By Allie Smith
Everyone has heard of Michael Vick, the football player who pleaded guilty in April 2007 for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring. Ever since news broke about Vick, pit bulls have been a hot topic in the news and everyone has something to say, sometimes good and sometimes bad. What is the truth about pit bulls? According to dogsbite.org, a website dedicated to reducing dog attacks, one of the most deadly breeds of dogs is pit bull terriers. Research from Animal People, an animal protection newspaper, shows that from 2005 to 2011, pit bulls accounted for 215 of the total 466 recorded fatal attacks in America.
On the other hand, research must be backed up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics come from counting newspaper reports of attacks claiming the attacking dogs were “pit bull-type” dogs. With claims come inaccuracies. If no DNA tests are performed, breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive. According to pitbulls.org, a website on pit bull information, the CDC and American Veterinary Medical Association do not recommend discriminating based on breed. Pitbulls.org claims that, “the frenzy against Pit Bulls is nothing but blind fear fueled by the human need to find a scapegoat. There is not a single shred of proof that the American Pit Bull Terrier is a vicious, dangerous breed.”
The American Temperament Test Society, a non-profit breed testing organization, regularly performs an interesting test called a temperament test on popular breeds or dogs. The test simulates a casual walk through the park where everyday life situations are encountered. During the walk, the dog experiences auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli. Friendly, neutral, and threatening situations are encountered which test the dog’s ability to distinguish between non-threatening situations and those that call for protective reactions. The dog fails the test if it shows strong avoidance, panic without recovery, and unprovoked aggression. In 2008, American pit bull terriers passed the test at a rate of 85.3%. What is more interesting is that Collies and Golden Retrievers, dogs typically considered to be family friendly, tested at a rate of around 77%.
While it’s true that pit bull are not born vicious, they may be born dangerous. It’s in the genetics of a pit bull to bite, clamp, hold, and shake but there’s no question that environment can play a role in how a dog reacts to situations. According to the Pit Bull Rescue Central website, it is important to have pit bulls socialize with other dogs and animals to prevent attacks. When learning of pit bull attacks, one must consider how the dog was kept and treated. Often times, the owners of pit bulls are at fault for the way their dogs act due to poor treatment and even abuse.
Animal control officers across the country have told the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that when they alert the media to a dog attack, news outlets respond that they have no interest in reporting on dog attacks unless they involve pit bulls. A trend of reporting dog attacks has recently emerged: most short-haired, stocky dogs are called pit bulls. When a dangerous dog’s breed is unknown, the media often assumes the dog involved is a pit bull. In the rush to publish news coverage, many dog attacks are reported to be by pit bulls but then are later corrected, but the damage is already done and forms an impression on the public.
Are pit bull terriers dangerous? Yes and no. The bottom line is that pit bulls are genetically able to fatally injury but they are not born vicious, they are often a product of their owner.