Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The breed ban debate

Update: This post contains opinions I no longer support. But I'm keeping it here, because it represents what a lot of people think about when they think about pit bulls. It's common, and it's misguided. See responses to this post here and here

It doesn’t seem possible to write about owning dogs or working with dogs without at least mentioning the pit bull breed ban debate.  This issue has come to the forefront for many pit owners who have been evicted from their homes due to foreclosure and now find they cannot find apartments or rental homes that will allow them to keep their dogs. See this article in The Oregonian for more information on that topic. (I might also add that this article contains what seems a factual error:  If you have a service dog, it is against the law to discriminate against it in housing.  But this is another topic.)
Breed bans are hot topics.  People who own pit bulls love them beyond all reason, and will fight to block any legislation.  They claim, accurately, that it is difficult for the average person to know what is or is not a pit bull.  (I had people ask me if my Boston terrier was a miniature pit bull, for example.)  Legislation would also have to determine how much pit bull heritage is too much.  Is one parent too much? A grandparent?
However, as Merrit Clifton states in his excellent research paper, we are seeing rises in insurance rates for dog owners and bans in rentals because pit bull owners refuse to accept the simple fact that the margin of error in a bite by a pit bull is extremely low.  As he writes:  “If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but they will not be maimed for life or killed… If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed, and that has now created the off the chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.”
So I must say that, at this moment, I am supportive of increased regulation for pit bulls. I don't support an out-and-out breed ban that would call for death to all pit bulls. However, mandatory neutering for pet-only animals, extra licensing fees, monitoring of breeders, and mandatory obedience training all seem like reasonable steps.  Perhaps if the dogs were more expensive and heavily monitored, they wouldn’t be an impulse purchase and they would go into the hands of responsible owners.  Since they would take planning to acquire, and a commitment to own, perhaps fewer people would dump them in shelters as a result of lifestyle changes.  And perhaps if pit owners were committed to these changes, insurance companies and rental agencies could relax a bit and loosen some of the stringent rules they have imposed.