Few breeds inspire as much emotion as the pit bull. Once revered as loving “nanny dogs,” pit bulls have lost their favored status of late. While some people consider them to be the goofiest, most affectionate breeds on the planet, others insist that they are killers and fear the very sight of them.
A Bad Rap
Sadly, a pit bull in the animal shelter system hardly stands a chance. Every year, one million pit bulls are euthanized in the U.S.—that’s 2,800 pit bulls dying every day. The majority of municipal shelters euthanize pit bulls as soon as they arrive, and many of them never make it to the adoption floor. The heartbreaking reality is that the vast majority of these dogs will never again get a chance to know the joys of being a pet. Only 1 in every 600 sheltered pit bulls ever gets a home, and 93% are euthanized.
The stereotype of pit bulls as tough, pain-resistant dogs makes them the perfect targets for irresponsible dog owners. Unfortunately, their rugged appearance, muscular build, and stamina make them a popular choice for fighting and guard dogs. A pit bull is never born vicious, but like a dog of any breed, they are shaped by the people who raise them and their interactions and experiences with the world. When a cruel dog owner mistreats a pit and disregards their ability to feel pain, they damage the dog physically, emotionally, and mentally.
The reality is that pit bulls feel pain in the exact same way that other dogs do—they just don’t always show it in the same way. All dogs belong to the same species, and in terms of how their bodies function, pit bulls are just like any other breed. While pit bulls, poodles, Chihuahuas, and all other dogs feel pain to the same degree, no one would ever use a poodle or Chihuahua to fight or guard.
Of course, the media loves when pit bulls attack. What more dramatic headline to grab attention than a vicious dog attack caused by a pit bull? Bad publicity has unfortunately made pit bulls a breed to be feared. So feared, in fact, that cities all over the U.S. and Canada have started to impose breed specific legislation, or BSL. These laws may include restrictions on owning certain breeds to completely outlawing them altogether.
A Vicious Cycle
Negative stereotypes and false information about pits can also lead to legal problems for pit bull owners. We have all heard it before: “They have locking jaws that don’t let go.” “They have a stronger bite than other dogs.” “They attack unprovoked.” People who support local bans against pit bulls use these falsehoods to justify their arguments that pit bulls are more dangerous than other types of dogs.
As a result, pit bull ownership is currently banned or restricted in more than 700 cities and counties across the U.S., and pit bulls are not allowed as pets on U.S. military bases. They are also banned in cities or defined areas within eight provinces in Canada. Families all over America are missing out on the joys of having a pit bull because some have unfairly demonized the breed.
A dog breed study by the American Temperament Testing Society ranked pit bulls even higher than golden retrievers for good temperament. Multiple studies show that laws against pit bulls do not improve public safety, and many experts agree that the bans punish responsible pet owners and waste public resources.
However, cities such as Denver, Miami, Cincinnati, and hundreds of others across the U.S. continue to ban pit bulls. The end result is that a million pit bulls die needlessly in shelters every year, and loyal, responsible pit bull owners face unfair discrimination.
The latest BSL controversy in Montreal, Canada recently made international headlines when Mayor Denis Coderre announced that City Council had voted in favor of a pit bull ban to take effect on October 3, 2016. Coderre has since been feeling the heat from strong opponents including the Montreal SPCA, which handed down an ultimatum to cease with the ban or they would cease their contract with the city. After the ban was pushed through council, the SPCA took immediate action to file a lawsuit against the new legislation, citing it as discriminatory and contrary to Quebec’s animal welfare laws. Now the Quebec Superior Court has issued a suspension until a full hearing occurs.
Is Your Dog’s Breed Next?
Advocates against BSL say that if there were not a focus on pit bulls, BSL supporters would be going after another breed instead. In the 80’s it was German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers. Rottweilers are a currently the second most restricted breed, following in the shadows of the pit bull. Targeting a single breed rather than the actions of a single dog has serious consequences for the dogs of that breed—and their owners. Even if you do not own one of these power breeds, you should be concerned. If focus were removed from pit bulls, it would likely be placed on another breed—and your breed could be next. This should cause concern for all dog owners!
The Fallacy Behind BSL
BSL has been widely criticized by animal organizations, though supporters for both sides exist. One of the main problems with BSL is that its latest target breed, “pit bull,” isn’t one breed at all. Instead it is a broad term, used to describe the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and any number of bulky headed, broad-shouldered, short-coated, muscular-bodied dogs. While it can be debated that pit bulls are easily identifiable by their strong features, most people, including professionals in the animal industry, wrongly identify other breeds and mixes with these features as pit bulls. Sadly, BSL discriminates against more than just its target. Dogs residing in shelters that resemble pit bulls are prime candidates for euthanasia.
Ending Breed-specific Legislation
Laws that ban pit bulls make pit bulls and their owners unfair targets. Let your legislators know that you oppose pit bull bans, which force responsible pit bull owners to hide their dogs or surrender them to shelters where they are likely to be destroyed. Lobby your local governments to take a breed-neutral approach to protecting public health and safety.
Encourage your government to adopt Responsible Pet Ownership Models in place of BSL. In this program, focus is placed on laws that penalize irresponsible dog owners financially and hold individual offender dogs and their owners accountable. Included in these laws are strict enforcement and fines for culprits who do not clean up after their dogs, allow their dog to be a nuisance by being free roaming, out of control (while on or off leash), barking, threatening or chasing a person or animal, causing injury or death, and being otherwise destructive. Vicious and dangerous dogs are dealt steep regulations, fines, possible seizure, and/or euthanasia.
Bill Bruce, creator of the pilot program initially launched in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, states, “We can create programs and self-sustaining services that foster responsible pet ownership through education and recognizing the benefits of compliance, rather than relying solely on compulsion. Certain traditional approaches only create barriers to responsible pet ownership.”
Coupled with mandatory licensing and availability of low cost spaying and neutering services, the Responsible Pet Ownership Model has proven incredibly effective at curbing problem dogs and bad owners, and lowering bite statistics. In 2012, Calgary achieved an unparalleled level of compliance.
Fight for A Better Option
Pit bulls strike a chord with many, but the best way to protect our dogs, regardless of breed, is to stand against laws that discriminate against any breed. We need to get behind pit bulls and their owners to put an end to the unjustified scrutiny they face. There are better options. It is our job to inform the powers-that-be that we won’t settle for anything less than fair treatment for all, including pit bulls.
And finally, if you really want to change opinions about pit bulls, start with your own dog. A well-trained and well-behaved pit bull is the best ambassador! Invest in obedience training for your pit so that they know how to behave like a model citizen when out in public.
Katie is a Pet Industry Consultant, Dog Trainer, Rescuer, PetCoach Advisor, and specializes in “All things dog”. She proudly shares her home with three lovely rescue mutts, and one special foster.