Owen Courreges: Safe haven for pit bulls

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Owen Courreges

New Orleans is the city of the pit bull.  Last year Gambit reported that New Orleans has one of the highest rates of pit bull ownership per capita in the country.  It is home to the Sula Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at “fostering responsible pit bull ownership” which raises money by selling yearly calendars of the “Pit Bulls of New Orleans.”  It is home to “Ban Ignorance, Not Pit Bulls,” a group established to “advocate for pit bull rights and educate the general public in a positive way that will help lessen the ignorance concerning pit bulls.”

For you TV junkies out there, the evidence is even more apparent.  The Animal Planet reality series “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” which pairs ex-cons with pit bulls, aired its 2012 season in New Orleans after relocating its rescue and adoption facility to the Lower 9th Ward from Los Angeles.  The show cited onerous regulations as the primary driver of the move.

It is only natural that New Orleans would fall in love with the pit bull, a broad category of canine that has largely fallen into disrepute.  One of our chief virtues is acceptance in defiance of popular prejudice, and with pit bulls, the prejudice is enormous.  Shock columnist Dan Savage has written “pit bulls should be boiled alive like lobsters and fed to their idiot owners.”  Groups like Dogsbite.org promote breed-specific bans on pit bull breeds, arguing that they are inherently dangerous after having been selectively bred for bull baiting and dogfighting.

These breed-specific bans are a major point of contention, and continue to be debated nationwide.   Miami and Denver both have long-standing bans on pit bulls which have been subjected to repeated legal challenge.  Closer to home, St. Landry Parish already bans pit bulls and the Covington City Council mulled restrictive pit bull legislation last year.

Ironically, it was a New Orleans case that established the legal authority under which pit bull bans operate.   In Sentell v. New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company, 166 U.S. 698 (1897), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the regulation of dogs fell within the police power of the state, upholding a law requiring the licensing of dogs as a prerequisite to recovering damages in court related to the death of a dog.  The Court reasoned that while the destruction of purely innocuous property must be compensated, dogs can cause trouble.  Noting that dogs can kill livestock or just be “vicious, noisy, and pestilent,” the Court held that they may be regulated.

Sentell’s legacy is excessive deference by the Courts to  legislative decisions pertaining to dogs.  If the government shoots my cow, it has to pay.  If it kills my dog for no good reason, the legislature can ask me to whip out a pet license before it cuts a check.

Thus, the Courts have generally upheld pit bull bans as part and parcel of this broad regulatory power.  Still, this power has its limits, and the deference of the Courts in this area has, in my view, devolved into sheer laziness.

(Cartoon by Owen Courreges)

The chief legal problem these bans face is that the word “pit bull” is not a very meaningful one.  It isn’t even a specific breed.  The term actually encompasses three breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  However, most dogs dubbed “pit bulls” aren’t pedigreed.  They don’t have official papers.  Thus, there’s a “I’ll know one when I see it” attitude whereby any medium-sized dog with a broad chest, short hair and a wide head will be dubbed a pit bull.  Precise it is not.  The last I checked, vague laws are supposed to be unconstitutional.

The International Municipal Lawyer’s Association model pit bull ban, the standard for such legislation, defines “pit bull” as including the foregoing three terrier breeds plus “any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.”

All of this might sound highly technical, but it’s just amounts to a fancier say of saying “kinda looks like a pit bull ya’ got there, boy.”  These laws don’t regulate pit bulls; they regulate dogs that look like a very broad public conception of pit bulls.  This is a major problem, because a large percentage of dogs that resemble the accepted pit bull mold have little, if any, ancestry from the established triumvirate of pit bull breeds.

Last year in Toledo, Ohio, the Toledo Blade performed DNA tests on six dogs labeled as “pit bulls” based on their general appearance by the county dog warden.  Only one of the dogs was predominantly descended from pit bull breeds.  Two others had some smaller percentage of “pit” in them, and the remaining three, or half of the test sample, had absolutely no pit bull DNA whatsoever.  Looking at the photos, it is clear why the dog warden was mistaken.  One dog’s DNA revealed him to be a mix of Boxer and Bullmastiff, but was a dead ringer for a pit bull.

Of course, your average police officer isn’t even as knowledgeable about dog breeds as a county dog warden, rendering breed-specific bans completely and utterly arbitrary in the cases of non-pedigreed dogs.

To top it all off, the entire reputation of pit bull breeds is a myth.  It’s a recent invention based on the breed’s relatively recent popularity in poor communities as a guard dog and in illegal dog fighting rings.  If you go back to a time before our inner-cities fell apart, you’ll find that pit bulls had a reputation for a good temperament.  They were viewed as “non-aggressive” and even a “nanny dog” appropriate for the company of small children.  Among experts, that view hasn’t changed.  The United Kennel Club, whose own standards are cited in the model pit bull ban, recommends against the use of pit bull breeds as guard dogs because they’re too friendly to strangers.

The whole situation reminds me of an old fable, told for centuries in countless variations.   A woodsman lived on the frontier with his infant daughter and trusted dog, Prince.  One day he came home, axe in hand, and found his daughter’s crib overturned next to his bed and stained with blood.  Prince timidly wandered out from behind the bed, bloodied and averting his gaze.  Stuck with grief and anger, the man plunged his axe into Prince’s head, killing him.  The woodsman then heard his daughter crying behind the bed, next to a dead wolf clenching a patch of Prince’s bloody fur in its mouth.

