Attitudes and laws against pit bulls soften

Seventeen states now have laws that prohibit communities from adopting breed-specific bans
Associated Press
Mar 12, 2014

 

For much of the past three decades, pit bulls have been widely regarded as America's most dangerous dog — the favorite breed of thugs, drug dealers and dog-fighting rings, with a fearsome reputation for unprovoked, sometimes deadly attacks.

Hostility toward "pits" grew so intense that some cities began treating them as the canine equivalent of assault rifles and prohibited residents from owning them.

But attitudes have softened considerably since then as animal activists and even television shows cast the dogs in a more positive light. The image makeover has prompted many states to pass new laws that forbid communities from banning specific breeds. And it illustrates the power and persistence of dog-advocacy groups that have worked to fend off pit bull restrictions with much the same zeal as gun-rights groups have defeated gun-control measures.

"Lawmakers are realizing that targeting dogs based on their breed or what they look like is not a solution to dealing with dangerous dogs," said Lisa Peters, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.

Seventeen states now have laws that prohibit communities from adopting breed-specific bans. Lawmakers in six more states are considering similar measures, and some cities are reviewing local policies that classify pit bulls as dangerous animals.

Pit bull advocates hail the changes as recognition that breed-specific laws discriminate against dogs that are not inherently aggressive or dangerous unless they are made to be that way by irresponsible owners.

The dogs' foes complain that their message is being drowned out by a well-funded, well-organized lobbying effort in state capitols. The debate puts millions of pit bull owners up against a relatively small number of people who have been victimized by the dogs.

Ron Hicks, who sponsored a bill in the Missouri House to forbid breed-specific legislation, said he was surprised when nobody spoke against his proposal last month at a committee hearing.

"I figured a few parents would be there who would bring tears to my eyes," the Republican said. "Would it have changed my opinion or what I believe in? No."

A version of Hicks' legislation was endorsed by a House committee last month and needs to clear another committee before a full House vote. The state Senate is considering a comparable bill, as are lawmakers in Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Vermont and Maryland.

In Kansas, the communities of Bonner Springs and Garden City repealed their pit-bull bans earlier this year.

Summer Freeman did not know there was a ban when she moved to Bonner Springs last year after a divorce. She panicked when an animal-control officer discovered her pet and told her she had 15 days to get rid of the dog named Titan or move out of town.

"I think of him like my son," she said. "He's my dog-son, I guess you could say. He's at my hip all the time. He's just a big baby that wouldn't hurt a fly."

Freeman was forced to leave Titan at a shelter in Lawrence for nine months until she successfully fought to overturn the law in January.

For dog owners and pit bull opponents alike, the battle is as deeply personal as any gun-control or religious issue. Each side accuses the other of lying, exploiting emotions and using bullying tactics.

Pit bull owners insist their dogs are harmless, loving family members that shouldn't be blamed for something they didn't do. To opponents, they are a volatile breed whose genetics drive them to kill more than two dozen people in the U.S. each year, many of them young children.

Popular television shows such as "Pit Boss" and "Pit Bulls and Parolees" on Animal Planet glorify the animals and minimize the tragedies that occur when pit bulls turn on humans, pit bull opponents say.

"Everything is telling us these animals are safe if you raise them right," said Jeff Borchardt, an East Troy, Wis., man whose 14-month-old son was mauled to death a year ago by two pit bulls that tore the child from the arms of their owner, who was baby-sitting. "My son's dead because of a lie, because of a myth. My life will never be the same."

The two dogs that killed Borchardt's son had lived with their owner since soon after they were born, were well-cared for and had no history of aggressive behavior, he said. Both had been spayed or neutered.

That contradicts the contention that only mistreated, neglected or abused pit bulls attack people.

Colleen Lynn, founder of DogsBite.org, pointed to a friend-of-the-court brief her organization submitted in a 2012 case in which the Maryland Court of Appeals declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous."

"Appellate courts agree with us. Doctors and surgeons agree with us. That is credibility right there," Lynn said. "We also have the support of three divisions of the U.S. military, huge, massive bodies in the U.S. government."

The Marines, Army and Air Force all have banned dangerous dogs — including pit bulls and rottweilers — from their bases because of the "unreasonable risk" they pose to safety, Lynn said.

On the other side stand the American Bar Association and National Animal Control Association, which oppose breed-specific laws because they are discriminatory against a type of dog that isn't really a single breed.

Three main breeds — Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier and American Staffordshire terrier — along with mixes of those breeds are generally considered pit bulls. But many muscular, square-jawed, boxer-type dogs often are misidentified as pit bulls, making breed-specific bans hard to enforce.

And because fatal pit bull attacks are a rarity compared with other causes of death such as auto accidents, dog advocates argue that breed-specific bans amount to legislative overkill.

"All communities deserve comprehensive dog laws that demand responsible dog ownership and that hold reckless owners accountable when their poor decisions wind up getting other dogs or other people hurt," said Ledy Vankavage, a top lobbyist for the Best Friends Animal Society.

