According to the Oxford Dictionary, a pit bull is “A dog of an American variety of bull terrier, noted for its muscular build and often associated with ferocity.” The American Animal Hospital Association added to the conversation of pit bull ferocity, on their website explaining that “The researchers point out that the circumstances that cause a dog to bite vary and may be influenced by breed behavior tendencies and the behavior of the victim, parents, and dog owner.” Despite this, other sources have come out against this notion, arguing that pit bulls are no more aggressive than other dog breeds. National Geographic, one such source, elaborates on this point on their website, writing that “there’s no science that bears that idea out.” UHS News staff researched the topic and interviewed Ukiah Animal Shelter Director Richard Molinari to investigate whether or not pit bulls are truly a dog to fear.
The origins of pit bulls are complex. Briticanna.com describes pit bulls to be a “fighting dog developed in 19th-century England, Scotland, and Ireland from bulldog and terrier ancestry for hunting, specifically capturing and restraining semi-feral livestock.” They later add, “Although these dogs were originally bred and trained to display aggression against other dogs, aggression against human beings was not encouraged because, even while fighting, the dogs had to be handled by their trainers.” Briticanna.com later elaborated on the history of the breed, saying, “the resurgence of dogfighting…led to irresponsible breeders encouraging such (aggressive) traits in their animals and mistreating them in order to induce a vicious temperament.”
More recently, pit bulls have been banned from various places, cities, and even entire countries. The Los Angeles Times detailed Delta Air Line’s ban on pit bulls on their planes. They described a situation in which one woman had to reschedule a trip due to a “a new policy by the Atlanta-based carrier that limits passengers to one emotional support animal per flight and bans all ‘pit bull type dogs’ either as service animals or emotional support animals.” That woman was “Kathryn Hurley, a director at a Los Angeles dog rescue service…” and “has been flying for years with her pit bull dog, Jax, an emotional support animal that has been trained to behave on a flight.”
In addition, on Denver’s CBS affiliate WBTV explained that Denver, a city in Colorado, banned pit bulls for thirty years, only to repeal the ban in early 2020. According to CBS News’ Danielle Garrand and Christopher Brito, “Denver’s city council has voted in favor of repealing a 30-year ban on owning pit bulls and other terrier dogs, CBS Denver reports. The proposal, which replaces the ban with breed specific licensing, was passed by a vote of 7-4.” The authors added, “The legislation update will allow citizens to have a pit bull in the city – with some conditions…Pet parents must register their pup with Denver Animal Protection (DAP) and get their dog a ‘breed-restricted license,’ the tweet said.” Even entire countries have placed bans on pit bulls. Metro.co.uk, on their website, wrote, “In 1991, the UK government decided to ban pit bulls in response to a slew of incidents involving vicious, often unprovoked attacks, by this particular breed of dog, on humans.” They later elaborated on this, saying, “Though there is no concrete scientific evidence that these dogs are more aggressive or dangerous than any other breed, they have been favoured as pets by criminals, many of whom train them as attack dogs.” Metro.co.uk then explained further, saying, “Even if you do have an exemption allowance to own a pit bull terrier, you cannot breed them, sell them or exchange them.”
Pit bulls have been especially affected by breed-specific legislation compared to other dogs. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.” Below is a map of American states that have prohibited breed-specific legislation as of April 1, 2020.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals describes breed-specific legislation as ineffective, stating that “There is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals.” They later list a number of consequences, including dogs suffering, owners suffering, and the overall safety of the public suffering. In regard to dogs suffering, they explain that instead of abandoning their pets, “…owners of highly regulated or banned breeds often attempt to avoid detection by restricting their dogs’ outdoor exercise and socialization—forgoing licensing, microchipping and proper veterinary care, and avoiding spay/neuter surgery and…vaccinations.” This cycle also negatively impacts the owners. In addition to that, breed bans and restrictions may lead to, “…housing issues, legal fees or even relinquishment of the animal…” for owners. In terms of the community’s safety suffering, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explains, “When animal control resources are used to regulate or ban a certain breed, the focus is shifted away from effective enforcement of laws…dog license laws, leash laws, anti-animal fighting laws, anti-tethering laws, laws facilitating spaying and neutering…” They also explain that “…guardians of banned breeds may be deterred from seeking routine veterinary care, which can lead to outbreaks of rabies and other diseases that endanger communities.”
UHS News staff also talked to Director Richard Molinari of Ukiah Animal Shelter to investigate whether or not pit bulls are truly uniquely vicious dogs or whether that is simply a widespread misconception. Molinari felt that it was important to note that “Pit bulls and pit bull mixes are by far the largest percentage of animals out there. As a part of that, they unfortunately have a higher rate of doing bad things.” He added to this, saying, “Golden retrievers, labradors, chow chows, and shepherds all do bad things, but unfortunately, the media has dealt with pit bulls over the last few years by giving them a bad wrap. That’s not to say that there are no bad ones out there, though.” Molinari believes that the portrayal of pit bulls in the media is in large part why a large percentage of the public believes them to be so dangerous. “I think that it has a lot to do with the media and the stigma that has been given to this type of dog for the last twenty or thirty years.” He said this as an example: “Let’s say there was an incident with a lab or a shepherd. It would not get the same media coverage as a pit bull. Pit bulls seem to draw the attention of the media.” Molinari does not believe pit bulls to be inherently more aggressive than other dogs. He said, “When dogs come into us, they are scared. They’re frightened. They’re lost…So, whether it’s a german shepherd, a rottweiler, or a chihuahua, they’re going to exhibit about the same types of behaviors. Some are good, some are bad. Pit bulls are no different.”
According to the Washington Post, dogs labeled as “pit bull” spend longer in shelters. They say that they “…spend more than three times longer in a shelter than similar-looking dogs not deemed pit bulls.”
Molinari was asked, “Are pit bulls typically adopted less than other breeds?” In response, he said, “ No, I would say they’re just about even if not more. Probably more because actually, there are more pit bulls and pit bull mixes that come into our facility.” He went on, saying, “For the most part, they are very good characteristics and behavior. Occasionally, we will run into some that do not do well with other dogs or have food guarding issues, but there are other breeds of dogs that have…aggression issues.” Molinari believes that the people who are the best equipped to own pit bulls are those who have owned them in the past. “Normally, there is a deep love for these animals, so they have the experience as far as having them as family pets. Normally, they have another pit bull in the family. That makes a good environment for both animals to thrive.” For more information regarding pit bulls, please visit the sourced links listed below.
American Animal Hospital Association
Los Angeles Times
- Delta bans pit bulls as emotional support animals, citing dog attacks – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals