Between Two Lies, Lost Opportunity for Pit Bulls
Art by Kevin Brockbank, courtesy of Dogs Today.
From the April issue of Dogs Today.
When it comes to Pit Bulls, two lies are commonly told.
The first lie, exemplified in the U.K.'s Dangerous Dog Act, is that Pit Bulls are as dangerous as wild lions.
Because of this patent falsehood, Pit Bulls can only be kept in Britain with specific permission from a court, and can only be walked when muzzled.
The second lie, told by Pit Bull aficionados, is that Pit Bulls are no different than any other dog. If you disagree with this statement, be prepared to be called a "breed bigot".
Here's the truth: both claims are lies.
In the United States, where Pit Bulls are a common dog, more people are killed by lightning strikes than by Pit Bulls. In fact, more children are killed by their parents than by Pit Bulls.
Does this mean Pit Bulls are just like every other dog in the world?
No. That too is a lie.
In the U.S., where Pit Bulls account for 2 to 3 percent of all dogs, this breed type (it is not a formal breed) accounts for over 50 percent of all serious dog bites.
And while Pit Bull-related fatalities are low (about 10 a year), for every fatality there are thousands of hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Those who focus solely on the low number of Pit Bull fatalities are lying by omission when they fail to mention the physical and emotional scars left by Pit Bulls attacks.
So, does this mean that Pit Bulls are a problem?
Yes it does.
And part of the problem is that this breed -- like most others -- comes with a code inside it.
Of course, we all know that dogs come with a genetic code.
When we talk about Pointers and Setters, everyone knows these dogs are particularly "birdy."
When we talk about retrievers, everyone agrees this breed is particularly biddable, loves water, and has a desire to bring things to hand.
When we talk about Jack Russell Terriers, everyone agrees they hate rats, and have a natural inclination to go to ground.
But Pit Bulls?
The Pit Bull community wants us to think these dogs are just like any other! Never mind the illegal kennels here in America 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 Pit Bulls might have a different genetic code inside them than Pugs, Standard Poodles, Pointers, or Salukies is heresy among many breed-blind Pit Bull defenders.
Of course, canine genetics is only part of the equation. Along with nature comes nurture. In the right hands, even a Pit Bull with a lot of drive can end up being a happy, docile, and extremely playful family dog.
The sad truth, however, is most Pit Bulls in America do not end up in the right hands. This is a breed that tends to attract "the wrong types" to the point that research has shown that U.S. Pit Bull owners are far more likely to have criminal records than other dog owners.
The predictable result of too many boisterous Pit Bulls meeting up with too many ill-prepared and unstable owners is that the dogs suffer.
And in America, Pit Bulls suffer terribly.
Nearly a million Pit Bulls were euthanized in American shelters in 2009 -- more than the sum of all dogs of all breeds registered by the American Kennel Club last year.
In the last decade, about 8,000,000 Pit Bulls were euthanized in U.S. animal shelters -- approximately four hundred million pounds of dead Pit Bull.
What makes this particularly distressing is that Pit Bull euthanasia rates in the U.S. have been on the rise for 30 years, even as all other canine impounds and euthanasias have been on a steady and steep decline.
What's going on with Pit Bulls?
The problem is not Pit Bull haters.
Ironically enough, the problem is Pit Bull lovers.
After all, it's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are breeding these dogs.
It's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are acquiring these dogs.
It's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are too often abusing the dogs through ignorance and neglect before abandoning them to their death a year or two after acquisition.
You mean Pit Bull "haters" are not the problem?
No, they are not.
The problem is young numbskulls who acquire these dogs in ignorance and haste, discover that they are too much dog to handle, and who then abandon them at leisure.
So what to do?
One of the most obvious ways forward, is to do with Pit Bulls what we have done for hawks, guns, and and cars in the U.S.: require a license conditional upon passing a basic training course.
When "hunter safety" courses were mandated in the U.S., accidental shootings fell to the point that golf and tennis are now deemed to be more dangerous than hunting.
When falconers were required to serve two-year apprenticeships, the longevity of captive birds soared, and concerns about raptor abuse plummeted.
And, of course, driving courses and driver's licenses have been in place since the beginning. Do accidents still happen? Sure, but no one argues that driver's license enforcement is not Step One to improved highway safety.
With dogs, however, the assumption is that everyone knows everything they need to know about dogs at birth -- and never mind if that is demonstrably wrong, especially for large game-bred breed like Pit Bulls.
And the consequence of this crazy idea?
Millions of dead dogs.
What is bizarre here, is that you would think there would be a natural constituency for a simple Canine Safety and Responsibility Course.
After all, teaching such a course could be a small money-maker for sponsoring groups such as the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, and dog-activity clubs.
Would a Canine Safety and Responsibility Course solve every Pit Bull (or dog) problem in the world?
No, of course not.
But it would solve a lot of them, and it would also serve as the "edge of the wedge" when it comes to tackling the human problems that too many dogs face -- ignorance about costs, responsibility, health, and training.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
- Shortly after I wrote this, the Labour government in the U.K. moved to require all dog owners to carry liability insurance on their dogs. This idea does not have strong legs so far as I can tell.
- As for abandonment of Pitbulls in the U.K., while is not quite as common as it is in the U.S. (thanks to a virtual ban on the breed), it still occurs in numbers large enough to get newspaper coverage.
- Finally, there is a nascent move here in the U.S, to mandate a kind of "Canine Safety and Responsibility Course." The first tripping effort seems to have occurred at Camp Pendleton and other Marine Corps bases where existing Pitbulls, Rottweilers, Wolf hybrids (and crosses of the same) and are now required to pass an AKC "Canine Good Citizen" test or some other behavioral evaluation if they are to stay. Liz Palika notes that as the April 1 deadline looms at Camp Pendleton, not all dogs may make the grade. She says: "Now we’re seeing the dogs who have known — to their owners — behavioral problems. Far too many owners tell us their dog never leaves the house or backyard because they can’t control him. We’ve had a few walk into our training yard so aggressively we can’t deal with them at all."