the case that the Pit Bull is just like every other dog.
But facts do not cease to exist simply because they are inconvenient, do they?
A Jack Russell Terrier is not a Pug.
To hear breed-blind Pit Bull defenders tell the story, however, a Pit Bull is no more likely to savage the neighbor's dog or maim a small child than any other dog.
What? You have statistics that suggest otherwise? Well as George Lakoff notes,
If the facts don't fit the frame, the facts get rejected not the frame.
And so the Pit Bull apologists reject all data.
Pit Bulls cannot be maiming and killing more people in the U.S. than their proportion in society, because if they did that would mean that Pit Bulls are a particular problem which might require particular attention.
Pit Bulls cannot be particularly aggressive towards other dogs because if they were, that would mean the breed itself was part of the equation, and not just "bad owners" who have "poorly socialized" animals.
Of course, just as there are breed-blind Pit Bull owners, so too are there breed-blind Pit Bull haters. They are part of the problem too.
In fact, the Pit Bull is not a demon dog anymore than a Jack Russell Terrier is.
There are hundreds of thouands of Pit Bulls and Pit Bull crosses in the U.S., and most are perfectly fine dogs.
Ditto for Jack Russell Terriers.
Which is not to say that Pit Bulls and Jack Russell Terriers do not have serious problems.
The essential problem for Pit Bulls is that they are a Jack Russell Terrier on steroids.
And the essential problem for both Jack Russell Terriers and Pit Bulls is that they are both game-bred dogs.
Let us admit that these dogs were bred to do something. And here's a hint: that something has to do with teeth.
A Jack Russell is not a Shitzu or a Beagle or a Basset Hound.
A Pit Bull is a not a Pointer or a Setter or a Retriever.
As inconvenient and as uncomfortable as it may be, breed history and genetic code does matter.
Is a Pit Bull a bigger problem than a German Shepherd, a Rottweiler, a Doberman or a Cane Corso?
Well, funny enough, all of those dogs are man-stoppers bred for their ability to guard and, if need be, to maim.
I suppose one can argue endlessly about whether a .38 is inherently more dangerous, or less dangerous, than a 9-millimeter. In the end, however, we know that either gun will do the job, and we also know which one is mostly likely to be found on the street.
Does the gun on the street change from one era to another? Of course. That's why a 40-year look back at fatal dog violence in the U.S. does not show a particular problem with Pit Bulls. If you did the same thing with 9-millimeter handguns, the prevelance of .38 revolvers 30 years ago would obscure the current impact that 9-millimeter semi-autos are having in the street. The same is true for Pit Bulls in the world of man-stopper dogs.
Yes, any large breed can do horrible damage. But in fact, Pit Bulls are currently implicated in more serious bite cases in the U.S. than all other guarding and molosser breeds combined.
Surely that gives us cause for pause?
Of course the Pit Bull community hates this kind of talk.
They want the debate to be about discrimination.
They want the debate to be about "bad people" rather than bad dogs.
They want to argue that no one really knows what a Pit Bull is, and so no data can be collected and nothing can be known.
In short, they want to do almost anything except acknowledge the elephant in the living room.
And that elephant is this: Pit Bulls have been game bred for hundreds of years and are still being game bred in kennels across the U.S. and around the world.
In this sense, they are just like Jack Russell Terriers, but with one big difference. A working Jack Russell Terrier might weigh 12 pounds. An American Pit Bull can push 60.
In short, a Jack Russell is to a Pit Bull what a pellet gun is to a 9-millimeter.
Most Americans get this.
And so, when a breed-blind Pit Bull apologist tries to define the problem away, the caution flag goes up very quickly.
When these same apologists try to argue that their dog is just like any other non-game bred breed, the envelope of incredulity is pushed past the ripping point.
It does not help that so many Pit Bull defenders loudly reject all law designed to mandate increated owner responsibility.
Nor does it help that so many Pit Bull owners are irresponsible.
How else to explain the huge numbers of Pit Bulls that end up in shelters, the perptual over-breeding of this dog, and the fact that so many Pit Bulls seem to get out of the yard to do serious damage?
Jack Russell Terrier owners are singularly irresponsible too.
