I've been hearing a lot about breed-specific legislation lately. Following an attack that left a man severely mauled and another that resulted in a woman's death, calls to ban pit bulls--and the pleas of the opposition--have been spotlighted in the greater Kansas City area. That's where I live. In fact, I live right next door to a pit bull.
She's tied up day in and day out. I know she's a female because last summer my neighbors failed to notice she was pregnant. They were shocked when she went into labor, they tell me as we talk over the chain-link fence. I'm shocked they have a pet. But she always has shelter, food, and water--the basic requirements.
I was sitting outside last night, making sure she had food and water. I'm passive-aggressively waiting for the chance to make a stink about the lack of attention her owners give her. She stares back with her warm, sad eyes. She doesn't bark. She wags her tail as I move closer, half-heartedly picking up some sticks shaken down by the previous night's storm. And I think, "Could she really maul a child's face?" I've seen the pictures on TV. But her?
Interestingly, as I was writing this column, I received an e-mail from a veterinarian who's Aussie attacked her 8-year-old daughter. "Our daughter is OK," she writes, "and amazingly understands that her companion had a 'bad brain' and meant her no harm." I understand, too. As a child, I owned a Shih Tzu that had a biting problem. But with his tiny jaws and predictable temper, we could prevent any serious damage. Not so with the Aussie. "She bit my daughter severely in the face playing a ball game they had played thousands of times. My daughter is the last person she would ever have hurt if she could have helped herself. She gave no warning. She was a joyful, obedient, healthy, beautiful dog ... not aggressive, not a biter, but with some anxiety issues."
So biting clearly isn't a one-breed thing. Yet some animals have more aggressive tendencies than others. And their size and the size of their jaws make a difference when it comes to the damage a bite can cause. And as I stare into the sweet eyes of the pit bull next door, I can't help wondering whether she sees the flicker of fear that crosses my face as I think of my 7-year-old, 54-pound nephew who lives across the street.
So what are people to do? Some angry citizens would do away with pit bulls, rottweilers, and German shepherds. I've known loyal, kind companions of all three breeds. And I've heard stories about times when each breed snapped.
I'm happy with Kansas City, Mo.'s current approach: The city council adopted an ordinance requiring owners to spay or neuter their pit bulls unless they obtain a breeder's permit. The license will cost $100 and require an inspection by animal control officers. I'm all for anything that helps control overpopulation. But why just this breed? What happens next summer when a dog of a different breed bites a child?
Like many citizens, I think, I feel split on the issue of breed-specific legislation. And it doesn't seem like the news stories I hear or read are tapping veterinarians for information. Yet you're exposed to all types of breeds. And you know about animal behavior. Should some breeds with aggressive tendencies be singled out?
Comments from our readers
KCvet / Kansas City, MO, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-09-25 17:12:38.0
It seems to me as if this is a sad situation of our own making. As a small animal pratitioner for 9 years, I have seen aggressive dogs in almost every breed. The difference in and the problem with pit bulls, as I see it, is their powerful jaw muscles and their tenacity once they are in attack mode (to the point of almost seeming to have a limitless pain threshold). These are the very qualities that were presumably so desirable to humans at one time that we selectively bred for them. Now, we fail to socialize them, place tough-looking collars and heavy chains on them, continue to fight them (albeit illegally), indiscriminantly breed them, and then bring them into our homes or back yards. It's a recipe for disaster. No, it's not their fault, but ours, and therefore our responsibility. In my experience, the people who treat the breed irresponsibly are the very same people who TEND to own the breed. They will not become responsible pet owners without serious regulation--they just won't. I'm ok with regulation (as in Kansas City), but if that fails to produce a safer pit bull, we need to be prepared to ultimately deal with the problem we've created by banning the breed.
