A reader writes:
I have been following this discussion thread with interest and the comparison to guns by this reader leads me to wonder if anyone has brought up the role that gangs/criminals play in the perpetuation of the “pit bull myth”. Gang members, felons and parolees will often use pit bulls as replacements for actual weapons. Many have police records, obviously, and if they are caught with a gun or knife they’ll have to do time. So instead, they get themselves a pit bull. For them, it’s an ideal replacement. Walking around with a pit goes a long way to intimidate folks – and it’s legal.
Your reader says that the debate about pit bulls mirrors that about guns, which may be true, but he also says:
Yes, people opposed to them may show a certain irrational fear about them. But that’s only because when something goes wrong, it goes catastrophically wrong, and people end up dead, severely injured, or disfigured.
I doubt he or she is aware exactly how irrational that fear of pitbulls is. There are few statistics on the number of non-fatal dog bites attributed to specific breeds, but there was a CDC report published in 2000 which showed that 238 people were killed by dogs in the United States from 1979 to 1998.
(It also showed that pit bulls were disproportionately responsible to the tune of 32%, but enough has been said about the reliability and cause of those statistics by your readers. Suffice to say many people think the CDC study is flawed.) Generally, the number of deaths caused by dogs – all dogs, mind you – each year is between 20 and 30.
Meanwhile, in 2010 alone there were 8,775 gun-related murders in the US and even more suicides involved guns. And yet while some cities ban pitbulls, the Supreme Court thinks restricting gun ownership is unconstitutional. Anywhere from 2 to 4 million dogs (a disproportionate number of them pitbull-type dogs) are killed by shelters around the country each year. Can we please get real about the pit bull “problem”?
One of your readers fact, they were highly symbolic. Many posters with them were made in the WWI era, before we joined the war and while people were getting nervous about it. These posters basically said that while this was not our fight, we could still totally win. Each nation was represented by a dog, and Team America was an American Pit Bull Terrier. It’s the American muscle dog.
I’ve enjoyed this thread, partly because my experience mirrors Bronwen Dickey’s. I thought pit bulls were mean and scary, met a couple of great ones, and then adopted one. When you go to the animal shelter, it seems like all pit bulls. We picked one, mostly at random, and she turned out to be a wonderful dog – affectionate, loyal, playful, and submissive. Because of our experience with her, we will probably always have a pit bull. Socializing is key, and it is important to us that ours be a good ambassador – the kind of pit bull that makes others rethink their ideas about the breed.
A note from Bronwen Dickey:
I’m pleased there is such a gap between the data and common perceptions that I kind of fell into a rabbit-hole and couldn’t get out. Emotionalism runs so high on these issues that few people challenge why they think what they think, and that’s even worse when the subject is a companion animal.
So when a few of your readers posted negative responses to my story, I decided to use that as an excuse to pool all the information I’ve come across on pit bulls and aggression, to the tune of a 6,000 word “treatise.” If you think anyone might be interested in that, you can direct them here.
(Photo of Dickey’s dog, Nola)