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Pit Bulls - Dispelling the Myths


The Facts About Pit Bulls


On August 14th, 2012, citizens of Miami had the unique opportunity to overturn the county's 23 year old breed ban that prohibits the ownership of American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.  The issue of breed banning, or Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)  is one that is both controversial and emotionally charged.  While I, nor any member of the veterinary or scientific community wishes to invalidate or trivialize the victims of dog bites and attacks, part of my job is to find facts and present evidence.  It is for this reason that I respectfully urge readers to consider the following facts.

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Pit Bulls Do NOT Have Locking Jaws

Dr. I.Lehr Brisbin of the University of Georgia has stated under oath  “There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of ‘locking mechanism’ unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pitbull Terrier”.  In a recent telephone conversation with my wife,  Dr. Brisbin added that any species with a “locking jaw” would rapidly die out as said species would be unable to “unlock” the jaw and would therefore be unable to eat!

An additional study out of Presbyterian College by Jesse M. Bridgers III titled “Mechanical Advantage in the Pit Bull Jaw” examined forty nine skulls of varying breeds of domestic dogs, three of which were from pit bulls.  Conclusion:  “After graphing and analyzing the derived ratios, I have found no evidence of mechanical advantage in the pit bull compared to other domestic breeds of dogs.”


Pit Bulls Do NOT Have 1600 Pounds Per Square Inch of Bite Pressure

Dr. Brisbin also states “Data describing biting power in terms of pounds per square inch can never be collected in a meaningful way.  All figures describing biting power in such terms can be traced to either unfounded rumor, or in some cases, to newspaper articles with no foundation in factual data”.
A 2003 study by T.E. Houston titled “Bite Force and Bite Pressure Comparisons of Humans and Dogs” reached similar conclusions.  "There is nothing out of the ordinary in jaw structure or anatomy of the bull breeds."

Pit Bulls are NOT Genetically Predisposed to Attack

The American Temperament Test Society, as of February 19th 2012, found American Pit Bull Terriers had a passing score of 86.8%.   This is a VERY challenging test and 839 pit bulls were tested.  By comparison, they scored higher than Beagles (80%), Chihuahuas (68.3%) Cocker Spaniels (81.9%), Collies (80.1%), Golden Retrievers (85.2%), Malteses (81.3%), Schnauzers (78.9%) and Portugese Water Dogs (77.8%).  They scored exactly the same as Standard Poodles (86.6%)
In August of 2002, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that pitbulls are NOT inherently dangerous (City of Huntsville vs. Tack, et al, Alabama Supreme Court).
In 1990, the California Court of Appeals ruled that pit bulls are NOT inherently dangerous (Zuniga vs. County of San Mateo Dept of Health Services).
Many factors lead to aggression, including but not limited to, being intact, being chained, poor nutrition, veterinary health problems, lack of proper socialization, and abuse.  It is interesting to note that of the 51 pit bulls seized from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation, only one was euthanized after being deemed too dangerous to be re-introduced into society.  All of these dogs were subjected to unthinkable cruelty, in addition to the factors mentioned above.

Pit Bulls Do NOT Attack Without Warning

All dogs give a warning before they attack or bite.  The signs can be subtle or can even be mistaken for playfulness, but they are there.  The resources we waste attempting to enforce BSL would be better spent educating the public, especially children and their parents, on how to recognize signs of aggression and avoid being bitten or attacked.  Dog owners must also be aware of these warning signs so that they may seek the assistance of a trainer or behaviorist before their pets cause harm to others.


Pit Bull Bites/Attacks are Sensationalized by the Media

A 2008 report by the National Canine Research Council compared the types of media coverage given for dog attacks that occurred during a four day period in 2007.  The results are as follows:
Day 1:  a Labrador Retriever mix attacked an elderly man, sending him to the hospital.  One article appeared in the local paper.
Day 2: A mixed breed dog fatally injured a child.  The local paper ran two stories.
Day 3:  A mixed breed dog attacked a child, sending the child to the hospital.  One article ran in the local paper.
Day 4:  Two TETHERED pit bulls broke from their chains and attacked a woman trying to protect her small dog.  She was hospitalized.  Her dog was uninjured.  The attack was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers, as well as on the major cable news networks.
This type of reporting frightens the public and its legislators, and influences the call for breed bans.  It also draws the attention of a small, but dangerous sub-set of the dog owning population that uses dogs for illegal and nefarious purposes.  This element will always want “the outlaw dog” and is generally not interested in the welfare of the animals they acquire.  They are also likely to acquire a banned breed regardless of the ban, as it is not in their nature to respect the rule of law.

Breed Specific Legislation is Ineffective

The American Veterinary Medical Association published a study in April of this year which concluded that separate regulation of pit bull type dogs is not a basis for dog bite prevention.  The authors cite dozens of peer reviewed studies that report a variety of breeds and types of dogs in connection with injuries to people.  The authors studied 40 years worth of literature.  Published reports and controlled studies came from all over the US, Canada, Denmark, South Africa, New Zealand, Europe and the Netherlands.  All reports confirmed the ineffectiveness of BSL.  The study concluded “It has not been demonstrated that breed bans affect the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community”.  Even before the release of this new study, jurisdictions in Europe and North America were responding to the failure of BSL.  The Netherlands repealed its pit bull ban in 2008. Italy repealed theirs in 2009.  The UK’s House of Commons is currently developing alternatives to the breed bans contained  in their Dangerous Dogs Act.  A study cited by the Animal Law Coalition determined that  after 17 years of BSL in the Great Britain, the number of dog bites requiring medical attention went UP by over 50% from 1991-2008.  Scotland alone has experienced a 150% rise in dogs attacks in the past ten years in spite of the UK ban.  Just this year, the Governor of Ohio signed a bill legalizing pit bulls in his state.  In addition to its failure to decrease dog bites, the ban cost Ohio taxpayers more than $17 million per year to enforce.


BSL is Unenforcable

Animal Services Officers are expected to determine whether or not a dog is a pit bull based on a list of physical characteristics. If a dog meets a certain number of these specifications, the dog is deemed a pit bull.  This is an unfair burden to place upon professionals whose time could be better spent improving the lives of the animals in our community, and in our shelter.


BSL is Cruel

An animal services employee who asked not to be named told me that between 400 and 1000 pit bull type dogs with no bite or aggression history are euthanized in Dade County every year.  Because of the ban, they cannot legally be adopted by residents of Dade County.  This is a travesty which glaringly conflicts with our County’s laudable, and long overdue  efforts to achieve “No Kill” status in our shelter.

BSL Gives the Public a False Sense of Security

By labelling a certain breed or breeds “dangerous” the public assumes that, by default, all other breeds are “safe”.  The simple fact is that all dogs of all breeds can, and occasionally do bite.

Proposed alternatives for BSL include better enforcement of the State of Florida’s existing Damage by Dogs Law, as well as our County’s existing Leash Laws.  These statutes ultimately hold dog owners responsible for the actions of their dogs.  In addition, community education focusing on bite prevention and child safety, better husbandry and socialization, the importance of spaying and neutering, and appropriate pet selection will be far more effective than a ban that does not reduce dog bites, and targets countless animals that exist peacefully as companions and family pets.
Sadly, our citizens voted to keep the pit bull ban in place.  As of this writing, it is still illegal to own a pit bull type dog in Miami Dade County.  It is a law to which I, and so many of my colleagues, remain vehemently opposed.  I have chosen to base my opinions on diligent, scientific research, and knowledge of the facts.  To all of you who have taken the time to read this page, I implore you to do the same.

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