Pit Bulls are mostly a danger to themselves.
Are you looking for an article that will make heads explode?
I've got one.
Today's head-exploder is from the April 2011 edition of Annals of Surgery, Volume 253, Number 4, and is entitled "Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs."
The article says what everyone who has actually done the research will agree on, but does so without enough context, even as its strays into rhetoric that is unnecessarily divisive because it is focused solely on dog bites.
So what does this article say that we should be able to agree on?
Just this: When Pit Bulls bite, they can, and often do, do a lot of damage -- more than the average dog.
The article notes that:
Compared with attacks by other breeds of dogs, attacks by pit bulls were associated with a higher median Injury Severity Scale score (4 vs. 1; P = 0.002), a higher risk of an admission Glasgow Coma Scale score of 8 or lower (17.2% vs. 0%; P = 0.006), higher median hospital charges ($10,500 vs. $7200; P = 0.003), and a higher risk of death (10.3% vs. 0%; P = 0.041).
What else should everyone be able to agree on? Just this: Pit Bulls are implicated in serious dog bites, including fatal dog bites, more often than most other breeds.
Over a recent 3-year period from January 2006 to March 30, 2009, a total of 98 dog bite fatalities involving 179 dogs occurred; 60% of the deaths were caused by pit bulls, and 76% were caused by pit bulls and Rottweilers. A total of 113 pit bulls were involved in these deaths, and they accounted for 63% of the dogs involved in fatal attacks (Table 2).
The article goes on to note that laws governing dogs that bite are far from uniform:
Dog bite ordinances vary widely across the United States. Seventeen states have “one bite” laws that do not hold the dog owner accountable for the actions of a dangerous dog until after the dog has caused harm, at which point it can be considered potentially dangerous or vicious. Twelve states have laws that specifically forbid municipalities to enact breed-specific laws or ordinances. Currently, 250 cities in the United States have breed-specific ordinances, even though some of these cities are in states that prohibit breed-specific laws. Texas, the state that leads the nation in dog bite fatalities, is a “one bite” state that prohibits breed-specific laws.
So where does this article go wrong?
Well, for one, they are using AKC American Staffordshire Terrier registration data as a proxy for Pit Bull owneship.
This is not just slightly wrong, this is monumentally wrong.
Most Pit Bulls are not registered with the AKC, and most AKC American Staffordshire Terriers are "PET Bulls" far removed from Pit Bull fighting stock. It can be argued, pretty convincinly, that registered AKC dogs are very often temperamentally different from unregistered non-AKC stock, and that the AKC-registered dogs are more likely to have stable and responsible owners.
This is basic stuff and needs to be said.
Pit Bulls are a broad type of dog, but the American Staffordshire Terrier is a narrow breed that was split off from the type about 70 years ago, and it is slowly becoming distinct.
Is the split complete? No, not yet. But the fact that it is occuring should be recognized.
Another place where this article goes astray is in its focus on human injury and mortality, and its failure to provide a base line for that injury and mortality.
Yes, 20 Pit Bull-related deaths a year sounds pretty terrifiying, but compared to what?
The simple truth is that this is a huge country and 20 deaths a year from any source is really not very many.
Bee stings kill about three times more people a year than Pit Bulls do.
And, of course, bees are nothing to worry about compared to the number of deaths caused by backyard swimming pools, the hazards of falling down steps in your own home, deer wandering into the roadway, and the hazards of playing golf!
This is not to say that Pit Bull bites are not an issue; they are. But death is not the only outcome, and it is certainly not the most common outcome, associated with dog bites in general, or Pit Bull bites in particular.
What price do we put on the scarred face of a child, or a lifetime of fear associated with dogs? Can we talk about that a little more?
Finally, the article gets down to solutions. What should we do about Pit Bulls, and WHY?
This last question is where I think the article really falls apart, as it considers the Pit Bull problem to be solely and mainly about dog bites.
Why does every dog debate have to revolve around the fears and desires of humans?
Is it too much to ask that we actually talk about the dog's problems?
You see, Pit Bulls are mostly a danger to themselves, not to others.
When a bored, untrained, and under-exercised young Pit Bull bites another dog, eats the couch, or growls at anything, it is too often shipped off to the pound where it is rarely adopted out, and where it is almost invariably killed, i.e. "put down."
Last year, nearly a million Pit Bulls were killed in shelters -- 40,000,000 pounds of dead Pit Bull.
Yes, let's talk about the 20 people that were killed by Pit Bulls last year, but can we also talk about the ONE MILLION Pit Bulls that were bred, bought, abandoned, and killed by people that same year?
Could it be that if we focus on reducing the breeding of Pit Bulls, we will also reduce the unnecessary killing of these dogs and, by extension, increase the chance that the Pit Bulls that are bred have a good temperament, and are placed in the right homes with the right owners?
This article misses that discussion, entirely.