Animal Talk: The Pit Bull Dilemma

By Jae Marciano

One of the sweetest dogs that I ever met was a dog named Sarah. I kissed her face and wrestled with her on the floor. Sarah was a pit bull. I didn’t know much about the breed, so it didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Since then, I have had a child and I read all of the articles about pit bulls and how dangerous they are to society. But to this day, I have never met a pit bull that I didn’t like.

Now that it’s time for us to adopt a dog, we have visited several of the county shelters and found that most of them contain pit bulls. Why are they one of the most feared dogs? Why are the animal shelters full of them? Where do the statistics come from?

According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, attacks by pit bulls accounted for about one-third of the 238 fatal dog attacks in the United States during a 20-year study. Some say that the study is inaccurate because they relied on media reports of attacks and that the media over-report pit bull attacks as opposed to other dog attacks. The authors collected data from media accounts as well as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) registry of fatal attacks. If discrepancies were made in the report, it seems more likely that fatal pit bull attacks were underreported not overreported.

Pit bulls were blamed for killing 76 people, or 32 percent, during a study of dog attacks from 1979-1998. Rottweilers were the second most deadly animal, reportedly killing 44 people, or 18.5 percent, during the same period.

In another study they broke the stats down by the total dog population and divided by the fatal attacks in the United States, and it showed that pit bulls showed a lower probability of attacking a human than Rottweilers, German sheperds and chows. So whatever statistics you read, be sure you know how they did the study, who authored it, and take caution when reading their interpretation of the numbers.

Let’s look at some of the myths. They say that it’s the owner and not the breed. We all know that pit bulls have been bred for fighting for simple cruel sport and monetary purposes. But the breed does have an aggressive tendency or it would not be bred to fight in the first place. The pit bull has a characteristic hold and shake bite style which leads to mauling and fatalities and a rather great sport fight.

Historically, it is believed that dogfighters removed human-aggressive pit bulls from the gene pool. They were culled to prevent dog handlers from suffering vicious bites. These pit bulls were championship-breeding stock man-eaters, whose famed owners never for a moment considered culling the dogs. In 1974, after a series of high profile news articles, the image of the ferocious fighting pit bull moved into the mainstream.

The period between 1975 and 1979, is known as the “leakage period” when the breeding of pit bulls drastically increased through gang members and drug dealers, who wanted the “toughest dog” on the block, as well as by pet pit bull breeders.

Another myth is that the media overreport and have a conspiracy against pit bulls. In truth, pit bulls have the highest propensity and frequency of any dog breed to be involved in a catastrophic mauling and the media are quick to report such attacks.

What is true is that there is an absence of media regarding the collective damage inflicted by the pit bull breed since the early 1980s. In a recent five-year period alone, from 2005 to 2009, pit bulls killed 82 Americans, about one citizen every 22 days. Of the total recorded deaths due to dog bite injury in this period (148), pit bulls were responsible for 55 percent.

In addition, despite pro-pit bull claims that pit bulls are not unpredictable, the breed frequently attacks without provocation or warning. It is well documented by humane groups that to excel in dogfighting, pit bulls were selectively bred to conceal warning signals prior to an attack.

For instance, a pit bull may not growl, bare its teeth or offer a direct stare before it strikes. Unlike all other dog breeds, pit bulls are also disrespectful of traditional signs of submission and appeasement. Many attacks have been from the family pet where there was no sign of provocation where the pit bull was raised in a loving family environment.

There are many more myths to debate, but now let’s look at some of the positive stories about these creatures.

There are some really great pit bull hero stories from all over the nation. A 3-year-old pit bull named Marley is credited with saving a little girl in Alaska from a house fire. In Gaston County, N. C., a pit bull woke up his owner by barking frantically when their house was on fire. Another pit bull named Rock chased an armed thief out of his house, saving the family who was being held at gunpoint. Fritz woke up his master when he began bleeding after an injury and the doctors said that he would have bled to death if the dog hadn’t noticed and woke him up. A 7-year old boy was attacked by two Akita dogs when his pit bull Missy pulled them off, but not before the boy incurred multiple injuries and was sent to the hospital where they stated that the pit bull saved his life.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet about these fine dogs. In the end you have to decide for yourself based on what is written, your own experience with them, and of course your comfort level. Many of us are just plain animals lovers, but we don’t have to love them up close.

Some of us are pit bull advocates and others are strongly against them. It would be great to see some movement toward the middle, maybe some stricter regulation on the breeding of pit bulls so that we don’t see so many end up in the county shelters or in the headlines anymore.

If you have an animal story to share, contact

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Posted by Karen Brainard on Oct 14 2011. Filed under Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

14 Comments for “Animal Talk: The Pit Bull Dilemma”

  1. Rick K

    Good article. The American Pit Bull Terrier is a very loyal companion indeed.

