A dog is a dog is a dog is a dog.
I have long stood against breed discriminatory legislation and breed specific legislation. It is my genuine belief that dogs are products of the manner in which they are treated immeasurably more so than the breed they are perceived to be. I got deep into this subject back in 2009 when I was asked by my local animal shelter director to write a research paper advocating adoption of pit bull type dogs. She claimed she would use the paper to help persuade city officials and long-time members of her staff that adopting out dogs believed to be “pit bulls” was something her shelter should be doing. I have blogged on my research paper before (which I later updated in 2014) and won't revisit the entire topic here. If you'd like to read the paper, you will find it here. If you would like to look at the hundreds of pages of research, you will find it here.
I was brought back to this topic of breed bias recently when I learned that the very shelter director who asked me to write a research paper almost a decade ago either never read the paper or has never taken any steps to educate herself on this topic even though she is a licensed veterinarian. I learned recently that she not only relies on but “studies” a website called Dogsbite.org and that she truly believes that pit bull type dogs are inherently dangerous.
No. No. No and no.
It seems that not a week goes by when I don't hear of someone singing the praises of Dogsbite.org. The site is run by a web designer and self-professed fortune teller named Colleen Lynn who was once bitten by a pit bull type dog. I am sorry she was bitten. Taking that personal experience and using it to create a platform which is based not on science or actual research is both irresponsible and incredibly harmful to all dogs and all dog owners. The site is based, on its own admission, by media reports which are notoriously unreliable and more often than not wrong. Others have written about the website before me on more than one occasion. One glance at the data for my state shows that the information is focused on pit bull type dogs and to the exclusion of other breeds. The 2012 dog bite fatality attack I became involved with indirectly in 2014 due to my job involved Rottweilers so you won't find any mention of it on Colleen Lynn's website.
I rely on research from the National Canine Research Council and from reliable sources like the Animal Farm Foundation. I believe the JAVMA study about dog bite related fatalities and I believe in the research of Karen Delise which is based not on media reports but on official records like law enforcement reports. I have communicated with Karen on more than one occasion related to her research of dog bite fatalities in my state, referring her to law enforcement authorities as part of her research. If you have never taken the time to look at the NCRC website or read Karen's book, "The Pitbull Placebo: The Media, Myth and Politics of Canine Aggression," you owe it to yourself to do so.
The reasons for actual dog attacks (as opposed to incidents of simple and avoidable injuries) are often complex, but the answer to preventing dog attacks is relatively simple: humane care and control of dogs is often all that is needed to prevent most dog attacks. The National Canine Research Council's investigations into dog bite-related fatalities reveals the majority of these tragic cases involved circumstances where owners failed to provide necessary care and human control of their dogs: 1) failure by dog owners to spay or neuter dogs not involved in a responsible breeding program; 2) maintaining dogs in semi-isolation on chains or in pens; 3) allowing dogs to run loose; 4) neglecting or abusing dogs; 5) maintaining dogs not as household pets, but as guard dogs, fighting dogs, intimidation dogs, breeding dogs or yard dogs; and 6) allowing children to interact with unfamiliar dogs.
The 2016 Final Report on Dog Bite-Related Fatalities by the National Canine Research Council was most recently updated on March 8, 2018. If confirmed the data in the 2013 JAVMA Study and states:
MULTIPLE FACTORS CONTINUE TO CO-OCCUR THAT ARE WITHIN THE CONTROL OF OWNERS.
THE CONCLUSION OF EXPERTS:
I realize that the topic of dog attacks on people is an emotional one. The fatality case I was involved with indirectly was the most gruesome case I have dealt with in more than 25 years in the legal profession. But we do our society, our families, our dogs in animal shelters and our family dogs a complete disservice when we focus on breed - because there is no scientific basis to show that it has anything at all with dog attacks and fatalities.
A dog is a dog is a dog is a dog. When dogs are treated well and socialized to people, they make wonderful companions. When dogs are not treated well, are used as resident animals, are not socialized to people and not sterilized, they all become potentially dangerous no matter what they look like and no matter what breed we think they are.
If you really think that pit bull type dogs are naturally aggressive, I challenge you to educate yourself on the topic. You can start with my research paper, which is not particularly long, and go from there.
If your lead an animal shelter that destroys dogs based on perceived breed, shame on you. It's time to stop relying on junk science and time to get educated not only on the causes of dog aggression but about how you can better market pit bull type dogs to get them through the system and into good homes. If you are not willing to do that, it truly is time to find another occupation which does not involve making decisions regarding who lives and who dies. Now.
(image of Roo Yori and Wallace courtesy of Roo and Josh Grenell; infographic images courtesy of Animal Farm Foundation)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson