Hope of the Misunderstood
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Eradicating the stigma, learning the truth, and giving hope to the misunderstood
The false security behind Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)
During the early 20th century, American Pit Bulls were the number one family dog, as a generally people-loving breed, dependent on their humans, craving love and attention from them, displaying intelligence and loyalty. The American Pit Bull/American Staffordshire Terrier is a naturally confident and outgoing breed; however, that confidence can be diminished, resulting in aggression, due to severe abuse and neglect. It is for this reason the breed has lost its popularity, and good reputation, at the hands of irresponsible owners, who seek the breed for atrocious acts such as dog-fighting.
Dog-fighting was brought into light with the discovery of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring in 2007. According to Stefan Bechtel in his book, Dogtown: Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Redemption, these once adored and trusted companion animals are now perceived to be "terrifying 'superpredators' bred for ferocity and aggression and unfit for human society' [becoming] the dog of choice in illegal fighting operations, which has only done more damage to their reputation." Bechtel continues, "Even the best behaved pit bull, with no history of aggression, must overcome this pervasive bias'"
Bechtel also cites vet tech and author Karen Delise's book, The Pit Bull Placebo, stipulating that every age has a "villain dog," which included Bloodhounds in the late 1880s, Bulldogs, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinchers (especially after World War II, as they became associated with Nazis). A prominent misconception of the Pit Bull breeds is their phenomenal biting force, measured in pounds per square inch (psi). Bechtel cites a study which measured the bite force of a German Shepherd, a Doberman Pincher, and an American Staffordshire Terrier, through a bite sleeve attached to a computerized instrument. The American Staffordshire's "bite exerted the lowest amount of pressure."
The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. (ATTS) conducted a temperament test on different breeds of dogs, based on stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness, as well as the instinct for protectiveness towards the handler and/or self-preservation when faced with a threat. The test consists of ten subsets divided into five subcategories: behavior towards strangers, reaction to auditory stimuli, reaction to visual stimulus, tactile stimuli, and self-protective/aggressive behavior, done through a simulation of casual walk, with every day encounters. The tests determine the dogs' reactions to neutral, friendly, and threatening situations, vigilant of the dogs' ability to distinguish between non-threatening situations and those which necessitated protective reactions. A dog fails when he or she exhibits unprovoked aggression, panic without recovery, and strong avoidance. In the subset of aggression, it is checked against the breed standard and the dog's training. The ATTS gives the example of a Schutzhund trained to lunge at a stranger, where it is acceptable; however, if an untrained Siberian Husky did the same action, he may fail.
Results as of February 19, 2012 illustrated surprising statistics in the comparison of the American Pit Bull and American Staffordshire Terrier with breeds known as "friendly" breeds. The American Pit Bull scored an 86.8% of "passed" temperament, as the American Staffordshire Terrier scored an 84.2%. In comparison, the Beagle scored an 80.0%, the Standard Poodle an 86.6%, the Maltese an 81.3%, a Bishon Frise 76.7%, a Jack Russell Terrier an 84.1%. On average, the Pit Bull breeds generally scored higher than the perceived "friendly" breeds.
Why is the stigma behind the Pit Bull breeds so persistent?
At one point, Founder of the Pit Bull advocacy group, Team Pit-A-Full, Chef David Edelstein, blamed the media for the perpetuation of the stigma when he followed FOX News LA for six months, with three alleged Pit Bull attacks. He followed up on the stories, verifying the facts of the attacks; what he discovered was startling, as none of the attacks were perpetrated by Pit Bull breeds; one was a Boxer, two were unidentified. When Edelstein contacted FOX News LA, they simply claimed the inability to recall the source of the information.
Edelstein has come to realize the blame should be placed upon irresponsible owners and ignorant people. It is simple to blame the media; however, he views the media as an opportunist, as it is only giving viewers the stories they want to see; rather than doing the research, it is irrelevant whether the Pit Bull attacks were true, creating a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Edelstein blames the general public in Denver, the city he believes to be the center of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), for their "blatant complacency."
According to the Animal Law and Historical Center, Breed Specific Legislation is defined as "a law or statute that equates the qualities of a dangerous breed, and bans or restricts certain breeds based on identity, not behavior of a specific animal' [where it] does not make concessions for those members of the breed who are valued assets to the community'" BSL deems a dog dangerous based upon its breed alone rather than any action of the individual dog.
Edelstein continues, it is the lack of activity of the public that gives the Denver council the power to continue BSL. Edelstein believes change begins with the people; "if the people stepped up and said it wasn't right," such as voting representatives out of office, change would be inevitable. It should be a public wide effort, sending the message that they are tired of the perpetuation of fear and stereotypes.
Rather than finding a real solution to the problem, state and local governments enact BSL, resulting in a false sense of security and practicality, negating the fact that all dogs are individuals. Edelstein comments, many times, it is difficult to identify a dog's true breed, a major reason why BSL is not effective. For example, an AKC registered show Boxer was set for euthanization, and ultimately put to death. Once it was determined the dog was actually a Boxer, not a Pit Bull, the city offered the owners several thousand dollars for damages; ultimately, the case was settled out of court, where the owners were awarded $65,000. Edelstein sadly reflects, "The city would rather kill first and ask later, or write someone a check."
