Sunday, March 6, 2011

The problem with pit bulls, part I

Every few days there is another new headline about a pit bull attack, and in the wake of each of the reports, I can't help but notice the ongoing debate about "the pit bull problem" which tends to polarize people according to their views on the subject.

The most extreme pit bull advocates will variously demand proof that the attacking animal was actually a pit bull, claim that there is no such thing as a pit bull, or assert that it's impossible tell what kind of dog was involved in the attack. If it's clearly shown to be a pit bull, they have a tendency to blame the victim, claiming that the attack must have been provoked, or insist that the pit bull must have been abused and/or trained to be vicious.

As a dog lover, I'm interested in canine behavior and the various theories about what makes them tick. I've observed dogs at work and at play, at home and in public, in dog parks and on the street. I think there is a problem with pit bulls - part of the problem is is with irresponsible owners, and part of the problem is the genetic makeup of the pit bull type dog.

One could argue, and some do, that the sole problem with pit bulls is the owners. In some abstract sense I can see the logic in that. After all, public zoos contain all manner of dangerous creatures which are daily viewed by thousands of people, with few if any fatalities. If pit bulls were similarly managed and restrained, the hundreds of dead, the thousands of maimed, and the numerous pets and other domestic animals killed by loose pit bulls would be alive and well.

The problem is that a lot of pit bull owners don't treat pit bulls as dangerous and unpredictable animals, but act as though they are just like any other dog. Not every pit bull is aggressive all the time, and years can pass with no hint of violence. But these fighting dogs are a uniquely unpredictable breed, and all too often, the traits they were bred for suddenly and unexpectedly manifest themselves, with horrific results.

Invariably in the aftermath of these tragic maulings the owner expresses shock and dismay, saying that the pit in question had been always docile and loving, having been lovingly raised from a puppy, and had never shown aggression before. At the risk of belaboring a rather obvious point, that is in fact a perfect illustration of the meaning of  the word "unpredictable"

There are intelligent and responsible pit bull owners. These folks are realistic, they will tell you that pit bulls are not for everyone, that they must be properly managed and contained, and that pits are dangerous, but they still love the breed. They are realistic, and I can respect that.

If all pit bull owners were competent and responsible, the pit bull problem would be practically nonexistent. The problem is that we can't count on pit bull owners to be competent or responsible. The responsible pit bull owners are outnumbered by naive fur moms, backyard breeders, dog fighters, gang bangers and other sociopaths. Compounding the problem is the fact that many animal rescue facilities are populated mostly with pit bulls, and dangerous pit bulls are being pushed on unsuspecting families, their records wiped clean.

Pit bull activists lament the thousands of bulls put down in shelters every year, but seem to miss the obvious conclusion that those are thousands of pit bulls too many being bred.

Could we pass laws that require pit bull owners to be competent? It's highly unlikely. The one thing that seems to be highly effective in stopping pit bull mauling is BSL - breed specific legislation, which is a controversial topic; some extreme pit bull advocates actually call it "racism". (I don't agree) Localities and organizations which have cracked down on dangerous dogs with pit bull legislation have seen a dramatic drop in mauling and deaths.

Again, the extreme pit bull advocates will argue that the number of reported dog bites has increased in jurisdictions which have enacted BSL, and therefore BSL "doesn't work". This is illogical for several reasons, but even if, for some bizarre reason small dogs began nipping more frequently, to fill the vacuum left by the sudden lack of serious pit bull attacks, I'd take a nip from an ankle biter any day, rather than be mauled by a pit bull.

A bigger problem than a pit bull attack?

But there is no reason, no plausible mechanism to account for the alleged results from banning pit bulls. The more likely explanation is that the localities where BSL is enacted then begin collecting dog bite statistics, and so, voila! a huge spike in reported bites - but a dramatic reduction or complete elimination of mauling and fatal attacks nonetheless. I'd call that a win.

Images courtesy of:


  1. Hey Jake,

    You used some prominent images that were featured on another blogger's blog within Craven's reading list.

    I think if that's where you snagged them from, that is where the credit should be given.

    Just a thought.

    Most of them seem to be from this blog within this entry.

  2. Hi Sara,

    Is there some way to contact you? I'd like to give credit where credit is due.

    Thanks for the advice.

  3. Sara, that's not a very nice welcome.

  4. Behind every Pit Mauling there is a breeder...lurking in the shadows, not paying taxes, pumping out another litter!

    It's fascinating how the dog lobby has been able to keep breeders out of the liability equation!

  5. I'm not sure who Sara is. Maybe a nutter in disguise?

    Either way. I do not mind if you use my images Jake. And I could care less if you don't credit them. We're on the same team and that is all that matters in my eyes! To squabble over image copyright is moot when it comes to the real issue.

    As always I agree with everything here. I am surprised the show fatal attractions has not done any episodes on pit bulls seeing as how they kill and maim as much if not more than big cats and dangerous lizards kept as pets.

  6. The facts about pitbulls are very scary. Keep posting, Jake.


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