We’ve mistaken pit bulls.  We’ve judged them without thinking.  It is certainly true that in recent decades pit bulls have been co-opted by irresponsible dog owners and twisted into something they’re not, but that’s nothing more than an overturned cradle and an averted gaze.  It’s bad evidence.  It’s not a justification for rejecting a trusted companion.

Thankfully, New Orleans has rejected the trend.  New Orleans has no breed specific bans, and revisions to the New Orleans’ dangerous dog laws proposed this past fall focus on actual behaviors (as they should).  Unlike countless other jurisdictions, New Orleans maintains sane laws regarding pit bulls.  I just wish the rest of the country felt as we do.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

55 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: Safe haven for pit bulls

  1. It’s become trendy in NOLA to adopt “rescued” pit bulls, abandon by their owners after Katrina. I see them everywhere with their young hipster owners who, like any dog owner, thinks their sweet pup wouldn’t harm a fly. Until…

    On many occasions at Coliseum Square Park when playing with my kids, gangs of pits (off their leash) have surrounded me and my daughters, barking, snarling, barring their teeth. I’ve had to hold my kids in the air while kicking the dogs in the head until their owners run over saying “I’m so sorry, she’s never done this before. I don’t know what’s gotten into you.” The other types of dogs running around the park are generally less aggressive.

    The indisputable truth about Pits is that they have been bred, through genetic selection, to be aggressive, bite hard, and never let go. They’ve been designed for violence. All the gentle treatment, love, and care in the world will not be enough to erase generations of selective breeding from a new-born pup.

    There are so many other dogs that are just as loyal, sweeter, smarter, and much more attractive than pits. I’ve never understood their appeal other than trying to look cool and tough, needing a scary guard dog, or dog fighting.

    • Chris,

      I think you’re overlooking two of the most important points in my article: 1) you have a poor chance of properly identifying a non-pedigreed dog as predominantly “pit bull,” and, 3) there is no expert evidence that pit bulls have an inherently poor temperament (in fact, the opposite is the case).

      This nonsense about “genetic selection” rendering pit bulls bad pets is just made up. The one breed specifically labeled as “pit bull” is the American pit bull terrier, and that breed was bred for hunting and family companionship, like dozens of other breeds. However, because of their build, size and strength, they were later used in dog fighting rings and in recent decades have become popular with neglectful owners in general. Even though some pit bulls were bred in fighting rings, this only involved aggression towards other dogs, not humans (dogs who attacked people were virtually always culled). All the evidence says that the problems with pit bulls displaying aggression towards people are about nurture, not nature.

      The United Kennel Club’s standards, the same standards invoked for identifying pit bulls in breed-specific legislation, state that pit bulls “make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children” and that “[a]ggressive behavior towards humans is uncharacteristic of the breed.” Again, if a pit bull is attacking people, there is no support whatsoever for the proposition that it’s in any way characteristic of the breed.

      Thus, forget about the breed(s). There is always a risk of aggression with any rescue dog because so many of them have been raised improperly, and pit bulls (or at least those dogs arbitrarily and usually inaccurately labeled as pit bulls) form a massive percentage of neglected dogs. Trying to make this breed-specific is nothing more than blind prejudice.

      • The AKC (formed in 1884) would not permit registration of Othe fighting dogs, so the UKC was founded (1898) to register the American Pit Bull Terrier. Registration # 1 was given to the founder’s own pit, Bennett’s Ring.

        While the AKC is merely a beauty pageant for dogs, the UKC stressed form and FUNCTION, the dog had to prove he could do his breed’s job in order to become a UKC Champion. Herding dogs must win sheepdog trials; beagles must win in field dog contests. The APBT, did he need to show he was a good “nanny dog?” Nope, that fictitious nickname wouldn’t be invented till the 1980’s when pit mongering began. No, if you wanted your UKC registered APBT to become a UKC Champion, he/she had to win 3 dog fights (kill other dogs), with a UKC referee in attendance, to report the results to the UKC. Many current dog fighters still use the UKC PIT rules, although the UKC says that they no longer support dog fighting.

        Thanks to pit mongers, dog fighting continues, from coast to coast. Large scale, large purse fights that cross state lines and smaller community based fights, and even spontaneously arranged fights between friends, neighbors, enemies, all these continue to increase. Pits suffer and die before, during and after dog fights. If those who propose s/n BSL had their way, there would be fewer dog fights. We would enact and enforce mandatory s/n of all pits, pit mixes, all dog aggressive dogs. If your dogs fight, they get fixed. Even when dog fighting cannot be prosecuted, s/n could still happen,

        But tragically, the original pit bull fanciers (nice word for fighters) did not care about dog welfare and the current pit mongers do not care about dog welfare either. They do care about themselves and their ability to breed/acquire and own the dog of their choice. The disproportionate suffering and death that is the pit bull crisis is acceptable to them. Proof is their refusal to offer or accept any breed specific solutions to this breed specific crisis.

