Dog Racism Update: A Definitive Defense of Pit Bulls

Nanny dog1

Ethics Alarms has discussed the unfairness, bigotry and ignorance behind the vilification of pit bulls and related breeds on many occasions: here, here, here , here, and here. Now Joshua Holland has written an excellent primer in Salon for the pit bull-phobics to chew on, and he did a superb job of debunking the illusion that this is a monstrous breed rather than what it really is, an uncommonly delightful one.

Among the highlights…

  • “Pit bulls are the dog of choice for irresponsible breeders, dog-fighters, people who want a tough-looking dog to tie up in their yard and those who refuse to have their male dogs… 86% of fatal canine attacks involve an unneutered male, according to the American Humane Society.”
  • “A 2009 study in the Journal of Forensic Science, found that the owners of vicious dogs, regardless of the breed, had “significantly more criminal behaviors than other dog owners”…According to the ASPCA, “Pit Bulls often attract the worst kind of dog owners.”
  • “We have tragically betrayed our children’s beloved nanny-dogs, raising them irresponsibly, training them to be aggressive and then turning them into pariahs when they behave as any dog would in similar circumstances.”
  • “Controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous… The American Temperance Testing Society (ATTS) [tests] thousands of dogs for skittishness, aggression and their ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening humans. Among all of the breeds ATTS tested – over 30,000 dogs through May 2011 — pitbulls… showed an above average temperament, with 86 percent making the grade.”
  • “Pit bulls are the second most tolerant breed tested by ATTS, after only golden retrievers.”
  • “Pit bulls are disproportionately involved in serious attacks on humans, just as African-Americans are found guilty of a disproportionate number of crimes in the United States. That’s simply what the raw data say. Most people consider the claim that blacks are inherently more criminal than whites, based on that raw data, to be pretty darn racist as it ignores the social, economic and legal context of crime and instead ascribes it to some imagined genetic or cultural flaw among African-Americans. And yet, when you strip away the overt falsehoods about pit bulls … the raw statistics, stripped of social context, is the entirety of the case against these animals (made even worse by the unreliable nature of data based on media-reported breeds in attacks).”

Read the whole thing here.

Next time a friend smears the breed as dangerous, have him read it too.

Then, if you want a great, fun, loving dog, adopt a pit bull.

23 Comments

Filed under Animals, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship

23 responses to “Dog Racism Update: A Definitive Defense of Pit Bulls

  1. JJ

    Pit Bull Breeds were banned many years ago in Miami.. Florida legislature allowed Miami Dade voters to repeal this ban by popular vote = Voters did not repeal the ban.
    Ask anyone who has run or rode public roads (been doing so since 1971) and we will all tell you the same thing: Pit Bulls scare the crap out of us! They do not let go. I’ve been able to repel dogs thru 3 different levels of defense.. Not sure if they would work on a pit bull.

    The absolute worst dog attack stories you will read involves some type of Pit Bull…

    • Yes, did you read the article? ANY of the posts? Ignorance is not its own defense.

      • Andrew V

        This article is all well and good as an argument against breed-specific bans. But when I’m walking down the street and come upon someone’s unleashed dog, especially if I had a defenseless child with me, expect me to treat that animal as if it is a threat. I simply don’t know and won’t take the chance that the owner of the animal has not encouraged aggressiveness. This isn’t “dog racism”, it is prudence.

        • Nothing wrong with prudence regarding ANY unknown dog, regardless of breed. I had an English Mastiff, and they are the most gentle dogs around, but if I run into an unleashed mastiff I’ve never met, call me GONE and calling animal control. I’m not taking any chances with a 190 pound dog..

          • Fred

            I read once, can’t remember the source or its probably credibility, that sled dogs in Alaska are always either leashed or shot on sight.

            Don’t you trust yourself to read the dog’s body language, though? A Doberman ran up to me in the dog park once, and it was clearly in “I’m happy, play with me!” mode, and I gave it a greeting with only normal care. The owner seemed surprised that I didn’t freak out.

            Of course it makes a huge difference that we were on neutral territory.

            • I once walked into the kitchen of a classmate and found myself facing FOUR Dobermans that I had no idea were in the house.
              They ran up and started licking me. But that’s when I lost my hair.

    • Sean

      I’m a musician and I just made a video about this. http://youtu.be/66ZvNJruMGc

  2. sue schumacher

    Years ago, I was a vet tech. I learned quickly that the dog reflected the owner. Viciousness is not natural, it is a learned behavior based on living in a terrible environment (and receiving terrible or neglectful treatment).

    But for truly nasty, a ticked off cat (or feral cat) can put a world of hurt on a person.

    • I agree with u sue! I love my Italian greyhounds! Sweet & loving but if not properly socialized . . . Michael Vick didn’t do PB breed any favors, but shed lite on the point u make: what a dog is taught is what mans best friend becomes. I know he paid his debt & he was allowed to adopt a dog for his son, but . . . I need to stop I cud go on & on.

    • Elizabeth I

      Totally agree. It’s the owners who are responsible, not the poor dogs, who are to blame.

  3. Joe Fowler

    In the many thousands of years of interdependence of man and canine, there is no doubt that of the two species, the one guilty of cruelty, abuse, misuse and general failure to live up to the reasonable expectations of the other, is man. It is us. They deserve better.

    • Fred

      Yes.

      My wife’s ex puts it thus:
      “They guarded our caves for a hundred thousand years while we sat around inventing language, and this is how we repay them?”

  4. Look forward to reading this in the morning. I was just told by an insurance company that our HOA had to ban certain breeds (pit bull, Akita, Chow) because their jaws are structurally different. When they bite, their jaws lock whereas other breeds, it’s a nip and release. With a locking jaw, it does more damage to tissue – skin and muscle.

    Hope to have a better comment after reading in the morning.

    • The article specifically addresses the “locking” myth.

    • I am something of an insurance industry “insider” when it comes to claims. The way that it has been explained to me is that there are several breeds of dogs that are slightly more likely to attack people. However, the dogs that go on the list are the ones that are both statistically more likely to bite AND cause significant damage when they do so.

      There are lots of little dogs that bite and cause liability claims, but the claims tend to be much smaller.

      Here is where the “insider” part comes in: If you have an insurance claim (for any type of loss) the adjuster that arrives at your home will be submitting an underwriting checklist along with the rest of the claim report. One of the questions that is on every check list that I have seen is a question about dogs. Sometimes the breeds are identified, and other times the question regards generic “vicious” dogs. More and more insurance companies are electing to “non-renew” policies where these dogs are found.

      • OJohn

        Insurance companies do what is financially best for insurance companies, considering all factors relevant to them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. But their policies mean squat when it comes to evaluating the key factor in ‘pit bull’ public policy debates, whether there’s a danger *inherent* and *unique* to the ‘breed’ (not really a breed; it’s easily demonstrated that most laymen don’t know what they actually mean when they use the term ‘pit bull’). Only such inherent and unique features could justify public policies like laws targeting ‘pit bulls’.

        Insurance companies are also reacting to factors like what kind of dog irresponsible owners would tend to own, ie the dog tells the company something about the person. And they are also reacting to expectations of public hysteria about ‘pit bulls’ which might show up among jury members in a civil trial where the company is defendant. And as you obliquely reference, insurance co. sh*t lists usually include other breeds. But BSL’s are often *just* targeted at ‘pit bulls’.When other breeds are included in BSL’s it’s usually to broaden ‘pit bull’, only occasionally are other completely different types of dogs included, and then often as an after thought, though actually some of the very most aggressive dog breeds, usually uncommon ones (though could eventually become common if ‘pit bull’ targeted BSL became common) are completely unrelated to any definition of ‘pit bull’.

        I approach the issue from POV of BSL because it’s what is practically important. If people don’t like my dog because she’s a ‘pit bull’ (to them), ‘to each his own’, don’t care. If they try to take her away from me via BSL, or make me jump though special hoops other owners of completely gentle dogs don’t have to, that’s a big deal.

