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 Jaemarc@gmail.com.
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