Here too we find too many "hump and dump" breeders, and too little attention paid to proper fencing.
Too many Jack Russell Terriers end up in shelters, and too many are put down for no other reason than they are adult dogs, rather than cute puppies.
But society feels a bit differently about a 12-pound Jack Russell on the loose than it does about a 60-pound Pit Bull. One may kill your chickens, the other may maim your child. Is either scenario likely? No. But it's not entirely impossible either, is it?
A few weeks back someone wrote me to say that she caught her neighbor's Jack Russell terrier trying to dig under the fence to get to her backyard chickens. The Russell was full of piss and vinegar and growling at her Retriever. Neither owner nor dog took the threat too seriously. But if it had been a Pit Bull? What then? I think the response would have been quite a lot different!
The Pit Bull community properly rejects a breed ban. There are, after all, hundreds of thousands of fine, gentle, and well-mannered Pit Bulls in the hands of sober, sane and stable people across the United States.
The Pit Bull community properly points out that a child in the U.S. is far more likely to be killed by a poorly designed and assembled baby crib than to be killed by any dog, much less a Pit Bull.
Backyard pool kills far more people than dogs, as do cars. None of these items are banned.
What the Pit Bull community misses, however, is that all of the items named are heavily regulated.
Baby crib design, construction, and assembly inserts are at the very top of the U.S. Product Safety Commission's work sheet.
Every community has rules governing the size, type and quality of the fencing surrounding backyard pools, and every insurance company charges higher liability fees for a house with a pool than one without.
Cars? Is there any product with more safety features and oversight than an automobile?
In fact, it is because baby cribs, backyard pools, and cars are inherently dangerous that they are so heavily regulated.
But Pit Bull owners generally reject all regulation under the theory that their dogs are "just like every other."
Require an annual license for Pit Bulls, and special permission to breed? No!
Require mandatory spay and neuter for Pit Bulls? No!
Require that all Pit Bulls be owned by adults who have stable housing situations? No!
Limit the number of Pit Bulls that can be owned at any one property? No!
Require higher fencing and home-owner's liability insurance? No!
Lawmakers listen to all of this while simultaneously listening to the sobering statistics about the number of Pit Bulls crowding local shelters, and the hundreds of Pit Bulls a day being euthanized because Pit Bull owners could not, or would not, live up to their responsibilities.
At the same time, emotional and compelling testimony is sure to be give by someone who has been attacked by a Pit Bull, and that testimony is sure to be coupled to sobering statistics.
Yes, fatal dog attacks are rarer than fatal lightning strikes, but fatality is not the only (or even most likely) outcome of a dog bite, is it?
In fact, for each U.S. dog bite fatality, there are about 670 hospitalizations, 16,000 Emergency Room visits, 21,000 other medical visits (office and clinic), and 187,000 nonmedically treated bites.
To put the data another way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, based on household surveys, that there are 3.73 million nonmedically treated dog bites in the U.S. every year, and an additional 757,000 that are medically treated.
Of these 757,000 medically treated dog bites, 334,000 resulted in an emergency room visit, with a 4% hospitalization rate (over 13,000 hospitalizations), and an average mortality rate from dog bites of about 20 people per year.
As you can see, most dog bites are not too serious. In serious maulings, however, Pit Bulls are disproportionatelty represented. That is a simple fact, and police, public, press and politicians know it.
And so, after a litany like this, it's not too surprising that a lot of politicians simply dimiss Pit Bull advocates as crazy, irresponsible, and unappeasable.
