Because the punishment should be directed towards the owners of hostile, aggressive, or vicious dogs, as opposed to punishing innocent pets and their owners.
I love my one year old dog, Bella Jane, very dearly. I have been raising her since she was six weeks old, and we have become very attached to one another. She is an extremely affectionate, loving, eager to please pup. She sleeps with me every night, our heads directly next to one another, and she rides in the car with me anywhere that I go where I won’t be out of the car for very long. By six months, she was able to sit, give me her paw, lay down, was housebroken, would come when called, and much more. She has also never shown any aggression at all, and because I so tediously trained her, she never even barks. I have even allowed her and two different one and a half year old children to play together several times (under supervision, of course) and the only incident that has ever occurred was when one of the children wrapped her hands around Bella’s neck causing Bella to become frightened and back up very quickly, in turn knocking something off the table and frightening the child. Even then, she was not aggressive, but rather scared. I feel a deep love and connection to her, almost as if she were my child. Because of this connection, I could not imagine being separated from her for more than a couple days. This is why I insist that breed specific legislation is unlawful and should never be permitted, under any circumstances whatsoever. The breed of a dog should never be good reason for it to be removed from its home and/or loving owner, but rather the dog’s demeanor, history, aggressiveness, and several other factors. Bella is what is commonly referred to as a “pit bull”, a breed of dog that is often the target of breed specific legislation that prohibits the ownership of any dog that fits the category.
It’s easy to understand why so many people feel threatened by the pit bull, because of the way they are covered in the media. When I, and most anybody, uses the term “pit bull” we are referring to American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and mixes of those breeds. They are portrayed as unpredictable and vicious, and are said to be a very aggressive breed of dog. However, that is exactly what it is—a portrayal. The media fails to recognize the immense number of pit bulls that are service dogs, therapy dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs, as well as just the loyal and calm companions of everyday people. Because of this negative media depiction, people (more specifically Americans) are growing more and more fearful of the breed, and in turn initiating breed specific legislation (BSL) which prohibits ownership of a pit bull in certain cities and counties. This is an unfair, unlawful prejudice and it is the owners of the vicious dogs that should be punished—not the breed, nor the responsible owners of the breed whose pit bulls are nothing but kind, loyal, and calm.
According to the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website:
Pit Bulls often attract the worst kind of dog owners—people who are only interested in these dogs for fighting or protection. While Pit Bulls were once considered especially non-aggressive to people, their reputation has changed, thanks to unscrupulous breeders and irresponsible owners. And because the Pit Bull population has increased so rapidly, shelters now struggle to deal with an overflow of image-plagued, hard-to-place dogs.
This is my argument in a nutshell—as I’ve stated before, it is the owner that causes a pit bull to be hostile or aggressive—not the breed. This is a critical aspect when looking at BSL and whether or not it is justifiable. The American Kennel Club, a nationally recognized registry for purebred dogs, on its website designated specifically for American Staffordshire Terriers, says that pit bulls are powerful, athletic, knowledgeable, driven to satisfy and can do almost anything they’re told to including conformation showing, toting, packing, remedial work, search & rescue, and guard work. This suggests, once again, that the owner is in control of this breed as well as the outcome of their demeanor and aggression (or lack thereof). The only reason for the reputation of the breed is the fact that many people obtain a pit bull solely for the fact that they are tough as nails, and they plan to fight the dog or make themselves appear tough by belittling the dog. The owners in these situations are the culprits for the poor reputation of pit bulls, because considering what kind of people they are, they are also not responsible enough to make certain, after treating the animal terribly and causing it to become mean, that it does not have the opportunity to hurt anyone. It’s not the dog’s fault—it became vicious as an attempt to protect itself from its owner, the one person who is supposed to protect it—and in turn believed every human to be cruel just like it’s owner, therefore hostile and aggressive with any human being.
Dana M. Campbell discourages breed specific legislation in an article in G.P. Solo. She includes information that the National Canine Research Council identifies as the most common factors in fatal dog attacks in 2006, including the following: 97 percent of the dogs involved in the previously said attacks were not spayed or neutered, 84 percent of those attacks involved owners that had either abused or neglected, failed to contain, or failed to properly train their dogs, and 78 percent of those attacks were by dogs that we not kept as pets but instead as guard, breeding, or yard dogs. Campbell expands on these factors by referencing attorney Ledy VanKavage, general counsel for Best Friends Animal Society who previously worked for years as the senior director of legislation and legal training for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). VanKavage mentions the preceding factors as rationale for communities to pay attention to “reckless owners” as opposed to specific breeds to be regulated, and she suggests the improvement of laws for dangerous dogs in general. She cites St. Paul, Minnesota, Tacoma, and Washington, that have all passed similar laws in 2007 that focus on the owners instead of the pets. Campbell goes on to include in her article that Stephen Otto, director of legislative affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, says that "if a person keeps a dangerous dog to guard their drugs or property or for fighting purposes, they'll just switch to a different breed and train that dog to be dangerous to get around a breed ban. The BSL accomplishes nothing in those cases” (36). Again, this brings attention to the owner as opposed to the breed. This brings an idea forward, which I feel should replace breed specific legislation completely—punish the owner, not the breed. Not only should the dogs and their responsible owners not be punished for incidents that occur with dogs of the same breed that are magnified by the media, but the neglectful owner of the dog that was involved in the incident should be punished to a much greater extent than just losing a pet that he or she obviously didn’t care much about in the first place—they should be faced with high fines and jail time.
