Pit bulls are animals to avoid, but not to ban
To pit bull, or not to pit bull, that is the question that consumes us today, rather than questions of war or peace, horrific price gouging by the oil companies, and whether to rebuild New Orleans or let the whole city remain as a present-day Atlantis. It would be easy to leave the whole discussion to the dog owners and scared parents, but the depth of feeling that these people are demonstrating on the issue suggests they are the last folk to have the final word, and that the community needs a more overarching and useful solution than pit bulls: love ’em or leave ’em.We categorize people, places, things and animals based on appearance, although most of us try hard not to. A passel of civil rights laws notwithstanding, anyone of a color other than a pasty pink in winter toasted to beige in summer knows that they are certainly going to be judged first based on skin rather than the character and personality traits of the individual. Tall folk, regardless of character or personality, routinely garner more respect than their short counterparts who, as the song tells us, have no reason to live.
Dogs suffer or benefit from class assumptions as well. Labs get the benefit of the doubt because we assume that all Labs are great dogs, friendly and loving, even though for every friendly and loving Lab, there’s one with a surly character lurking under that quiet demeanor. Small dogs are viewed with scorn by some as bait, no matter how friendly and loving the individual animal may be to its owner.The point, of course, is that not all Labs are good dogs, not all small dogs are expendable and not all pit bulls are bad dogs. Each animal has its own personality, regardless of breed. While some are genetically ill-disposed animals, some get that way because of the attitude of their owners, and the training or lack thereof the animals receive. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way, or at least no widely accepted way to decide if a dog has a good personality or a bad one. The folks who claim to be able to discern a dog’s thoughts by the laying on of hands are still more flim-flam artist than practitioners of an art or a skill.
And there’s no agreement anyway on what constitutes a “good” dog or a “bad” one. One of the most redeeming traits of a pit bull to its master is the dog’s protective nature and territoriality. To the rest of us, that same territoriality, coupled with the dog’s aggressive mug, makes a pit bull an animal to avoid. Community involvement in making those decisions is required, though, because the dog’s owner can’t make a fair evaluation. A good friend of mine has two Labs; the dogs are friends of mine and harmless as a summer breeze. I know that, but strangers don’t. Take the dogs for a hike, and they’ll charge strangers, barking loudly before accepting pets with hearty wags.But the community shouldn’t have to decide whether individual dogs are good dogs, or bad dogs, or whether all dogs go to heaven, or only certain breeds. The issue that the community can control is whether their owners assume full responsibility for the privilege of pet ownership. Few pit bull attacks involve animals on a leash, for example, and my friend’s Labs, while all bluster but no teeth, are allowed to temporarily terrorize the unsuspecting because they’re rarely on the leash.
Let people have whatever animals they choose, provided the law requires them to accept responsibility for the animals’ actions. The licensing requirements in most states for pets essentially stop at dog tags; they should be changed to include a full-blown declaration of love with responsibility for their pet. Of course, the non-dog owners are not exempt from responsibility. There are innumerable close calls involving small children in hot pursuit of a strange “doggie” with the parents unaware of the danger. A startling number of dog bites involve children, and not to downplay a parent’s concern for the safety of their child, dog owners can fairly wonder how many of their bites might have been avoided if the child had been given a healthy respect for the danger posed by a strange dog, any strange dog. So let pit bull owners keep their dogs, provided they accept in writing full responsibility for their actions. Training for the animals, coupled with training and responsibility by the owners, seems a better community response than to ban one breed of animal based on its appearance, and a partisan evaluation of whether it’s a good dog, or a bad dog.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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