So a Maryland court of appeals has declared that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. You can find the full decision here, but the key element is this:
“When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.”
Here’s the problem: there isn’t actually a single breed of dog called pit bulls. There are Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Pit Bull Terriers, and many other breeds that often get generally grouped under the “pit bull” moniker. The weight ranges for dogs called “pit bulls” is from 40 to 150 pounds – far exceeding any normal weight range for a breed standard. It’s also interesting to note that before 1990, almost no one had ever heard of “pit bulls.”
So what’s happened is that any dog with a wide, flat skull can be declared a pit bull or pit bull mix, and when a bite attack happens with that breed moniker the dog is vilified in the press which of course likely contributed to the courts decision. Therefore, this Maryland law potentially affects all dog owners, because anyone can claim a dog is part pit bull – and suddenly the legal situation changes from that with any other dog breed. Also? The owners of dogs that AREN’T pit bull type dogs that cause injury and damage will not be held to the same liability standard.
According to the statistics kept by the American Humane Association, there IS actually a specific kind of dog to blame for about 95% of all dog bites – and it has NOTHING to do with breed.
It’s an unneutered male dog.
Yes, unfixed male dogs are responsible for nearly ALL the dog bites that occur in the US. Sadly, no one has stepped forward to require that all male dogs be neutered. Mores the pity.
The common wisdom about pit bull type breeds is that they are responsible for a third of all bites comes from an oft-sited study done in 2000 by the CDC. However, even in that report you can find the following quote cautioning using their data for breed specific legislation (emphasis is mine):
Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog’s breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues. Fatal attacks representa small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites.
The Humane Society of the United States will work with Maryland dog advocates and members of the legislature to develop rational, science-based dangerous dog policies for the state after the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a decision fundamentally changing longstanding liability rules relating to pit bull and mixed pit bull dogs.
Personally, as both the owner of “pit bulls” and a former veterinary technician, I’ll say this: my dogs have been amazing, even with my daughter, even though both have come to me as adults with a clear history of some sort of abuse (and, of course, none of my dogs have ever been left alone with my daughter because that is a bad idea all around). In eight years of working as a veterinarian in downtown Philadelphia, I saw hundreds of pit bull type dogs come through our offices. Even the ones that were being clearly groomed for ill (sadly, I did see those at one practice) showed zero human agression, even when that human was armed with a needle. I was, however, threatened by cocker spaniels, pomeranians, poodles, yellow labs, and even a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
The most damage, though, done to the staff of most vet hospitals? Caused by cats.
I pray for a time when cooler heads will prevail when it comes to dogs called pit bulls. After all, just because your dog isn’t a pit mix of some kind doesn’t mean your baby is safe alone with it. What we need is better education about responsible pet ownership, laws about breeding and neutering, and just being SMARTER.
Because it really isn’t about pit bulls. It’s about idiots.
This post was mildly edited from its initial version in response to valid points brought up in comments.