For the second time in 6 months I have been the recipient of attacks from pit bulls or pit bull mixes. The first attack occurred in an Ocala public park and caused considerable pain and suffering to my terrier. The second occurred in my Ocala neighborhood while walking my two little poodles, both of whom are at the vet as this is written. In each case the attacking dogs overpowered their owners and without provocation attacked my pets. Other than scratches and bruises I was uninjured in either attack, but in order to forestall future such attacks, against pets and/or humans, I write this letter. We have several groups that play a role in canine welfare in our area, and these groups must work in a united front if we are to stop aggressive breeding. Let me outline some actions for each group.
PIT BULL APOLOGISTS Let me freely admit there are wonderful pit bulls in our community, sweet, loving, well trained, not posing a threat to anyone or anyone’s pet. The problem is your insistence that all pit bulls, mixes, etc. fall into this category. They do not. Because of dog breeding for aggression by humans, as opposed to dog breeding for improvement in the physical characteristics of the dog, we have numerous dogs with a penchant for uncontrolled violence. While such breeding is of course the fault of humans, the fact remains that many pits and mixes bring with them a genetic makeup that is predisposed for lethal violence against other dogs, other pets, and sometimes humans. Digging in your heels in blind denial will only exacerbate the problem and lead to the legal restrictions placed on pit bulls in many municipalities. In order to rectify this problem, you must admit first that a problem exists, then please join us in its solution.
SHELTERS I am unaware of the provenance of the dogs in the first attack, but the dog in the second was apparently recently fostered or adopted out of a local animal shelter. Let’s be honest. We know that pit bulls and pit mixes are often bred locally either for the express purpose of dog fighting, or to be as mean and vicious as possible. Such vile purposes can find their way into a dog’s genetic makeup leading to the breeding of an animal that is quite likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, often without warning. Continued breeding aligned with being raised in a hostile environment, nature and nurture, coalesce to produce animals that can become unmanageable in a moment’s notice. The point—our local shelters must recognize this as a distinct possibility among certain of the breeds they hope to adopt out. Before any adoption or fostering takes place, shelters must spend extra time and effort, documenting not only that the animal is sociable with people, but also with other dogs. Those efforts must be documented and presented to any would-be adopter before a final decision is made. More on adopters in a moment. If the efforts demonstrate a socialized animal with people and other pets, then by all means adopt out. But also let adopters know that they are accepting a large, powerful animal who must always be kept under constant control of the owner. If socialization cannot be demonstrated, then the shelter must only adopt out to a environment in which the dog will never come into contact with unknown people or animals, and the adopter must execute an agreement to make that happen.
BREEDERS Here I suggest voluntary cooperation in lieu of mandatory licensing and more ordinances or legal restrictions. More on that in a moment, too. We must stop breeding for behavioral conformation, i.e. aggression. The aggression genes are apparently very susceptible to inheritance, and we will end up, if we haven’t already reached that point, with large numbers of powerful dogs bred and trained only to inflict damage without cessation. This is not the definition of a companion animal; rather, this is the definition of human avarice and ignorance playing God for purely evil reasons. Kennel clubs, animal groups, animal societies, breeder clubs, vets, law enforcement, all of us must put pressure on unscrupulous breeders to stop breeding for aggressive behavior. This will help not only to lower the ever burgeoning population of unwanted dogs in shelters, but it will also help to reduce the number of vicious attacks perpetrated by those dogs.
OWNERS By all means adopt and rescue a dog from a shelter. However as mentioned above, if you choose to adopt a breed with a known history of aggression or fighting (such as pits, pit mixes, Staffordshires and the like) be certain that the shelter seeking to adopt out the dog can demonstrate that it is socialized and can get along with people and other animals. My experience has been that many such breeds are often very tame with their own people, but due to breeding and environment are deadly when they encounter another dog or unknown person, especially a toddler. When you are with your dog, be certain it is on a sturdy leash and collar at all times, and be especially certain, parents, that you don’t ask your child to be in charge of your 100 pound dog. Be accountable, be responsible.
GOVERNMENTS We must launch a concerted effort to wipe out dog breeding for aggression in our communities. This effort will require an education blitz of great length and breadth. We can start with our schools and, in keeping with the legally required mandate to teach humane education in the public schools, we can easily subsume the evils of breeding aggressive dogs under that mandate. We can have special websites and hot lines for reporting dog unscrupulous breeders, and our law enforcement personnel and excellent animal control staff can be augmented and empowered to speak at various groups and clubs to spread the word. Breeding for aggression must be stopped, as it is done not to improve the physical characteristics of the breed, but rather to make the poor dog a tool of human greed. Again, initially I hope that educational efforts and voluntary cooperation among breeders and the other groups previously mentioned will help eliminate this problem. If not, then government will need to enact ordinances outlawing breeding for aggression, equating such breeding with animal cruelty and prosecuting it accordingly as animal abuse. Indeed, to manipulate genes for this venal purpose is the greatest example of animal cruelty there is.
In sum, we have a problem with aggressive dogs, and we must deal with it directly. The time has come. We should be able to walk in our neighborhoods or in our public parks without fear of some 100 pound monster who, by dint of breeding and training, has been turned into a killing machine. Let us acknowledge this problem and work cooperatively to solve it. If we don’t, many more such attacks will occur leading to serious consequences for dogs and their owners. Even worse, these aggressive dogs will continue to end up in shelters with lengthy waits for adoption or euthanasia their ultimate fate. I know that there are many wonderful pit bulls and such who bring comfort to their families. Our job is to make certain that all such dogs fall into that category by stopping the cruel, thoughtless breeding for aggression that produces the contrary.