According to Campbell, several national organizations oppose breed specific legislation as well, including but not limited to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Best Friends Animal Society, the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Kennel Club, and the National Animal Control Association. Campbell says Stephen Otto’s abbreviation of their stance, and mine as well, is as follows: if the objective of breed specific legislation is to prevent dog bites, then rather than treat dogs as “part of a breed painted with certain traits that may not be applicable to each dog,” they should be treated as individuals under proficient precarious dog laws. This way, responsible “owners of well-trained, gentle dogs are not punished by a breed ban, while dangerous dogs of all breeds are regulated and may have their day in court to be proven dangerous.”
In the Veterinary Journal, Jessica M. R. Cornelissen states that the idea that dog breed can determine aggressiveness is a real concern, because the chances of a dog biting or being aggressive is more dependent on factors such as heredity, experience, socialization, training, health, and the behavior of the victim. Because of this, it has been advocated that dogs should be evaluated individually rather than as a breed as a whole. This leads one to believe exactly what I’ve been saying all along—breed specific legislation is nothing more than a prejudice. Banning a certain breed won’t end dog attacks, because the existence and ownership of the breed itself is not the reason that they occur. As Cornelissen said, the dog’s behavior depends on many other factors which, in a broader sense, can all be traced back to the responsibility of the owner.
The National Canine Research Council conducted a report in 2008 about the discrimination initiated by the media comparing the type of coverage they provided concerning dog attacks that occurred during a four-day span, returning the following results. On the first day, a Labrador sent an old man to the hospital, yet his attack only appeared once in an article in the local paper. On the second day, a mixed-breed killed a child, yet the only report of this incident were two stories in the local paper. The third day, another mixed-breed sent a child to the hospital in an attack, and all the coverage of it was one local paper article. Yet on the fourth day, two pit bulls attacked and hospitalized a woman with a small dog—the dog was uninjured—and this particular attack was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers, as well as on the major cable news networks. This is a mere example of my belief that the media deliberately tries to portray pit bulls as vicious and aggressive when, in reality, there are many other attacks by other breeds that are nowhere close to being as focused on as attacks that occur by pit bulls. The media takes whatever they can get and they run with it—they’ve placed this idea into people’s minds that all pit bulls are something that they’re not, that they’re hostile and should be avoided, so that when an incident does happen, they center in on it and use it to draw attention and even worse, to make people think pit bulls are the only dogs around that are involved in incidents, and therefore causing responsible owners like myself to fret over the consequences.
Karen Delise, in her book “The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression”, addresses the beginning and development of the negative attention paid to pit bulls by the media. It started with the commencement of the use of pit bulls in dog fighting. In the 1970’s law enforcement began to notice and litigate the cruel practice, resulting in the media reporting these stories. As police raided dog fight operations, arraigned the people leading and participating in these operations, and seized the pit bulls, media coverage multiplied exponentially. The shelters that the bulldogs were sent to were asked why the pit bulls that were confiscated were being put to sleep. Their response included comments about the supposed “killer instinct” of the pits, which was unfortunately not understood by the readers in the way the shelters had meant—they had meant dog-on-dog aggression, as opposed to aggression in general. Many of the shelter staff bemoaned the euthanasia of these dogs confiscated in the raids, and added that despite the “strength, tenacity, and encouraged aggression towards the other dogs,” (96) these pit bulldogs were notably “loyal, friendly, and affectionate animals” (96). According to Delise, to the surprise of the unknowing media, law enforcement, and shelter workers, the exposure of this terribly cruel and relentless subculture and their depictions of these dog’s “fierce but loyal nature” struck a nerve with a portion of the human population that had always been drawn to dogs that they thought would help them to bewilder or scare other people. By displaying breeds involved in a detrimental affair, not through the fault of the breed, the popularity of them with the everyday person looking to own a dog will not increase. The dogs represented in negative occupations (fighting, guarding drugs, etc.) will only make greater their idolization by unsuitable owners of whom wish to obtain dogs that will up their status as someone who is powerful or intimidating. The owners are responsible for the way a dog behaves, and because of the horrible media attention, the owners that tend to strive to own pit bulls only do so for this reputation that the media has given them. The responsibility for any attacks by pit bulls needs to lie with the owners, not the breed.
Delise continues to inform the reader that the media’s original intention in their reports of the dog fights, police raids, and seizures of pit bulls appears to have been genuine and good-intentioned broadcasting of cruelty to animals which rightfully should be advertised as criminal behavior. But their first announcements of two pit-bull related fatalities during the late 1970’s were packed with fallacious pit bull anatomical innuendos and sensationalized proclamations of the abilities of pit bulls. Delise says that these “glaring errors, along with the continuous exposure of pit bulls used by dog fighters and drug dealers” (96), served to generate an instant and foreseeable rise in the popularity of the pit bull with “substandard and criminal owners”. By the early 1980’s, Delise claims, the pit bull was on a hastened path to become what it is depicted as today—the “new super-predator” (96). This, you need to keep in mind, was only the beginning of the prejudice that is now placed against the breed that is today considered “pit bull”. A mindset and opinion was being freshly formed of the dog, and had not yet been reiterated to the extent that everyone around had been convinced that this portrayal was the truth. This paints a picture which shows how the idea that pit bulls are a breed of dog which is different and distinct from any other, to the point where people actually consider banning them and not allowing them to live. However, as you can see by the information I have provided here, this has developed from a completely unfair, prejudiced discrimination that is a pure result of rumors and mindless accusations.
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