Leevet / Woodbury Heights, NJ, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-05 16:45:06.0
One solution would be to have the AKC, the AVMA, the ASPCA and other ogranizations lobby to have homeowners' insurance recognize the importance of having dogs certified as good dogs (Canine Good Citizen). This is a program the AKC already has to award dogs that have had enough training to be trustworthy and to have owners display that they have decent control of their dogs. The size of the dog and power of the jaws are not a problem if the dog is under control of a considerate owner. CGC certification is the best program I know to produce this. This way owners with dogs that have been trained to be more trustworthy will be rewarded and those who may not have trained their dogs will find their homeowners' insurance to be more expensive. It could be tied to breed specific legislation as an 'out' for people with certified trained dogs so that good pit bulls and rotts are defined as non-problematic. And this way people who have had real problems with potentially more aggressive dogs will not feel their concerns have not been ignored by the dog-loving community.
Jen, DVM / Indianapolis, IN, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-05 19:10:17.0
I do not agree with banning an entire breed, albeit Pit Bulls or any other. The responsibility falls on the owners, how they care for and attend to their animals. As Jessica stated, the owners kept her chained in the yard, no socialization, loving interaction or training was evident. They did not even know that she was pregnant. What a perfect example of irresponsible pet ownership. Every breed has the potential to bite and turn aggressive. What separates responsible owners from those who are not depends on what is done both before and after potentially trajic incidents. I myself have a Pitt Bull named Dixie who I rescued from a humane society. I am perfectly aware of the tendencies her breed displays and because of these facts take precautions to avoid certain situations. I do not let her run loose. In any yard she is in I make sure that the fencing is not damaged. I do not let her run up to individuals, especially small children. She is socialized with other dogs of various breeds and people in very controlled settings. I pull on every part of her body, disturb her when sleeping, eating, playing - anything to teach her appropriate from inappropriate behavior. Even with all of these safeguards, I know that with any animal I own, if the day comes and they bite or become aggressive in anyway, they will be euthanized. There are too many loving animals that are in need of a home to have aggressive ones. The focus needs to be on the owners and the consequences of not taking responsibility for your pet, not on banning entire breeds. Before you ban a breed, think about banning individuals from having animals.
kathryn / Murfreesboro, TN, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-11 12:49:17.0
i am completely opposed to breed restrictions. i have a pit bull that is a wonderful, wonderful dog for the family, but not good with strangers. he's very protective of us and our other dogs. consequently, he is NEVER put into a situation where he would feel the need to defend us. no strangers pet him, no other dogs besides our own play with him, etc. i don't deny that certain breeds have more aggressive natures - i personally think this is normal dog behavior - i think the odd dogs are the ones who like everyone and everything. i see all the pits and rotties and the like in our practice and i give everyone the same shpeil when they come in - the public loves to hate this dog, it's very important to make sure you have control from a very early age, no mouth games - tug-of war, boxing, etc - they must drop anything in their mouth when a human wants it - and the majority of my clients take it to heart. especially when they find out that i have one, and that pits are one of my favorite breeds. you know - i've had to muzzle several pits for exams - but none of them act like fools once they are muzzled. they may continue to growl, but none of them flail around and scream and pee all over the place like some other breeds i know..... honestly, i think the northern breeds have more potential for dangerous aggression than the pits. another key - besides educating youre clients - is keeping the media in check. every time i see a report about a dog bite - you can be sure that if they don't name the breed, that it's not a pit. i've written numerous letters and emails requesting that they be fair - and reveal all breeds or none at all. and it's actually worked pretty well. it's kind of a local way to make a difference.
KCvet / Kansas City, MO, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-17 10:52:53.0
The love that the 2 commenters against pit bull regulation have for their own pit bulls is obvious and I have no doubt that they practice and preach responsible pet ownership, including pit bull ownership to their clients. However, I have found that some veterinarians do not (I do) and even when they do, many clients' eyes glaze over and they do not follow the advice given. Some even want a "tuff" dog and name him "Killer". There have been many times that I have seen a puppy (of any breed) with aggressive tendencies that I have alerted the owner to and spent 15 to 30 minutes discussing how I believe that with the proper socialization and training, the puppy could be a well adjusted canine citizen and how to go about it. Those puppies frequently came back at their one year visit as land sharks. My point is that despite all of our best efforts, some people just do not realize or care. Some clients cannot finish giving antibiotics correctly, let alone not "put a dog into a situation where he would feel the need to protect us" or not take him to the dog park. This would be asking too much of them. Before you accuse me of not having much faith in clients, let me assure you that I do have great faith in and admiration for most clients, but I also have my own personal collection of experiences to draw from and am a realist. Irresponsible pet ownership is common and I feel that although not pleasant with any breed, it can have dire consequences with the pit bull breed.
