|Dozzer, a 5 year old Pit Bull (as defined by law) with his owner, Jeff Hickey. |
Dozzer was the first dog to be euthanized under Ontario's breed-specific legislation in 2005.
Contrary to Post columnist Barbara Kay’s assertion that, “Anytime you read a story in which animals end up dead or needing to be euthanized after being attacked by a dog, or children being wounded … you’ll be right most of the time if you guess the attacking dog was a pit bull,” (“Killer on a leash,” Jan. 3) there is no statistical proof that a pit bull is a public-safety hazard — no more so than any other type of dog.
According to Dr. Julie Gilchrist of the U.S. Center for Disease Control, a leading researcher on dog bites, “If anyone says one dog is more likely to kill — unless there is a study out there I haven’t seen — that’s not based on scientific data.”
What most likely determines whether a dog is dangerous is the humans, not the breed. In the wrong hands, any powerful breed can pose a risk, even if the animal has not been mistreated. A new client had called me in tears because her newly adopted shepherd sent her to the emergency room after he suddenly attacked her. Had this dog been a pit bull, chances are that story would have landed in the press — and that dog on death row.
Early socialization is important for pit bulls, as it is for all breeds. They are terriers and thus can be tenacious. And, like all terriers, they can have a high prey drive. Prey drive issues are common in a variety of breeds — shepherds, huskies, Jack Russells, etc. — but breed can show it. Owners of any powerful breed always go the extra mile.
What is not typical in pit bulls is aggression towards humans. Aggressive pit bulls are not typically family dogs, but “resident dogs”: Dogs chained in a yard, kept in a warehouse, or basement, with no regular positive human interaction. Under such conditions, any breed runs the risk of developing fearful or aggressive tendencies.
For the average pit bull kept as a family pet, things are very different. According to the American Temperament Test Society, among the 15 most popular dog breeds, only pugs and labs rank higher than pit bulls in temperament tests. Pit bulls even beat out golden retrievers.
Pit bull-type dogs are among the most common in North America. In some areas, especially the inner city, estimates run as high as 30% to 40% of the canine population. Yet less than 0.0004% of the pit bull population has been involved in fatal attacks. The truth is that they are a profoundly people-oriented animal.
Large numbers of pit bulls arrive in rescues, or are seized in cruelty cases, near death from having been starved, shot, stabbed, covered in cigarette burns, beaten and scared. Even in these deplorable conditions, it is remarkable how often they will feebly wag their tails and lick their rescuers’ hand.
These facts have not stopped places like Ontario from passing breed-specific legislation (BSL), which has resulted in the deaths of countless harmless puppies and dogs.
When then former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant spearheaded the push for BSL in 2005, the McGuinty government never had to prove it had a sound case. It did not consult with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society, animal welfare groups, the Canadian Kennel Club or the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers, all of which opposed the ban. Instead, unsubstantiated statistics and media sensationalism were good enough to sign the death warrant on thousands of dogs who had done nothing except been classified as pit bulls by visual identification alone.
So why do people experienced with pit bulls see them so differently than those whose only experience comes from media hype? Perhaps because a National Canine Research Council study found that an alarming number of media reports cited pit bulls as the dog involved in attacks, when no such breed was ever identified in the police or animal control reports.
These dogs have become the target for irrational fear and hatred, which says a lot more about us, than it does about them.
Written by Heather Morgan. Heather is a Toronto dog trainer, musician, mother and an adoptions moderator for Smilin’ Pitbull Rescue.
Photo by: Jana Chytilova/Postmedia News