        Re: definition and labeling. If no one cannot determine what is a pit bull, stop having pit bull awareness daze and pit bull parades! Maybe all those wonderful dogs are not pits but actually lab/pug mixes.

        Re; DNA testing see youtube Canine DNA Test, which shows a purbred AST/APBT whose test does not show any pit bull. DNA is better used to show that this fur belongs to this dog, or this child is the offspring of either this man or his brother, but not dog breed determinations. Now stop saying that DNA proved this dog wasn’t a pit bull. It doesn’t prove anything of the sort!

        If breed doesn’t matter, if you think that management and training is responsible for behavior, then let pits become extinct. You can adopt any homeless dog and manage/train him/her to be a charming pet. You won’t miss having a pit bull, because all dogs are the same, right?

        When pit mongers tell the public “pits are great pets when raised perfectly”, more gullible people BUY pits. so more pits are bred, so more pits are killed at pounds.

        While there is always risk when any animal is involved, breed does matter. That’s why border collies are frequent winners at sheepdog trials and when bassets do not win dog races against greyhounds, and why essentially all US dog fighters use only pit bulls.

    • Owen’s post answered yours well, but to a add a couple of points:

      The fundamental contradiction between the ‘the trouble is always pit bulls’ and ‘bred to kill’ is that the former, to have any element of truth, depends on including as ‘pit bulls’ a wide variety of breeds and mixes sharing certain external characteristics (squarish head, muscular body, short coat, etc). But then that renders the type of statement ‘bred for generations to kill’ obvious nonsense. Either we’re talking about a specific highly inbred pure breed, in small numbers, or we’re talking about a broad category of mixed breeds in large numbers, but the latter by definition don’t share a very narrow set of genes.

      And on why would anyone have a ‘pit bull’, the answer to that is simple. There are way too many dogs in the world, so encouraging the breeder and pet store business by buying from them just means more suffering and dying dogs. And if instead of being part of that problem you want to be part of the solution by adopting an unwanted dog, and you live in an urban area, the great majority of the dogs in the shelters are ‘pit bulls’ (by colloquial definition). Responsible shelters only adopt out spayed/neutered dogs and often with formal temperament testing (our dog underwent such testing): such dogs are virtually never involved in human aggression incidents (the CDC found that 90% of all dog attacks on people were by unaltered males, even before you get to temperament testing, which APBT’s pass at a higher than average rate). And our dog is beautiful (definitely not a pure APBT, though those can be attractive too IMO), sweet and uncannily attuned to human moods and emotions. I challenge the statement that any other dog is sweeter, or smarter in the emotional IQ department, not other types of dogs we’ve had (much as we loved them too). She’s certainly very cool, but no guard dog and would never again be involved in fighting (she escaped from a reputed fighting breeder). She’s just a great dog, appealing to people the way dogs have been doing for 30,000 years.

      I’ve never encountered somebody bashing this general type of dog who ever actually owned one, funny thing.

      • Love that last line Larry C2, I never actually thought about it that way but when you pointed it out I am like …DUH…

        I find that the same people who believe and perpetuate the myths about “pit bull” type dogs are often also the ones who target certain races, religions and ethnicities in humans…. gee go figure huh?
        I have had springer spanials, german shepherds, poodles, beagles, and many mixed breed dogs but the APBT (dna proven) I have now is by far the most gentle, loving, laid back, goofy, good natured, sweet and friendly dog to both human and animal alike. She has no clue how to be aggressive…. I would have to teach her or force her…. hmmm point made I guess.

        Thanks Owen for the GREAT article!

      • Re: bashing pit bulls. Anyone who has owned pits and learns the hard way, and then publicly speaks out against pits is in danger of death threats, loss of income, death to their other animals. When someone puts their pit down because it tore up a visitor, they often are too embarrassed to speak out. Often they did not want to kill their beloved pits but couldn’t find a living solution for them.

    • Its easy to say oh pits are so aggressive and this and that but the truth of the matter is ANY DOG can be aggressive not just pits but the sad fact is pits get the short end of the stick. The United Kennel Club, recommends AGAINST the use of pit bull breeds as guard dogs because they’re too friendly to strangers. You are making it sound that if it was a pack of poodles it would have been fine but let me say this not to long ago where I live there was an attack on a child by a poodle the “smartest dog breed” but guess what the media coverage on that was very little other then the first reports not much of a follow up but let me tell you if it was a pit there would have been tons of follow ups. Next you judge a dog by the way it looks, think about the fact that you wouldn’t want someone judging your children because they have a closed minded parent.

    • All I can say is that you have truly shown your ignorance of the breed in your comment. “Pit bull” type dogs are used as therapy dogs, service dogs, drug sniffing dogs, rescue etc. etc. You need to do your research, I love my sweet, smart pittie! The one she isn’t…is a guard dog. If someone broke into my house and gave her a treat she would eat it and lay back down on the couch. Again….do your research.