Kim / Beaverton, OR, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-23 20:44:38.0
Banning any specific breed (or several) will not address the underlying problem. People are people and some are not fit to be pet owners. Those unfit people, however, will continue to own "banned" breeds underground. Or they will develop aggressive tendencies in other breeds not previously known for aggression. Until you/we address more organized attempts at teaching and modeling responsible pet ownership, nothing will change. Banning some breeds as "dangerous" also implies that other breeds may be "safe". Some of the scariest dogs I've seen have been Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels (the classic "all-American family dogs"). The onus is on the dog owner to provide the individual dog with good experiences and social skills, regardless of dog size. We, however, are in a prime position to help with that. Develop good relationships with your local dog trainers. If you have room, consider adding pet dog training to your ancillary services. Even more importantly, model good behavior yourself. How long has it been since you had YOUR dog in a pet dog obedience class? I am forever in awe of the outdated and barbaric training techniques still espoused by some veterinarians who have not educated themselves enough to realize that punitive training (leash jerking, physical corrections, etc.) is not effective. Referring away any behavior questions because "vets are not dog trainers" is simply dodging responsibility. No, you do not have to actually train the pets, but you should know some basics of learning theory. It's not enough to tell clients to get training for their dogs, go one step further and put the card or phone number in their hands. I apologize for the rant, but I am tired of what amounts to racism against a few breeds. It is not a BREED problem, it is a TRAINING and EDUCATION problem. Thank you.
Jennifer RN, C / Terrell, TX, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-24 19:35:16.0
It seems that most everyone is in agreement that breeds should not be banned. But what are we doing to mass educate legislators and the public on the true problem - irresponsible, apathetic owners? I did not care for the comment on getting more homeowner's insurance companies involved. Number one - too many people do not have homeowner's or renter's insurance. Number two - too many people are discriminated against with their insurance already and this will cause increased problems with getting insurance required when you buy a home. Case in point: my husband is a TAMU CVM 2006 grad. When we moved to our current location we were unable to get the homeowner's insurance offered from the AVMA. They wanted a listing of all animals owned, species/breed/age. They then told us that we had too many animals to allow us to have insurance. And this company is endorsed by a veterinary organization. I can't imagine how difficult it would be for someone that did not have the good credit and salary potential that my husband and I have to get insurance based on increased animal insurance rules. I also feel that the current level of education on animal behavior and problem solving is inadequate for vet school graduates. My husband and I have learned more about animal behavior and problem solving (that actually worked) from my classes to get a certificate in dog training than what my husband was taught in school. I don't think that teaching owner's about behavior and teaching problem solving suited to each individual client is something that the majority of DVMs are comfortable with or have the time to do. Maybe we need to start more DVM/dog trainer partnerships to do more mass education and training to lessen the incidence of over-reacting to biting incidents and decrease human injury and dog death.
Cristin / St Petersburg, FL, UNITED STATES
Posted 2006-10-30 09:01:09.0
I am saddened by the breed ban. I have become the owner of a pit bull who was abandoned and brought to my clinic on July 4. I knew that if he was taken to a shelter he would have a very small chance at being adopted. I took him home that day. He has become the BEST friend my family has!! He has been to obedience class, and passed when 3 other pitties dropped out. He comes to work with me every day and is adored by the staff at the hospital. I have seen so many different dogs that have issues with biting. Many could be controlled by owner management. I believe more than anything that the majority can be taught the right thing if raised properly. The range of dogs that I have dealt with has proved to me that if a dog has teeth they can bite. Any dog has the ability to bite, it just needs to be taught that this is not acceptable behavior. I do understand that there are dogs who have a moment where things happen. Our Great Dane, when I was young, did "snap" and bite my little sister. Unfortunately this resulted in him being removed from the home. Things happened that no one can control. There will always be dogs that bite and singling out any one breed is ridiculous. Please monitor your dog around young children and stangers. Supervision is key!!!!!!!!!