Debate Center, 7/17

The American Pit Bull Terrier: Vicious Canine or Loveable Pet?

American Pit Bull Terriers commonly referred to as “Pit Bulls,” have enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the American public over the past 100 years. The popularity of the breed has swung widely from its earliest days of great popularity to its current status of being labeled in some jurisdictions as a “vicious breed” or “dangerous breed” which had triggered “Breed Specific Legislation” (BSL) that targets Pit Bulls with regulations or in some cases outright banning.

During the 19th century, “Game (dog)” gameness, speed, and agility of the terrier with the strength and athleticism of the bulldog.  The United Kennel Club was founded in 1898, and was the first registry to recognize the breed known as American Pit Bull Terriers. Over the next 40 years the breed became wildly popular appearing in movies and in television. During World War II the American Pit Bull was featured prominently on an iconic Army recruiting poster. For most Americans, this was a very popular and much beloved breed of dog.

The dark side of the breed’s history stemmed from the popularity of the Pit being used over the years as a fighting dog. Because of its reputation as a fierce fighter, an entire subculture developed in the States around fighting the breed for sport and money. The conviction of NFL star quarterback Michael Vick brought to light how widespread the cruel practice of dog fighting with Pit Bulls had become.

If not properly socialized as they are being raised, some experts believe that the breed presents an inherent danger to those people the dogs encounter. Because of this reputation of Pit Bulls for being aggressive, many states and communities have created Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) that targets Pit Bulls and either restricts them severely or completely bans them from some areas.  Usually the law states the dogs must be muzzled and on a very short 12-inch leash when out in public. BSL is very much alive in the United States and the American Pit Bull is the number one target for such laws. Expensive insurance is also required in many of the cities where BSL has been accepted. Sometimes it can be as high as $200,000 per dog. Hundreds of cities, towns, and states are implementing BSL.  Critics of the breed argue that there is good reason for the approach. In the three-year period from 2006 to 2008, pit bull-type dogs killed 52 Americans. That accounted for 59 percent of the 88 fatal dog attacks. Combined, pit bulls and Rottweilers accounted for 73 percent of these deaths. Those affected by these tragedies demanded action. |

Recently in Ohio, there was a successful drive to remove the “vicious” dog status from the American Pit Bull Terrier under a new Ohio law. The new legislation that took effect last Tuesday changes current law to now define a vicious dog as one that has seriously hurt or killed a person, or killed another dog.  The new measure removes the reference to pit bulls from the definition and requires evidence to prove pit bulls are actually vicious. Proponents of the change argued that BSL is nothing more than breed profiling and as of yet it has not worked to curb the amount of serious dog attacks it was put in place to stop.

Forum Question of the Week:

Is the action by the Ohio Legislature and Governor Kasich of removing the specific breed designation of “vicious dog” from the American Pit Bull Terrier a prudent and reasonable decision? 

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