    • You know, some people just have to be judgmental no matter what. I truly understand that some Pits are very aggressive to humans and/or other dogs… HOWEVER, why blame the entire bread on a few dogs mistakes… Some humans are aggressive, murderers, thieves, I mean, the list can go on and on. But are we really going to blame the entire human race for what some decide to do? No? Well how can you blame an entire breed on what a few have done, or may even do in the future? I have four dogs: a border collie/ lab OR australian shepherd mix that came to our house off of a very busy 4 lane. Someone had been very abusive to “Lucky”.. He was so skiddish that you could barely touch him.. 3 years later and he is he best dog ever.. An American Cocker Spaniel that I have had for 5 years, since she was 6 months old, her baby that is almost 2, and a 9 month old Red Nose Pit (full blooded to the best of my knowledge) We have had her since she was 5 weeks old. She sleeps with me, sucks on her tongue like a baby sucks a pacifier, loves babies, ALL dogs, and all humans, but especially kids, she is just an all around AMAZING dog…. My cocker spaniel on the other hand, only likes me.. She will try to attack you if you come near me… She barks continuously at my father in law, whom she has been around most everyday for 5 years.. She is very, very unsocial.. BUT because she is a cocker spaniel instead of a pit, nothing would ever be said. If roles were reversed and it was my pit that acted like that, it would be BECAUSE SHE IS A PIT BULL… My wish is that people did not stereotype… Just because one is bad does not mean all or bad.. Now I know that you cannot be reasoned with, and that is fine with me but I felt like I needed to educate you a little about my dogs… Thanks

    • In defense (somewhat) of Chris Thacker’s comment, it’s interesting to note that many, if not most, homeowners insurance policies have restrictions on which dog breeds the insured may keep on his property and the “pit bull” often tops their lists. I completely agree that a dog’s training and not it’s DNA makes it vicious, but the insurance companies base their exposure to risks on piles of statistics, and the stats, if they’re even loosely reliable, seem to point in a pretty compelling manner to pit bulls accounting for a disproportionate share of serious attacks on people. So based solely on the statistical risk it is indeed safer to have, say, golden retrievers than pit bulls in your neighborhood, which is sort of what Chris was saying.

      • Zimpelton,

        That’s true, but insurance companies are ridiculously risk-averse and thus prone to wholesale generalizing. And I don’t think anyone disputes that “pit bull type dogs” are responsible for a disproportionate number of attacks. The problem is that any statistics on “pit bull type dogs” tends to massively over-sample because any dog with a big head, short hair and wide-set eyes is typically labelled a pit bull in bit reports. However, many if not most dogs fitting that description are actually not pit bull breeds.

        Another part of the irony here is that pit bull breeds were established well over a hundred years ago, and those dogs with actual pedigrees are unlikely to have been used for dog fighting or other aggressive activities (save hunting) for over a dozen generations. They’re also likely to be extremely well-trained and socialized. I think everybody knows this and the intended targets aren’t the pedigreed dogs.

        These breed bans and insurance restrictions are really targeting the amorphous category of “mutts than kind of look like pit bulls and are kept by neglectful owners who got them because they think they look big and scary and keep them on chains and stuff.” There’s simply no fair way to target that category aside from breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. Most of those dogs may not even be pit bulls, and even if they are, it’s really about people mistreating animals and we shouldn’t be punishing responsible owners for the mistakes of others.

        Insurance companies have blanket bans because they don’t care if their restrictions are massively overbroad; they prefer vague exclusions because they want to be able to deny coverage if something happens. They want to be able, when faced with a homeowner’s applicant in a bad neighborhood who has an aggressive looking dog on a chain named “MANEATER,” to be able to cite the pit bull exclusion and refuse to write the policy, or at least deny coverage when sued after “MANEATER” actually eats somebody. The fact that “pit bull” is a “I know it when I see it” characterization is actually feature to them, not a bug.

        • Owen,

          It wasn’t clear at all, I see, but going back to my point… As you say, insurers generalize because they’re inclined to be “ridiculously risk-averse.” Everyone agrees and the statistical evidence bears out that “pit bull type dogs” — for whatever reason — are higher risk, causing a significantly larger number of serious and fatal injuries to humans than other breeds. Apparently no one, not the unerring pit bull experts in this thread nor, say, a casual park-goer, knows how to precisely and instantaneously distinguish a pit bull from a lookalike, much less a friendly one from an aggressive one. So relying on the statistical risk of attack is reasonable. Therefore, much in the manner of the insurance companies, parents of small children are inclined to be “ridiculously risk-averse.” That seems natural enough.

          • Zimpleton,

            Well, I think parents should be wary of any strange dog, not just pit bulls.They should be especially concerned with are large, strong dogs of all types because they have the greatest ability to cause harm. However, simply saying a dog kind of looks like a pit bull is a pretty poor criteria by itself, IMO.

            The insurance industry targets pit bulls because they’re an easy target and a vague category — it might be better, from a risk perspective, to use a dog’s weight or size as a criteria for the threat posed, but that would be precise (no vague application) and would be more unpopular with policy holders.

        • Tell Elsie Grace, Clifford Wright, Mary Jo Hunt, Tina Maria Canterbury, and about 30 others that pits are safe. These pit owners loved their dogs but you won’;t be able to speak with them, as they are all dead, killed at their homes by “good” pits simply acting like pits. .

