on my soapbox

(NOTE: This post was part of a previous domain and comments were not migrated over.) In honor of Responsible Pet Owner Month, I invite you to meet the real Pit Bull Terrier

pitties

pitmyths

● Pit bulls have “locking jaws,” meaning that their jaws cannot be pried apart once they bite down. In some stories, this even goes so far as to say that a pit bull’s jaw cannot even be pulled apart if the dog is killed. In truth, a pit bull’s jaw structure is no different from the jaw structure of any other dog breed. No such locking mechanism exists.

● Pit bulls can not feel pain/have a higher pain threshold. In truth, their nervous systems are the same as that of any other breed of dog. However, because pit bull’s are stubborn animals, they often will continue whatever task is at hand despite pain or discomfort, to please their owner.

● Pit bulls are inherently aggressive and more likely to attack their owners and other people, it’s “in their genes”, and they can’t be near other animals. In truth, like any other dog, pits do not exhibit aggressive behavior without reason or provocation. Aggression in any dog is likely the result of: disease, lack of socialization, provocation, improper training, misreading of the dog’s behavior. Inter-animal aggression (“high prey drive”) can be a natural trait in many breeds (i.e. terriers, collies, hounds, etc) but differs from human aggression. Historically, humans were always in the pit, handling fighting dogs closely, while the animals were in full fight drive. A dog that was a danger to people and prone to biting was not feasible, and therefore carefully selected against.

● Pit bulls have more bite pressure per square inch (PSI) than any other breed. In truth, all studies that have been done comparing the bite pressure of several breeds showed that their PSI is considerably lower than some wild estimates have claimed. Testing has shown that the domestic dog averages about 320 lbs of pressure per square inch, with the highest pit bull recording at 235.

● Pit bulls bite more people than any other breed. In truth (and better explained below), these statistics are hard to obtain due to pit bulls being lumped into a large grouping of about 12 breeds and cross-breeds, and mis-identification. Also, CDC numbers show that “pit bull types” may be the most owned dog across the United States, which factors in. In fact, reviewing decades of CDC bite reports, you find a pattern that the breed that is most commonly owned tends to have the highest bite reports – just based on the fact that there are more of them.

● Pit bulls unexpectedly turn on their owners. In truth, no dog breed acts aggressively out of randomness. When a dog does develop or display aggression against an owner, many factors can include improper handling, lack of socialization, a misreading of dogbehavior or pain/disease. Aggression, when it presents in pet dogs, follows specific patterns. Several stages of warning signs are exhibited before teeth are used by any breed, so when a bite upon an owner does happen, these signs were likely ignored or misread.

pittruths

● Pit bulls are wonderful animals whose perks are also their downfall when it comes to illegal activities. Dog fighters use pit bulls breeds because they learn quickly, are strong, agile and have a desire to please their owners. Unfortunately, pit bulls’ abuse in this circumstance contributes to the negative myths surrounding them.

● Pit bulls in poor situations are trained to be “animal aggressive” — but this does not mean they are also “human aggressive.” These behaviors are completely separate and can be adjusted through proper socialization and training. In fact, it is their inherent lack of aggression towards humans that makes them the ideal breed for dog fighters. A pit bull with aggressive tendencies toward humans is just as alarmingly out of character as a golden retriever. However, they do have higher prey drives, much like any other breed in the terrier family (such as Jack Russell and Rat Terriers).

● Pit bulls score significantly better than most dog breeds when fairly evaluated in the American Temperament Testing standards, landing in the top five dog breeds. They score at 85.3% pass rates — consistently outranking beloved breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Collies and Aussies. They even score better than the most even-tempered breed I know, Bailey and Emmie spaniels. 😉 (Okay, okay, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels).

● Remember that clever DirecTv commercial mocking statistics that said, “90% of statistics are made up 50% of the time”? Keep that in mind when reading bias websites such as DogsBite.org (a very bias site run by a woman who was attacked and now has a personal agenda to ban pit and pit mixes across the country) and think analytically when reading facts.

Example: When you read things like “70% of pit bites are on children” and want to be swayed to believe pits are out there targeting your kids — please remember that, regardless of breed, over 80% of all dog bites are on children. Why is this? Children tend to be less careful around dogs, less skilled at reading dog warning signals, have slower reaction times to avoiding nips and tend to appear most threatening to nervous dogs as they are roughly the same size/eye level. Teach your children to never approach dogs they don’t know, to never run/squeal in dog parks, to ask permission to meet a new dog first and pet gently, to leave dogs alone when they are with their treats & toys and to understand warning signals such as: dogs trying to escape stressful situations (hiding under a chair or desk), growls, tail changes, etc.

