Pit bull stereotypes rooted in fact

This post is in response to a number of readers' comments on the article Media coverage of Surrey pit bull attack prompts protest by Vancouver pit bull owners.

I did some extensive research a few years back for a cover feature in this magazine on dog bites, breeds, and lax bylaw enforcement in Vancouver. One thing that was confirmed for me by several politicians in jurisdictions where breed bans (pit bulls and some other more exotic breeds) were being considered was the speed and thoroughness with which pit-bull owners, fanciers, breeders, and people in the pet business would deluge them with e-mails, phone calls, faxes, and letters. Campaigns are mounted on several popular Web sites devoted to pit bulls, and the word soon spreads around the world. Even though Doogie claims not to have a pit bull, you can comfortably be assured that he is among this bunch. The e-mails are always the same, utilize the same facts (specious, misleading, or factual), are usually of the length seen above, have the same tone of outrage and the same slogans, and are full of links.

These crusaders always point to other breeds that bite that they claim are not reported on, and they talk about media conspiracies. The simple truths are these, and no amount of misleading talk about pounds-per-square-inch bite power or slight differences between breeds that are lumped together as ”pit bulls” for good reasons will change these facts.

Yes, chihuahuas and toy poodles may bite more frequently, but that’s because their numbers are so vastly higher that those of what are considered to be pit bulls. Those small dogs are lucky if they break the skin. Also, most bites from other dogs--the vast majority--are defensive (correctly perceived or not) and usually just a nip. When a pit bull attacks, it doesn’t need a reason. It doesn’t have to feel in danger. And it usually doesn’t bite and back away. It hangs on and chews, often causes massive injuries, and many times death. That’s what it was bred for, and that’s how some idiots train them.

Pit bull owners like to paint themselves as responsible, caring, loving people, and many of them undoubtedly are. But in my experience with pit bulls and their owners, I have almost universally been greeted with expletives and threats if I ask them to leash their dog or move out of a schoolyard or playground (both against the law in Vancouver and most other jurisdictions). As well, in most reported Vancouver cases of injury to a person or their dog from an unprovoked, unpredictable attack by a pit bull, the owners either flee, attempt to flee, give false names, or try to blame the victims.

There’s usually a good reason for assumptions and stereotypes concerning almost anything, and with the pit bull most are generally true. There’s a reason many insurance companies in North America won’t offer home insurance to pit bull owners. They don’t deal in stereotypes--they deal in hard facts. One of the most common things you hear if an owner has been tracked down is, “He never did anything like that before.” No kidding. If they are known for one thing more than anything else, it is their unpredictability. Pit bulls as family pets who have been fine with children before have suddenly turned on them. And no, it doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it can mean death or permanent disfigurement.

I personally feel that anyone who would leave a young child alone in a room or backyard with one of these dogs should be reported to the local children’s authority.

You might think I hate dogs because of this post. No, I don’t. They’re not to blame for traits we bred into them. It’s often the owner I hate, though.

And a breed ban is the only way to get them out of circulation for good. None put down, just allowed to grow old and die, along with a strict enforcement of leash and muzzle laws.

Then we won’t have to see the horrible pictures we’ve seen locally here the past few days of two vicious pit-bull attacks.

Comments

43 Comments

sleepswithangels

Apr 16, 2009 at 5:19pm

First off I'll state straight out that I am a dog lover. OK...not in the way you or Dan Savage might be thinking. Damn...you should just stick a garden hose in your ear and try and flush those filthy thoughts right out of your consciousness. I LIKE dogs...I'm a dog LIKER..is that better for you? Where was I? Oh yeah....pitbulls...I've met plenty of pit bulls that were just like all the other short haired hounds..stubborn and affectionate. Very loveable. The problem is with breeders and owners, many of whom are not nearly as smart or loveable as their pets. It's a sad commentary on our society and a reliable indicator of the failure of our educational system that the majority of problem pitbull owners are semi literate, white trash with anger management issues. There is plenty of precedent for banning the breed...too bad we couldn't ban the rotten owners.

