By Branwyne Finch
A guest writer for the DogsBite.org Blog.
On October 22nd, humane organizations across the country will celebrate "National Pit Bull Awareness Day". At the MSPCA in Massachusetts, the day is part of a month long campaign to promote pit bull ownership. The promotion campaign involves press releases and media interviews claiming "pit bull discrimination", special events featuring visits by successfully adopted pit bull "alumni", and a screening of the pro-pit bull documentary "Beyond the Myth". The organization will also offer free veterinary services which include a full physical exam, microchip, rabies and distemper vaccination and spay/neuter for currently owned pit bulls, all month long.
This aggressive PR campaign is explained on the organization's website:
"While the number of homeless dogs in Massachusetts continues to decline, the number of stray and surrendered Pit Bulls has remained high. The MSPCA’s four Adoption Centers take in more Pit Bulls than any other type of dog. One in every 4 dogs brought to the MSPCA is a Pit Bull or Pit Bull mix. Pit Bulls also tend to stay the longest at our adoption centers waiting for an adopter and a place to call home."
This, of course, is a bit of an understatement. Massachusetts' progressive approach to spay and neuter education has been so successful, we now have a shortage of homeless dogs. Many rescues and shelters are importing adoptable dogs and puppies from high kill southern shelters just to fill the demand. Some New England shelters are importing dogs from Puerto Rico, under the "Save a Sato" program. The problem of pet dog overpopulation has been successfully conquered in my home state, with one glaring exception. Pit bulls still flood open admissions shelters, are abandoned, or picked up as strays in huge numbers. At this writing, 57% of the dogs listed for adoption at the Boston MSPCA are pit bulls; at the Methuen shelter its 33%; in Cape Cod, 43%. And the situation seems to only get worse.
It stands to reason that although humane education works with the types of people who own other dogs breeds, it doesn't work with the types of people who continue to own and breed pit bulls. Pit bull owners are simply "different" from other dog breed owners; they are far more likely to be grossly irresponsible. Despite the prevalence of pit bull specific benefits and incentives like free spay and neuter, they continue to allow their pet dogs to have litters. But the "accidental litters" produced by irresponsible pet owners cannot explain the tidal wave of homeless pit bulls entering our shelter systems. The fact that money is being made breeding and selling pit bulls for dog fighting, to guard drug operations, and as thug fashion accessories, has not been addressed by humane organizations; perhaps because they realize that no amount of "education" is going to change this. Criminals, drug dealers, gang members, dog fighters, and losers looking to make a quick buck; those are the people breeding the pit bulls that end up dumped and abandoned to the shelter system. And the only way to stop them is with legislation -- mandatory spay/neuter pit bull laws.
MSPCA Statements Conflict with the Facts
The obvious and logical solution would be for humane organizations like the MSPCA to support breeder regulations that would make it difficult for dog fighters to continue abusing dogs, and reduce the wholesale euthanization of pit bulls which are neglected, abused and abandoned each year by the thousands. Amazingly, the MSPCA has chosen instead to try and create a consumer market for these dogs with an aggressive PR and marketing campaign designed to make these dogs more desirable. The argument offered by the MSPCA is that these dogs are victims of discrimination, NOT over breeding. In fact, according to the MSPCA, the temperament problems and breed specific traits pit bulls are known for, like gameness and a tendency toward dog aggression, don't exist. This statement conflicts with the facts. According to Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo, Boston Animal Control reports clearly show pit bulls are responsible for the highest number of attacks; both dog on dog and dog on human.
Yet the MSPCA, like other humane organizations, clings to the myth that the problems with pit bulls are the result of nurture, not nature. They insist that "owner education" will solve the pit bull crisis. What they can't admit is that the "irresponsible owners" don't want to be educated; in fact, the criminals and low lifes breeding pit bulls provide an endless supply of pit bulls to anyone with the cash. Keeping dogs out of the hands of irresponsible owners requires proper breed stewardship, and that is the primary job of breeders. Since pit bull breeders are criminally irresponsible, anyone, regardless of their ability to care for a dog, can acquire a pit bull. Boston CraigsList and Kijiji are filled with unvetted pit puppies being sold from high crime urban areas. Even more common are ads for pit bulls being dumped by young, illiterate owners who realized their impulse acquisition of a pit puppy wasn't a good idea for someone living in subsidized housing.
