It’s National Pit Bull Awareness Month, a time to discuss Pit Bull type dogs and break down the myths and misconceptions that exist about the breed. Often seen as dangerous and untrustworthy, these dogs are judged, overlooked and discriminated against. Today, I would like to dig into the breed specific legislation debate, past and present.
Pit Bulls and Pit Bull type dogs are often judged in our society, viewed as aggressive and untrustworthy.
However, there are many myths and misconceptions influencing this stigma.
To really understand where this came from and how it got started, we need to dig into the past and the history of breed discrimination.
The Pit Bull type dogs weren’t the first dogs to fall victim to this kind of judgement.
They are the most recent on a list of so-called ‘dangerous dogs’.
Understanding Breed Specific Legislation and Discrimination
Dog breed discrimination, or ‘breed bias’, goes beyond the views that society shares for a specific breed.
Myths and misconceptions are fueling decisions regarding ownership laws, insurance restrictions, muzzle restrictions and even the likelihood that a dog is going to be euthanized versus adopted in a shelter.
Breed Bias: The word bias describes a prejudice either for or against a specific issue. In terms of Breed Bias, this refers to the bias against certain dog breeds.
Breed Specific Legislation: As defined by the ASPCA, “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.”
Dog breeds that can often be found on ‘dangerous dog lists’ include:
- Pit Bull Terriers
- Staffordshire Terriers
- Cane Corsos
- Doberman Pinschers
- Great Danes
- German Shepherds
- Presa Canarios
- Chow Chows
- Siberian Huskies
- Alaskan Malamutes
Although, each insurance company or region will create their own list that may include some or all of the breeds listed here.
Most companies that support the use of breed bias in their decisions will point to dog bite statistics to support their choices.
However, these statistics (along with the corresponding media coverage) are often skewed.
Related: ‘12 Easy Ways to Save Money on Pet Food‘
Media Bias and Pit Bull Type Dogs
Many of the dogs identified as ‘Pit Bulls’ during a dog attack aren’t actually a Pit Bull type dog at all.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – People are so positive that a specific breed is responsible that they will see similarities in a dog’s appearance any time there is an incident…
Even if the dog’s breed is something different altogether!
As for the media, in our current society, an article titled ‘Pit Bull Attack’ is instantly going to drum up more attention and engagement than simply referring to a generic dog attack.
I’m not saying that they make up the fact it’s a Pit Bull type dog, but they are going to jump on that fact if anyone (even incorrectly) makes that claim.
If you believe that it is easy to identify a Pit Bull by their appearance, I encourage you to try the ‘Can YOU Spot the REAL American Pit Bull Terrier’ test by the Shaw Pit Bull Rescue.
As a result of this negative narrative specifically focused on these ‘dangerous breeds’, people develop a distrust or fear of the breed(s).
They may have no knowledge of the breed outside of the media, but that doesn’t help to alleviate any fears.
Instead, they buy into this negative coverage and allow it to cloud their views.
Is Breed Specific Legislation Effective?
There is NO conclusive data showing that breed specific legislation actually protects the communities in which it has been enforced.
However, it can have a negative impact on people living in that area and their pets.
It can even create a general public safety concern.
Responsible owners suffer judgement, housing complications and legal fees even if their dog has been properly trained and well-socialized.
They may be forced into debt or even to give up the dog that has become part of their family despite that dog never showing any sign of aggression.
The dogs themselves pay the ultimate price with thousands of otherwise adoptable dogs being euthanized in shelters.
As for the general public, putting the focus on breed specific legislation may actually hurt safety as a whole.
While resources are directed to regulate the ban on a specific breed (or breeds), the focus is taken away from more important safety concerns and regulations.
This includes the enforcement of leash laws, attention to the control of dogs in public spaces or even recognition of the potential risks of a dog showing signs of aggression due to the fact they are a ‘safe breed’.
Personal Experiences of Breed Bias in Action
Are you still doubting that breed bias can have a tangible impact on the way that dogs are treated, causing an unfair bias?
If you have been around Shed Happens for a while, you’ve likely had the opportunity to see my two dogs Indiana (a Flat-Coated Retriever mix) and Daviana (a German Shepherd mix).
I have noticed that when I take my dogs out in public, many people want to pet or see Indiana while Daviana is viewed with more hesitation.
The automatic assumption is that Indiana is safe.
After all, he ‘looks’ safe. Right?
The truth is that Indiana is a skittish rescue that can be fear reactive in certain situations.
Daviana, meanwhile, is a super people-friendly dog that adores attention, pets and, especially, children.
The general consensus as to which of our dogs is safe to approach in public by those who don’t know them is fueled solely by their appearance, and completely inaccurate.
While this is a very minor case of breed bias, it’s a good illustration of how our society is to make judgements based on the breed of a dog.
In some causes, unfortunately, this type of bias could have a much more serious ending.
Alternatives to Breed Specific Legislation
If breed specific legislation isn’t the answer, what options do we have to protect our communities?
The key is to shift our focus from ‘dangerous breeds’ to a more individualized approach.
I am not saying that I am against the creation and enforcement of dangerous dog laws, however, they need to be focused on individual dogs and their owners, targeting aggressive behaviour.
This includes the establishment of graduated penalties for dogs that are deemed dangerous due to their behaviour.
The owners need to be held responsible for the actions of their dogs directly.
There should also be a focus on prohibiting conditions that have been connected with aggressive behaviour.
This includes chaining and tethering dogs permanently outdoors regardless of weather or confinement in unreasonable or unsafe situations.
We also need to put an increased focus on the enforcement of laws pertaining to animal cruelty and animal fighting.
What Can I Do to Help End Breed Bias?
The biggest question that I get when discussing breed bias is what you, as an individual, can do to make a difference.
Start with the most important point – Educate yourself on the issues.
Do some research so that you can learn about the breed specific laws in your area, as well as any local companies that are using breed bias in their decision making.
Then, when you feel that you are well informed, use your voice – but do so carefully.
Avoid emotionally charged arguments or statements, sticking instead with the facts and polite, professional discussions.
Share your thoughts on social media, contact local officials, bring the topic to your local media partners and help spread the word.
Be persistent, change isn’t going to happen overnight.
Connecting with groups or organizations that share your views, allowing you to network and work together.
Are you familiar with breed specific legislation and the wider impact that it has? Have you ever been personally impacted by BSL? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.