As the American Humane Association states, "there is little evidence that supports BSL as an effective means of reducing dog bites and dog attacks." Rather, it is not the breeds themselves that are dangerous, but certain circumstances that create and harbor the negative behavior. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) supports the claim, "There is no evidence that breed-specific laws'which are costly and difficult to enforce'make communities safer for people or companion animals," citing a 2003 study conducted on Prince George's County, Maryland's annual $250,000 spent to enforce its Pit Bull Ban. The study concluded that the ban was ineffective, as the public safety was not improved as a result of the ban. In addition, "'there [was] no transgression committed by the owner or animal that [was] not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code'"
The ASPCA continues, citing the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who notes, "as certain breeds are regulated, those who exploit dogs by making them aggressive will replace them with other, unregulated breeds." The CDC also noted that certain factors contribute to a dog's tendency for aggression, such as heredity, sex, early experience, reproductive status, socialization, and training, offering statistics: a chained dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than a dog who wasn't chained; 78% were not maintained as pets, but rather for guarding, image enhancement, fighting, or breeding purposes; and 84% were maintained by irresponsible owners who were abused, neglected, not humanely controlled, or allowed to interact with children unsupervised. This is confirmed by The Coalition for Living Safely With Dogs and the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association's two-year study of how likely a given dog is to bite. The conclusion was that "all breeds bite, and it was the circumstances around the incident'usually an unrestrained, uncontrolled dog running loose'that caused the bite," as cited by the Hug a Bull Advocacy and Rescue Society.
The ASPCA believes BSL results in negative consequences, including dogs going into hiding, the punishment of responsible owners and good dogs, and the encouragement of ownership by irresponsible owners. Owners of the Pit Bull breeds would go into hiding rather than relinquishing their beloved animals; this entails restricting outdoor exercise and socialization, licensing and microchipping, and providing proper medical care, such as vaccinations or spay/neuter surgeries, which result in negative implications for the health of the dog and the public. The "hiding" yields the punishment of responsible owners, who have done everything within their power to ensure the safety of their beloved family member and their community. "If you outlaw a breed, then outlaws are attracted to that breed," as some view the outlaw as something to boost their status. The rise of Pit Bull ownership among gang members in the late 1980s "coincided with the first round of breed-specific legislation." The ASPCA seeks effective enforcement of breed-neutral laws, focusing on holding the dog owners responsible for the actions of their animals, rather than the animal itself. Bechtel states, "[The Best Friends Animal Society's] view is that an animal's breed alone should not result in an outright ban or a death sentence. They see dogs as individuals, as products of their training, their personality, their temperament, and their level of socialization, in addition to their breeding."
The American Kennel Club (AKC) concurs, claiming that "Many owners of the targeted breeds are extremely responsible and their dogs are well-mannered, much loved family pets' [where] many of the targeted breeds serve individuals and their communities as therapy dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, police/military working dogs, and service dogs for the disabled." The AKC recognizes the real problem: the irresponsible owner, offering the solution: supporting laws which should include provisions for a fair process where a dog, regardless of breed, is deemed dangerous based on their actions, imposing penalties upon irresponsible owners.
The AKC goes a step further, stating that BSL leads to increased costs to the community; owners may be forced to abandon their pets at a local shelter due to an inability to comply with the strict regulations of the laws; ultimately, these once loved family members will be euthanized, at the taypayers' expense. The AKC believes the true remedy is to abandon BSL to address the true issue of irresponsible ownership.
The Hug a Bull Advocacy and Rescue Society offers evidence of the ineffectiveness of BSL, citing statistics of dog bites among a myriad of countries. In Italy, BSL originated with 13 breeds; it became evident that the 13 weren't the problem, as additional breeds were added to the list, totaling to 92. In April 2009, BSL was completely overturned. In 2010, the Toronto Humane Society released numbers suggesting the bite rate as unchanged, stipulating "'dogs are not born violent but are made that way by irresponsible owners."
Hug a Bull Advocacy believes in combating BSL, by promoting responsible ownership and targeting the behavior, not the breed, as it "is the only proven way to reduce dog bite and make communities safer," utilizing "Dangerous Dog Legislation," modeled after the City of Calgary. Statistics of dog bites in Calgary has reached a point where it is non-existent, where "'014% of the city's 100,000 dogs are culprits, by far the lowest bite-per-dog ration in Canada." The Dangerous Dog Legislation seeks to increase public safety through means of mandatory leashing in public areas, spay/neuter incentives, laws against tethering, chaining, or unreasonable restraint, and the encouragement of citizens to report owners disregarding the city bylaws or other regulations. Edelstein was able to influence a small city in Southern California in implementing a generalized dangerous dog law, rather than a breed specific ban, targeting irresponsible owners, rather than the dog, forcing the dog owners to take responsibility.
To Edelstein, as responsible Pit Bull owners, making a real impact on the current status of the stigma behind the Pit Bull breeds and BSL is getting "help in the form of other breed owners," thereby "setting the pace for responsible dog owners," by example. We can all work to eradicate the stigma by educating people in the truth, and answer the prayer of the misunderstood, giving them hope.
"...It is my prayer and my request that you grant greater understanding,...
To those who would kill me, let them know, I forgive them, even though I don't understand their hatred... Help those to know that I stand for courage, strength, loyalty, and bravery... let those who would come against my family know that I would surely die defending them...
...that if you should call me away, that I will wait patiently at those Pearly Gates until the one who chose me, comes home."
The Prayer of a Pit Bull'Author Unknown
Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)