          The absolute tragedy is that to create a dog who will travel silently to a distant pit, attack another dog, off territory, for no reason, without trying to avoid a confrontation, then not stop even if the other submits/says uncle/yelps, does not stop even after suffering severe injury, the pit men had to CHANGE normal dog social behavior. These traits are essential for pits to be the best fighting dog.

          I know you want to believe that breed doesn’t matter, but you are wrong. Breed does matter. That’s why dog fight raids all show PITS being led away, not Keeshonden or Brittany spaniels. Other dogs simply don;t fight and kill as well as good pits do.

          All dogs can bite, but few dogs can kill a healthy adult human, often single-handed (mouthed) as a good pit bull can. And pits can be happy, waggy tailed, licky faced AND begin tugging something to death, all at the same time. Normal dogs need to be abused, frightened, in pain or angry to attack. But not good pits. Pits experience the rush of endorphins and adrenalin while attacking, which is why they continue to attack while being beaten, stabbed, shot.

          Re: breeding for non-dog aggression. Sadly, you are mistaken there too. Can you show me a breeder website AST, SBT, APBT that states: “all our dogs have excellent dog social skills; we never breed dog aggressive dogs.” I can’t find any! Nope, the opposite is true, Ask a pit breeder about breeding out dog aggression: “Why? Dog aggression is what makes a pit a pit.” “Pits ARE the gladiator, the warrior of the dog world.” Google pit bull kennels. Nearly all them are breeding dogs who are game, even tho they state “no illegal uses”, even they don’t say “our dogs do not fight well,” If you read what they are actually saying, you will get the picture.

      • Insurance company policies mean zero in terms of any issue inherent to a breed, which you sort of admit in the second sentence. If, as appears fairly obvious in fact, insurance companies’ policies toward dogs are shaped by factors such as which type of owner might be more likely to own a certain type of dog, or moreover what kind of public hysteria the insurance company might face among members of a jury in a civil trial, it’s no evidence whatsoever that, *all else equal*, you’d be safer in a neighborhood with golden retrievers than ‘pit bulls’.

        In my mainly upper middle class urban neighborhood many people own ‘pit bull’ type dogs adopted from local shelters, though most own standard ‘yuppie dogs’ like retrievers, labs, and also some pretty aggressive breeds (Akita’s etc which just don’t have the public profile of ‘pit bulls’). As far as human aggression, I would judge the risk of ‘pit bulls’ and ‘yuppie dogs’ as about equal, and very low, in my neighborhood. As far as dog aggression though, my ‘pit bull’ has been attacked three times in two years by yuppie type dogs illegally off their leashes. Their owners tend to disregard any risk in their getting loose, or just ignore the leash law altogether, whereas ‘pit bull’ owners of otherwise generally similar social class are more cautious, knowing the tendency to ‘blame the pit bull’.Two of those dogs were big and mean enough to have seriously injured or killed my previous dog, a beagle, though that never would have made any newspaper story…no ‘pit bull’ involved? Nothing to see here folks. I’m glad my ‘pit bull’ can defend herself.

        No rational person denies that ‘pit bull’ type dogs are disproportionately owned by less responsible (often underclass) owners, or that there’s a public hysteria against ‘pit bulls’ (often tangled up with negative feelings about the underclass). But there’s no reason to believe that insurance company policies are driven by anything other than those two factors.

  2. I’ve owned “urban street mix” dogs since the late 80s. Did they have pitt bull in them? Probably, but they were/are also well-trained and sweet. Owners are to blame for ill-trained dogs.

    • Jen L,

      Yep. Mutts are mutts. I’ve owned what I believe is a beagle since just after Katrina, but I can only base that on her size and appearance. I suppose there’s a fair chance she has no beagle in her at all, or not much beagle. When you start mixing breeds you don’t know exactly what type of dog you’ll end up with. They could get the appearance of a pit bull and the timidness of a whippet, or the reverse.

      Also, any dog expert will tell you that while genetics can predispose dogs to a certain temperament or certain behaviors, it’s not determinative in the least. A dog’s environment and training are most important.

      For these reasons, anybody who believes that they can predict a dog’s temperament from their appearance alone is simply mistaken. You really have no idea at all what their genes are, and you have no idea what their background is. This is why dangerous dog laws should be breed-neutral and based on behavior, and also why people need to give dogs the benefit of the doubt until they actually see aggressive behavior (and even then, realize that aggressive behavior can usually be changed).

      • If breed/heritage has no bearing on behavior/ability/instinct, , why have breeds at all? Let’s stop breeding purebred dogs. Oh, don’t tell the folks at the sheepdog trials or the gun club the staff at the Seeing Eye or the men at the dog fight that breed/heritage has no bearing on behavior.. They will all disagree with you!

        If breed doesn’t matter, let’s require the spay/neuter of pit bull looking dogs. When there are few of them, you can adopt any fluffy homeless dog, or little dog, or huge dog, and train/manage her to act just as you want her to act. Keep repeating “breed doesn’t matter”.

  3. Every pit bull I’ve ever met was gentle. And, I’d still never own one. They are useless for protection: their entire breeding and training is oriented toward attacking things that move close to the ground, like other dogs and children. They are truly the “semiautomatic assault rifle with the 30 round magazine” of the dog world: totally useless for any practical purpose, including protection, and a big bundle of potential legal liability.