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Thom Yorke

Apr 16, 2009 at 11:52pm

This is actually the first article I have ever read on this website. I do not own a dog, but I generally like dogs. Frankly, I'm not really aware of the pit bull issue beyond what I read in this piece. This blog reminds me of something that happened in 2003, when Bush's approval ratings were slipping and they needed a new war to get things going before the election. The made this case to invade Iraq, and it was full of convincing generalizations and unsubstantiated inferences. I expect that you may have published something before with more specific information, and if that case this criticism lacks merit, but there is not one statistic or otherwise substantiated element of this entire entry. It all, basically, sounds like your opinion, albeit it is a passionate one. That being said, unfortunately I`m not quite done. Again, I think I'm objective here, but I was baffled by some of your commentary. An example would be that the pit bull side likes to "utilize the same facts (specious, misleading, or factual)". Hmmm... some of their facts "factual"? Also, I can`t help but comment on this gem: "There’s usually a good reason for assumptions and stereotypes concerning almost anything...". I`d say that comment pretty much epitomizes the place that this entire blog entry is coming from.

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Beth

Apr 17, 2009 at 6:55am

This is a great and much needed article. Notice that the writer isn't advocating death to all, or even any, pit bulls. To all those who are flecked with spittle over the thought that their pit bulls are anything less than the Tamara Taggarts of the canine world, consider this: You have a small child. (Or, heck, any loved one.) You are commanded at gunpoint by a nutjob to leave your child in a room alone with an untethered animal for one hour. You can choose from (a) cocker spaniel; (b) gerbil; (c) cat; (d) pit bull; (d) collie; (e) beagle; (f) Airedale. What would you choose?

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jackson

Apr 17, 2009 at 8:42am

Wait, THE Thom Yorke? Like Radiohead?

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GetaGripNow

Apr 17, 2009 at 12:51pm

This is for Thom Yorke. If you are not aware of a pit bull issue, then by all means visit www.dogsbite.org. The site is full of scientific reports, statistics from various groups including the CDC, and factual accounts of animal and human maulings perpetrated by this collection of breeds and other aggressive breeds as well.

If you are likewise unfamiliar with the pathological behavior of many pit bull owners (count your blessings that you haven't had run ins with them yet), you might find this paper written by an animal behaviorist with advanced degrees in biology and animal behavior as well as 14 years spent focused solely on dog behavior interesting and informative. Much of what is mentioned in the above article is covered in greater depth.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/14171107/Aggressive-Dog-Breeds-Document-nr-3-B...

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Tired of Hype

Apr 17, 2009 at 3:14pm

Your blog post, perhaps unintentionally, skewers pit bull owners more than the dogs themselves, and points to something we should all agree on. Legislate and punish irresponsible and abusive owners, not some poorly-defined concept of breed (what is a "pit bull type" dog?).

http://www.understand-a-bull.com/Findthebull/findpitbull_v4.swf

Countries like Italy and the Netherlands tried breed specific legislation, and it failed. Dog bites don't decrease, and deaths don't end, because when pit bulls/mastiffs/rottweilers/corgis are banned, thugs find a new breed to mistreat and cause havoc.

Dogsbite.org contains sensationalistic images, poorly sourced statistics and a line buried in the "about me" page describing the founder as a pit bull attack survivor. Not a dog behaviour specialist, veterinarian, or scientist, but someone who is (albeit understandably) angry and seeking justice.

On the other hand, the following sites contain statistics from organizations like the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2387261
http://www.ontla.on.ca/committee-proceedings/transcripts/files_html/2005...

Do pit bull defenders use these stats repeatedly? Sure. Because despite the media's concern about a dog (or pit bull) epidemic, there is extremely little research done on dog bites and their causes. What does exist does not point to a breed-specific problem...it points to a people problem.

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GetaSecondGrip

Apr 17, 2009 at 3:20pm

The statistics reported on dogsbite.org are collected from news reports, and attacks attributed to "pitbulls." It may be one of the four pitbull breeds, a mixed breed dog, or a dog of unknown breed which was described as a pitbull. The Center for Disease Control study that dogsbite.org uses for its statistics is also marred by the same weakness... it relies on media reports. Dog bites and dog attacks happen every day, but if the dog in question is described as a "pitbull" it's much likely to get wider media attention. The statistics on dogsbite.org tell me that attacks resulting in fatalities are 70% likely to be attributed to "pitbull" or rottweiler breeds.