And what is the result? A complete ban on Pit Bulls. Consider this list:
Fultondale,Gurley, Gadsden, Hale County, Irondale, Lannett, Midfield, Orange Beach
Beebe Gosnell, Hiawatha, Holton, Horton, Little Rock, Lonoke, Maumell, Mayflower, McGehee, Monette, Mt. Home, North Little Rock, Piggot, Sabetha, Sherwood, Siloam Springs
Lake County, Santa Monica, Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, Point Hueneme, Ripon
Aurora, Castle Rock, Commerce City, Denver, Fort Lupton, La Junta, Lone Tree, Louisville, Wellington
Dade County/North Miami, Sunrise, Tamarac
Beach Park, Buffalo Grove, Cahokia, Cairo, Central City, Chester, Cicero, Dixon, Effingham, Elmwood, Galena, Gillespie, Greenville, Johnston City, Lincolnwood, Lombard, Markham, Maryville, Morrison, Mt. Olive, Mulberry Grove, Oden, Peru, Rock Falls, Salem, Sandover, Silvis, Sparta, Stone Park, Streater, Westfield, Wheeling, Wilsonville
Fowler, Gary, Lake County, Lake Station, Mishawaka, Walkerton, Williamsport, Winchester
Atkins, Alburnett, Altoona, Anamosa, Baldwin, Belle Plaine, Benton County, Blairstown, Buffalo Center, Charter Oak, Clarence, Conrad, Council Bluffs, Coutier, Carter Lake, Dallas Center, Dakota City, Marble Rock, Winthrop, Des Moines, Dexter, Donellson, Dumont, Durant, Fairfax, Fairfield, Forest City, Fremont City,Garrison, Hiawatha,Humbolt, Keystone, Lake Mills, Lockridge, Logan, Luzernne, Miles, Mt. Auburn, Mt. Pleasant, Malmo, Monticello, Muscatine, Newhall, Norway, Olin, Oxford Junction, Ottumwa, Palo, Pocohontas, Rake, Rockwell, Scarville, Shellsburg, Sigourney, Sioux City, Thompson, Urbana, Van Horne, Vinton, Walford, Wapello, Watkins, Wilton, Winterset
Augusta, Arkansas City, Bonner Springs, Cheney, Cherokee County, Inman, Dodge City, El Dorado, Ellinwood, Fort Smith, Fredonia, Garden City, Garnett, Gladstone, Hesston, Jackson County, Junction City, Kansas City, Kingman, Leawood, Liberal, Lola, Maize, Marysville, Nickerson, Overland Park, Park City, Pittsburg, Preston, St. John, Salina, Stafford, Sterling, Ulyssas, Wilson, Worthington, Wyandotte County,
Bracken County, Covington, Erlanger, Elsmere, Falmouth, Goshen, Ludlow, Mayfield, Newport, Southgate, Walton, Webster County
Baldwin, Luling, Morgan City, Plaquemines Parish, St. Parish, Welsh
Hagerstown, Naval Base, Prince George County
Abington, Amesbury, Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, Medway, New Bedford, Rockport, Tauton
Allen Town, Alma, Crystal City, Dearborne Heights, Evart Township, Grosse Point Parke, Grosse Point Woods, Hastings, Melvindale, Muskegon, Ramsey, Southgate, Springfield,
Aberdeen, City of Shelby, Cleveland, Clinton, Greenville, Indianola, Richland, Ridgeland, Verona
Airport Drive, Booneville, Buckner, Butler, Calverton, Camdenton, Carl Junction, Cameron, Chillicothe, Clayton, Edina, Fayette, Fenton, Ferguson, Florissant, Gallatin, Grandby, Grandview, Greenwood, Hallsville, Hazelwood, Kansas City, Liberty, Macon, New Franklin, Pagerdale, Pilot Grove, Salisbury , Senath, Shrewsbury, Springfield, Sugar Creek, Vinita Park, Wentzville, Woodson Terrace
Falls City, Friend, Osceola , Wauneta
- NEW JERSEY
Atlantic City, Clifton, Fort Dix, Highland Park, Millville, West New York
- NEW MEXICO
Tijeras, Kirkland Air Force Base
- NEW YORK
Binghamton, Hudson, Jamestown, Larchmont, Maybrook, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Newburgh, N. Hempstead, Sand Point, Village of Haverstraw, Village of Hemstead, Yonkers
- NORTH DAKOTA
Bismarck, Bowman, Kenmare, Kildeer, Minot, Velva
Akron, Athens, Bay Village, Bellevue, Bexley, Cambridge, Celina, Cincinnati, City of Sheffield Lake, E. Cleveland, Defiance, East Cleveland, Fairfield, Franklin County, Girard, Golf Manor, Heath, Highland Heights, Louisville, Lowell, Lucas County, Ludlow Falls, Mansfield, Mayfield, Mentor on the Lake, Miami County, Middlefield, Mt. Vernon, Napoleon,New Albany, Newark, North Perry, Oxford, Parma, Perrysburg, Powell, Richmond Heights, Shaker Heights, Silverlake, S. Euclid, Southpoint, Springboro, St. Marys, Toledo, Warrensville Hts, Washington Court House, Wickliffe, Wooster, Yellow Springs