    • Jim,

      I’ve never seen anything to indicate that pit bulls confuse children for other dogs or will otherwise attack anything low to the ground. They have a reputation for being more aggressive towards other dogs in the absence of training and socialization, but not people. As for their usefulness, they’re certainly useful as a family pet and can be trained as a hunting dog. They’re at least as useful as any other household dog, and they only have a potential for legal liability if they’re aggressive.

      • Do dead kids count with you at all? Now if you mentioned Keeshonden and kids, I’ve never heard of a fatality by Keeshond. But some pits do kill kids well and happily. Check out “father saves son, 5, from dog attack” youtube, which shows a happy sweet, bloody pit bull, moments after nearly killing a child, who was simply playing in his own yard.

    • First, it will never IMO be fruitful for either side of this debate to try to use analogies to gun control: totally apples and oranges.

      Then your statement about being bred to ‘attack things close to the ground’ is completely baseless. Properly bred fighting dogs must unerringly distinguish between human handlers and other dogs, and OTOH many of the dogs colloquially called ‘pit bulls’ are not bred as fighting dogs. My dog for example is a Dogo Argentino mix, too small to be a pure breed but looks exactly like one otherwise, though people not interested in dogs invariably call her a ‘pit bull’ (which is fine with me, and I don’t know her exact DNA anyway). But Dogo’s are boar hunting dogs. In any case there’s no evidence whatsoever that any dog which shows human aggression shows it to children rather than adults, and certainly no whole breed or group of breeds does. Your statement really sounds like those of the clearly crazed pit haters, though I assume you aren’t one but just repeating something you heard.

    • You’re ignorant and everything you just said most likely is a reflection upon your character. Go read a book or do some research before you run your mouth.js

  4. Thank you for writing this article, Owen. As dog owners we are supposed to be the stewards and protectors of our dogs. In return we are awarded with companionship. They depend on us. The worst thing that ever happened to the breeds commonly referred to as pit bulls is that they became popular with the “thug” crowd. The media has in turn vilified them and folks like Chris Thacker continue to misunderstand them. Again, thanks for writing this.

    • Pits were created by the “thug” crowd. They were created to fight bears, then fight/kill themselves. Forget the recent re-writing of history by the pit mongers. Read the books written by the cruel dogmen who specifically designed THE fighting dog. One wrote: “inasmuch as dog fighting is illegal… as long as these dogs are bred, there will be pit contests to prove who owns the better fighting dog.” He was right, of course. So let’s stop breeding more pits!

      Good pits kill other dogs. Your pit might not be a “good” pit (yet), but if instinct does take over and she uses her inborn abilities and tenacity and begins to kill another dog/pet, she won’t need a reason, she won’t give warning or won’t try to avoid a confrontation, you will be amazed how happy she looks and how difficult it is to get her to stop.

      I didn’t ;learn this from the media. I learned this from pit chat rooms, from the calls our multi-breed rescue receives when pits, simply acting like pits, attack and become unwanted. The pit bull chat room includes a post from a woman whose pit killed her other dog while no one was home. A pit bull fanciers (fighter?), says, “you shouldn;t leave a pit with another dog. That’s what good pits do. If you were there to watch, you would have seen one happy dog, killing the other dog.” A phone call comes in: One woman raised a pit puppy, loved him, snuggled on the couch with him and her other larger dog. Suddenly, one evening he bit hold of her elderly dog and wouldn’t let go. “We couldn’t get her loose, he wouldn’t let go! She was screaming, trying to get away. He just held on. We had to beat him with a chair to get him off her. We want him gone!” Now he’s in the cellar, beaten, alone. Moments ago he was warm and cuddling with his big sister dog. Now he’s in a cold dark cellar and quite possibly will soon be dead, simply because he acted like a good pit bull. He is a victim too, of his heritage and tenacity. Caring people think we should stop making more victims.

      Another call: “my pit killed my landlord’s dog next door, so he’s making me get rid of my dog. Can you take him.” No, we can’t. We can’t take the risk. We save one dog but he goes on to kill other dogs? What benefit is that? It also gives adoption a bad reputation, too.

  5. I am a little confused as I recall last year there was a FaceBook page devoted to a family who was fighting a “ban” of some type in her Parish / in New Orleans. Maybe it was the state of Louisiana? Unfortunately I am unable to find the link at the moment. If this article is true what a great thing. Something to celebrate, to be sure. You just need to watch the “unofficial” policies that are enforced at the local level maybe?

    • Laura,

      The only place I know with a pit bull ban around here is Washington, LA in St. Landry Parish. To my knowledge there’s no de facto ban on pit bulls here, and I believe less than a dozen dogs were adjudicated as “dangerous” last year.

      • There was a story on the Examiner last year that suggested there was a ban in New Orleans, but it was actually somewhere else. I contacted the author and she said she used “New Orleans” because she thought it would get more attention. I suggested that it was confusing people–and then she told me that it didn’t really matter if it was accurate as long as the dog was saved. Be wary of reporters on the Examiner.

