The Ban on Pit Bulls
Pit bulls are some of the most misread and misunderstood dogs in the United States. The term “pit bull” refers to a general type of dog and not a specific breed as commonly assumed. When mentioned in a conversation, the first perception that people commonly get is negative because of their history and the way the media portrays them. Contrarily, most pit bull breeds are loving, obedient, loyal, and gentle. Farmers, families, and other civil services personnel bred pit bulls for several generations for many different jobs. Newer owners are unfamiliar with the history of the pit bull because the dogs are no longer used for the same jobs. Multiple sources explain that each dog has different personalities, owners, and environments, which explains differences in dogs’ behaviors. Considering the characteristics possessed by these dogs, the environmental influence on their behaviors and the impacts of their roles in the society, the ban on pit bulls can do more harm than good. Moreover, various scholars have suggested that American Pit Bull Terriers and other closely related ‘pit bulls’ should be legal in the United States because the laws banning them are unfair and stereotypical, and are based on mislabeling which causes confusion to those who are unfamiliar with different breeds of dogs. Additionally, arguing that all pit bulls are aggressive is unjustified since it is the responsibility of the dog owners to properly train their dogs and know their history. Without sufficient and efficient training, all dogs are vulnerable to misbehavior.
Laws that discriminate against a certain group are unfair. This also pertains to the pit bulls that are grouped together even though they are different breeds of dogs with different personalities and looks. When laws discriminate against a certain breed it violates the basic property rights of individuals in America (ABA, 2013). Breed Specific Legislation should not be supported since they generalize all dogs of a specific breed and limit their breeding regardless of their benefits to the owners. Such laws have been passed in different states with varying scopes, all prohibiting people from breeding dogs of the pit bull variety. This implies that all dogs characterized under pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, or American Staffordshire terrier, and any other dog that possesses characteristics that are similar to any of these breeds are prohibited. These laws not only limit the comfort of the dog owners in having and breeding their dogs for different uses but also limit the rights of those animals. Every discriminatory law violates the rights of the animals to be taken care of, be placed in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible, and be protected from abuse.
Other laws banning pit bulls have also placed restrictions on the dog owners to comply with a certain scope of regulations before being permitted to keep those dogs. The regulations are unfair to the dogs in that for those who are allowed to breed them, the range of requirements is unjust. For instance in Maryland, pit bull breeders are required to keep the dogs indoors and on a leash at any times that they are allowed to go out.
Besides the restrictions placed on the dogs, the laws are also stereotypical in that they describe all pit bulls as vicious, dangerous and/ or aggressive. Listing all pit bulls as dangerous animals is presumptive of the distinctive features and personalities displayed by different animals. Given that different dogs have different characteristics and behaviors, the aggressive tendency should not be generalized to all pit bulls. Moreover, most of these laws prohibit owners from selling these dogs to people outside their families on the assumption that they would turn out to be beasts. If in the wrong environment, the pit bulls turn out to be unmanageable, and can be a liability to the owners (Tullis, 2013). This, however, does not mean that even those that are in the right environment, are less aggressive, and are considered as assets by the owners should be punished because of the other less fortunate dogs.
Focusing on one part of the dog, such as breed, we forget about the most important contributors of the dog’s behavior, the owner (Tullis, 2013). All types of dogs can end up as unmanageable and vicious as pit bulls if left in the wrong environment. According to Brennand (2011), pit bulls are euthanized due to their responses to wrong environments. Owners to dogs are what parents are to their children, a positive role model. When those who decide to own a pit bull or any dog decide not to socialize, train, or interact with their pet properly is a certain idea, “that human behavior is what leads to companion animal attacks” (Enos, 2014). When owners properly train and cooperate with their pit bulls for more than just a nurturing family companion, they are able to do a variety of jobs such as, “seizure watchdogs, diabetic alert dogs, comfort nursing home residents, and offer a plethora of services to human counterparts” (Enos, 2014).
Pit bulls, like any other dog, respond to the reactions and facial expressions of their owners. Like children who adopt behaviors that mirror their interactions with the parents, the dogs develop emotional behaviors that reflect their comfort or discomfort with the conditions under which they are bred. Dogs also express themselves through facial expressions and behaviors that correspond to the way they are treated by humans. In a study by Kujala et al. (2017), the responses of various pet dogs to different conditions depend on how pleasant or life-threatening they perceive a situation to be.
Zulkifli (2013) reported that the quality of interactions between humans and animals have a profound impact on animals’ physiology and behavior. This particularly applies to domesticated animals such as dogs and cats. Most mammalian species desire regular positive contact with their owners as a way of improving their mood and behaviors. If mishandled by the owners, such animals are more likely to be fearful, distressed, and with low productivity and welfare. For the pit bulls like in every other domesticated animal, the interactions between the animals and their owners it is thus inevitable that interactions with humans would affect the behaviors of the animals. This qualifies the argument that rather than blaming the animals for their aggressiveness and banning them, they should not be categorized as dangerous animals. Rather, their owners should be able to know how to handle them.
For the pit bulls, therefore, it is expected that their reactions to different conditions would correspond to the level of perceived empathy, anger, and aggressiveness that they receive from their caregivers. This thus qualifies the argument that pit bulls only act in accordance with what they see in their owners and that their aggressiveness is not an innate feature that comes as a result of their specie characteristics. Moreover, in the same way that dogs develop a perception of humans based on their interactions with them, humans also develop perceptions of dogs based on their interactions with them. This, therefore, means that the relationship between a man and a dog can be so cyclic as to result in the consideration of the dogs as vicious. It also means that any argument that pit bulls are aggressive, destructive, and/ or vicious, would be based on the context within which the dogs were observed. For pit bulls, failure to consider the suspected dog’s interactions with its caregivers results in premature assumptions about the dogs that may be wrong.
