Debate Forum Topic, 7/12/11

A Pit Bull A Pit Bull

Ohio House votes to remove breed identification from controversial Vicious Dog Law

A Pit Bull

A Pit Bull

On June 28, the Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 14, eliminating the statewide designation of Pit Bulls as vicious animals in favor of punishing aggressive or dangerous dogs “by deed, not breed.” Since 1987, Ohio has had comprehensive legislation regarding vicious or violent dogs. Dogs can be labeled “dangerous” or “vicious” by the state of Ohio due to menacing behavior or unprovoked attacks, and thereby be subject to stringent controls or euthanasia. According to the Chapter 955.11 of the Ohio State Revised Code,

(4)(a) “Vicious dog” means a dog that, without provocation and subject to division (A)(4)(b) of this section, meets any of the following:

(i) Has killed or caused serious injury to any person;

(ii) Has caused injury, other than killing or serious injury, to any person, or has killed another dog.

(iii) Belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a Pit Bull dog. The ownership, keeping, or harboring of such a breed of dog shall be prima-facie evidence of the ownership, keeping, or harboring of a vicious dog.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is the only breed singled out as being inherently vicious and the only breed specifically mentioned in Chapter 955.

The controversy surrounding private ownership of snub-nosed fighting dogs and large home defense breeds stirs up intense emotions on both sides of the aisle. Proponents of banning animals which have been specifically bred for traits such as muscular, vise-like jaws and overt aggressiveness argue that these dogs are an inherent danger to society.

Opponents of such legislation take the equally polarized viewpoint that the blame for violent behavior can be largely attributed to improper or vicious training.

Of all the breeds which evoke images of frothy snarling teeth — Rottweiler, Bull Mastiff, Akita ­— there is one dog which consistently finds its name at the top of the list: the Pit Bull.

The title alone gives away the purpose of the breeding. Pit Bulls were originally bred to maximize the fighting abilities of a Bulldog (animals whose comic physiology was, oddly enough, designed for fighting bulls). Stocky legs allowed the dogs to jump high enough so their powerful underbite could crush a bull’s throat, and the wrinkly forehead served to channel blood away from their nose and eyes) and they had the energy and stamina of a terrier. The result was a highly successful bull-baiting breed with incredible stamina and powerful bite strength.

As dog fighting gained popularity, the natural physical advantages of the “Bull Dog” led it to become a champion in the dog pit. Hence, “Pit” was added to the name. Despite this designation, Pit Bulls were commonly depicted as companion dogs in film and television for children, such as the iconic ring-eyed Pete the Pup from Our Gang. However, as dog attacks began to become better understood in terms of breed, serious issues surrounding private ownership of Pit Bulls began to come to public attention.

From 1982 to 2007, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton compiled a list of reported dog attacks in Canada and the U.S. by breed. This list was by no means considered comprehensive, as it did not include any cases which were not reported to authorities, actions by guard dogs and police dogs, or any cases in which a specific breed type could not be identified. A trend against Pit Bulls immediately became clear. Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes were cited well over a thousand times for attacks on both adults and children, with the next most frequent breed, the Rottweiler, being cited fewer than 500. The average statistics for dogs generally considered menacing, such as Akitas and Mastiffs, ranged around 30.

Another statistical divergence noted with Pit Bulls is that they appear as likely to attack adults as children, possibly indicating that their behavior is more instinctive than circumstantial.

Whether the Pit Bull is a born menace, a tragic victim of its upbringing, or somewhere in between, the wisdom of House Bill 14 will remain to be seen. Certainly, the depth and vitality of the argument is rooted in the reality that the dog is our most human animal companion. He is man’s best friend, a member of our family and our most timeless symbol of faithful companionship. Since domestication 15,000 years ago, we have bred dogs for both work and pleasure, and virtually every dog is a blend of these traits. Within every furry friend there is some lesser or greater degree of the wolf or wild dog from which they came and an almost infinite number of temperamental interjections on the part of the humans who own them. Ultimately, what makes a dog so human is that it is essentially a reflection of ourselves, with all our strengths and frailties. When we ask whether a breed of dog should be treated as inherently flawed, perhaps we are really asking where the dog ends and its humanity begins.

Forum Center Question:

Were Ohio lawmakers correct in passing a measure to the current Vicious Dog Law, nixing breed identification? Or is the breed identification (specifically Pit Bulls) necessary to keep citizens safe?

5 Responses to “Debate Forum Topic, 7/12/11” Subscribe