You never know.
After all, it is even easier to be designated a “pit bull” than a Cherokee, believe it or not. As a result, hysterics in the public and on the Maryland Court of Appeals have decided it is prudent to engage in the kind of bias and fear-driven racism regarding pets that would be condemned as brutally unjust if applied to humans.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that “pit bulls” are “inherently dangerous” and will be subject to higher levels of liability, meaning, among other things, that there will be no “one bite rule” for these dogs, the usual trigger for determining whether a canine is a risk to humans, and that landlords will be forcing tenants to either get rid of their “inherently dangerous” dogs or move out. The ruling is the result of bad reasoning, bad information, bad statistics and bad law, not to mention bias. What kind of legal standard depends on a term that has no definition and no way to determine what fits it? Yet that is what the Maryland pit bull ruling does.
As I have noted here in other posts, “pit bull” is a generic term applied to several bull dog and terrier-mix breeds, and mistakenly to up to 25 other breeds as well. This renders the deceptively used statistics of anti-pit bull zealot organizations like Dogs Bite.org completely worthless. I would say completely useless, but there are useful…for getting perfectly gentle and trustworthy dogs killed. In its compiled statistics of deadly dog attacks, the organization states that “pit bull-type dogs” are responsible for 59% of fatal attacks on humans, contrasted with specific breeds like Rottweilers. The category of “pit bull-type dogs,” however, includes at least five distinct breeds that are often called “pit bulls”— the American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, and the Mini Bull Terrier. Anti-pit bull breed-specific legislation also includes absolutely non-pit bull breeds in its definition of “pit bull types” in many jurisdictions, breeds like the Boxer, Bull Mastiff, Boston terrier and French Bulldog, the last two especially deadly threats to lick you into submission. Such laws are, in truth, dog legislation created by people who know nothing about dogs, but who are perfectly willing to take responsible people’s loving pets away and kill them if it will mollify some phobic voters.
Then there are the dog breeds that may be called “pit bulls” by dog attack victims who can barely tell a dachshund from a Great Dane. Among those “pit bull-type breeds” are the Alpha Blue Blood Bull Dog, American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Banter Bull Dogge, Black Mouth Cur, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bull Terrier, Bulldog, Bull Mastiff, Cane Corso, Dogo Aregentino, Dogo Canario, Dogue De Bordeaux, English Bulldog, English Mastiff, Fila Brasileiro, Fila Mastiff, French Bulldog, Italian Mastiff, Mastiff, Mini Bull Terrier, Neapolitan Mastiff. Old English Bull Dogge, Patterdale Terrier, Presa de Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Spanish Mastiff, and the Valley Bulldog.
So what does the predominance of “pit bull type dogs” in the dog bite statistics tell us? It tells us that a lot of fearful, ignorant people—and judges— don’t know what pit bulls are, but they are afraid of them and want to wipe them off the face of the earth anyway.
For the record, there is only one true pit bull, the American Pit Bull Terrier, which looks like this:
It is a naturally loyal, smart and friendly breed. Before drug dealers and dog fighters made them their breed of choice, abusing individual dogs to make them fearful and aggressive, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Staffordshire Terrier, a different breed that even knowledgeable dog-lovers will often call “pit bulls”, were among the most popular family dogs in America and were commonly used as…babysitters. In fact, they were called the Nanny Dogs, as these photographs from the first half of the 20th Century attest:
If you think you can determine what is a pit bull, rather than a quasi/looks like/might be/kind of similar/well why take any chances? breed or mix that someone mistakenly took for a pit bull by using DNA evidence, think again. The genetic differences between domesticated dog breeds are so minute as to be indistinguishable, and anyway, the testing isn’t cheap. It’s much cheaper just to kill the dogs. If it’s “just a dog” to you, why not?
What should matter with dogs, as with humans, is conduct, not breeding. Using labels, stereotypes and perceived group characteristics based on the vagaries of appearance and breeding to confer benefits, as in Elizabeth Warren’s dubious Native American ancestry, or institutionalize prejudice, as the Maryland court did with a whole range of dogs that are loving and trustworthy companions when they haven’t been abused, is both unethical and foolish. The American Pit Bull Terrier—my little Jack Russell Terrier played with one for an hour yesterday, and had the upper paw—shouldn’t be ostracized. It should be made the official symbol of the injustice of judging anyone by their appearance, presumed lineage, rumored reputation or presumed character.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.