Del City, Eufaula, Midwest City, Quenton
Malheur County, Malin
Clairton, Elizabeth, Port Vue, Reading
- RHODE ISLAND
- SOUTH CAROLINA
Columbia, Dillon, Travelers Rest
- SOUTH DAKOTA
Chamberlain, Leola, Sissenton, Tea
Brownsville, Dyer, Estill Springs, Fayetteville, Grand Junction, Greenbrier, Halls, Harriman, Henderson, Jackson, Jefferson City, Kimball, Lewisburg, Lynnville, Manchester, Milan,Morrison, Red Boiling Springs, Ripley, Rogersville, Smyrna, Somerville, South Fulton, South Pittsburg, Sparta, Springfield, Wartrace, Watertown, White Pine,
North Salt Lake, Smithfield, South Jordan, Springville
City of Auburn, Buckly, Enunclaw, Everett, Inland, Issaquah Highland Subdivision, Kennewick, King County, Kirkland, Moses Lake, Moxee, Neah Bay, Oak Harbor, Pasco, Prosser, Quincy, Royal City, Seatac, Sunnyside, Tieton, Toppenosh, Wapato , Yakima
Arpin, Dunn, East Troy Lake, Fox Lake, Hewitt, Juneau, Milwaukee, Neillsville, Oconto, Randolph, South Milwaukee
Here in Washington, D.C. our local shelters are awash in Pit Bulls. The same is true in shelters across the country, where 25-50 percent of all shelter dogs may be Pits and Pit mixes.
I am against breed bans (as noted here), and I am generally against mandatory spay-neuter laws as well (see here and here).
But, considering the number of Pit Bulls that are killed every day in shelters across this country, and the apparent shortage of sane, sensible and informed people willing to adopt them, is mandatory Pit Bull sterilization really a bad idea for this particular breed at this particular time?
Yes, folks can simply go outside their area to get a Pit Bull. But most won't. Most people are too lazy to even look up a simple news story, aren't they?
That said, at what point do we change a losing game? At what point do we say 100 dead Pit Bulls a day is too damn many in any one city?
At what point do we stand up and do right by the dog?
YES, let's try to place and adopt out every Pit Bull we can.
But let's be honest. A Pit Bull is not the same as a couch-potato greyhound, is it? We want the folks who adopt Pit Bulls to do so with their eyes wide open, don't we? A Pit Bull is not the right dog for every person.
Yes, let's try to rescue ever dog that is in a shelter.
But at what point do we say it's not enough to simply pull drowning babies from the water?
At what point do we run up stream and put restraints on those who are throwing babies in the river in the first place?
The core problem with Pit Bulls, of course, is that so many Pit Bulls owners and breeders are irresponsible, ignorant, and foolish.
To many are "hump and dump" breeders who think a litter of dogs might be a good way to make next month's rent.
Too many want a puppy and are alarmed to find out, just six months later, that they have actually acquired a dog. A big dog. A big dog that they cannot control very well, and which has big teeth which it uses on the couch cushions when the owner is away.
We can, of course, continue to shovel 100 Pit Bulls a day into the incinerator ovens of major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.
Or we can say enough is enough and recognize that it's time to change a losing game by trying to reduce the supply, even as we work to increase the demand for "slightly used" Pit Bulls.
- Related Posts:
** Enabling Responsibility & Discouraging Stupidity
** Wanted: Responsible and Educated Dog Owners
** The "R" Word No One Wants to Talk About
** A "Responsible Pit Bull Owner" Law?
** An International Pit Bull Conspiracy?
** What Type of Dog?
** Two Hundred Dead Pit Bulls a Day in Los Angeles
** Hump and Dump Dog Breeders
** Who Speaks for the Dogs?