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Berginski: The Thing About Pit Bull Bans

By Staff | Dec 11, 2015

(A note to the cities that have pit bull bans in place: This column isn’t intended to change laws, rather it is intended to present a different way of thinking to some readers.)

Our family dog died… (excuse me)… a little over a month ago. Some in my family , including myself, have taken to Facebook, Craigslist and BisMan in the search for a new little furry friend around the house.

One think I’ve noticed on these sites is an increase in listings for pit bulls – a/k/a the American pit bull terrier, although in some places Staffordshire bull terriers, certain bull breeds and dogs with characteristics or the appearance of those breeds are given the “pit bull distinction”. Reading the listing is almost a heartbreaker: Families who moved into the oil patch areas for new opportunities and found their beloved pets are unwelcome. The problem then becomes, where are these pets going to go?

Pit bulls are banned by city ordinances in Williston, Kenmare, Des Lacs, Burlington, Minot, Ray, Glenburn, Rugby, Cando, Devils Lake and Watford City. (In some of these places, a “grandfather” clause exists in which animals in the city before a certain date are allowed to still be in the city.)

And a recent editorial in the Grand Forks Herald wishes that the city of Grand Forks follows the example of the cities listed above. The article cites two instances in the city where police officers had to gun down pit bulls in self-defense. It also cites statistics from websites such as dogsbite.org and fatalpitbullattacks.com, including 27 deaths from dog attacks in which pit bulls were implicated, and 24 deaths so far this year.

Banning pit bulls in a community in an effort to curb dog bites and attacks may sound like a great idea, but it’s very limited in the scope of the problem it’s intended to solve and here’s why.

First, the American Veterinary Medical Association said that breed alone is a very poor indicator of whether a dog bites or is aggressive to someone. In a literature review, the organization said that small to medium-sized breeds were found to be more aggressive toward people, based on owner surveys and behavior assessments, but larger dogs are reported more often.

Breed is an even poorer indicator when it is tough to spot. A website called pickthepit.com challenges users to guess which dog is a pit bull. While yours truly was able to spot it in two attempts, the site said it takes users an average of eight tries to spot an American pit bull terrier out of 25 pictures – which also include cane corsos and two types of bulldogs. If that is the case, then certain attacks in the past could’ve been misreported because those doing the reporting weren’t able to tell a pit bull from other dogs.

Second, the AVMA also said in a literature review “…there is no specific evidence that breed-specific bans reduce the rate or severity of bite injuries [in] the community.” It’s even more true when a dog different from the breed that was banned was the one involved in an attack.

Third, breed-specific legislation creates a stereotype within a community that lovers of a certain breed of dog are criminals or unsavory people. Of the pit bulls involved dog attacks, some of them were roaming freely or abandoned, not spayed/neutered, bred to be aggressive, or any combination of the three. While the dog did the damage, those attacks could’ve been the fault of owners who were inattentive, irresponsible and probably shouldn’t have had dogs in the first place. Instead owners who never had an incident and raised sweet, loyal dogs get punished due to actions of a few. Responsible ownership could play a role in reducing attacks.

Fourth (And I hate to pull out this card because it’s kind of a stab at my job.), the more brutal a dog attack, the more media coverage it gets. This stirs up anger and fear in a community and leads to breed-specific legislation being proposed.

If a community is trying to lessen the amount of dog bites and attacks, simply banning a breed isn’t always the way to go. It is a process that animal lovers should be involved in as well.

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