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Should Ownership of Pit Bulls be Regulated or Banned? You Tell Us!

In Illinois, State Rep. Michael Tryon recently proposed legislation that would let municipalities ban specific breeds of pit bulls. The proposed law was quickly defeated, however, after close to 500 protest letters from pit bull advocates were faxed in.

Pit bulls, advocates say, can make intelligent, gentle and goofy pets.

The controversy over pit bulls has been growing as frequent attacks on pets and humans make the headlines across the U.S. and beyond. About 230 cities in 32 states have pit bull legislation either passed or proposed, said Alan Beck, a professor at the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University.

Pit bulls are descendents of the bulldogs used in the 17th and 18th centuries for bull-baiting and bear-baiting -- a gruesome practice in which a tethered bull or bear was attacked by the dogs for amusement.

Before this practice was banned in 1835, the dogs would accompany farmers into the field and help them bring in bulls, which they would do by biting the bull on the nose and holding on until it submitted. Because of this, the dogs were bred to have powerful jaws and muscular bodies, along with the ability to hold on to a large, struggling bull.

But does this mean that modern day pit bulls, which is actually a term used to describe any dog that's a descendent of the old English bulldog and includes a number of breeds, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier, are more dangerous or vicious than any other dog?

Pit Bulls are Just Too Dangerous, Some Say

Pit bulls are the top breed sought for dog fights in the United States, and although the practice is illegal, it is still a very popular underground activity.

"It's the dog of choice for drug dealers and young males 12 to 23," says Don Jordan, executive director of the Seattle Animal Shelter. Unfortunately, most of these owners train the dogs to be more aggressive, fail to socialize them or leave them neglected, all of which can make any dog dangerous.

This may be affecting the overall temperament of pit bulls coming into animal shelters.

"When we first got pit bulls in, they were always friendly. They were always nice dogs," says Diane Jessup, a former animal-control officer in Olympia. "I will say now, in the last five years, 50 percent of the dogs are fearful, fear-biters with horribly unsound temperaments."

Of the 199 dog-attack fatalities that occurred in the United States between 1979 and 1996, dogs identified as pit bulls were involved in slightly under one-third, or 60, of the attacks.

And because pit bulls can attack without warning, their bites can be deadly. One scientific review of pit bulls stated:

"They are often insensitive to behaviors that usually stop aggression. For example, dogs not bred for fighting usually display defeat in combat by rolling over and exposing a light underside. On several occasions, pit bulls have been reported to disembowel dogs offering this signal of submission."

After the Ontario legislature banned the ownership of pit bulls because of an attack, the province's attorney general, Michael Bryant, had this to say: "Just as we wouldn't let a great white shark in a swimming pool, maybe we shouldn't have these animals on the civilized streets."

Pit bulls are often trained to be aggressive and have been involved in many recent attacks. As a result, about 230 cities in 32 states have pit bull legislation either passed or proposed.

Pit Bulls are Misunderstood and can Make Good Pets

Pit bulls, advocates say, are being unfairly singled out as dangerous dogs, when they can be gentle, goofy and intelligent pets.

A large part of the problem, found a study for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, may be that pit bull fatalities are greatly overstated. This is because "pit bull" is a term used to describe a large number of breeds, and most people cannot distinguish a pit bull from other stocky, muscular or broad-faced dogs.

In fact, many veterinarians believe pit bulls and Labrador retrievers are the easiest breeds to handle because they're the least likely to snap. And, according to the American Temperament Test Society, Inc., as of December 2004, the American Pit Bull Terrier had a passing temperament rate of 83.4 percent and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier a passing rate of 93.2 percent. The national average passing rate for all dog breeds is 81 percent.

There is also no evidence that pit bulls have a stronger bite than other large dog breeds. Using a computerized sleeve, Dr. Brady Barr of National Geographic measured the bite forces of the American Pit Bull Terrier, the German Shepherd and the Rottweiler. Of the three, the Pit Bull Terrier generated the least amount of pressure.

Further, pit bulls are not the only dogs that can attack, advocates point out. According to the CDC, the following breeds killed one or more individuals from 1979 to 1996:

  • Pit bulls

  • Rottweilers

  • German shepherds

  • Huskies

  • Alaskan malamutes

  • Doberman pinschers

  • Chows

  • Great Danes

  • St. Bernards

  • Akitas

The Debate Continues

Some people maintain that pit bulls as a breed are more unpredictable and dangerous than other breeds, even when trained and with a responsible owner. Others say the dogs are fine if they're handled by a knowledgeable owner, but shouldn't be freely available to a novice -- particularly because pit bulls are so popular with irresponsible dog owners who train them to be aggressive as a symbol of power.

Still others believe that pit bulls are a fine breed and any attacks are directly due to irresponsible owners.

As it stands, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in November 2002 that no genetic evidence exists that one dog is more dangerous than another simply because of its breed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also does not advocate breed-specific legislation. They do, however, support "Dangerous Dog" laws that are geared toward aggressive individual dogs of any breed.

Please Let Us Know What YOU Think!

Select answers will be published in the forthcoming issue of the e-newsletter!*

*NOTE: Your answer, or an excerpt thereof, may be published in a forthcoming issue of the e-newsletter and on the website. By submitting your answer you authorize this. Please include your name and your city state (or country) location to be included in the publication of select answers!

Recommended Reading

Dog Bites, a Surprising U.S. Epidemic -- How to Prevent You and Your Family from Getting Bitten

What You Need to Know About ... Interpol

The Seattle Times: Pit Bulls: Most Dangerous of Dogs or Least Understood?

The New Yorker: What Pit Bulls Can Teach us About Profiling

Wikipedia: Pit Bulls

The Chicago Tribune: Pit Bull Backers on Guard for Bans

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