A June 20th Time.com piece by Charlotte Alter called “The Problem With Pit Bulls” elicited a flood of protest mail from supporters of the breed. We asked Sara Enos, the Founder and Executive Director of the American Pit Bull Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting responsible breed ownership through education, programming, and assistance, to respond to Alter’s piece. Here’s what she had to say:
“Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things”. Eloquently stated by an animated character in the new, How to Train Your Dragon sequel recently released. The same can be said of dogs, and in the noisy confusion of the media sensation that is the current argument of the “Pit Bull” problem, it can be difficult for the average person to differentiate fact from fiction. The truth is, there is a lot of researched, solid information about canine aggression out there that can aid in preventing dog bites and attacks. The misfortune is that the information is not yet common knowledge, especially in the sense that human behavior is what leads to companion animal attacks. Animal welfare advocates, veterinary professionals, and responsible dog owners are determined to remedy that.
A Brief History
Dogs are products of their environment as well as their genetics. They have been bred for many different jobs over centuries, however, they have primarily been bred as family companions and they need to be treated with compassion. Pit Bulls are no different. They were bred as working dogs and family companions prior to being bred to bull bait and then dog fight. Animal aggression and human aggression are not synonymous in the canine world, as they are in the human world and it is often difficult for people that are unfamiliar with the breed/s to understand that dog-aggressive does not mean human aggressive. Even breeders who selected dogs for reproduction specifically for dog fighting would not tolerate dogs that showed any signs of aggression; they had to be able to pull their dog out of a fight without getting bitten, and to trust the dog with the family at the end of the day. Responsible breeders now breed against all forms of animal and human aggression, and have done so for many years. With all of that said, though there are certain breed “normalcies” such as the herding instinct in cattle dogs, all dogs are individuals and exhibit their own unique personalities. They should be treated and trained as such.
Let’s Talk Statistics
When it comes to animal statistics, a good rule of thumb is to know the source of your statistics as a reputable one. People skew numbers and fudge the facts to gain support for their personal opinion, routinely.
Would you ask a gas station attendant about the side effects of a medication that your toddler was prescribed? Would you ask a clothing retail clerk about the knocking sound coming from your automobile engine? People choose professions based on their interests and experience. They are educated in their fields and we rely on them for their very specific knowledge base. PETA seems to get a lot of press for their quotes in regards to their support of breed specific legislation, (which has been proven ineffective, leading to ban lift after ban lift). How many Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists, (the experts on animal behavior) are employed by PETA, or even support PETA’s stance on breed specific discrimination?
Bite statistics are public record. They can be found at local county facilities as a source to read bite reports, but, with the understanding that what you are looking at is a set of numbers without explanation. Bites and attacks are effects, to which there are always causes. Whether an owner understands the reason for the behavior or not, there is always an underlying cause to a bite or an attack. Pain and fear are two leading causes. In 2005, at a local animal hospital in Charlotte, NC, a bite report had to be filed when a technician reached into an unconscious dog’s mouth to find a source of bleeding. The very ill and sedated dog went into convulsions as a seizure came on, and the technician’s skin was broken on her hand when the dog began to seize. You won’t find these details on the bite report from 2005, but you will find that a “bite” occurred by a Pit Bull.
Secondly in regards to statistics, when Pit Bulls are routinely mis-identified, it is more than plausible to see how their numbers are high on reports even though they are rated very high by the American Temperament Test Society as friendly dogs. An animal control officer was once asked why a dog in the lost dog runs was labeled as a Pit Bull even though it was an excellent specimen of an American Bulldog, the response was given that “he’ll end up in the wrong hands anyway just because people will think he’s a Pit”. Greyhounds, Boxers, French Bulldogs, and Presa Canarios all come in brindle colorations but brindle colored dogs often get labeled as Pit Bulls, though they may not have an ounce of bully breed in their DNA. Dogo Argentinos are a Mastif variety, yet are routinely mislabeled as Pit Bulls. All of the above are important considerations to be made when researching statistics.
What if We Did Get Rid of Pit Bulls?
If we were to take the approach of banning the Pit Bull breeds, it is important to see the full scope of what we would be eliminating. As mentioned before, Pit Bulls are working dogs. They are typically excellent athletes that can provide a wide variety of job-related tasks. Many are not just family companions, but also search and rescue dogs that find missing children and lost dementia patients. They help kids become stronger readers because many kids with reading disabilities won’t read to an adult but they will read to a dog. They are seizure watch dogs, diabetic alert dogs, comfort nursing home residents and offer a plethora of services to human counterparts. Eradicating Pit Bull dogs will affect more than just our family dogs; it will affect the much larger number of citizens that these dogs help, as opposed to attack.
So What is the Answer to the People Problem (Not the Pit Bull Problem)?
