Monday, July 19, 2010

Thoughts About Pit Bulls

Sooner or later anyone who's involved with animal rescue must contend with the highly-charged topic of Pit Bulls and Bully breeds. Based on my time spent working in animal shelters, I have come to appreciate these misunderstood dogs for their exuberance, energy, and social personalities. Is every Pit Bull or Pit mix well-socialized and friendly? Of course not. But then again, neither is every Dachshund or Golden Retriever. In fact, the dog bites I have received have come from a Yellow Lab and a Chihuahua mix.

Still, no other type of dog provokes as much controversy, fear, and downright hysteria. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago at a cafe in Berkeley. Three-legged Dewey and I were seated at an outdoor table and, as usual, he was attracting his fair share of attention (my little tripod is quite adorable - it's true!). One woman was enthusing about her love for dogs big and small, when she leaned in conspiratorially and pronounced, "NOT Pit Bulls, though. I always cross the street when I see one coming."

On another recent occasion I saw a Boxer calendar in someone's office. I mentioned how cute it was and the woman responded by saying that she is a huge fan of Boxers and has one at home, but "unfortunately people often mistake them for Pit Bulls."
So, what's inherently wrong with Pit Bulls?

My answer: NOTHING! (Except for their undeserved reputations).

I recognize that many others vehemently disagree, however. Denver and Miami-Dade County have outright bans on Pit Bulls, and many other municipalities including Toledo, Sioux City, and Prince George's County, Maryland have stringent restrictions on Pit Bull ownership.

Livingston County, Michigan which is about 53 miles Northwest of Detroit, is an especially bad place to be a Pit Bull; legislation introduced in 2008 mandates that "No Pit Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, American Bulldog, mixes (AKA Bully breeds) or any aggressive animal will be adopted or placed from Livingston County Animal Control. Stray Bully breeds and aggressive animals will be held for the State mandated holding period (pending owner claim). If not claimed the animal will be humanely euthanized."

With so much restrictive legislation pertaining to Pit Bulls, it's imperative to address the many misconceptions that surround Bully breeds. Click here to see answers to the common "monster" myths from BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls).

One perennial concern about Bully breeds is that they are more likely to be aggressive and bite. The American Veterinary Medical Association's Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions released an extensive report about dog bites in 2001. In response to the question "Which Dogs Bite?" the AVMA panel released this answer:

"An often-asked question is what breed or breeds of dogs are most 'dangerous.' This inquiry can be prompted by a serious attack by a specific dog, or it may be the result of media-driven portrayals of a specific breed as 'dangerous.' Although this is a common concern, singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community's citizens."

Florida veterinarian Patty Khuly recently took in a severely neglected Pit Bull who had been confined to yard without food, shade, or water. The poor pooch didn't have any fur because of mange, so Patty christened her "Pinky" to reflect both her appearance and her "cotton candy disposition." Because Patty has first-hand knowledge of how wonderful Pits can be, she is an advocate against Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL. In a recent USA Today article, Patty addressed the misconceptions surrounding Bully breeds:

"The 'jaw locking' thing? A myth. Pit bulls' jaws are not anatomically or physiologically different from any other dogs' in this respect. Neither are pit bulls behaviorally special, save their infamous, terrier-ish drive to kill small prey. Indeed, anyone who owns a Jack Russell or bull terrier (of 'Spuds MacKenzie' fame) would recognize the same outsized drive."

In short, Pit Bulls really are just like any other breed - on an individual level, some are wonderful, well-adjusted dogs, while others are not. Our neighbor has a 12 year old Pit and he is as sweet as they come. I've lost count of the number of times Dewey has provoked him, and he always remains gentle and calm. Of course I don't expect every Pit Bull to be as unflappable as our neighboring pooch, but he is a perfect example of how sweet-natured these dogs can be.

The sad reality is that because Pitties have been so over-bred (especially in urban areas like Oakland), they generally constitute the majority of dogs entering animal shelters nationwide. Sadly, the chances are slim that they will leave alive. According to Doug Fakkema of American Humane, 58% of the approximately 1.7 million dogs euthanized in 2008 were Pit Bulls / Pit mixes.

In order to end this tragic cycle, we need to help confront the monster myths and adapt a more realistic, informed view of Bully breeds. Accessible spay/neuter programs are also key; animal shelters like the East Bay SPCA are leading the way on this front by offering free spaying and neutering for Pits and Pit mixes in our county, which is a hugely popular (and much needed) service.

To see some delightful Pit Bulls in action, check out the following links:

P.S. Angel, the beautiful girl shown at the top of this post, is available for adoption in Texas. Like all our favorite dogs, she is extra special - a bout with Distemper has left her with limited mobility. This doesn't stop Angel, though! In true Rebound Hound style, she gets around with determination and help from a special harness. Angel makes friends with everyone she meets (including kids and other dogs), and she would love to have a home of her own. Click here for adoption information.

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