Don Burmeister, assistant city attorney for Council Bluffs, Iowa, led the effort to pass a local pit bull ban that took effect in 2005. He recalled first reading about the issue in the July 27, 1987, issue of Sports Illustrated, which carried a full-cover shot of an angry pit bull baring its teeth. Across the top, it said "BEWARE OF THIS DOG."

After the Council Bluffs ban went into place, the number of pit bull attacks that resulted in hospitalization plummeted from 29 in 2004 to zero the past few years — proof, Burmeister said, that breed-specific bans work.

The opposition to pit bull bans, he added, is a sign that many American pet owners have lost touch with reality.

"Fifty years ago, you could take a sick animal behind a barn and put it out of its misery," he said. "That's just the way it was done. Now they would investigate you for doing that. The emotional irrationality of Americans and their dogs has never been worse than it is today."

Comments

Factitious

Oh, no! Not ANOTHER Pit Bull troll article! "Thing are slow on SR.com. Let's run a Pit Bull article."

The good news is, while not balanced, there's at least a bit of factual counterweight to the pro-pitbull bias.

Licorice Schtick

I'll Bite! Pit Bulls should be banned!

Aeres

I'll let my pit lick ya to death. They're the nicest dogs on earth if you raise them right!

holysee

Not only will I bite, I will shoot.
It's not about temperament, it's about superior equipment for biting and the tendency to not let go and shake the victim.
Pit bulls are my sworn enemy. Take THAT to the bank.

Nemesis

Most of the pit bull owners I know will return fire.
Yes, they are equipped to bite better, but by such reasoning, all men are rapists.

Factitious
Spy's picture
Spy

I don't think pitbulls are naturally more likely to attack, but unlike other dog breeds, when they actually do attack, sometimes they just don't stop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=...

Sometimes they won't let go even when they get hurt. I once saw a video of a pitbull attacking a horse and it only stopped attacking when it sustained a fatal injury. Again, its just some pitbulls that do that.

A pitbull is more dangerous breed in the sense that a Labrador is more dangerous than a chihuahua. They have more capability to cause damage if they go bad, but they don't have any natural born tendency to go bad more than other dog breeds.

I will always still keep my guard up around them however. Most serious dog attacks are caused by pitbulls. Not because of their genes, but a lot of people who own them don't know how to properly treat dogs.

Factitious

It's because of their genes. They were bred to win a fight to the death, and for that, even unpredictability is an advantage. Some Pits have even been observed to feign playfulness with its adversary before attacking. If you trust any dog that even vaguely resembles a Pit Bull, you're making a mistake.

Spy's picture
Spy

I used to believe they had a natural born tendency to attack, but I am not so sure anymore. But whether they are more aggressive because pit bulls are often raised to be aggressive, or its because of their genes, its still a good reason to stay wary.

Factitious

Even if it were true that they are no more likely to attack, they would still be much more dangerous, due to tremendous strength, tenacity, and fight-to-the-death behavior.

Nemesis

And all men are uniquely equipped to rape - what's your point?

mimi's word

Lets take Don out back and put him out of his misery. The sooner we can ban and euthanize people for their worthlessness the better off all of will be. There is nothing wrong with the breed but the people who raise them, don't take care of them, and let them run loose.

holysee

You are, of course, wrong.
Pit bulls are bred for superior ripping and maiming of the flesh.

Bred for fighting and bada$$ status symbol.
That is something VERY wrong.

lmalley77

No, holysee, YOU are of course very wrong!!! Pit bulls are NOT bred for fighting and bada$$ status symbol!! That has to be one of the most ignorant comments I have read, aside from BabyMomma's!! Go on facebook and search for pit bull pages and take a look at the THOUSANDS of FAMILY pit bull pets that are out there!! Mine is one of them!! He is a member of my family, not a status symbol or to fight other dogs, a MEMBER of my family!! Yes, you DO have the few people who fight these types of dogs, and that is what gives them the bad name, but when you compare those people to the amount of faithful, loving pit bull owners, that number is FAR out weighed!! ANY dog can be aggressive and bite or attack....it wasn't too long ago that the Register posted an article about two Shiba Inu's who mauled a little baby who had rolled off her father's chest during a nap on the couch...didn't hear too many people complaining and saying to ban that breed though!!! Rottweilers and Dobermans are also known to be aggressive, but there aren't bans on them. The majority of people who are against Pit Bulls have probably never even been within a 20 foot proximity of one, and their judgment is more than likely based on what they have heard in the media!!!

Factitious

NOT bred for fighting? Where do you think the PIT part of the name came from?

You 15 exclamation marks do not make your errors more convincing.

BabyMomma

They passed a law preventing laws from being passed? The government is out of control. It goes from little villages(Put-In-Bay, who has the MOST corrupt officials in Ohio) <----even worse than Sandusky County Sheriff. all the way to the White House. People are on a power trip trying to make a name for themselves.

Dilligaff

It used to be German Shepards, and Rotts, and Doberman's. Now it's pits. Next it'll be poodles when realistically, people are the problem. A dog will behave in accordance with the way it's raised. Bad owners make bad dogs.

BabyMomma

Not really true at all. Most dogs that are abused are scared to death of humans. They would rather cower in a corner or run, rather than bite. But good try.