      • The woman I was in touch with had a Facebook page which of course I can’t find now – it had to be 2010 when Australia was going through their trouble with the bans in Victoria. She had to leave her home, which her family had just purchased, because her two dogs were bully types and the local authorities started harassing her and her family and threatening to seize her dogs. I wish I could find it now. Could it be St. Mary’s or Lincoln parish? A quick search finds those two Parishes have “pit bull” restrictions. Are those not in New Orleans? Of course maybe since the page is gone her specific issues were resolved. No idea, since I can’t locate the information.

  6. Excellent article, thank you for writing it. It is estimated there are about 82 million dogs in the states and that mixed mutts make up a estimated 47% of the population of dogs. Of those I would imagine millions could be described as a ” medium-sized dog with a broad chest, short hair and a wide head “. While dog bite fatalities change it has been estimated there are about 12 a year. If those numbers were tripled to say 36 a year and we take the estimation of 72 million and divide it by 36 fatalities, one finds they would have a better chance of being killed bya strike of lightening or drowning in one’s own tub. Unlike people dying of gun shots or being killed by cars, serious dog attacks and fatalities are always news as they are for the most part rare. Time for irresponsible owners to pay a dear price for their charges when a situation occurs. When one crunches the number of dogs with serious attacks or fatalties it shows that no breed or type of dog is “inherently dangerous” based on appearance.

  7. Great article! I’ve been bitten by 2 dogs in my life 1: little bitty dog for NO reason 2: a Chow that I made the mistake of petting while it was eating (my bad). I am now fostering a pitbull puppy. He is NOT aggressive, NOT mean and he is in fact one of the sweetiest well behaved puppies I’ve ever had. All animals (including people) have different personalities…some good…some bad. It’s not the breed!

  8. I wish that other states and jurisdictions could put the “media folklore” aside and listen to the truth. Punish the irresponsible dog owner that lets his dog amuck, unaltered, hungry, whatever it is. Dogs want to be loved and part of their pack, on the couch, under the covers, loving their life. My pittie loves her life, and I am a responsible dog owner, but I still worry that someone may move into my neighborhood with a preconceived notion and turn my life upside down. The United States of America is not Nazi Germany……but at times for pit bull owners it sure as hell feels like it.

  9. I wonder if Mr. Thacker ever thought about why the dogs were acting aggressive towards him and his children. If he was playing around with the kids and they were squealing with delight, the dogs may have mistook the children’s behavior. The dogs were probably trying to protect the small humans from the big human. As kids, my brothers and I grew up with Dachshunds. Those dogs bit every one of our friends. A bunch of kids horsing around in the yard, screaming, yelling, what were they to think. One of our rescues a few years back would try to pick up our daughter by the back of her neck if I was yelling at that poor kid. The dog was just protecting the child. If anyone had seen our dog grabbing our daughter like that, they would have thought the dog was trying to kill her. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we really must evaluate the behavior on everyone involved in any type of negative dog/human/dog encounter.

  10. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. I have 2 Pitbulls and a Great Dane. My Pits have accepted him into the home as if was always here. Pitbull attacks do happen occasionally but so do other attacks by dogs, you just never hear about the other breeds. Ignorance is the biggest problem. Go meet a pitbull sometime, I think you might be suprised.
    By the way Mr. Thacker, I bellive that if a group of pitbulls was surrouning you and your child and they wanted to hurt you, you would not be her writting this comment. Pitbulls were originally bred to be nannys for children becaue they were great protectors and excellent with children. I bet you had no idea that the highest decorated militar dog was a pitbull named Sgt. Stubby who saved hundreds of military soliders. Google it sometime, than get back to me. Thanks

  11. Thank You for your article. It is truly refreshing to see someone in the media who has enough integrity to actually look beyond the ‘myth’ of the ‘pit bull’ and not only get facts correct, but see the foolish laws for what they are – unnecessary & over burdensome.
    I would like to add that Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a new State Law that prohibits BSL in Ma. This law does great things for animal welfare in the Bay State, and includes care & control provisions, updates training for all ACO and adds animals to domestic violence protection orders.
    It took 4 years to write, and many Animal Professionals worked tirelessly to ensure that the Safety of the Public & the Animals was paramount in the wording of the law. I hope that it is an State Oridinance that others will look to for guidenance in working out their local issues.

  12. I remember watching an episode of Animal Cops on Animal Planet a few years back (I think the episode might have been filmed in Detroit, MI) where a supervisor was reading a man the riot act about his “pit bull”. Even after the owner showed the dog’s papers, he wasn’t believed. The supervisor stated over and over that they knew a pit when they saw one so “Don’t try to pass your dog off as anything but what it is; a pit bull”. I remember being SO pissed off at the supervisor’s “holier-than-thou” attitude. (I believe that the owner claimed that the dog was actually a Staffordshire Terrier). They had siezed the dog (I forget just why) and the owner was attempting to get it back. The reason he wasn’t allowed to have it back was because of a ban on pit bulls where he lived, thus his loving, healthy cared for family pet was put to sleep because someone with a badge thought that they knew more than the dog’s very own owner- WHO HAD PROOF! The audacity of some people in positions of authority just sickens me. This was not and continues to not be an isolated case. The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something that you know nothing about.

