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Friday, March 5, 2010

Ban Pit Bulls from City Neighborhoods

The recent death of Fishtown (Philadelphia) resident Christine Staab, caused when a six-year old family pet, Jade, a pit bull, attacked her during a family argument, confirmed for me that pit bulls are dangerous and have no place in the home. Although the “value” of the pit bull is defended by many in our doggy-centric world, the death of Staab convinces me that all urban pit bull owners, if a city-wide ban is ever enacted, should be required to purchase special insurance against attacks on strangers or other dogs.

Pit bull bans are now cropping up all around the country. From Massachusetts to California, towns and municipalities are weighing options to ban pit bulls and other vicious dogs from being sold or bred. Recently, Pit bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers were banned in New York City housing projects. The sponsor of the bill, Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens), said, “Finally someone is realizing that potentially dangerous animals have no place in a confined urban space.”

New York City animal rights activists are up in arms about the ban. Pit bulls, they say, are just like any other dog. If a pit bull is raised in a peaceful environment, it will be kind and gentle. If a pit bull turns into a killer, blame the owner.
But judging from the number of pit bull attacks reported nationwide, it would seem that most people who have pit bulls do not raise them in a peaceful environment. In New York City and in some parts of Philadelphia, for instance, it’s not uncommon to see thug types parading their pit bulls around in large spike collars. The obvious message here seems to be: “My dogs are my muscle. We are both bullies. Beware!”

Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell, writes in her book, Domestic Animal Behavior, “Different breeds have genetic predispositions to certain kinds of behavior, though that can be influenced by how they are raised. The pit bull is an innately aggressive breed, often raised by someone who wants an aggressive dog, so they’re going to encourage it.”

In other words, overly aggressive people tend to love overly aggressive dogs. In my book, that’s a recipe for a fight.

The pit bull is descended from the old English bulldogge, a staple in early 19th century dog fights. The Victorians put an end to bloody bull fights in the 1830s, but breeders went on to engineer a cross between the bulldogge and one of the powerful terriers of the day. This produced a smaller dog, an ideal candidate for organized dog fights both in the United States and England. The new breeds, called the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (England), have very high pain thresholds. It has also been noted that these dogs can withstand longer and harder fights than almost any other dog.

“Pit bulls are junkies,” says the science writer for [England’s] The Economist. “Most dogs beaten in a fight will submit the next time they see the victor. Not a defeated pit bull, who will tear into his onetime opponent. The dogs may be junkies, seeking pain so they can get the endorphin buzz they crave.”

A pit bull, after all, doesn’t bark or growl before it attacks. It just springs into action. In yet another schizophrenic twist, the pit bull can be marvelously playful one moment (kiss! kiss!) and then, for no apparent reason, pounce and kill.

The Staab household, according to news reports, had a total of 6 pit bulls. While just having one pit bull would be an issue for most people, owning six pit bulls, to me, definitely threatens a neighborhood’s quality of life.

Owning six pit bulls should be against the law. Owning one pit bull in the city should be as hard to do as owning a donkey or an orangutan.

What was most shocking to me after Staab’s death were news reports of the incident in which different reporters came to the defense of pit bulls, as if trying to ward off potential criticism from animal rights activists, or “be nice” to diehard pit bull lovers. Once again, readers were subject to the myths and lies about pit bulls: that they are cute dogs if raised properly, and that they are just the same as any other dog.

Wrong-- they are about as much like any other dog as I am like the moon.

Thom Nickels

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