The character of each pit bull is also influenced by their genetic dispositions. Pit bulls that come from lineages where their predecessors were faced with a lot of bitterness and mistreatment are also likely to be aggressive as reported by Kujala et al. (2017). As new owners go to shelters or buy from a certified breeder they would like to know their new dog’s lineage and their specific breed type, so they are better equipped to handle their new companion (AVMA, n.d). This information is helpful because breeds under the pit bull group have different quirks, personalities, and were bred for different environments. Understanding the dogs makes it easier for their new owners to manage their behaviors and to handle them in a manner that also promotes friendliness. Research shows that through legislation, pit bulls are looked upon in another light compared to other dogs. All dogs can potentially be dangerous and the efforts of their owners to train them will determine whether they turn out aggressive or not. The behaviors of the dog owners are perfect pointers to what is to be expected from the dog. This, therefore, means that any legislation that focuses on the behaviors of the dogs rather than those of the dog owners is problematic (ABA, 2013).
Pit bulls are often mislabeled, causing confusion in the public eye through media. Under this group there is a multitude of breeds such as, “American and English bulldogs, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and American Pit Bull terriers, as well as mixes of these and other breeds” (Gunter, Barber, & Wynne, 2016). These breeds are usually mixed up and misidentified by people who have spent some years in the animal healthcare industry. A study showed that out of sixteen staff members that work in an animal shelter, all had at least three years of working at a shelter but only one member had had a dog breed identification training (Olson, et al., 2015). It is important to be able to distinguish the dogs within the pit bull group from one another because, “’Hard’-looking dogs have become a status symbol,” (Brennand, 2011) and it is wrong to judge a book by its cover, especially when one dog from one breed within the group makes a mistake, all dogs labeled under that group should not be punished.
Mislabeling for instance, can be identified as the reason behind the argument that all dogs that possess specific characteristics or those that have certain looks are categorized as pit bulls. It means that even dogs that are cross breeds yet with a hard look will ultimately be described as pit bulls. This in effect leads to generalizations such as “all pit bulls are dangerous animals.” These descriptions ignore the fact that an animal’s reactions and behaviors are influenced by various factors and may differ from one time to another. One of the most influential factors on the life of such an animal is the level of stress, which can be described as a disruption of the homeostatic equilibrium in the animal’s body. Stress results in a state of health that is susceptible to psycho-physiological destruction. For pit bulls, slight events such as unfamiliar sounds, social disruption, feed and water restriction and over-crowding can cause irritation, which results in aggressiveness, hence they are not inevitably dangerous (Zulkifli, 2013). Change in behavior is expected as a biological reaction to stress.
Thorough research provides enough accurate information to clear the harsh pit bull name and make them legal throughout the United States; and give each dog under that name their own identity. Breed specific legislation has been proven ineffective and costly, which will not stop the pit bull and any other dog listed under the ban from biting because the laws should be based on ownership. Dogs labeled under the pit bull group deserve loving homes that will take time to learn their flaws and unique personality, also responsible owners that allow proper socialization amongst other dogs and people. These group of dogs are also well known for working as rescue dogs because they were bred for endurance in the field, pit bulls were bred for greatness; the key is understanding what they were bred for and how future owners are able harness their traits for good. There are more effective ways to address the irresponsible owner and their dog by enforcing leash laws, prohibit dog fighting, and provide school-based and adult education lessons that teach pet care and responsibility. Additionally, those working in the animal healthcare field should have a basic understanding for correctly identifying different breeds of the pit bull group, or those that work closely in the dog field spread knowledge about the specific breeds.
ABA. (2013, September 9). Opposition to laws banning dogs by breed grows. Retrieved from American Bar Association: www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2013/09/opposition_to_lawsb.html
AVMA. (n.d., n.d. n.d.). Why Breed-specific Legislation Is not the Answer. Retrieved from American Veterinary Medical Association: www.avma.org/public/Pages/Why-Breed-Specific-Legislation-is-not-the-Answer.aspx
Brennand, K. (2011). Do Staffordshire Bull Terriers make good pets? Veterinary Nursing Journal.
Enos, S. K. (2014, June 26). The Problem with People, Not Pit Bulls. Retrieved from Time: time.com/2927759/the-problem-with-people-not-pit-bulls/
Gunter, L. M., Barber, R. T., & Wynne, C. L. (2016). What’s in a name? Effect of breed perceptions & labeling on attractiveness, adoptions & length of stay for pit bull type dogs. PLoS One, 11(3). Retrieved from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0146857
Kujala, M.V., Somppi, S., Jokela, M., Vainio, O. & Parkkonen, L. (2017).Human Empathy, Personality and Experience Affect the Emotion Ratings of Dog and Human Facial Expressions. PLoS One, 12(1). Retrieved from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0170730
Olson, K. R., Levy, J. K., Norby, B., Crandall, M. M., Broadhurst, J. E., & Zimmerman, M. S. (2015). Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff. The Veterinary Journal, 197-202.
Tullis, P. (2013). The Softer Side of Pit Bulls. A reviled breed gets a makeover. Time, p. 54.
Zulkifli, I. (2013). Review of human-animal interactions and their impact on animal productivity and welfare. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 4(1), 25. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3720231/