  5. Self fulfilling prophecy an a vicious cycle.

    Bad people get pit bulls for their supposed badness.
    The pit bulls get raised badly and become bad.
    Therefore the whole population of pit bulls seems more bad, making them popular with bad people.

    One of my friends adopted a pit bull from a shelter. It’s ears had been clipped and was being prepared as a fighting dog. Lo and behold if it wasn’t aggressive and took play fighting (as dogs naturally do) to an extreme. He understood the source of the aggression and has take a few year of ‘un-training’ those tendencies. Now the dog is a fairly amicable little dog, who only occasionally reverts if during a play-fight feels backed into a corner (but any dog does that).

  6. Elizabeth I

    Yes, pit bulls have gotten a truly bad rap. And it just creates more confusion among the moron population. When my rat terrier was a puppy, we were in the park and some idiotic mother grabbed her child screaming, “Pit bull! Pit bull.” Now how one can confuse a terrier puppy with a pit bull is beyond me, but the fact of the matter is it was my dog’s coloring, not his size or behavior that infused fear into this mother. I congratulated her — vociferously — for instilling fear of all dogs in her child because of her ignorance.

    I truly believe dogs are sentient beings, and don’t ever understand why they are mistreated or trained to be attack animals. Michael Vick is just one of what I’m sure are hundreds of thousands of people who abuse their pets, for whatever reason. In my neighborhood we have a number of “rescued” pit bulls, and they are, every one, among the sweetest breeds around. I think instead of dogs having to get licenses, dog OWNERS should have to get licenses as well.

  7. Alexander Cheezem

    A lot of the points I’d make have already been addressed. I will, however, share a bit of a pit bull story of my own.

    Shortly before I started high school, my family moved. A bit after that, I found myself ringing on a neighbor’s doorbell (don’t remember why). The family in question had a pair of pit bulls, and they came barreling out of the door as soon as it opened. One of them jumped on me, with enough force to nearly barrel me over… and licked my face hard enough to knock my glasses off my face. It’s very difficult to deny that those two were… err… friendly.

    In any case, I have to quibble over the closing piece of advice: “Then, if you want a great, fun, loving dog, adopt a pit bull.”

    Maybe.

    Take it as an option? Certainly. But… pit bulls aren’t for everyone. They’re rather large, and a smaller breed may be more appropriate for someone’s living situation. And then there’s the adoption factor — while acquiring one from a reputable breeder is one thing, dogs you adopt from shelters and the like often have… histories.

    While I emphatically won’t condone slamming the breed for their mistreatment, the simple fact of the matter is that not everyone can handle the sorts of issues that come with a dog who’s been mistreated or neglected… especially when the dog is a larger breed. Pit bulls aren’t exactly small dogs.

    There are also a lot of other options (and breeds) who are great and fun-loving. My family has a boxer, for instance, and… oh, Hell. I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that boxers generally qualify as great, fun, and loving — they actually have that reputation, you see. It’s deserved. And, well… as you know, each breed has their advantages, disadvantages, and quirks. Some are better suited for some than others.

    The point of all of this is, as I said, a quibble in the scheme of things. I’d have phrased it, “Then, if you want a great, fun, loving dog, consider adopting a pit bull.”

  8. Bill

    I don’t know how this breed gets such a bad rap. I live on the edge of a pretty bad neighborhood where “pit bulls” are the breed of choice . And even those dogs when I see them on the street with their owners are big babies.

  9. Pingback: Why Dogs Rule Earth « Unknown Quantity

  10. Pingback: We have tragically betrayed our children’s beloved nanny-dogs, raising them irresponsibly, training them to be aggressive and then turning them into pariahs when they behave as any dog would in similar circumstances. | My Blog spiritandanimal.wordpr

  11. Fred

    Hello, Jack,

    For all I know you’ve already blogged about it, but have you noticed the analogy between breed-specific dog bans and technology-specific gun bans?

    Some breeds do disproportionate damage if they bite, and some military-descended designs of firearm do disproportionate damage when someone goes postal with them.

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