Many cities across the United States–most notably Denver, Colorado– have adopted breed-specific legislation targeting specific "dangerous" breeds of dog. Instead of banning breeds such as pitbulls (itself a vague term that actually describes several breeds of dog,) or making it nearly impossible to own them, cities should spend more money and resources on punishing irresponsible pet owners.
All across the United States and around the world, local and federal governments are passing laws targeting specific dog breeds. Of particular emphasis have been those dogs typically described as “pitbulls,” even though that term is notoriously loose, encompassing not just the American Pit Bull Terrier, but also the American Bull Dog, the Staffordshire Terrier, and even the English Bull Dog. This lack of specificity, manifest in the wording of many pieces of legislation, makes them ineffective in correcting the problem they are supposed to address. Even more importantly, they fail to address the root problems of dog-related attacks: irresponsible pet owners.
The fact that many people only have a vague notion of what a pitbull actually is makes breed-specific legislation an unfortunate example of canine racial profiling. For example, there are marked physical differences between the American Bull Dog and the American Pitbull Terrier, yet both are often labeled as “pitbull.” If there is not definite consensus among the populace–to say nothing of the policy-makers representing them–of what exactly a pitbull is, how can any law adequately defend against the allegedly large amount of attacks from such breeds? Obviously, something is missing here.
Even more importantly, breed specific legislation also ignores the fact that the way a dog is raised has a far greater impact upon their future behavior than breeding. German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, all have been subjected to the notion that their breed makes them intrinsically mean. As an owner of both an American Pitbull Terrier and a German Shepherd, I can personally attest to the fact that how a dog is raised matters more than its breed. If a dog, regardless of its breed, is treated cruelly, then it will respond in the only way that a dog knows how: by becoming violent and antisocial. It is therefore no surprise when pitbulls that have been tormented by the leaders of dogfighting rings eventually become cruel.
Clearly, the treatment of a dog by its owner is the real cause of dog violence; legislation, therefore, should focus more on the irresponsibility of pet owners than on the dogs themselves. Forcing dogs to be euthanized (as has happened in Denver,) punishes the dog for a problem that is not really of their making, while leaving the irresponsible pet owners escape unscathed. What’s more, it needlessly punishes responsible pet owners, who are forced to send their beloved pets to the executioner’s block. However, if legislation is instituted that punishes the pet owners who allow dogfighting to happen, then the number of dog-related attacks will significantly decrease.
However, simply addressing people who treat dogs cruelly is only part of the problem; (potential) pet owners must also be educated about the particulars of caring for breeds like pit bulls, which often have their own needs. Pitbulls are frequently very energetic, and as such they need to be stimulated and exercised frequently. Not doing so can leave them feeling restless, and when animals become restless sometimes they can be destructive. So, when people adopt pitbulls from animal shelters, it should be mandatory that they be educated about the proper way to raise and care for their new pets, therefore further decreasing the amount of dog violence that occurs.
Although breed-specific legislation as it has been implemented up until this point has been full of shortcomings, further development and revision can actually lead to substantially better results. Only when legislators and the public at large understand the true roots of dog violence can they learn to prevent it. Therefore, a great measure of cooperation between the public and legislators can create a more beneficial environment for everyone, in which dogs are responsibly cared for and respond in kind to their owners and to other people. Only this cooperation will ease the (supposedly) rising tide of dog violence and allow everyone to enjoy the pleasure of pitbulls.
Published in: Pets