Dilligaff

I never said that 100% of abused dogs will bite. I said that a dog will behave in accordance to how it's raised. Meaning that a dog that was trained and raised to be aggressive will be, and unfortunately, people choose pits as a breed that can be trained to be vicious. But good try.

Dilligaff

double post

Louie

This breed of dog is good for attacking for no reason and to kill thats why people own them to intimidate other people with other dogs. I myself would ban this breed and put anyone in jail who has one.I hear people say its how their raised then why do they attack people for no reason. These dogs are worthless in my opinion.

ladydye_5

There are many famous people that would be in jail. Heck...Helen Keller would have been in jail!

holysee

When it comes to pit bulls, euthanasia is in order!

Steve P

There no bad breeds of dogs, only bad owners.

KURTje

Helen Keller's Service Dog - Pit. 1rst dog to get a War Medal for saving American Warriors /Sgt. Stubby/Pit.

BabyMomma

She thought it was a cat though, so that doesn't count!

lmalley77

Your ignorance is PROFOUND BabyMomma!!!!

santown419

Thank you imalley77!

ladydye_5

Petey from the Lil Rascals too!

nosey rosey

Most of you commenting are absolutely clueless on the subject. First of all, most people couldn't identify one if it walked up and licked them. Most are really just a mix of so many other breeds. Secondly, no dog is born a danger. Something has to come together either by training or socialization to cause a dog to attack. Unfortunately pits are so strong that when something does go wrong, the damage is severe. But I would gladly put my faith in these dogs than I would some of you clueless commentors. Just for clarification, I do not own one nor have I ever. But I have never met one that wasn't a great dog.

lmalley77

Great comment Nosey Rosey!!! I have a pit and he is the biggest, sweetest, scaredy cat EVER!!! This guy is afraid of his own shadow at times!! He is far from aggressive, mean, and temperamental!!! His hobbies include: begging for treats, cuddling, being a lap dog, cleaning his pearly whites with his rawhide chew, giving mommy many kisses, cuddling, oh, and did I mention CUDDLING!?!? You people who have never owned a pit or probably even a DOG period for that matter, have no clue about the personality of these dogs!! My 3 pound yorkie was more of a watchdog than my 65 pound pit is!! He loves all people, old, young, doesn't matter to him, as long as he gets a good rub on the belly and sneaks a few kisses, he will be your best friend!! I agree with another poster, if we make euthanization of some despicable humans legal, the world would be alot better off. The sick humans who inhabit the earth and breath the same air as we do are more responsible for deaths than these dogs are on a DAILY basis!!! I will not argue my case with anyone, because I know you can't fix ignorance, but some of you should really get a clue...and a life while you are at it!

Steve P

Great comment, I'll take my dog over most humans I have to deal with.
She is always loyal, happy to see me, great with my grandchildren and never has a mode. Don't trust anyone who doesn't like dogs.

santown419

+1

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

When your well trained, gentle Pit named Fluffy gets too close, be prepared for me to initiate the Mozambique Drill.

JudgeMeNot

What a bunch of idiots. All dogs bite.

Factitious

True, most dogs bite. Shepherds will run around behind you and firmly nip you in the hindquarters. It's the herding instinct they were bred for. Pit Bulls will clamp on to your throat until you're dead. It's the killer instinct they were bred for.

beepx22

I've never met a bad pit-bull with a good owner

Dr. Information

Why are pit bulls the only dogs involved in dog fighting? No need to discuss anything more.

lmalley77

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/vi... My suggestion for all of you narrow minded Pit Bull haters would be to get your heads out of your rear ends and check out this link, which I provided for you from the ASPCA in regards to Pit Bulls. And PLEASE, by all means, make sure you read the paragraph towards the end where it says they were often called the "nanny dog" because of their great behavior around children! Even the ASPCA calls "BULL CRAP" on lots of the false stereotypes about pit bulls, one of them being that their "jaws lock." That is not true, but I guess if you want to be educated with the RIGHT information, maybe you will read it for yourself. If you don't, it doesn't make any difference to me, because my pit bull will still be laying on my bed tonight and playing with my children tomorrow!

Factitious

ASPCA is not objective, they pander to their dog-fawning donors, but even they acknowledge that pits were indeed bred to kill. If you want to read what ASPCA says about Pits, read all of it, not just the parts Imalley likes.

lmalley77

I did read all of it Factitious. Under the origins it clearly states that they were ORIGINALLY bred to help HUNTERS and then to help control large live stock. EVENTUALLY, some IDIOTS thought it would be cute to put them in a ring with bears and bulls, etc. And watch them fight it out. I'm sorry, but if they were FORCED to endure that, and the only way for them to live was by killing the other animal, then they probably used their animal version of "fight or flight!" BUT, for YOU to say that they were ORIGINALLY bred to fight is a blatant untruth, one that I will not argue with you about any longer, because like I stated already, you CAN'T fix ignorance!

Spy's picture
Spy

The "jaw locking" stereotype is not about anatomy, but behavior.

KURTje

Strange, Dr. Have seen all kinds of dogs fight & it was not planned. Of course that is from being from a farm. You lived in the city.

Factitious

I think he was referring to organized dog fights.