Are pit bulls a public health threat? Many people seem to think so, as evidenced by the near constant churning out of breed specific legislation and outright bans in cities, neighborhoods, and even at the state level. Some states have gone so far as to make laws stating that cities can ban certain breeds at their discretion, while other states have passed laws outlawing breed specific legislation. At the end of the day breed specific legislation doesn’t make much sense and it isn’t supported by organizations like the American Bar Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So why do people blame everything on pit bulls to begin with?
For starters, there is a clear bias in how dog attacks are reported. In one instance two dog attacks that happened a few days apart in 2007 were reported very differently. One person was hospitalized after being attacked by a Labrador mix and there was one article about it in the local paper. Another person was hospitalized after being attacked by two pit bulls, and the media reaction was immense. There were ultimately 236 stories in newspapers and on television, both national and international. Just the saturation of stories for the second instance was enough to make people believe that pit-bulls are a greater health threat than they really are.
But let’s not confuse the issue – dogs can be dangerous when not cared for properly. That goes for any dog, purebred or mutt, no matter the size. Pomeranians have been known to kill infants. Teaching children how to interact with dogs is a skill that will last a lifetime, and ensuring that your dog is properly trained will prevent terrible things from happening.
Breed specific legislation does nothing to address the real causes of dog attacks – neglectful owners. Don’t get a dog if you can’t handle the responsibility.
Even the identification of dogs is often suspect. Dogs that look like pit bull breeds often spend more time in shelters, and some never make it out at all. The biggest problem is perception – even the so-called “experts” can rarely identify these dogs properly. In one study nearly 6000 dog experts were shown 20 shelter dogs and they were only able to correctly identify the dominant breed of those dogs 27% of the time.
The evidence is overwhelming that pit bulls are not a public health threat. Most dogs that people think are pit bulls aren’t even close to pit bulls for starters, and the notion of their danger is clearly conflated in the media. If you want to own a dog you should be a responsible owner and train it correctly, and that will require some work on your part to learn the best way to go about doing that. Pit bulls are no more a public health threat than any other dog breed. In fact, Chihuahuas are the most ill-tempered dogs out there.
Breed specific legislation doesn’t work, but proper dog training and ownership does. Learn more about whether pit bulls qualify as a public health threat from this infographic!