Monday, July 16, 2012

My Thoughts On: Dog Breed Bans

Q:  What is the most common phrase uttered by a neighbor when they find out the guy who has lived next door to them turns out to be a serial killer? 

A:  "He was always so quiet and he kept to himself"

Q:  What is the most common phrase uttered by a dog owner after their dog ends up biting, mauling, injuring, or even killing someone? 

A:  "He was always so kind and gentle and great with children"

Sometimes things aren't always as they seem, and idiotic platitudes don't really change the facts.  Like it or not, some dogs are capable of doing much more damage than others. Temperament might have something to do with it, but when a small dog bites someone, chances are the damage can be addressed with a band-aid rather than a trip to the ER.  Due to the jaw structure and power of some larger breeds, they can easily result in massive injuries or even deaths.

Check the statistics surrounding dog bite fatalities, and you will soon find that Pit Bulls (and their associated mixes) as well as Rottweilers are responsible for a vast majority of the deaths. This isn't opinion, but rather it is supported by hard evidence, including several studies on the subject as well as government data.

Since numbers without context are meaningless, lets ask ourselves if we find it feasible that these same breeds make up the vast majority of dogs in the US? I think most people would agree that isn't the case... in fact per AKC registrations, where Labrador Retrievers are consistently the most popular dog, and Bull Terriers come in somewhere south of 50th most popular, these statistics SHOULD alarm everyone. What we should see is Labrador Retrievers being responsible for the most dog bites simply due to statistical averages. However that isn't the case, and when speaking of significant injuries and/or deaths the numbers are even further skewed.

The facts are that certain breeds of dogs have a higher propensity to maul, injure, and kill. We can blame this on humans for a lack of training, we can blame it on the breed, or we can blame it on specific dogs, but the facts are the facts. If you read the actual reports from many of these dog bite fatalities, you will find that in many cases the owners had never witnessed any hostility from the dogs in the past, and at one point the dog(s) just snapped. I dare say no matter how well trained they are, almost any dog can still revert to their instincts in some situations, and in some cases those instincts can result in significant injury.

When you boil it down and remove the emotion to simply look at the statistics and the facts, you soon realize that it is an indisputable fact that Pit Bulls and Rottweilers are dangerous when compared to other breeds. That isn't to say other dog breeds are never dangerous, or that other dog breeds aren't responsible for injuries or deaths, or that certain Pit Bulls and Rottweilers aren't the gentle and peaceful dogs that so many owners claim they are... it is just a fact that as a whole, these dogs are more dangerous.

It is like comparing a modern Volkswagen with 10 airbags, ABS, stability control, crumble zones, and active head restraints to a 1950s Volkswagen with no seat belts, no crumple zones, no airbags, and doors that were less than three inches thick. One of these is clearly more dangerous than the other, but it may never be obvious until it is too late.

Now I should note that I am not sure breed bans actually work, thus I'm not sure they are the answer.  Some people who are very much opposed to such breed bans are quick to point out that some people will go out of their way to get a dog that is banned because they think it makes them part of some secret club.  I imagine these types of people are also the type of people who like to carry around concealed, unregistered firearms and who do whatever they can to show others that they don't follow the commonly accepted rules that society has instilled upon itself.  

The reality is there is always going to be a certain type of person who is attracted to Pit Bull type dogs because they want to have that "wow" factor and they want to be seen as a rule breaker.  Just walk though the more "colorful" parts of any city and you are bound to see countless examples of how certain types of people attract certain types of pets.  Everyone knows areas like this - these are the areas where you find people with a tattoo to limb ratio above 3:1, and people standing around the street corners wearing their flat brimmed hats over their ears. When these people are out walking their dogs what breeds do you think are most common? I'll give you a hit... it isn't a Yorkie or a Chihuahua.

So yes some people might help contribute to certain breeds having a bad reputation, but when a dog is bred to do certain things, those traits can come to the surface even if they aren't desired, and characteristics that were bred into a dog over the course of hundreds of years don't just disappear in a few generations.  For many of these dogs, a certain aggressiveness is their nature, and I hope many of the same people telling us how sweet and innocent and kind their Pit Bulls are never have to experience an event that would make them change those opinions.

Perhaps we should simply mandate anyone who wants to have one of these dogs registered within city limits needs to be bonded for any potential damage it may cause. The size of the bond needs to be tied to the risk factor... which shouldn't be too hard to obtain since insurance companies already have a pretty good idea of which breeds are more likely to result in their claim payouts being higher (and oddly enough some insurance companies won't offer homeowners insurance to a person who owns a Pit Bull type dog). If someone is found to not have their dog licensed or bonded, then that dog needs to be confiscated from them and they need to be fined at a level which would prevent them from ever doing it again ($500 to $1000).

Finally, I'm not the type of suggest we euthanize any dog which has not shown aggression, but if and when a dog does bite or maul someone it should be put down no questions asked, and again the owner should be held responsible via fines (and likely a nice civil court case from the victim or victims).

Clearly there are other ways to address the concerns with certain dog breeds other than breed specific bans, since people find clever ways of getting around such bans in the first place.  The fact is, unless a city is going to perform DNA checks on dogs, it is difficult to prove that a dog is primarily a banned breed rather than a mix with only a small portion of that specific breed.  However, I dare say that as long as people remain ignorant to the facts surrounding dog bites and the breeds most involved, and as long as people continue to make claims about how these very same breeds are gentle and loving and would never harm a fly... well then we will continue to see articles in the paper and reports on television of people being maimed and even killed by these same breeds time and time again.

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