A Pitiful Reputation

Story by Kimberly Brown

Pit bull — the name itself has been an ongoing controversy since the evolution of the breed type. While the days of dog-fighting have slowly faded (at least legally), the breed type still carries the negative image that it once had, as vicious killing machines. 

The Breed

Pit bull is not an actual breed, but rather a generic term often used to describe those dogs with certain similar characteristics and traitsknowntothepublicas“pitbulls.”One of the most-euthanized dogs in America, due to being abused, slandered and misunderstood by the public these animals have adopted a fearsome name and are lumped into a category, regardless of their loveable temperaments. Also known as Bully breeds; the classification encompasses several registered breeds and crossbreeds, such as American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. These breeds, mainly derived from the Molosser working line, share similar characteristics such as a muscular build and structured jaw line. Individual dog size varies with each breed and requires different methods of training.

Contrary to negative media sensationalism created recently about the breed, pit bulls have proven they can live harmoniously with humans, if given a chance. From their inception, these dogs were bred for general human companionship. Known to be used as farm and family dogs, military mascots, search and rescue dogs, and therapy and medical animals, pit bulls are all-purpose companions. A well-behaved pit bull is the best ambassador for the breed.

Humans have created dog breeds by accentuating desirable traits and eliminating unwanted ones. In the same way that Labradors were bred to retrievebirds,pitbullswereoriginally bred for dog fighting, and bull and bear baiting. This does not mean, however, that fighting is the sole purpose of this breed.

Contrary to popular myths that single out the pit bull, aggression occurs in all dog breeds, as independent behaviors.

When temperament-evaluated by the American Temperament Testing Society in 2008, pit bull breeds’ scores surpassed that of Labrador Retrievers and Collies, two icons of obedience.

Most of the misconception that surrounds the breed type is due to lack of awareness or mis-education, as most pit bulls are known for their friendly, intelligent, and gentle natures. With their energy and determination, pit bulls make entertaining and loyal family members. While it is true that pit bulls are not designed for just any owner, the breed is always eager to please, with a nature to be nonaggressive. Responsible pet ownership and commitment play a large role in the behavior of the animal. Aggression toward humans is generally not a trait found in a well-trained pit bull.

The Bad Rap

Pit bulls have borne the brunt of a bad reputation, due to their negative history of dog-fighting and violence. Overcoming this reputation is not easy, as people buy into the mythology that all pit bulls are mean and untrustworthy. This is simply not true.

Unfortunately, most aggressive bully breeds have been the victims of bad judgment by their owners; many of whom are raised to live their lives as fighters in cruel, harsh environments. Many are doomed to a life of solitude, tied or chained to barrels, with little to no food or water. These dogs are often trained at an early age to attack and kill other dogs.

Yet, society blames the dog; not the owner. If a fatal dog bite should occur, people blame the breed. There is no scientific evidence that shows that one breed bites more than the other. Nor, does the pit bull scientifically hold the record for the strongest jaw pressure.

While there are many pit bulls living in horrible conditions and abusive homes, those who take a chance on this breed to raise them in a loving, responsible setting will discover that they have found a canine friend for life.

The Ban

Unfortunately, the unfavorable stereotype of the pit bull adopted by society has caused many areas to ban the owning or keeping of the breed type, or those dogs remotely possessing the same characteristics, within city limits. With its current breed-specific statute (Ordinance 1918), Russellville is now one of those areas.

Local Southwind Animal Hospital Manager Justin Key expresses his prime aggravation with the ban is the broad, unspecified limitation within the injunction.

“The ban targets big, ‘muscle-type’ dogs with those ‘characteristics’ of a pit bull. This is putting it into an opinion of what a pit bull is — and many people have no idea what the breed even looks like, let alone the potential of a responsible bully.”

“People need to stand up for their animals, and until there are mandatory DNA tests placed upon those animals of suspicion, there is no justification for taking away someone’s pet and euthanizing it, based on an opinion.”

Ordinance 1918 was heard by Russellville City Council in April of 2006. The amendment, proposed by Animal Control Department in response to national pit bull- related situations, was unanimously passed in May of that same year.

No specific incidents or attacks were cited in Russellville prior to the ban. The ordinance states that no new pit bull or pit bull-type dog is permitted in the Russellville area 30 days after May of 2006, and the specific breed or breed with pit bull characteristics currently living in the area would be mandated to be tattoo-registered with Animal Control and neutered/spayed.

This includes “any dog conforming or substantially conforming to the breed of American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Bull Dog; or any dog whose sire or dame is a dog of a breed which is defined as a banned breed.”

Owners who encroach upon the ordinance would have their animal seized and held for three business days until a $100 reclamation fee is paid. At that time, the owner must sign an agreement to remove the dog from the city limits, and is required to have their animal tattoo- registered and neutered/spayed before the animal is released. If the dog is found within

only reason they are passed is because city councils want to appear as if they are “doing something” to assure citizens about a voter concern. It’s a money thing. Restriction should not be placed on the animal; it should be placed on the owner who mistreats it.”

Justin Key is not the only one who believes the ban is a mistake. In attempt to discover public opinion regarding the ban and general knowledge of the breed, a recent (2009) survey was generated by public relations students of Arkansas Tech University.