Getting a dog is not like purchasing a piece of furniture that you will show off to friends at dinner parties, it is bringing a new member in to your family and requires daily commitment for a successful relationship. All dogs need to be subject to balanced training, should be well socialized and taught proper human/dog social behavior, maintained from a health perspective, and treated with compassion.
Dogs need an adequate leader and children need adequate direction from their parents as to how to properly interact with dogs. Dogs are not people and do not always enjoy hugging or sharing their food like humans do. Proper family education prior to obtaining a family dog, of any breed, can make for a more successful and safer match. Training as a family is a must.
Avoid behaviors that are known to lead to aggressive tendencies such as leaving your dog tethered and unattended, or training with aggressive correction. Don’t allow your dog to roam the neighborhood or escape because he/she is bored in your backyard.
Most importantly, be a responsible owner.
Sara Enos is the mother of three children who is actively involved in community education efforts to increase responsible dog ownership. She has been a veterinary nurse for 17 years and has had extensive continuing education training with a focus on canine behavior. Sara is the Founder and Executive Director of the American Pit Bull Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to promoting responsible breed ownership through education, programming, and assistance.
Pet overpopulation is an ongoing crisis and is a serious issue in every community. Each year thousands of animals must be euthanized and put to sleep because decent homes are not found for them. Abandoned dogs and cats are free to roam the streets where they must struggle to survive on their own. The number is approximately; 8 million unwanted animals taken into shelters all across the country. Sadly, more than half of them eventually become euthanized. Shelter euthanasia is the number one cause of death of cats and dogs in the states. (PAWS Chicago). Further actions and more laws should be enforced in order to fix the overpopulation of domestic animals.
The causes of overpopulation are due to overbreeding, choosing not to adopt, people disposing of their pets, and irresponsible pet owners who choose not to neuter. In an article in the DVM Newsmagazine, Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, the president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians states that overpopulation threatens the lives of companions animals more than any infectious disease and results from a combination of too many pets for the number of suitable homes… (DVM Veterinary).
Statistics show that 60% of dogs and 70% of cats entering animal shelters never make it out alive (PAWS Chicago). A solution is possible and starts with each of us taking a step and getting our pets fixed. Over the years, public awareness has been increased about the need to spray and neuter, but many pet owners still choose not to do so. As people intentionally breed their pets either for fun or for profit gain, others do not spray or neuter out of ignorance and choosing to believe that their animals won’t breed accidentally. The urge to breed is very powerful. Pets can, and will overcome extreme obstacles to get to their potential mate. Males and females will run out the door, chew through their leashes or even jump through fences.
Spraying and neutering pets is a conscious choice and the right thing to do. Puppies and kittens can be safely be fixed when they reach eight weeks; this is well before they reach sexual maturity so there is no chance for an “accidental” litter. A majority of pet owners who breed their animals believe they aren’t contributing to the overpopulation if they can find homes for the litters; but this increases the chance of one ending up in a shelter. Many of those kittens and puppies will end up at an animal shelter at some point in their life. On average a fertile cat can produce three litters in one year and the number of kittens in a litter ranges from 4 to 6. In about seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats (LA Animal Shelter).
Besides spaying and neutering, there are other approaches and potential solutions. First and foremost, the law must require licenses for breeders. Any individual or organization that wants to breed animals should be required to purchase a license. The license is to be renewed annually and anyone found not licensed will be a fined over an obscene amount, perhaps $1,500 for each litter. Breeders should also have a limit on how many animals they are allowed to produce in a year. There will be some flexibility as litter size varies but the breeder must have a limit. Any one breeder who falls out of the conformity would have their license void and revoked.
The law must also have a limit on how animals are bought or sold. Selling animals should only be limited to state-controlled pet stores. People whom are caught selling dogs or cats on the street or over the web would be fined or be required to serve community service.
One organization called the Alliance of for Contraception in Cats and Dogs are actively researching other methods of contraception; such as nonsurgical sterilization. The search for a nonsurgical sterilant has never been greater as this organization received over $70 million in grants and funding (Veterinary Medicine). This method will help target difficult to reach communities and feral populations of cats and dogs.
There have been large advances in the area of nonsurgical sterilization of animals in the past decades. Many zoos use a number of contraceptive methods to control the number of unwanted offsprings. It is often accomplished through the use of a hormonal implant that allows reversible control of fertility in females. According to Dr. Patty Olson however, a board-certified veterinary theriogenologist, “…animals in zoos are under constant professional care and scrutiny, allowing for potential side effects to be evaluated on a regular basis. (Petfinder).” The search is still on going.
These plausible solutions will obviously require extensive time, money and strict enforcement. It would also require hiring people to support the cause, and the government would need to monitor pet stores and breeders. Given that we spend millions running shelters and euthanizing animals anyway, these possible solutions are definitely worth considering. In addition, more potential pet owners should consider adopting their pets from a legitimate animal shelter or through a rescue group. As a community we can help by educating our friends and family members about overpopulation, adopting, and the need to spay and neuter.