Friday, May 21, 2010

Should Pit Bulls Be Pets?

In 2008, Livingston County banned the adoption of pit bulls from its animal shelter, but last month the county decided to lift that ban, so we decided to take a look at whether pit bulls are safe pets, and do they pose a danger to our kids and our communities? Steve Bell is as passionate about pit bulls as his pit bull is about Frisbee.
Steve Bell, pit bull owner: "They've got this stigma attached to them that I really think is unfair. I view them as a very intelligent dog, probably smarter than most."
Bell adopted Amber from the Ingham County Animal Shelter about 5 years ago, and on a recent trip back there his fiance says Gabby chose him.
Fiance': "She came right out to him and just kind of curled up in his lap and we took her home the next day."
Bell believes pit bulls get a bad rap because too many owners don't understand the breed.
Steve Bell: "If you give a pit bull structure and you give them a routine to their day, and you give them love, they are the most loyal, friendly dogs you've ever met."
That's why he and his fiance are pleased Livingston County just lifted it's ban on pit bull adoptions. In the past, any pit bull that came through the doors would be put to sleep.
Steve Bell: "I don't think it's fair, I don't think it's fair to just judge the animal based on its breed."
And County Commissioner Dennis Dolan agrees, he voted for the change that makes the pit bull a lucky one.
Steve Bell: "Any type of animal can be a mean or vicious animal>"
So while simply being a pit bull would have been enough to seal his fate just one month ago, the dog now has the opportunity to find a loving home.
Steve Bell: "People think that pit bulls are nasty dogs by nature, that it's in their genes, it's."
But Lawyer Mark Bernstein sees both the physical and emotional scars caused by pit bull attacks. He says it's not so simple.
Mark Bernstein, Sam Bernstein Law Firm: "There is a large body of evidence that says that pit bulls are a breed that is specifically bred to be aggressive, that history is founded in aggressive fighting behavior."
Steve Bell: "My dogs have never acted aggressive towards anyone or anything. I would not allow that."
But Bernstein says, for every pit bull owner who claims the family pet would never hurt anyone, there is a victim of a pit bull attack still trying to overcome the horror.
Mark Bernstein: "We see this in our firm every day, the result of these pit bulls mangling and savagely attacking children and grownups too."
The lawyer says, in changing its policy, Livingston County is making a huge mistake 
Mark Bernstein: "I think the people of Livingston County, especially the children who are the most vulnerable and who will be, not might be, but will be the most represented victims of this change in policy, they're gonna pay the price."
But Commissioner Dolan disagrees.
Dennis Dolan, Livingston County Commissioner: "This decision has not put the community in danger, because now the fact is that the policy governs all animals."
That means any individual dog deemed to be aggressive by a standard temperament test, will not be adopted out. Not everyone believes a temperament test is enough
Mark Bernstein: " A pit bull can go from placid to attacking in a split second."
The Ingham County Animal Shelter has been using the standard temperament test for years. They let us tag along as they tested a pit bull, Marigold.
Jamie McAloon Lampman, Dir., Ingham County Animal Shelter: "We put 'em in a vet hold so that were safe, we're not gonna get bit in the face and we really kinda put a big squeeze on 'em and see how they react."
The test, which checks for any sign of aggression, also checks to see what the dog does when you take its food away
Jamie McAloon Lampman: "This is what we want to see, she's easily moving her head away, the fingers of the hand are in her mouth and she just doesn't care."
Then, after allowing Marigold to show off for a moment, it's back inside where her fate lies in the paws of an unlikely friend. In order to pass the temperament test, a pit bull must be able to make friends with, or at least muster a tolerance for cats.
Jamie McAloon Lampman: "So she's play bowing, her front end is down her back end is up and that's good."
Ingham County Shelter Director Jamie McAloon Lampman understands passing the test doesn't mean the dog will never attack anyone.
Jamie McAloon Lampman: "Does it happen? Yes it does happen."
But she says it's a very good way to screen out aggressive dogs.
Jamie McAloon Lampman: "If they've got a prey drive, we will not adopt them out, we don't consider them safe for the community."
But Bernstein says prey drive or not, all pit bulls are dangerous.
Mark Bernstein: " They're less sensitive to pain, their attacks last much longer than another dog and there are very few indicators that they are going to attack."
He hopes that Livingston County and others like it will reconsider allowing these dogs in our neighborhoods.
Mark Bernstein: " There is no question that this puts children at risk in Livingston County, absolutely no question about it."
But in his backyard with his so called dangerous dogs, Bell doesn't buy it.
Steve Bell: "If they're not raised right, not so much, but that's with any breed, I've met Chihuahuas that are more vicious than my pit bulls"
Fiance': "You give these guys lots of love and they just respond to it. They pour out nothing but love back to you, that's all they seem to want."
That and sticks, and just maybe a fair shake. 


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