The first dog I adopted was a three-year-old pit bull mix named Millie. She and her five puppies were rescued from a shelter in North Carolina where she was on the euthanasia list. Despite being the nicest, I found out she had buckshot in her cheek after being shot. Having owned Millie and my current pit bull rescue, Greta, I witnessed first hand the ignorance and hatred surrounding the breed. It touches me deeply.
I came across an op-ed in that same newspaper from a local plastic surgeon who wrote, “I believe the risk posed by pit bulls is equivalent to placing a loaded gun without the safety on the coffee table.” What would make someone compare an entire breed of dog to a loaded gun without the safety? Quite simply, fear and hatred, both stemming from ignorance.
Enough is enough. Stop blaming race because it’s irrelevant. Much like leaving a loaded gun unsafe on a coffee table, dog bites usually happen because of human negligence.
Before discussing what it is, what is a “pit bull?”
Well, there is no agreed-upon definition of “pit bull” (or pit bull or pit bull, all used as synonyms). The term has become a catch-all for all breed types with similar physical characteristics, such as stocky, athletic builds and broad, square heads. Common breeds that are labeled as pit bulls are the American Pit Bull Terrier (where the term pit bull comes from), American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Bullies. And then other breeds of similar stature, like Cane Corsos, American Bulldogs, etc.
To make matters worse, studies show that humans, including dog professionals, cannot visually identify the breed or breeds accurately. If we can’t agree on what a pit bull is and can’t visually identify dog breeds accurately, where does that leave us? This leaves us with inaccurate dog bite reports and statistics that are used to justify breed discriminatory legislation.
This type of legislation has proven ineffective in reducing dog bites. See Toronto, Vancouver or Prince George’s County, Maryland. Why it does not work ? Because breed does not predict a dog’s propensity to bite. Any dog can be dangerous under the right circumstances, especially human neglect.
Science has shown that breed is not strongly correlated with an individual dog’s behavior. It is important, so I will repeat it. A dog’s breed is not a good indicator of its actual behavior.
In fact, by focusing solely on breed to explain dog bites and dog bite-related deaths, we ignore the real culprits: coincidence and owner negligence. A 2013 study found that coincidence and preventable factors more accurately explained dog bite-related deaths than breed. These factors included the victim’s lack of relationship with the dog, the owner’s inability to neuter, the victim’s inability to properly interact with the dog, dogs kept away from human interaction, poor management of the owner and the owner’s history of abuse or neglect.
If discriminatory legislation doesn’t work, what does? Dog licensing and enforcement are strong, coupled with public education campaigns on dog safety. Calgary has adopted these specific initiatives and has seen a fivefold reduction in bites in 20 years. Our own city, Cincinnati, repealed its discriminatory legislation in 2012 by an 8 to 1 vote. We’re making progress, but it’s still not enough.
We need your help to end the stigma. Consider adopting a pitbull type dog. Help educate others. Support your local shelters and rescues. Let’s do this together.
Andy Gibson is head of education at InfoTrust, a digital analytics consultancy, and adjunct professor at UC’s Lindner College of Business. As a pit bull owner and breed advocate, he is focused on ending the stigma and discriminatory breed legislation associated with pit bull type dogs. He lives in Hyde Park.