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Pit bulls have a bad reputation. Is it deserved?
Colorado Springs,CO -- Jennifer Melendez doesn't flinch as her muscular, 75-pound pit bull Caesar licks her 4-month-old baby's face.
She and husband Jesse have four kids under age 9, and they completely trust the 2-year-old dog they've owned since he was a puppy to play gently with the kids.
"They're all in one piece," Melendez said. "He's never bitten them or even snapped at them, even when they've hurt him."
Melendez knows other people don't feel the same way about Caesar.
"We've lost some friends over it," she said. "People in my family said, Don't call me when one of the kids get mauled.' I would never put my children in danger."
But Darlene Wells would argue that the Melendez kids are in danger.
This summer, Wells' husband was chased into their home by two pit bulls that were later euthanized as dangerous animals. A few days later, two other pit bulls viciously attacked her bichon frise, Toby, as he sat a few feet away from her.
"There are very sweet pit bulls, I know, but I would never trust them," Wells said. "I don't know what sets them off. Toby was just sitting there, and they ripped him up in seconds. I wish they would outlaw them here."
An image problem
During the past half century, the pit bull has gone from America's dog to America's most feared dog.
Petey, the lovable pup that followed the "The Little Rascals" around, was a pit bull. And in the World War II era, the breed was held up as a symbol of American loyalty and tenaciousness on recruiting posters.
But in many corners, the pit bull is now regarded as a killing machine, and the breed is even banned in some places, including Denver.
The fear of pit bulls is understandable. The breed accounts for twice as many reported dog bites in El Paso County as any other, according to the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, and accounts for the majority of dogs that animal control hauls into court lockup.
A 5-year-old boy needed 2,000 stitches to repair his wounds when a pit bull burrowed into his backyard in Colorado Springs in May and attacked him. And a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that human deaths from dog attacks were more likely to be inflicted by pit bulls than any other breed.
While the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region saves about 82 percent of all dogs that come through the doors, it can save only 59 percent of pit bulls because many people don't want them even though more pit bulls pass the standardized evaluations of the American Temperament Testing Society than do golden retrievers or collies.
Pit bull lovers argue that the real problem isn't the breed, it's the breed's reputation. A reputation as a tough dog attracts owners who train their dogs to be aggressive, which then attracts media attention when these aggressive dogs attack, creating, literally, a vicious cycle.
Doberman pinschers, German shepherds and rottweilers have all suffered this fate, but for pit bulls the trend has been more lasting.
"The thing that's amazing about pit bulls and the thing that gets them in the most trouble, is they'll be whatever you want them to be," said Lauren Fox, director of Colorado Springs All Breed Rescue & Training and a longtime pit bull owner. "They want to please you whether you're training them for good or evil. They're moldable dogs."
Fox said the pit bull started to get a bad reputation about 1980, after well-publicized dog-fighting busts cemented the breed's reputation as the tough dog du jour, and it started to become a status symbol in drug and gang culture. Her account is supported by numbers: The CDC report on fatal dog attacks shows that in 1979 and 1980, pit bulls were blamed for only two deaths, fewer than Great Danes. But the number of fatal pit bull attacks rose sharply in the early 1980s, and topped all breeds until they were supplanted by rottweilers for a time in the 1990s.
Fox said many myths swirl around pit bulls. Their jaws are not significantly stronger than other large breeds of dogs and have no special locking mechanism. The pit bull is not even a recognized breed, but a label for a family of breeds such as the Staffordshire terrier, the American pit bull terrier, and an array of mutts with varying genetic profiles.
In general, Fox argued, stereotyping based on breed is not fair. The lovable Labrador retriever, generally considered a gentle breed, is No. 2 for dog bites locally.
"Of the thousands of dogs that I've seen and trained and rescued, I've seen no pattern by breed," she said. "Dogs are aggressive if they're not trained or socialized."
After a series of pit bull maulings, Denver banned the breed in 1989. The ban was put on hiatus during a few legal challenges, but has been enforced since May 2005.
As director of Denver's Animal Care and Control, which has euthanized nearly 2,000 pit bulls in three years, Doug Kelley has to play the bad guy in the pit bull debate. But even he is not a strong advocate for the pit bull ban.
"You'll never see a more controversial ordinance," Kelley said.
He said the ban has lessened the number of attacks by pit bulls, certainly, but he has no evidence that the ban has decreased the total number of dog bites or attacks in the city. He also said the ban gives people "a false sense of security."
"Pit bulls aren't bred to be aggressive toward humans," he said. "There are a lot of other dangerous dogs out there that aren't prohibited and are trained to be aggressive toward people, so that needs to be addressed."
Denver's pit bull ban may have had little effect inside the city limits, but it's had far-reaching effects on the Pikes Peak region, which has inherited many of Denver's banned pit bulls.
Since 2005, Toni Phillips of Mariah's Promise Animal Sanctuary near Divide said her rescue alone has saved more than 200 pit bulls who lost their homes in Denver.
"It is a crisis. It's a holocaust," she said. "I'm not a pollyanna, yet I know that 99 percent of the time they're awesome dogs, and they're being killed left and right."
The number of stray pit bulls showing up at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region increased from 1,027 in 2005 to 1,747 in 2007. This year, one in six stray dogs taken in by the shelter is a pit bull, said Humane Society spokeswoman Ann Davenport.
So should Colorado Springs ban the breed as well?
The consensus among researchers appears to be that breed bans are not the most effective way to protect the public. The CDC report on fatal dog bites said there's no research showing that breed-specific legislation lowers dog bites. And many argue that law-abiding citizens are most affected by breed bans, while hard-core criminals scoff at a dog ordinance.
"Once you're given the full picture on breed bans, I think you'll see there are more effective solutions," said Davenport, of the Humane Society.
The biggest problem with breed bans, she argues, is they distract from more effective solutions. The solution she offers is to get serious about the laws and penalties imposed on owners of dangerous animals, no matter the breed. Davenport said the laws are often weak, so owners ignore them. And the owners fail to socialize and train their dogs and contain them, and then they don't pay a high enough penalty when those dogs get loose and bite.
Kelley is pushing for the same thing in Denver. He hopes for more stringent laws on dangerous dogs in the next year, and a re-evaluation of the effectiveness of the pit bull ban.
"Why not protect ourselves against all dangerous animals instead of just one breed?" Davenport asked. "The penalties could be strengthened to make people more aware of the significance of their responsibility."
11-20-2008 12:59 PM #2
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Re: Pit bulls have a bad reputation. Is it deserved?
Well you know what we should do from now on is when you come across a barking, growling, stare crazy poodle, Pom, shitzu. Call the cops and report a viscious dog just tried to attack you!