Pit Bulls: A canine controversey

Alexis Croswell

A small crowd forms around a trifold poster covered with images of bully breed dogs. People evaluate the dog’s stocky bodies, square heads, and shiny coats. The contestants faces show uncertainty as they are about to make their decision on which dog is the Pit Bull. Is it the one with the bigger ears? The attentive tail? Or is it the biggest one with the shiny coat? Most of the time, contestants cannot spot the pit bull. As part of their loser’s compensation they are then rewarded with information on what makes a true pit.

A popular game at animal related fundraising events, “Can you spot the Pit Bull?” aims to raise awareness of breed discrimination and show just how difficult it can be to spot a pit. Usually, one topic of discussion that follows is about breed specific legislation (BSL). As defined by the American Humane Association, BSL is the banning or restriction of specific breeds of dogs considered “dangerous”, such as pit bull breeds, Rottweilers and German shepherds. Many states, counties and municipal governments see BSL as an answer to dog attacks. The problems with BSL are many, as the “Spot the Pit Bull” game so easily demonstrates. Identifying a specific breed becomes increasingly difficult when the characteristics of the animal can be applied to many, and when the majority of pets are a mix of breeds. Alternatives to BSL include education, enforcement of animal control laws, spaying and neutering, and better bite reporting. Additionally people who have had many positive interactions with pit bulls argue that humans have a tendency to blame the dog for its actions before looking at how human behavior plays a role in the situation.

Most people would agree that bit bulls have been given an undue amount of negative attention in the media. This has served to perpetuate the myths that bit bulls are born aggressive, attack humans, and are a menace to communities. The ASPCA reports that “animal control officers across the country say that when they alert the media to a dog attack, news outlets respond that they have no interest in reporting on the incident unless it involved a pit bull”. Additionally, many “pit bull” attacks are not necessarily true pits, as the label is applied to them simply if they are a stocky dog with an aggressive attack in their history. Sadly, violent images and stories in the news generally attract more attention than pleasant stories. In early March a shooting involving a Pit Bull in the Grand Rapids area sparked debate on whether or not the dog’s death was justified and if the images used to represent the dog in the media were fair. The case is still undergoing investigation and the controversy is still buzzing among residents.

The media portrayal of pit bulls is also supported by extensive dog fighting and breeding of pits for this purpose. Many animal protection and law enforcement agencies have been dedicating more resources to tackling this issue since it not only involves the abuse of many pit bulls, but also smaller dogs used for “baiting” and dog fighting’s connection to criminal activities. High profile cases like Michael Vick’s and those featured on docu-dramas like Animal Cops have brought more public attention to this organized and systematic abuse. Concerned citizens have risked their lives to make documentaries to expose this barbaric practice. One such documentary, “Off the Chain”, provides an in depth undercover look into dog fighting. Humane Society of Grand Valley (HSGV) will be screening this documentary with a panel discussion to follow on Thursday, March 21st from 5-730 pm at GVSU’s Kirkhof Room 2215.

We have the responsibility as animal advocates and friends of advocates to research the pit bull breed and rebuild society’s respect and understanding for these dogs. We must not forget the daily abuse that befalls a vast amount of these animals. Many of us are in the fortunate position to visit a West Michigan shelter and get to know pit bulls firsthand as well as meet the people who interact with them on a daily basis.

In celebration of Pit Bulls and to raise awareness of these issues, HSGV will be hosting its 3rd annual Pit Bowl benefit for Pound Buddies Animal Shelter and Adoption Center and HSUS’s Pets for Life Program. The benefit features a silent auction, raffle, 50/50 drawing and informational tables. Tickets are $20 and include 3 rounds of bowling, shoe rental, food and drinks. We hope to see you on April 6th from 1:30-5:30 at Lincoln Lanes.
Advance tickets can be purchased at http://www.showclix.com/event/PitBowl2013