The best place to get statistics, in my opinion, would be to collect bite statistics from emergency rooms and from Vets, as well as animal control. The problem is that this isn't happening, so it allows both sides of this argument to use whatever statistics are handy. The OVMA statistics directly linked above contradict the CDC statistics.

Dogsbite.org claims pitbulls and rottweilers make up around 70% of dog attacks, but the OVMA puts pitbulls at around 4% (I assume the rotties don't make up the other 64%). As quoted in the OVMA report, 55 dogs were involved in 23 fatalities in Canada for the period from 1987 to 2005. One of the dogs was an American Staffordshire Terrier, the other 54 were non-pitbull breeds.

The "pitbull" issue is one based on a lot of emotions and sensationalism, but it's not high on incontrovertible quantitative data.

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Katie Ernst

Apr 17, 2009 at 4:37pm

Oh another writer that doesn't know what they're talking about when it comes to dogs...big surprise. I'm a canine behaviourist, worked for Animal Control, been an "expert witness" in court on aggression so I think my credentials prove I can write on this topic.

First off, I'll explain the infamous "Pit Bulls were bred only for aggressiveness." It's simply not true.They should be incredibly stable with people, but if that's the case, then I guess all African Americans should still be slaves, and all Jewish people will be saving their pennies. Do you find that sentence offensive? You should, and I find it offensive when people stereotype dog breeds.

An unstable temperament dog has NOTHING to do with breed alone. I have met unstable dogs of all breeds that were prone to unpredictable human aggressive behaviour, and most of them weren't Pit Bulls. However the media has NO interest in reporting on these cases because they don't make headlines. I had 6 different Akitas on bite attacks and nobody was screaming "Ban All Akitas!" at the top of their lungs, were they? How about the Lab cross that tore a kid's face near off - not a single reporter wanted that story....and I could list a thousand more cases. You can bet any large dog breed packs a bunch when they bite, so spare me the "Pit Bulls do the damage others can't" sort of excuse. If it ain't a Pit or a Rottie, the media could care a less what you were bit by. Ask someone who's been bit by a German Shepherd orr cross - don't you think that would hurt? And by the way, that is the top breed in Vancouver for human bite cases - research that 'cause it's true!!

People need to get a LOT smarter about dogs real quick, because fear mongering does them little from preventing being bit. Until people realize that part of a dog's personality is genetics (good or bad) and part is conditioning/socialization/training, there isn't a need to ban a breed as there is always a mix of both in any dog out there.

Dogs don't just "snap" - they give tons of red flags before an incident however most owners choose to either ignore them or don't know what they're looking at. Case in point, the latest attack the grandfather said he "accidentally" let the dog into the house...does this sound like a well socialized dog if it's an accident to bring it into your home? I don't care what kind of dog that is - that's ridiculous to blame the breed, and not take a look at the situation.

Plus, I have to say I love this quote from your writer "if I ask them to leash their dog or move out of a schoolyard or playground (both against the law in Vancouver and most other jurisdictions).
It's NOT illegal to have Pit Bull in a school yard or playground - it's illegal to HAVE any dog in a playground, dummy. Check your bylaws if you're going to quote them!!

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Martin Dunphy

Apr 17, 2009 at 5:08pm

Yes, some dogs do "snap". And not too many children--or adults, for that matter--are "canine behaviourists", whatever that is, so they wouldn't ever catch on to what you call "tons of red flags".Neither should they have to. And, yes, it is not incorrect to say that it is illegal to have a pit bull in a playground. It is illegal. I was talking about pit bulls so that is the terminology I used.I know the bylaws inside out, believe me.
Also, statistics are not kept on the species that commited a bite, so your anecdotal "evidence" is just that. Anecdotal.
When bullies were banned in Winnipeg, pit bull bites/attacks went from 25 to 2 in one year. They were originally bred to fight, nothing else.
And this from a previous Straight story: "Pit bull-related dogs were linked to 32 percent of dog-bite-related fatalities in the United States between 1979 and 1998, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2000."
You might recognize that. You were mentioned in it. Maybe you could come clean in your posts and let people know that you are the codirector of a pit bull promotional group, HugABull.
Canine behaviourist. I guess when you work for the pound, you can call yourself anything you want. And I'm a communications-alteration engineer.

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