The study indicated that more than half of the student population was not aware of the ban or any supporting evidence of its development, and was in fact, in

Dwith an SPF of 30 or higher.

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This includes “any dog conforming or substantially conforming to the breed of American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Bull Dog; or any dog whose sire or dame is a dog of a breed which is defined as a banned breed.”

Owners who encroach upon the ordinance would have their animal seized and held for three business days until a $100 reclamation fee is paid. At that time, the owner must sign an agreement to remove the dog from the city limits, and is required to have their animal tattoo- registered and neutered/spayed before the animal is released. If the dog is found within the city limits a second time, the owner is convicted and fined, and the dog is seized and exterminated. DNA tests are provided by the Russellville Animal Control Shelter, if the dog’s derivation is questionable.

According to Mike Vernon, Russellville Animal Control Shelter’s director, the ordinance was put into effect to appease complaints made by citizens in the area, after “pit bulls were seen running loose in the streets.” After a number of these types of complaints, Vernon presented the problem to the Russellville City Council, and the ban was drafted closely from North Little Rock’s regulation.

As the ban has been implemented, Vernon says that a great percentage of the population feels safer and happier with the decision. He further explains the ban was not intended to be biased against a certain breed; but designed to limit the behaviors of “backyard breeding” or corrupt treatment of this breed that may lead to aggressive or dangerous behaviors.

“Most of these dogs’ owners are not concerned with paying the fees associated with the seizure; they are concerned with the fact that they have to get their breed neutered or spayed. Many, after hearing this, will just leave their animals here to be euthanized. That’s a good sign they were breeding for money or the wrong reasons, and that they never really cared about the dog’s well-being to begin with.”

However, many responsible bully owners take offense to the legislation and are unsatisfied with the ordinance, feeling as if they are paying for the mistakes of those imprudent pet owners.

“The pit bull ban was created out of ignorance and unawareness of the breed. These animals are not monsters. I believe it was fear, lack of knowledge, and money that pushed the idea of the ban to develop,” said Key. “Breed bans are ineffective. The only reason they are passed is because city councils want to appear as if they are “doing something” to assure citizens about a voter concern. It’s a money thing. Restriction should not be placed on the animal; it should be placed on the owner who mistreats it.”

Justin Key is not the only one who believes the ban is a mistake. In attempt to discover public opinion regarding the ban and general knowledge of the breed, a recent (2009) survey was generated by public relations students of Arkansas Tech University.

The study indicated that more than half of the student population was not aware of the ban or any supporting evidence of its development, and was in fact, in disagreement  with why the ban was put into effect. Instead of targeting a certain breed, many respondents felt the issue should be addressed in a different manner, with harsher punishments for those irresponsible pet owners.

“Sensible and responsible pet owners should not be punished because of misjudgments made by careless people who have given the breed a bad name,” Key adds. “I have raised pit bulls since I was six months old, and out of the 372 registered bullies I have owned throughout my lifetime, I have never owned a people- aggressive dog. Responsible owners make all the difference.”

Curiously, there have been no incidents of vicious attacks or people aggressive dogs since 2001, when a woman from Scottsville, located 15 miles from Russellville, was attacked by three pit bulls and killed. With only one attack cited in nearly a decade, the ban may seem drastic or pointless to many.

Dr. Corry Key, veterinarian and owner of Southwind Animal Hospital, explains her frustration with the legislation.

“The ban is senseless. Breed bans punish the dog, not the owner. There were no attacks that led to the banning of bully breeds in Russellville. We currently care for more than 100 bully breeds in our facility, and we have never had an aggression problem with this breed. We are not afraid to care for these animals, and I enjoy and, actually, prefer caring for pit bulls and larger breeds because they are so tolerant and gentle.”

“In the 15 years I have been dealing with this breed, I have seen one aggressive pit bull. Ironically, I have seen more aggression in poodles and Chihuahuas than any other breed, and they are usually the ones that attack.”

Corry Key, like others, questions the true intent behind the ban and the grounds in which the city had to implement such an ordinance to begin with. Those in opposition of the ban agree that the act is a matter of illegal profiling; a violation of constitutional rights.

While Vernon says that there is little hope in overturning or lifting the ban, discriminatory or not, it is true that the ban has neither decreased nor increased the number of dog bites or attacks in the River Valley area. Most likely, the ban could be replaced with a more rational, more cost-efficient and more congruous law that equally leads to a safer and more harmonious community, without breed-specific dog legislation such as canine profiling.

However, doing so would require addressing the same group of individuals that unanimously passed the bill initially.

So where does the problem truly lie; in a certain breed of dog, or the way in which an owner treats it? Is the answer a harsher punishment for owners who mistreat their animals?

“Pit bulls are no more responsible for the way they are bred, raised and trained than cars are responsible for the way they are designed, built and driven. Breed bans do essentially nothing to address the real problem-human scumbags who abuse animals,” documents Paul Glassner, SPCA.

Pit Bulls remain under constant scrutiny. Responsible owners are well- assured that more than ever, pit Bulls are fighting; but for a different cause: earning a new reputation and shaking free of the old assumptions that they are only good for attacking.

 

 

Photo by Lara Russenberger-Knebel 

 

 

 

 

 

Diplomate, American Board of Dermatology Fellow, American Academy of Dermatology 

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