Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bill to ban pit bulls in Michigan ignores larger threat of 'dangerous dogs' and their owners

By Darrell Dawsey, MLive

A state legislator from Grosse Pointe wants to make it illegal to own a pit bull in Michigan.
June 9, Michigan Messenger: HB 4714 would ban breeding of any of the three breeds, or mixed dogs that include those breeds, one year after the bill becomes law. Four years after the bill becomes law, no person will be able to own any of the dog breeds that have not been sterilized. And finally, 10 years after the the effective date of the law, no person will be allowed to have any dog of those breeds.

The legislation comes after a series of high profile situations in which pitbulls have been attacked people causing significant damage to the person.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe), would specifically ban the most common breeds of the dog, American pit bulls, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers.

In Metro Detroit we certainly have our dog problems, what with strays running loose and, in some cases, launching stunning attacks. One of Bledsoe's colleagues, state Sen. Bert Johnson, had to undergo hand surgery following a pit bull attack earlier this year. Among attacks last year, a four-day-old baby in Waterford Township was killed by a pit bull, and a pit bull attacked a pregnant woman in Westland.

Certainly dangerous animals need to be taken off the street, and irresponsible owners need to be punished more severely. Moreover, in Detroit, we've got to do something about these vicious strays. But banning a specific breed of dog doesn't really strike me as a real answer, but rather a political response steeped in sensationalism and hysteria.

True, pit bulls can be fearsome animals, but more often than not, heightened aggressiveness in the animals usually stems from how they've been bred and trained. Pit bulls are a popular breed, especially in big cities, favored by dog fighters, tough guys on the street and the posers who want to imitate them.

Unsurprisingly, these folks aren't the kindest or most watchful owners. Needless to say, this has led to plenty of tragedy: Consider, for example, this scumbag, whose own stepson was fatally mauled by Cane Corso dogs he'd trained (for no particular reason apparently) to kill.

But as the Messenger piece points out, pit bulls aren't even responsible for most of the dog bite deaths in the U.S. That would be Rottweilers, which, according to one study, were responsible for a full half of dog-bite fatalities between 1993 and 1996. Yet nobody wants to ban Rotts, at least not yet.

Also, despite the highly publicized attacks involving adults, most victims of fatal dog bites are children. And in many of these cases, the children were poorly supervised or even left alone with big dogs, a no-no in any basic parenting guide. In one case, back in 2000, a Pomeranian killed a six-week-old infant. Any breed of dog can be fatal to a defenseless child. Banning pit bulls alone does nothing to dispel the mistaken belief that any other big dog is OK to leave around a child unattended.

When I was growing up on the eastside of Detroit, I knew quite a few guys who owned big and powerful dogs, from Great Danes to Doberman Pinschers. (Pits were still decades from coming into vogue.) Whenever they'd come around, many of the kids would scatter, running to porches, climbing on top of cars, doing whatever to get out of the range of those teeth.

"He doesn't bite," the owners would say.

But the kids never bought that. "He got teeth, don't he?" the littlest ones would always reply.

In other words, breeds matter, but perhaps not much as much as some would have us believe when it comes to dog attacks. Dalmations, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Presa Canario—all are tough, smart, protective breeds that have been involved in fatal dog attacks and tend to be counted among so-called "dangerous dogs."

Why ban pit bulls but not them? They got teeth, don't they?

Pit bulls have become the face of fatal dog attacks for a reason, yes. But in singling out a breed of dog based on emotional outcry or pseudo-science, we shouldn't forget another very big reason why vicious dogs are such a problem around here: The people who own them.

Related articles:

  • Michigan bill aims to eventually ban pit bulls - WWMT 
  • State of Michigan Pit Bull Ban, Regulation and Prohibition Act - My Fox Detroit

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