Pit Bull Awareness Month is Every Month
Although this may not be a “typical” post, my dogs are part of my life and always part of my adventures. The same is true for people and their dogs all over the world. Some of those dogs are pit bulls, and they deserve just as much love and adventures with their humans as any other pup. October is the designated month of Pit Bull Awareness. In a few days, October will be behind us and we’ll have holidays to plan for, but we need to remember the daily struggles that pit bulls may face – regardless of what month of the year it is.
In the past few months especially, my heart has been broken by the new Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) that has been passed in Montreal, Canada. Currently, the bylaw that mandates that ALL “pit bulls or pit bull type dogs” must wear a muzzle at all times and be registered as dangerous with the city of Montreal is suspended, but that doesn’t mean that this issue no longer deserves our attention. The dog loving community has a lot of influence over lawmakers, simply because of the sheer number of people who feel passionately about this issue. We’re definitely making a difference by speaking out, but we can’t stop now. This is an issue that affects us all, regardless of the breed of dog we love. Saying, “I own a hound dog, so this isn’t my place to fight,” is still saying that you’re okay with lawmakers targeting dogs based solely on how they look and not their behavior. Today, it’s pit bulls. Tomorrow, it might be a different breed. This involves us all.
Just as BSL isn’t only a pit bull issue, it’s also not only a Canadian issue. BSL exists in several places in the US as well. According to the BSL Census, some places where pit bulls are not welcome include: Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Vermont, and Kentucky just to name a few. Within these states, BSL may be enforced at the local level, but there is no legislation currently in effect at the state level to prevent BSL from being enacted in local governments. Because of these unfounded and discriminatory laws, many healthy dogs have been euthanized in shelters and even seized from their loving homes.
The reasons why laws regarding breed specific bans are passed revolve solely around the pervasive fear of dangerous dogs. There is an inherent misunderstanding among lawmakers and the general public alike that a dog’s morphological characteristics (what it looks like) have anything to do with its behavior. Spoiler: how a dog looks absolutely does not have any bearing on its behavior. None. Not even if it’s got a big, blocky head. While governments are simply trying to step up and do their jobs of keeping the public safe, there is far too little evidence to support the claim that BSL is an effective way to keep people safe. If the goal is to protect citizens from dangerous dogs, then scientific research and statistical analysis on the effectiveness of current laws should be at the forefront of our minds when passing new laws, but thanks for fearmongering tactics not founded in science, BSL continues to be an issue for dogs and their families.
However, I don’t want anyone to be under the impression that this is just the opinion of some blogger in the Midwest who just happens to have strong feelings about this issue. This goes far beyond me and is actual, proven, scientific fact. Following a thorough study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chose to strongly oppose BSL. The reasons cited by the CDC for their opposition included the inherent inaccuracy of dog bite data (many mixes with some of the morphological characteristics of a “pit bull” were reported as pits when genetically, they are mixes of other breeds) as well as the cost involved with enforcing laws that are so deeply flawed. Why put the burden on taxpayers to enforce a law that doesn’t actually accomplish the goal of keeping their communities safe? In fact, not only does BSL not work, it can actually make the issue of dog aggression worse.
Here’s an example of what I mean by that claim: say you’re living in an area that recently passed some form of BSL and you think your dog meets the (probably vague) characteristics of the breed your city has banned. Rather than give up your best friend (obviously, like most humans, you would never do that), you take the next logical steps to avoid your dog’s detection. Naturally, you start by limiting his outdoor exercise. Maybe you’re less likely, even, to take your dog to the vet if he gets sick. This could mean you avoid his neuter surgery or don’t get him microchipped. Because you are trying desperately to keep your buddy, as any good dog parent would, you are depriving him of being able to go out and socialize in the world. This is the best way to make any aggressive or reactive tendencies a whole lot worse than they otherwise would have been and it’s through absolutely no fault of the dog.
