The discussion of BSL (breed specific legislation) has been a mainstream topic in the professional dog community since its inception, but has really made it to prime time with a recent Time magazine article by Charlotte Alter.
It is one thing to have a political article where opinions can be different. As a scientist myself, however, when I see people making an argument using “the scientific method,” those numbers better jive. Unfortunately, Ms Alter apparently did only quick and sloppy Internet research, and, like that old joke “if it’s on the internet, it must be true,” truly stepped in a heaping pile of doggy doo-doo.
There are statistics out there on dog bites. However, one person’s non-scientific, biased website (with the stated goal of bringing down “pit bulls” because she was bitten by a dog she decided looked like one) is not a reputable source. In fact, Ms Alter’s one piece of “scientific” source material, written by surgeons in a trauma center, was highly criticized by its peers for creating a hypothesis not based in science when talking about the breeds involved. While the trauma center data was real, all “breed” data was best guess, based on the patient’s memory. Not one photo or canine expert was involved.
I believe fear begets racism, bigotry, and hate. BSL has literally torn families apart. In townships that implemented BSL, officials came to people’s homes to round up and take away family pets based on how they looked; the uproar and heartache caused by this was sickening. When the Major League Baseball pitcher, Mark Buehrle, played with the Marlins, he had to buy a house outside of the Miami-Dade County limits to keep his family – including his dogs – together. Now that he’s playing in Toronto, another area with BSL, he has to live apart from his entire family during the season because one of his dogs is not welcome. The Buehrle family has chosen to live separately for part of the year rather than give up a beloved pet.
One of Safe Humane Chicago’s first Court Case Dogs, Bruno, a pit bull-looking dog, was adopted by a loving family with other dogs and children in the home. His owner told me of the turmoil having a bully breed caused her family. Her sister forbade her own children from visiting their aunt’s house ever again. After meeting Bruno on several occasions, and seeing that he was a total love bug, she had a change of heart. In fact, she became so enamored with Bruno that she adopted two rescue pit bulls of her own. Her entire family adores them.
One of the problems with breed discrimination is that it is not actually breed specific. When breeds are banned based on fear and not science, who is to say your favorite breed isn’t next? In years past, German Shepherds and Rottweilers were targeted. Some of Ms Alter’s “data” comes from a man (Merritt Clifton) who has been proven to make up statistics. He claims to report on non-mixed breeds of pit bulls, yet lumps boxers, bull mastiffs, bulldogs, and presa canarios into some of his numbers. What if your little Frenchie or English Bulldog is targeted next?
By spreading the message to the public that “bully breeds” are inherently dangerous, people may be more likely to let their guard down around other breeds. The most relevant data, in my opinion, is why bites happen.
It is important for parents to teach their children the risks surrounding all dogs, and make safety a key component in their interactions with dogs. Educate children that dogs don’t like hugs. Sometimes our family dogs will tolerate it, but they just don’t like it. Don’t approach dogs without asking the owner for permission (the little girl who was the subject of the Time magazine article routinely hugged the neighbor’s tethered dog, without the owner present, for 10 months prior to the bite). Respect a dog’s space, especially around beds, toys, bones, and food. Groups like Safe Humane Chicago, with their Youth Leaders Program, go into elementary schools and teach children key aspects of dog safety. For more information, visit www.safehumanechicago.org.
Remember, all dogs are individuals, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and, in the words of Lynn Brezina, all dogs have a sharp end. Respect them.
The opinions presented in this post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior or Paradise 4 Paws.