  2. EmilyS

    if this is a "pro" pit bull article, I'd hate to read something by an avowed "anti".

    It's just full of nonsense about statistics (misusing the CDC statistics which are NOT intended to use for generalization), inflammatory and erroneous statements about pit bulls being unpredictable and not giving normal dog signals, and just plain wrong "crap"

    I encourage people who want to read about bite statistics and the irresponsibility of the media in reporting dogbites to consult the genuinely scholarly and researched reports at:

  3. dogcentric

    EmilyS encourages us to go to the "scholarly" articles on the pompously named "National Canine Research Center" website. This is just a pit pusher website run by Karen Delise, whose credentials as a "scholar" are a bit dubious, I think. Her idea of doing a well-researched study is to cherry-pick a SINGLE horrific pit bull attack that the media did cover extensively (because the facts were unique–it involved a pit bull who came in to a woman's house through a dog door and not only killed a dog inside the house but horribly mauled the woman in her own house) with three other dog attacks. From ONE EXAMPLE, Delise then makes the ridiculous and unwarranted conclusion that "the media" covers pit bull attacks in general more extensively than they do attacks by other breeds.

    This, of course, is ridiculous. The single most extensively covered dog attack in this country by far involved presa canarios, not pit bulls. Probably the second most extensively covered involved a pomeranian who killed an infant, ten years ago. .Lots of factors go into how much media attention any specific dog attack draws. My own anecdotal feeling is that non-fatal pit bull attacks typically (but not always) tend to get more media attention than non-fatal poodle attacks. On the other hand, fatal attacks by unusual breeds (labradors, pomeranians) tend to get MORE media attention than fatal attacks by pit bulls, which often just draw a few local mentions and a yawn from the media because they are frequent and expected.

    Another of my favorite Delise "studies" (although I can't find it on the website anymore–maybe she did the decent thing and took it down) was where she compared autopsy reports from fatal attacks by ten different breeds of dog (including a single cherry-picked pit bull fatal attack) and concluded from that that there was nothing unique about how pit bulls attack. Hint: If you are comparing AUTOPSY reports, the victim is, by definition, kind of in bad shape. Delise's methodology makes as much sense as comparing autopsy reports of victims of motorcycle crashes and autopsy reports of victims of Volvo crashes. Since all the victims are dead, you could (using Delise logic) conclude that Volvos are no safer than motorcycles.

  4. dogcentric

    By the way, the notion that pit pushers (people who are against the kind of breed specific legislation necessary to protect pit bulls) are "pit bull advocates" is ridiculous. True advocacy for pit bulls would be focusing on ways to protect them from the grossly irresponsible breeders who cause so much horrific pit bull suffering. (I.e. breed specific regulation regulating pit bull breeding) Pit pushers fight breed specific legislation because they want to protect the rights of these same breeders to continue to profit off pit bulls and off of pit bull suffering. . Hardly "advocacy" on behalf of the dogs.

    • Gwen Lebec

      Well said! They are all about their desire to have pits and have no one question them. The breeders have co-opted all these animal 'lovers.' If they cared about the dogs they would want to limit breeding and ownership to sane, capable dog owners!

  5. Aimee Chagnon

    I completely agree with EmilyS—I'd really hate to see what you consider an anti-pit bull article! What sources are you quoting? "Unlike all other dog breeds…" what a bizarre statement to make. Pit bulls are dogs–as such, they have the same dog DNA and doggie brain that other breeds do. I have had pit bulls for years, and bring them to my medical practice where they are adored by my patients. They get along beautifully with other dogs, are gentle with children, and both came from rough backgrounds. The incredible success with the former Vick dogs has been replicated with other former fighting dogs. Pit bulls, like other terriers and bully breeds, can be dog reactive, but ANY breed of dog can share this trait. It does not indicate a dog will be aggressive toward humans–they are separate phenomena. I agree–if you really want reliable information, read the National Canine Research Council's work (Karen Delise). Unlike this "analysis", it actually contains reliable data.

  6. Nicole

    "Pit Bull" is not an actual breed of dog; it's a term used to lump together any breed or individual dog with certain characteristics, such as a muscular build and short hair. This term covers APBTs, AmStaffs, Presa Canarios, Dogo Argentinos, American Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Boxer mixes… That list goes on. So keeping that in mind, of course "Pit Bulls" are going to account for a whopping 33% or so of dog attacks. That's like saying all Christians protest military funerals just because the Westboro Baptist Church protests them, or that all Muslims are out to destroy America as we know it just because some Muslims are part of anti-American/western civilization extremist groups.

