Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT
The city council of Bothell, Washington is considering enacting breed specific legislation that would ban residents from owning certain breeds of dogs. All of us at Companion Animal Solutions believe that Breed Specific Legislation is the wrong approach to making our neighborhoods and ourselves safe from vicious dogs. We believe that well written, well enforced dangerous dog legislation betters serves us all by protecting us from dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners without making criminals or victims out of safe dogs and responsible owners. Andrea Kilkenny recently wrote an article for us titled Fun Activities For You and Your Dog and Andrea has participated in them all… with her bully breed dogs. I’m please to present here the letter that Andrea sent to all members of Bothell’s City Council.
Please reconsider your proposed law to ban the American Pitbull Terrier and related breeds, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. As an owner of three bull breed dogs, a Humane Law Enforcement Officer, and a dog trainer, I urge you to please read the information below as it may provide you with some facts you are unaware of.
There are many reasons why breed bans should not be enacted; and why, instead, legislators should focus efforts on dangerous dog laws that are not breed specific. Legislation that encourages responsible ownership – and which also results in effective and enforced consequences for violators – would help solve many of the problems communities face with reckless dog owners.
From a logistical standpoint, breed bans are difficult to enforce. One problem is the correct identification of breeds. Many shelters and animal control facilities currently struggle with this task, and often mislabel dogs. Often, shelters label any muscular, stocky, or wide-headed dog as a bull breed or bull breed mix, and incorrectly so. There are many current cases in which DNA tests were conducted to prove a dog’s heritage, and animal control facilities and municipalities have been sued for misidentification. In addition, animal control personnel would be faced with the insurmountable task of having to remove, house, re-locate, and/or euthanize the dogs within a given region. I have worked for many years in the shelter world, and served many more than that as a volunteer, and still do. Shelters are already overwhelmed with conducting their day-to-day tasks with limited time, staffing, and resources. To impose a ban, imposes a burden on them as well. Best Friends Animal Society, a national welfare organization, has a fiscal calculator which helps estimate cost to cities if they enact breed discriminatory legislation. According to their calculator, the city of Bothell would spend an estimated $44,000 per year to enact a breed ban. Couldn’t this money be better spent on dog bite prevention programs, spay/neuter initiatives, and enforcement of animal related ordinances that encourage responsible ownership?
Irresponsible and reckless owners should be targeted, not a breed. Owners should be held accountable for their actions. There are many responsibilities that come with maintaining a dog; one of those responsibilities is following local animal ordinances such as those that guide proper containment, vaccinations, identification, leash laws, etc. Most owners follow these and should not be unduly penalized for the actions of a few. In addition, there are many responsible owners who have bull breed dogs who are more than just pets. I am speaking of those owners of bull breed dogs, which provide valuable services to the community in a working capacity: search and rescue, drug detection, animal-assisted therapy, and humane education. They, too, should not be jeopardized for the actions of others. To give you just a few examples of great working dogs that are bull breeds:
Popsicle, a recently retired drug detection dog, is also a rescued pitbull. He was found – near death, in a freezer – when his owner’s premises were being investigated for illegal activity. The puppy went from surviving trauma as a dogfighter’s baitdog to becoming one of the top drug detection dogs in our country. Popsicle won a significant seizure medal when he helped federal Customs agents seize 3,075 pounds of cocaine.
Dakota, also a pitbull, is another fine example of a working dog. Dakota and owner Kris Crawford have been involved in some of the nation’s high-profile search and rescue efforts including the Columbia mission and the Laci Peterson case.
In Columbia, Ohio, U.S. Customs Department recently “hired” a new recruit – Pete, also a pitbull. Our own ferry system here in WA utilizes trained pit bulls for the purpose of narcotics and explosives detection.
Pitbulls excel in the areas of detection, search and rescue, pet therapy, and other working fields because of their high intelligence, affection and loyalty towards humans, and strong work ethic. The United Kennel Club notes in their description of the American Pitbull Terrier (APBT) breed characteristics:
The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children.
The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. This breed does very well in performance events because of its high level of intelligence and its willingness to work.
Similar characteristics can be found in the American Kennel Club breed description of a related breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier:
Its character is one of indomitable courage, high intelligence and tenacity. Coupled with its affection for its friends, and children in particular, its quietness and trustworthy stability make it an all-purpose dog.
Another fact to consider is that renowned and reputable animal organizations, such as the American Kennel Club (AKC), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) all do NOT support BSL. Each of these organizations encourages dangerous dog legislation that is not breed specific. Information about writing humane law, including dangerous dog laws, can be found on each of these organizations’ websites, or by contacting their national or regional headquarters. In a 2001 journal article published by AVMA, their Canine Aggression Task Force suggest that community-wide dog bite prevention programs, not Breed Specific Legislation, is a better solution to preventing dog bites:
“An often asked question is which breed or breeds of dogs are most “dangerous?” This inquiry can be prompted by a serious attack by a specific dog, or it may be the result of media driven portrayals of a specific breed as “dangerous.” Although this is a common concern, singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens.”
In addition, please consider the idea that irresponsible owners will find another breed to train and handle for illegal or undesirable purposes when the current fad breed – the pit bull – is banned. We are already witnessing this occurrence here in the States. While the APBT maintains its popularity, there are a growing number of larger-sized dogs such as the Mastiff, Dogo Argentino, and Presa Canario being sought and even imported by irresponsible people. Banning a breed does not solve the problem. Historically, in our nation, different breeds have been wrongly generalized as ‘dangerous;’ the German Shepherd, the Doberman, and the Rottweiler have all been previous victims of media hype.
Furthermore, an increasing amount of research demonstrates that breed is not a defining characteristic in reported bites. Instead, some identifiable commonalities seem to be: intact dogs – of various breeds, including “unsuspecting” breeds such as the Golden and Labrador Retrievers, unsupervised situations involving children, and chained dogs. Studies reported in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine Association, Pediatrics, and Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program clearly illustrate that there are identifiable and preventable circumstances under which any dog can bite. In my many years of experience employed at a shelter in Iowa City, we saw dogs of all breed types who had been involved in bites. No one breed should be singled out. Each dog should be looked at individually and judged individually for its actions. Those animals with aggression problems or bite histories that pose a threat to the community should be euthanized to prevent further injuries and to maintain a safe community. Currently, the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) has done an outstanding job of documenting bite statistics, and providing information on the factors identified in bites. Consider the difference between family dogs and ‘resident’ dogs as outlined by NCRC. Resident dogs are yard dogs, dogs obtained for guarding purposes, dogs that are chained or kept outside; these are not family pets, and are often the victims of abuse, neglect, and mismanagement. Family dogs would be unduly punished if breed specific laws are enacted. Please consider visiting Karen Delise’s site for accurate, data-based materials on dog bites and dog bite prevention:
Lastly, as a responsible owner of two rescued pitbulls and one purebred Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I respectfully appeal to you on a personal level. My dogs are well trained, supervised, abide by city laws, and are ambassadors for their breeds. One of them competes in organized dog sports and competitions for flyball, disc, and agility. All three of them have appeared regularly on a local TV show in Iowa City, aired on public access, providing dog training tips and humane education on a show created to foster adoption at the city’s shelter we used to work at. My Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Rumble, and I are registered with the Delta Society as a Pet Partners team; he and I have participated in therapy, demos, and humane education at facilities for the elderly, schools, and neighborhood centers. I think it is unfair that I, and other responsible owners, should suffer the consequences due to the inappropriate and often, illegal, actions of others. Rumble and I are part of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Puget Sound which has members in Bothell, and we have competed in disc dog events in your city. A ban would prevent us from being able to do so in the future.
I fully support efforts to create safer communities for both dogs and humans and I believe that non-breed specific/vicious dog legislation, when properly written in the law and enforced, can help achieve that aim.
Sincerely, Andrea Kilkenny
Florrie Turntine says
Outstanding site, I actually discovered it to be intriguing. I’m looking forward to coming back again to find what’s fresh.
Christine Hibbard says
Thank you for reading Behind the Behavior! We’re glad that you found it intriguing. We normally post weekly and you can subscribe via RSS feed.
I’m frightened that the Pit bull wants a particular sort of proprietor…these dogs, no matter how ‘loving’ nevertheless have teeth, are still creatures with no moral ideas and once they DO bite, won’t let go. As in all creatures…some often be far more suseptable to instinctual habits and time and time once again, this breed tends to complete just that.
Park, the point here is that ANY dog will bite or become aggressive without a “particular sort of proprietor” – a RESPONSIBLE one. ALL dogs have teeth, and in fact, ANYTHING that has teeth will bite – including humans. Witness Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, for example. Further, I wonder where you get your information regarding “this breed tends to complete just that [far more suseptable (sic) to instinctual habits]?” From your post, you don’t sound like an experienced dog owner, so how would you know, apart from media sensationalism, what pitbulls’ “instinctual habits” are? Please consider that it’s uninformed people such as yourself that cause so much grief for responsible owners of gentle, well-trained dogs such as my own service animal (I am handicapped). Research it for yourself (and not at biased, ill-informed, agenda-driven and frequently FALSE websites such as “dogsbite.com”) – go to legitimate sources, including those mentioned by the poster above (the American Kennel Club (AKC), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and you can find real, truthful information regarding these dogs. You might also want to check with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) which testified in court in Denver, Colorado AGAINST breed bans, stating that there is no way possible to track dog bites/attacks by breed. This is documented fact, not conjecture nor “pitnutter” ravings.
I would like to also illustrate this for you with a real-life example. Have you any idea how calm, reliable, and gentle a dog has to be in order to be accepted for training as a service dog, much less to graduate from that training and actually go to work? My dog is that patient and placid; he can walk unruffled through a noisy, crowded grocery store, not even sniff at the air in the meat or cheese departments; he can lie at my feet in a restaurant and not flinch if a scrap of food drops onto the floor next to him; he is quiet enough to go unnoticed in a public library, and he steps calmly on and off an escalator. He has much better manners than many children I notice in public, and even many adults, for that matter. This is not even taking into consideration the multitude of disability-related tasks this dog has been trained to perform. This is not “instinctual” behavior, but trained.
“Instinctual habits,” as you call them, do not include human aggression. What is “instinctual” for a pitbull is loyalty and an intense desire to please his owner. These dogs will do whatever you want them to do, which is quite likely one of the reasons they have often been exploited by the criminal element in our society. Nevertheless, any habit can be broken, and proper training and genuine affection can overcome any negative conditioning. Handlers of service dogs (and owners of these dogs in general) consider them to be and treat them as member of their family; they have a relationship, a bond with them. This bond is stronger than any long-diluted “instinct” to fight that is 9 times out of 10 not even present in the bloodline of most of these dogs. The Michael Vick dogs were trained and tortured into fighting; they did not choose to do it, nor were they born to do it. Once taken from that felon’s possession, they are now family pets, therapy dogs, and ambassadors for the breed.
Again, I urge you to become informed before contributing to the stigmatizing and incorrect stereotyping of these dogs as “vicious.” Thank you for listening.
These bully breeds are sweeter than most of the smaller dog breeds, but no one pays any attention to their temperment. I own a pit bull that lives with 5 cats, one cat is always sleeping with her no matter what room they are in, they are inseparable. She loves children and all people, and it is sad when I see someone who is ignorant and believes the bad press about the breed, i.e., locking jaw (which is proven to be untrue) takes a wide path around her or picks up their poodle when they see us coming. Statistics say that labs bite more people than pit bulls. Please get to know one of these dogs before you condemn them to death
Yesterday evening while walking with my 3 young grandkids, a neighbor’s pitbull broke out of her yard and attacked our dog. Fortunately, another neighbor was able to pull the dog off, but not before scaring the daylights out of all of us. The owner came over and talked to us soon after, and she seemed to be very responsible. My concern is that no matter how responsible the owner, sometimes a dog does get out, and in this case, the consequences could have been a lot worse.