    • An American Staffordshire Terrier IS a pit bull; they can be dual registered with the AKC and also as an American Pit Bull Terrier with the UKC. Pit bulls include the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier And the American Bulldog (name was changed in the 1980’s from “The American Pit Bulldog”.

      I do not favor a confiscation and kill breed ban but a ban on breeding MORE dogs who were specifically created to be dog aggressive and to be the best at killing dogs. Proof that pits are the best? Essentially all US dog fighters choose only pits.

  13. I am a hospital social worker and have seen approximately 6 bites from “pit bulls.” In 4 of the cases, the pit bull was a family pet and according to the family members, were sweet and “was never aggressive” in the past. In two of the cases, two children were “attacked” while outside playing and a neighbor’s pit bull got out and chased them down. Sadly, in all of the cases, the pit bulls were put down due to the viciousness and life-threatening nature of their attacks. Also, the attacks were extremely vicious in nature and disfiguring. If you are a pit bull owner, you must take the responsible action of licensing, obedience training and insurance. I am not going to quote statistics since either side of the argument can find stats to back up their argument. I can only speak from my own experience.

    I also owned a pit bull (adopted from SPCA on Japonica Street). She was very sweet to myself and husband but we were concerned with her response to other animals (ANY other animals) we encountered on walks. We decided to enroll “Olive” in obedience lessons to help with some of her more difficult behaviors. Because of her size, she was a bit more problematic to control but we felt that she was a street dog and just needed a little more attention and training than average. Sadly, she did not respond well to training and we had to find another home for her. Thankfully, we had a friend in the country who took her in and gave her a good home. She never did overcome the aggression towards other animals but to people, she was sweet. I would never have trusted her around children. Never. But that’s just me.

    Please everyone, we all have our own experiences with various breeds and life events. If you choose to own a pit bull or mix, I believe you must be even more careful with training. This is not a slight against others who have had nothing but good experiences with this breed. It has been my personal experience with this breed that has shaped my own views.

  14. In PA, we have no pit BSL, so pits are breeding and dying like flies; they fill out pounds, and die by the ton. This is acceptable to the current pit fanciers, They are similar to the original pitmen who created the pit bull: selfish and accepting of dog suffering and death. All they care about is their ability to breed and own the dog of their choice. The disproportionate suffering and death that is the pit bull crisis is acceptable to them. Proof is their refusal to offer or accept breed specific solutions to a breed specific crisis. Most other breeds are not dying in pounds in the numbers that pits are, because the owners of other dogs take better care and spay.neuter their dogs. But not pit owners. Even in our area, where 3 groups offer free pit spay/neuter, most pit owners will not s/n. So pits will continue to be killed, as it is impossible to keep up with the numbers being produced. If pit BULLY people did care, they would endorse mandatory spay/neuter of pits/pit mixes/all dog aggressive dogs, to stop this pit killing spree. But pit mongers find this acceptable.

  15. Debbie,

    Geez, you’re wrong. Look, the so-called “pit bull” breeds came from mixing a terrier with a bulldog, originally called a “bull terrier” before modern breed standards. They were often bred for fighting way back in the 19th century before dogfighting was largely banned. That was dozens of generations back. Your notion is that all dogs descended from bull terriers have some weird genetic programming from the early 1800’s that hard-wires them to attacking people. I think that’s objectively stupid, and in any case, most dogs labeled “pit bulls” today have little bull terrier in them.

    The lion’s share of evidence is that the problems with “pit bulls” are twofold: One, they are muscular dogs; and two, they are often raised by neglectful owners due to cultural factors. The combination means that you have a lot of poorly socialized, powerful dogs out there. However, it has nothing to do with genetic hard-wiring for aggression, especially aggression towards people. Pit bulls, like most dogs, normally have a good disposition and are submissive towards people; the aggression is something that is taught.

  16. Debbie,

    How do you know they were pit bulls? Were they pure breds, or was this an off-the-cuff ID by the police, who are not breed experts? Again, read my article. Most dogs ID’ed as “pit bulls” have little “pit bull” in them because their features are shared by many breeds.

  17. Debbie,

    I’ve never heard of a “pit bull” attack where they actually did breed testing, either. It’s usually just a “that looks like a pit bull,” just as in the investigation I mentioned in Toledo, where virtually all the dogs has little to no pit bull ancestry. A better question might be, are attacks by pedigreed pit bull breeds common? I seriously doubt it.

  18. Debbie,

    “Re: definition and labeling. If no one cannot determine what is a pit bull, stop having pit bull awareness daze and pit bull parades! Maybe all those wonderful dogs are not pits but actually lab/pug mixes.”

    Maybe. You act as though this is an argument, but it isn’t. My argument remains unchallenged because you really have no response to the idea that “pit bull” is an amorphous category when applied to mutts based purely on a visual appraisal.

    “Re; DNA testing see youtube Canine DNA Test, which shows a purbred AST/APBT whose test does not show any pit bull. DNA is better used to show that this fur belongs to this dog, or this child is the offspring of either this man or his brother, but not dog breed determinations.”

    That may be true, but then visual confirmation is even worse. “I know it when I see it” should not be the basis for any law. You are advocating letting an grouping of animals go extinct based purely on what they look like. Again, sounds pretty dumb to me.

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