Anyone who regularly visits the ARL or any other open admission shelter in this country sees that we are overrun with Pit Bulls. And the problem is getting worse by the day. Combine this issue with the perception that Pits and certain other breeds are responsible for most of the dog bites, one of the first solutions suggested is breed bans, also known as breed-specific legislation (BSL). The theory is: Do away with the breeds and the problem goes away. Cities and counties around the U.S. are struggling with how to deal with the issue. Let’s take a look at BSL to determine the effectiveness and the alternatives.
Some cities have enacted legislation to ban certain dog breeds, mostly Pits, Pit mixes, other terriers who may look like Pits, Rottweilers, and Dobermans to name a few. The intention is to control the number of vicious dog attacks and especially deter people who are involved in criminal activity. Of course, there are problems with breed bans.
First, what about the people who already have these dogs? Most BSL allows dogs to be “grandfathered” so that people may keep the dogs they already had before the law takes effect. However, quite a few challenging restrictions may be required such as the owners must take out expensive liability insurance policies, the dogs must be muzzled in public and certainly the dogs have to be spayed/neutered. The truly nice dogs and their people who are responsible will suffer.
Breed bans are also flawed because the people who are the real perpetrators of the problem will go underground and continue to breed and house these dogs – or find another type of breed to exploit. The outlawed dog will now become even more desirable by unscrupulous people. And what exactly is a Pit Bull? It is not a real breed but a loosely defined look of dog. Boxer mixes could be mistaken for Pits, American Bulldogs are always misidentified as Pits, and I’ve even seen Lab mixes who could be called Pits. Who will make the determination which dogs are banned?
And finally, the real problem behind dog bites is not necessarily a breed issue. According to the ASPCA, 70% of dog bites are from unneutered males, a chained or tethered dog is almost 3 times more likely to attack, 78% of dog bites cases in 2006 involved dogs who were mainly used as guard dogs or “image enhancing” (guys who want to appear to be more macho).
Any breed has the potential to bite. Dogs who have not been socialized properly (with other dogs, with a variety of people and especially with children), who have not been trained or have been improperly trained with methods using punishment, shock, or with the specific intention to make the dogs attack are more likely to bite.
Conclusion: Breed-specific legislation is not effective in controlling Pit Bull overpopulation and bites, and many cities that have enacted it over the years are overturning it.
What are the alternatives? Well, that’s a tough question. First, encouraging spay and neuter will help. However, mandatory laws are also fraught with problems – they hurt the decent breeders. Tougher leash laws may help prevent dog bites but enforcement is definitely an issue. There just are not enough law enforcement officials to effectively police people. Getting to children as young as possible to educate them can help. As we know, enculturated behavior is extremely difficult to change. When kids see their parents and other older family members and friends acting in certain ways with dogs, they will grow up to believe that this is the norm. Trying to educate them otherwise will be very difficult once this impression is engrained.
For these reasons, the ARL and other shelters cannot do it alone. We need everyone who cares to pitch in and educate. Parents: If your children (usually teens) come home with a puppy, ensure that you can be a responsible owner by getting the dog licensed, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, trained properly, and not kept on a chain outside. If you cannot commit to these actions, you must be a good example and tell the child to give the dog back to the breeder. When these irresponsible breeders learn that they no longer can sell or give away their dogs, then maybe they will stop breeding.
What can you think of that you or others can do to get the overpopulation of Pit Bulls under control and reduce the number of dog bites?