The assertion by humane groups that the pit bulls that flood their shelters are all wonderful family pets that will never show aggression if raised with love and "socialized", defies logic. Behavior in domestic dogs is greatly influenced by selective breeding, which means you get what you breed for, and often what you don't actively breed against. We can easily quantify the fact that the majority of people breeding pit bulls today are at best grossly irresponsible, at worst criminals and animal abusers with malicious intent. Many individuals breeding pit bulls are deliberately breeding dog aggressive and human aggressive dogs for dog fighting and to serve as guard dogs. Many more are breeding for traits like big heads, the color blue, etc., and are ignoring temperament altogether. None of these breeders have a goal of producing stable, friendly, biddable family dogs.
"Breed Discrimination" a Civil Rights Issue?
The MSPCA is caught in a conundrum; despite all their efforts at educating owners regarding responsible dog ownership, despite the easy availability of low cost and free spay/neuter programs, low cost training programs, owner support, and all kinds of pit bull specific benefits, these dogs keep making headlines with their attacks, and keep flooding the shelter system. And because they have aligned themselves politically with the dog breeder lobby, and officially oppose breed-specific laws (BSL), they cannot address the problem at the source. As more and more unwanted pit bulls fill the shelter, the MSPCA certainly cannot be honest with potential adopters about the typical traits of pit bull dogs. Educating potential owners about the fact that pit bulls can become dangerously dog aggressive as they get older, even with dogs they have lived with for years, or that pit bulls should never be taken to dog parks, would only serve to reduce adoptions. So they have decided to anthropomorphize the dogs and make this a civil rights issue. They won't blame pit bull owners and breeders for the abuse and abandonment of pit bulls; they blame potential adopters who don't want pit bulls.
Think you want a lab instead of a pit bull, because the breed is the right fit for your family and lifestyle? According to the MSPCA, you are a bigot! You are "discriminating" against pit bulls because of their "breed". Insurance companies denying coverage to pit bull owners because their actuarial data shows that pit bulls generate more claims are not managing risk, they are "discriminating unfairly." Landlords who won't rent to you because their insurance coverage won't cover a tenant with a pit bull are not protecting their investment. They are "discriminating" against the breed. In their tail-wags-the-dog argument, the flood of pit bulls at the shelter is NOT the fault of all the pit bull breeders pumping out litters; nor is it the fault of all the pit bull owners who are abandoning their dogs. It is the fault of everyone who doesn't adopt a pit bull dog.
MSPCA is Subsidizing Pit Bull Owners
The real tragedy for animals is the fact that pit bulls flooding the shelter system continue to drain resources that could be used to help other homeless animals. The MSPCA addresses this by diverting money into subsidizing pit bull owners with free veterinary services, like spay and neuter, shots, microchipping, etc. They spend money lobbying against BSL, and on PR campaigns to increase the popularity of pit bulls. They refuse to educate adopters regarding the real risks adult pit bulls can pose to other animals, and put domestic pets at risk by placing pit bulls with owners who are unprepared to deal with their dog's animal aggression. They do nothing to reduce the number of pit bulls that are euthanized by the thousands each year across the state. Even more tragic, this once fine organization has lost the respect and support of animal lovers and potential adopters, who find the organization's claims that a pit bull is no different than a Golden Retriever, ridiculous. Many suburban families feel that the MSPCA is not the best place to look for a dog, because they will "try to convince you to take a pit bull, and we don't want a pit bull." Others, like myself, no longer trust this organization's evaluation of ANY animal. And for good reason.
A week before "Pit Bull Awareness Day", Lowell police were called to a home after the family's two pit bulls got into a violent fight and attacked the husband when he tried to break it up. The husband received 11 stitches in his leg. The two dogs were brother and sister, a year and a half old; an age when many pit bulls begin to mature and develop a level of dog aggression they hadn't exhibited as puppies. Both dogs were adopted out by the MSPCA six months prior to this incident. The owners signed the dogs over to animal control to be euthanized, because the injuries they sustained in the fight were so severe, they could not afford the vet bills to treat them. The MSPCA's continuation of the Pit Bull PR campaign guarantees that everyone loses: the pit bulls, who are prisoners of their genetic code; the MSPCA, whose reputation and credibility is irredeemably tarnished; and the animals who could have benefited from the resources spent cleaning up the mess created by pit bull owners and breeders.
07/16/11: Pit Bulls Lead 'Bite' Counts Across U.S. Cities and Counties
10/28/09: In Massachusetts, Landlords May Be Liable When Tenant's Pit Bull Attacks
10/24/09: 2009 Pit Bull Awareness Day by YouTube Artist Zupf - DogsBite.org
10/25/08: On Pit Bull Awareness Day, DogsBite.org Releases Video of Attack Victims