    I'd like to see DNA testing done on dogs involved in "Pit Bull" attacks to confirm the dog's breed(s) before the media steps in and slaps their inaccurate labels on everything, and a better breed-by-breed breakdown of statistics before I'd quote any of that BS as being reputable.

    So let's suppose we DO start breed-testing these dogs and come up with a more appropriate statistic on bites by breed. Now let's start looking at the situations that led to each attack. How was the dog treated and raised? Does the dog spend its life on the end of a chain or is it a truly socialized family dog? Is the dog intact or altered? Male? Female? Was it a child or an adult that was bitten? Believe it or not, chained, unaltered males are the most likely to bite, because of poor socialization and testosterone. Children are also most likely to be the ones bitten, because they are more likely to run up to a strange dog and ignore and misinterpret any warning signals displayed by the dog in question. A lot of those "He was a perfect family dog before this" stories neglect to mention that the "family dog" was chained to a stake on the ground on the corner of the property and didn't get much more human interaction than somebody coming out to dump food and water in the empty dishes.

    … CDC? Since when have dog bites become a disease? And don't get me started on the HSUS. Suffice to say a look-through of is in order.

  7. Jae Marciano needs to provide references for the specific citations mentioned. in the article.

  8. Snoopy

    Oh gosh, I see Dogcentric, (real name – Carolyn Lathrop) is at it again. What amazes me, is that she supposedly works at the Allegany County Animal Shelter in Maryland, and I wonder what her co-workers would think of her. They adopt out pit bulls at the very shelter that she supposedly works at, so I do not get it. You can find dogcentric, aka – Carolyn Lathrop all over the internet on pit bull articles pushing for BSL and extinction of all of the pit bull type dogs. Maybe she should be a little more level headed, rather than a pompous arse. She is a wordsmith is all, and all canine experts disagree with everything she says. Just another monster trying to banish pit bulls. Not even worth arguing with her, unless you want to waste a lot of time. Want to know about pit bulls, look at the Humane Society, AMVA, the ASPCA, the NCRC, or any other expert source. Even ask a local veterinarian, as they will set you straight. Don't listen to these people that belong to anti-pit bull groups, which you can be found posting on practically every pit bull article there is. One can easily do a search for dogcentric to verify what I am saying is valid.

  9. EmilyS

    well of course anyone can determine for him/herself whether Karen Delise "cherrypicks" her stories or whether dogcentric is.. well, a liar. Go read the reports at NCRC

    And anyone who uses the CDC report to claim that "pit bulls and rottweilers are the 2 deadliest dogs in America" is just dishonest. The CDC EXPLICITLY wrote that their report was not to be used in that way.

  10. [...] study by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists pit bulls and rottweilers as the two deadliest dogs in America: [A]ttacks by pit bulls accounted [...]

  11. Snoopy

    Regardless of past studies, the odds of getting killed by any dog is slim to none. Extremely rare, and when someone puts it in a way, that 60%…… well, that can deter some from an unbiased opinion. The CDC was heavily flawed, admittedly by the CDC, and that is why it came to an abrupt halt, and they stopped tracking fatalities by breed. No official entity has since tracked fatalities by breed. They only places you will see doing this, are anti-pitbull/rottweiler organizations. The biggest flaw with the study, is the lumping of multiple breeds, including mutts together, to get a pit bull-type dog. Pit bulls is not a breed, but rather a general description for a dog, so a hound/bulldog mix or lab boxer mix could have been the killer, and it got reported as a pit-bill type dog. Lump any other category of dogs together, and the results will be similar. The study is to be taken as a grain of salt, and is classic example of an inaccurate study. The CDC includes in their report, that the study is not to be used to create public policy, because they are aware it is highly flawed. You will see anti-pit bull groups on comments boards constantly touting the CDC study, and other inaccurate studies, but if they were accurate, there would need to be a breakdown of the specific breeds that fall under the "pit bull-type" , which no one can provide.

    I was never a pit bull person, but seeing them in action, and helping dogs, I decided to adopt one. I have absolutely no regrets, as it is the best dog I have ever owned. They certainly aren't for everyone, but if you are the type that can control a lab, German Shepherd, or any other large breed, pit bulls are a fine dog. They are certainly one of the most intelligent and the most loyal canine out there. Sometimes those great qualities works against them in the wrong hands, because they will do anything to please their owners.

  12. Rick K

    Here are a couple of stories that show the inteligent Pit Bulls just for you Pit bashers, you know who you are:

    Pit Bull Saves Woman With Brain Aneurysm, Given 'Neighbor Of The Year' Award –

    Stray Pit Bull Saves Woman, Child From Attacker –

    Pit Bull Saves Woman Who Fell Down Hill –

  13. Guest

    Great article. For your safety and your children’s safety, I hope you choose a breed other than pitbull for your new family pet.

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