I believe that the best way to reduce the number of “pit bull” attacks is for responsible, educated people to adopt them in droves and make the pit bull the dog of the independent-minded, thinking dog owner. Change the association from “gangster dog” to “professor’s dog” or “doctor’s dog” or “lawyer’s dog” or “middle-aged lady’s dog” or “family dog” or all of those, show them for the wigglebutt snugglebugs they are (and use those nauseatingly sweet terms for them!) and they’ll start to lose their caché as tough fighting dogs. The vast majority are lovers, not fighters, and even those who have been fighters have been successfully rehabilitated, as the dogs formerly used by Michael Vick and now living in homes show. The overwhelming majority of pit bulls, like the overwhelming majority of all dogs, are thoroughly domesticated and suitable to live as pets with people.
The hysterical outcry against “pit bulls”–and the spurious reasoning used to justify it–echoes the racist ideas of eugenics: “Even in its day, many people saw that eugenics was a dubious discipline, riddled with inconsistencies. But…its conclusions told many people what they wanted to hear: that certain ‘racial stock’ was superior to others in such traits as intelligence, hard work, cleanliness, and so on.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dh23eu.html)
And, “The notion that crime, genetics and race might be linked has particularly inflamed both proponents and opponents of ‘genetic determinism.’ Because skin colour is a genetic trait, because crime statistics show that blacks are more likely to end up in jail than whites, and because an increasing number of researchers appear to believe in a genetic basis of crime and violence, some commentators have jumped to the conclusion that black people are more likely to be involved in crime because of their genes.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/do-your-genes-make-you-a-criminal-1572714.html)
Any time there is a fatal bite or attack by a dog labeled a pit bull, there are calls for breed restrictions. The willingness to pin the blame for violent behavior on genes, and to propose mandatory spay/neuter laws, mandatory “euthanasia,” or any other mandatory restriction or punishment based on breed, is worrying and should be opposed by reasonable people. While we’re talking about dogs, the same reasoning could be, and as shown above, has been, applied to people. It’s bad reasoning in either case.
KC Dog Blog posts an annual report on all dog-related human fatalities each year. See the 2012 report here: http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/dog-attack-fatalities-2012/ The most important point to remember, in my opinion:
“Because of the rarity of these extreme cases (36 out of 75 million owned dogs in this country), it is obvious that most dogs, regardless of breed, are not aggressive. Even if every single incident involved the same breed of dog, and it was an extremely rare breed, the majority of dogs of that breed would still have proven to be safe. Given the obvious fact that most dogs are not aggressive, it becomes even more important to look at the human-led circumstances that led up to, and caused, this particular dog to attack in this particular situation.”
It bears repeating: “Most dogs, regardless of breed, are not aggressive.” I have fostered, rescued, and owned pit bulls since 2004, almost ten years, and none has ever attacked a person. They don’t all like other dogs, just as dogs of any breed don’t necessarily like other animals (dog, cat, or other). I’m not saying that people-aggressive pit bulls don’t exist, but if they were truly born to be aggressive, I think I would have inadvertently rescued a people-aggressive dog by now.