Example: (Referencing fatal dog attacks) “pit bull type dogs were responsible for 59% (52 deaths). This is equivalent to a pit bull killing a U.S. citizen every 21 days during this 3-year period.” First, remember most any dog that isn’t easily identified is lumped into “pit bull type dogs” – while other stats are left to strictly a single breed. Who knows how many breeds, and how many incorrectly classified, fall into that category. Not very scientific, is it? Next, review your source. This particular one comes from a website dedicated to only following bad pit stories, run by a woman once bit by a pit bull and now lobbies heartily against their existence, and is using stats of the bites “they have recorded” – not an actual study or animal control numbers. When reviewing statistics, also find out how many were unaltered males, how many were protecting property (you might be surprised to find that over half of fatalities were against trespassers), the dog’s living conditions (beloved family pet or chained up backyard dog?), etc. In fact, because of how poor our standards for recording this information is, the CDC itself reminds people to not judge these statistics to condemn or create laws against any particular breed. Why? They note:

First, the human DBRF reported here are likely underestimated; prior work suggests the approach we used identifies only 74% of actual cases. Second, to the extent that attacks by one breed are more news-worthy than those by other breeds (i.e. pit bull types), our methods may have resulted in differential ascertainment of fatalities by breed. Third, because identification of a dog’s breed may be subjective (even experts may disagree on the breed of a particular dog), DBRF may be differentially ascribed to breeds with a reputation for aggression. Fourth, it is not clear how to count attacks by cross-bred dogs. Ignoring these data underestimates breed involvement (29% of attacking dogs were cross bred dogs), whereas including them permits a single dog to be counted more than once.

pittidbits

● In the 20th century, pit bulls were actually the No. 1 family dog, widely referred to as the “Nanny” dog for their ability to relate and be patient with children. Not only were they our national mascots, being used in both WWI and WWII propaganda posters, but were featured as lovable companions in marketing and television. The RCA dog and Tige from the Buster Brown ads were both pit bulls and so was the Little Rascal’s side kick, Petey. Sadly, the first Petey, beloved by the entire cast, was poisoned by a mysterious murderer.

● Because they are so well-behaved with people, pits were the original breed of choice for service dogs (i.e. Seeing Eye Dogs). Test runs with pits found that the public felt pits (and then Boxers) were too angular and “scary” looking, so the service went with it’s third choice, the fluffy Golden Retriever.

● The most decorated military canine hero is Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull. He’s the only dog in history to receive a battlefield promotion, with his courageousness ranging from saving his entire platoon from a gas explosion to single-handedly capturing a German spy.

● Helen Keller had a pittie as her aid and companion.

● Well-respected famous people chose pit bulls as their companions, and many visited the White House: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, General George Patton, and Rachel Ray (I know, I made an odd combo there).

● The pit bull is the only dog breed to have made it on the cover of Life Magazine three times, all for articles commending their wonderful strengths.

So Please…

Please remember that the dogs are the victims as well, and when we push for Breed Specific Legislation, we’re punishing the wrong end of the leash. Laws to limit or deny ownership of them is a rule followed solely by responsible pet owners, and is not affecting someone who already lives outside the law by not registering, licensing, spaying/neutering, or properly raising their dog stock anyway. Any dog breed can be trained to be aggressive and banning pits won’t stop dog fighting. Bad and violent people will continue to do bad and violent things, regardless of what the law is or with what dog breeds they are limited to.

Much like we couldn’t take a broad fact such as, “People with purple skin commit more crimes” and turn that into, “People with purple skin are inherently unethical and need to be banned,” we must be careful to not do the same thing with pit bulls. Pit bulls may be involved in more dog fights — but work backwards. They are also owned in higher numbers by immoral people who are involved in many illegal activities (this is why animal control officers bring police officers on these raids, as there will always be other activities going down, and vice versa). These people raise these dogs in horrifying and painful living/training conditions that no dog should have to, or would choose to, endure. Aggressive pit bulls who are not a part of dog fighting circles can also be traced back to owners who chose them for their mythical status, and typically raise them under-socialized and with less compassion. And most importantly, for good news stories, most media will tie any square-headed breed to a pit bull, regardless of it’s actual breed, and retractions are rarely made well-known.

Punish the deed, not the breed.

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(NOTE: This post was part of a previous domain and comments were not migrated over.) Not to sound like a broken record, but having worked cruelty cases for the SPCA, I’ve seen my share of just how terrible people can be — and even how bad things can get for animals when folks aren’t outright evil but are simply unaware or neglectful. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: animal welfare is important for all of us, even those of us who may not have pets or feel concern. Countless studies of and interviews with people who have participated on unfathomable acts of violence against humans have come back with a big trend: starting out with cruelty to animals — be it butterflies, horses, dogs or cats. Starting out by testing their limits and venting frustration in physical manners against things that can not tell, can not report and in many cases, can not fight back.

There is no such thing as a “boys will be boys” rule here; there just isn’t. It’s not in our nature to be hateful or hurtful or enjoy the suffering of another creature — but it is very easily learned and/or tolerated. We’re becoming more numb to it; it’s becoming more acceptable. There is a quote that I love and a big one for parents to take note of, if you ask me: “Teaching a child to not step on a caterpillar is as invaluable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”

In honor of that spirit, and in honor of February being National Responsible Pet Owners Month, here is the ASPCA’s 10 Ways to Prevent Animal Cruelty (full article can be found here) — I’d also like to add that camera phones and noting dates/times/etc go a LONG way in saving an animal and many reports can be anonymous to avoid backlash:

1. Be aware.
2. Learn to recognize animal cruelty.
3. Know who to call to report animal cruelty.
4. Provide as much as information as possible when reporting animal cruelty.
5. Call or write your local law enforcement department and let them know that investigating animal cruelty should be a priority.
6. Know your state’s animal cruelty laws.
7. Fight for the passage of strong anti-cruelty laws on federal, state and local levels.
8. Set a good example for others.
9. Talk to your kids about how to treat animals with kindness and respect.
10. Support your local shelter or animal rescue organization.

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