Meranda Godfrey says
I am writing because I am desperate to find someone, anyone who can help my son and I. He has a companion/service dog that has helped him through his cancer which he had twice and many other medical conditions. The city I live in wants me to get rid of his dog that he has had for almost 2 years. She has been by his side for a lot of his illness. She is the reason he is alive! Even though my son’s specialist wrote a letter to the city telling them she (Myah) is medically neccessary I went to court last night for it and was told I had 24 hours to “dispose” of her!!! She is incredibly sweet and compassionate. There is not an aggressive bone in her body! I don’t know where to go or who to turn to! If anyone has any suggestions please I would love to hear from you!
Christine Hibbard says
Did you appear in court with an attorney? We work with attorneys that specialize in “animal law”. You don’t say what city or state in which you reside but if you email us privately at email@example.com, we’ll try to help you find someone.
Meranda Godfrey says
I just emailed you! Thanks for your time!
Pets R Family says
We should never discriminate against breeds. That would be like people not liking each other because of color, gender, ect.. Even though their are people out their like that doesn’t mean they don’t have equal opportunity.
I’m going to add my 2 cents here. Just by labeling these dogs as “bad” or “dangerous”, you draw every f-tard that wants to intimidate people to get one and make it mean. I’m going to cite 3 scientific studies, that if taken together, completely explain this. Study #1 – done in 2012 by Queens University in Belfast shows that aggressive owners are drawn to breeds that they perceive as threatening to others. These owners are more aggressive than the general population. Study #2 – done in 2009 by the University of Pennsylvania shows that the owner’s personality and interaction with the dog are the single largest determining factor in whether a dog will bite or not. Confrontational, aggressive training methods produce confrontational, aggressive dogs.Study #3 – done in 2011 by Alliant International University shows that aggressive owners tend to interact aggressively with their dogs, resulting in aggressive dogs.
If you want your city to be safe from dog bites, don’t ban breeds. Ban in-DUH-viduals and their behavior. Support the Pog Platform and “common sense” for ALL breeds. Mandate microchipping with a registry – like cars but chip number instead of VIN. Mandate minimum kennel sizes. Mandate the maximum number of pets. Mandate spaying & neutering for all dogs and cats. You can always allow permits for exceptions. Mandate dog education for children. We demand fire safety training for children but children are 60 times more likely to be bitten by a dog than they are to be hurt by a fire. Mandate cross-reporting of domestic and animal abuse. Mandate training for city employees on how to spot abused and neglected animals.
If you want to ban things, I have a list you can ban. Ban chaining and tying up dogs. Ban cropping of ears and tails.. Stiffen up the penalties for animal abuse. Most places aren’t felony until the 4th or 5th offense. And animal abuse leads is nothing but a rehearsal for violence to humans. Just ask most serial killers.
A dog is like a small kid (with a big body in some breeds) and like a kid his good or bad behaviour depends on how his parents (or owners in this case) had raising him, so instead of ban breed why not ban bad owners? and btw… if we are going to talk about ”dangerous” breeds, the chihuahas are one of them, i mean in every single house that has one of these little dogs they bark to us, they show their teeths and in one case even attacked me, any of the ”commond dangerous” breed that i’ve meet never did some of those things….. so is dangerous behavior something inherent to breed? i don’t think so….. is dangerous behavior something inherent to irresponsable owners? yes, it is….so the problem isn’t the gun, is the person who fire it. sorry if i had any gramatical mistake, i’m still learning, regards from Colombia!!…..where there’s still a lot to learn about those called dangerous breeds.