Guest Blogger: Kathy Hecker, Humane Officer for Animal Friends
You see them in shelters–more of them than any other breed. Most of them smile a lot, lick your face and nearly knock you down with their exuberance and joy. They’re characterized as being loyal, funny, strong and high-energy. So why are so many Pit Bulls ending up in our nation’s shelters? Why are so few adopted and so many euthanized? What is happening to this type of dog and how can we change their fate?
First, we need to let go of some of the myths surrounding pit bulls and look at the facts.
Myth: Pit bulls are a pedigreed breed.
Actually, pit bulls are not AKC-registered, and any pedigrees that come with them are strictly bunk. What we call a “Pit Bull” is a actually a mixed breed. This offshoot of other “bully breeds” has been somewhat standardized, is easily recognizable and was bred primarily for fighting. About 20 years ago, huge dog-fighting farms in the southern United States that had been breeding these dogs for decades expanded into the inner city, where there were eager buyers who were often involved with drugs, gambling and other illegal activities.
Myth: Bad breeding has left society with a lot of bad dogs.
Not necessarily. While many litters are the result of bad breeding practices by people with questionable intentions, many Pit Bulls have retained a lot of the wonderful, endearing qualities that they were originally known for. Sadly, inbreeding and over-breeding can result in more congenital medical issues, and occasionally, a sociopathic personality. But for the most part, pit bulls do very well on shelter behavioral assessments; they are social, affectionate, do not display a lot of guarding and don’t mind being handled.
Myth: “It’s all in the way they are raised.”
Well, yes and no. If you start with a normal Pit Bull puppy, socialize and train him properly, use positive, patient reinforcement techniques and provide firm leadership, you might end up with the best dog you’ve ever had! However, Pit bulls do have a genetic tendency towards aggression toward other dogs. Just as you typically can’t train the hunting drive out of a Beagle, you can’t wave a magic wand and make the bully breed something that he’s not. The aggression toward other dogs manifests itself on a scale from hardly noticeable to intense. It does require management and sadly, sometimes the destruction of the animal. Irresponsible owners and their poor stewardship do a lot of damage by not properly containing their dogs and allowing them to run at large. Pit bulls on the loose are a recipe for disaster. They’re more likely to harm other small animals and more likely to be shot on sight by law enforcement as a threat to community safety.
Myth: Pit bulls are responsible for more bites than any other breed.
Absolutely not. A recent national study found that any bite by a pit bull-type of dog received as much as 1000% more media attention than a bite by any other breed. Because of their strength, their bites may inflict more serious damage (as does the bite of any large, strong breed), but they are not at the top of the list for bites.
Myth: Pit Bulls represent the highest percentage of unwanted, homeless or stray dogs.
This is true everywhere. As much as 35% of all strays entering animal control facilities are of the Pit Bull variety. Why? Because they are bred more often. It is a very profitable cottage industry. The “rejects” who don’t fight, are sick or aren’t intimidating are abandoned on the street to be picked up by Animal Control. Only a few “pick of the litter” dogs actually get a home and live to breed again, and subsequently pass on many undesirable traits.
Myth: Banning the breed is a necessity.
Forget it. It won’t happen in Pennsylvania because it’s against the law to discriminate against dogs based on breed. And didn’t we point out that there really is no pit bull “breed?” One Ohio county attempted to ban pit bulls, but after several years found that expenses associated with enforcing the ban could drive them to bankruptcy. The money spent enforcing the ban would’ve been put to far better use by providing free spays and neuters, training classes and education. Good, responsible owners of pit bulls suffered greatly, and many moved away to avoid the destruction of their beloved family pet. (Wouldn’t you?)
In the course of our humane investigations, we see many pit bull-type dogs. Some of the ones we take custody of end up in our office, where we get to know, love and appreciate them. Most of the pit bulls we visit in the community aren’t used for fighting, and many of them have wonderful homes. Many owners will tell you that they would never own any other kind of dog–that pit bulls are the best!