City Newspaper did a story this week on what they called “pit bull paranoia” and the city of Rochester. In the article, writer Christine Carrie Fien points out that Rochester Animal Services doesn’t adopt out pit bulls and also writes that a local rescue group is considering not adopting pit bulls to city of Rochester residents.
It’s a short article and a topic that definitely needs more discussion, and if you read the comments from readers you can see that the pit bull debate rages on – sometimes despite the facts.
City of Rochester policy, unfortunately, requires that any pit bull that’s surrendered by its owner, or impounded or picked up as a stray and not reclaimed by its owner, must be euthanized. It can’t be adopted out and it can’t be sent to a rescue organization.
As a volunteer for RAS, I can understand how the pit bull climate in the city led to that policy (translation: many pit bull owners in the city often breed their dogs for aggression and fighting, let them roam streets, don’t have them neutered/spayed, and are otherwise not responsible). But believe me, no one likes having to put down any dog. We have, fortunately, been able to adopt out some great pit bull/mixed breed dogs and puppies, which gives hope that maybe one day the policy will change.
So why do pit bulls have such a bad rap? And how reliable are statistics when deeming any dog “dangerous”?
1) Statistically speaking, the more dogs owned in a community, the more problems you’ll see reported. In a community with 1000 pit bulls and 100 Pomeranians, for example, you’ll likely see more incidents reported with pit bulls simply because there are more of them. Depending on the varying popularity of dog breeds, in previous decades the canine-villians du jour were Rottweillers, Dobermans, and German Shepherds.
2) A dog’s temperment, while influenced genetically by breed, is really enhanced by the owner’s training and handling. So with proper training, a 100-pound pit bull can have the personality of a kitty cat. Conversely, a pit bull trained to be aggressive will be dangerous. And when you have a community with more pit bulls owned by people who are training them to fight, you’ll naturally see more incidents of aggression. But that’s the fault of the owners, not the dogs.
3) Children are frequent victims of dog bites. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that children are often not taught the proper way to approach a dog. They bother the family dog while he’s eating or sleeping, tease dogs that are chained outside, and approach strange dogs with wild abandon. Because of their size, children are eye level with most animals, so when a child approaches a dog head on, staring into the dog’s eyes and probably waving his arms or making noise, in dog lingo that can be a challenge and result in a bite.
4) Big dog attacks make better news stories. When a 2-year-old child gets bitten by a pit bull, it’s front page news. But when a 2-year-old child gets bitten by a small terrier, the incident often goes unreported. That’s because, as you might expect, a bigger dog causes a bigger injury and that makes a bigger news story. How often do we see the headline, “2-year-old bit on ankle by Pomeranian; requires 2 stitches”?
5) In reality, there have been more than 25 different dog breeds involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities in the U.S. But often a dog is identified as a pit bull when in reality it’s not. So unfortunately, in recent years pit bulls have taken the rap for all barrel-chested, pit bull-ish dogs behaving badly.
Jenn Fedele, who along with Lindsey Bachl runs the local Pitty Love Rescue, tells me that when you dig deeper into stories of pit bull attacks, “[Y]ou find out that this pit bull was not only unaltered but was also chained up outside its whole life or in some way kept away from the family (i.e. kept in a basement). That isn’t a family dog. The dog was never properly socialized, given any type of obedience training, or had much positive human contact.”
That makes sense. According to the American Humane Association website, “Approximately two-thirds of bites occurred on or near the victim’s property, and most victims knew the dog” and “approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered.”
Fedele explains that the media also often reports that a dog that has bitten someone is is a pit bull, when in fact it isn’t. But the reports are never corrected. ”Not only are negative stories about pit bulls extremely over-reported in comparison to other breed attacks,” she says, “but many of these journalists write based on hype and scare tactics versus any real fact finding.”
For now, it continues to be an uphill battle for pit bull advocates, which is why rescue groups like Pitty Love work hard to train and socialize the dogs they take in, and make sure they go to responsible homes.
You can learn more about dog bites and how to prevent them on the website for the American Humane Association. You can learn more about dog aggression and how to avoid it in your dog on the Humane Society of the United States website.