American Pit Bull Terriers are subject to breed-specific legislation, ownership restrictions, insurance restrictions and outright bans in at least 7 countries of the world. These bans have stemmed from a number of attacks by pit bull-type dogs, many of which have resulted in fatalities. But many owners and lovers of the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) argue that bans on APBT's are unfair and that the breed makes an excellent companion animal and family pet. The controversy surrounding American Pit Bull Terriers has created two drastically divided camps.
The Argument For Pit Bull Bans
The argument for pit bull bans centers largely on safe being better than sorry. Studies and statistics from notable sources, including the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease control, estimate that over a 20 year period (1979-1998), 30-50% of all fatalities resulting from dog attacks involved pit bull-type dogs.
These studies noted that attacks by pit bulls often came seemingly without warning, and that attacks were just as likely against adults as children. This note is significant for those supporting bans because it diminishes the argument that attacks are the result of children aggravating the dogs, or that the dogs can be controlled by adults.
Further, the American Pit Bull Terrier comes into focus as potentially ban-worthy dogs because of their aggression toward other animals. Pit bulls are known to grow increasingly dog-aggressive as they reach sexual maturity. Aggression can appear at any time in an otherwise dog-friendly animal. Responsible APBT owners are quick to caution that these are not dogs that should be trusted or pushed into social situations. Because of their strength and tenacity, fights between pit bulls and other dogs often end in dog death.
The Argument Against Pit Bull Bans
Those arguing against pit bull bans-not all of whom are pit bull owners or lovers of the breed-argue that bans on the breed as a whole are unfair. Most, in fact, argue that any breed-specific legislation is unfair. Supporters argue that well-trained pit bulls with informed, responsible owners, bred by responsible breeders, make excellent pets whose loyalty and devotion is unparalleled. The dogs are known to be very intelligent, useful working dogs in many capacities.
People speaking out against the banning of American Pit Bull Terriers place the responsibility for dog attacks on irresponsible owners and negligent breeders. Pit bulls have been bred for a number of illegal purposes such as dog fighting and protection of illegal drug supplies. For these purposes, dogs have been selected and bred for their negative temperament characteristics; that coupled with indifferent breeders breeding high numbers of puppies to turn a profit has resulted in breed instability. This instability is largely what is left too much in question for ban supporters. Breed-supporters argue that vicious dogs should be destroyed, and that if only good dogs were bred, the breed would become more reliable.
Opposers also argue that the statistics cited are flawed; publishing bodies agree, and caution that a number of factors, such as true breed determination and responsible ownership, are virtually impossible to prove definitively, so that even though these dogs are involved in a high number of fatal attacks, the information may not be applicable as a basis for breed restriction. In fact, the USCDC does not even identify dog breed in attack data anymore.
In addition, there is much confusion regarding the identification of pit bulls. Even control officers and authorities cannot always accurately identify pit bulls, and so some dogs that bear no relation to the breed unfairly fall victim to bans of APBT's.
The Middle Ground
Opposers of Pit Bull bans do not support the proliferation of vicious animals. They do support the proliferation of proven, friendly pit bulls. They argue that the real solution is to place bans on dangerous dogs of any type.
The American Veterinary Association has taken the position that more generic bans on dangerous dogs of any type would be more effective; they support holding dog owners responsible for animal behavior, and thereby remove all dangerous dogs and stabilize breeds. They state that if chronically incompetent and irresponsible dog owners are the target of legislation, the number of poorly bred and reared dogs would decrease, resulting in better breed stability and elimination of vicious animals.
Most opposers of pit bull bans are happy to accept this middle ground. As they move forward, pit bull supporters continue to argue that they are not in favor of attempting to rehabilitate aggressive dogs, and that they only want the breed to be given a 'fair shake'. As pit bull bans continue to evolve, more emphasis is being placed on responsible dog ownership rather than on targeting dogs that have otherwise not shown to be a problem.