Also, let’s talk about the financial resources that are taken away from actual, plausible ways to reduce fatal dog attacks when BSL is enforced instead. When a city or state has to devote lots of dollars to the enforcement of breed ban laws, that’s less dollars and time that can go into proven, effective practices such as enforcing leash laws and spay/neuter laws and cracking down on dog fighting or unethical breeding facilities. The difference between these effective strategies and the ineffective, “quick fix” that is BSL is that these laws encourage the public to control their dogs regardless of breed and hold criminals who intend to harm dogs responsible. Obviously, that’s what we need, but it takes a little more time and maybe a little more money. But, it is quantifiably more effective. Some statisticians have even reported that there is a correlation between areas that enforce BSL and the rise of criminals (charged or convicted with other crimes) owning banned breeds – there is a draw among those who have a criminal record to own “outlaw” type dogs because it’s cool. NOT COOL.
But let’s get back on track and talk about pit bulls specifically. BSL in many places bans breeds other than pits such as Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, etc. Yet, pit bull type dogs are at the forefront of this argument. The AKC actually does not technically recognize “pit bulls” as a breed – but they do recognize American Staffordshire Terriers and American Bull Terriers – these are the dogs commonly referred to under the blanket term of “pit bulls.” The most unfortunate result of the blanket “pit bull” term being used to describe any dog with short coat and a block shaped head is that aggressive dogs are often labeled as pit bulls, when they might be some other breed or mix entirely. Due to this misunderstanding and alarmist media that likes to play into society’s pit bull fears, this misnomer grossly skews the statistics of dog attack data. But, even though dogs we assume are pit bulls might not actually be pit bulls, there is still an unearned, bad reputation for these dogs that needs to be addressed. The unfounded claims against the “dangers” of pit bull type dog are staggering and largely unfounded. Some common myths about pitties are: they are vicious by nature, pit bulls are bred for fighting, pit bulls’ jaws can lock shut, and pit bulls will eventually become aggressive towards their families.
First of all, no dog is “inherently vicious.” So much goes into determining a dog’s personality and their actions – just like people. Some of these factors could include, the way the dog was socialized as a puppy, trauma or abuse suffered by the dog, mental health issues such as anxiety, how much exercise a dog gets, its general health and welfare. What doesn’t determine if a dog will be vicious is the shape of its head. Plain and simple – some dogs bite and some don’t and physical traits have absolutely no correlation to that data.
Second, pit bull type dogs were not bred for fighting. Like I mentioned earlier, since pit bulls aren’t really considered a true breed, it’s kind of impossible to say they were bred for anything. Is there a dog fighting problem in the United States? Absofreakinglutely. So, shouldn’t we devote our time and money to prosecuting those individuals that are breeding dogs for fighting instead of the dogs themselves who just happen to have a blocky head and have absolutely no say in their future? I think yes.
Third, the myth that pit bulls have locking jaws is one of the stupidest, unfounded claims out there about this type of dog because it is so boldfaced wrong. It’s also really easy to disprove. All dogs are descendants of wolves. While humans, through selective breeding, have created a whole lot of funny shapes and colors that dogs might come in, we haven’t overwritten their basic anatomy. Pit bull jaws are the same as Golden Retriever jaws are the same as Chewy jaws are the same as June Bug jaws. They’re all just dogs and their bodies all work, surprisingly (not surprisingly), like dog bodies.
Finally, there is the recurring myth that pit bulls will turn on their families. There’s hardly even any anecdotal evidence of any dog, regardless of breed doing this. If this happens, it’s clearly a mental issue with that specific dog and not at all a “breed characteristic.” Remember, humans as a species, hand chose wolves to be domesticated and live alongside us. We have literally created dogs for us. That’s the whole damn point. They think we’re pretty cool and, unless something is seriously medically/chemically wrong with a specific dog, they’re not going to hurt their families without some extreme abuse or provocation on the human’s part.
In October, and in every other month, it is the responsibility of every person who loves dogs – not just the responsibility of humans who own or love pitties – to bring awareness to the injustices happening in our own cities. I’ve linked all of my sources that I used in this post wherever I use information from those sites. Follow the links, get the facts, and be an advocate.
In honor of Pit Bull Awareness Month, hug some dogs and stand up for pit bulls when they’re being bullied by the law.