SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



Bully breeds
By Kelly Needham


August 25, 2006

I have read a few stories here about pit bulls and would like to offer some facts as a way of clearing up some common misconceptions about this type of dog compared to other dogs. Many people have strong thoughts, both positive and negative, about bully breeds. However, the vast majority of people have failed to do the research, and have uninformed opinions rather that facts to share with you.

The ancestors of modern pit bulls come from England. There, vermin were not only unpleasant, but threatened people by ruining crops and damaging property. Terriers destroyed vermin efficiently and were easy to care for.

At the same time, another type of working dog existed in England. These dogs were used in battle and for guarding, but also assisted farmers with bringing in bulls. The dogs, generally known as bulldogs, protected the farmer in the event the bull attempted to gore him. This was done by biting the bull on the nose and holding on until the bull submitted.

Because of this job, bulldogs were bred to have powerful, muscular bodies, high pain tolerances, and the resolve to complete its job, even when injured. This of course inspired bull and bear baiting, popular entertainment in England in the early 1800's. However, in 1835, these sports were abolished by Parliament as cruel. Thus, the sport of dog fighting blossomed.

Bulldogs proved too ponderous and disinterested in fighting, so they were crossed with English White, Black, and Tan Terriers. They were also bred to be highly intelligent, level-headed and non-aggressive towards humans. The result, Victorian fighting dogs, the most commonly known is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

During the mid 1800's, immigration brought an influx of these dogs to America, where they were bred to be larger and stockier, working as farm dogs as well as fighting dogs. The resulting breeds are the American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff), and the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT).

However, pit bulls are often not AmStaffs or APBTs, but part of a type of dog that encompasses several registered breeds and crossbreeds. Therefore, statistics for pit bulls are often lumping many breeds together and then comparing that to dogs counted as individual breeds. Also, breed identification is left up to victim/witness testimony. Breed determination is the subjective opinion of the observer. Without papers, a dog s breed cannot be proven, even through DNA. Few people are expert enough to determine breed. For instance, a veterinary license only certifies the individual is expert at diagnosing and treating illness, and performing surgery. This license alone does not certify anyone as knowledgeable in canine behavior, training, genetics, or breed differentiation. Therefore, an average person cannot correctly determine breed, especially under the stress of being a victim or witness. Most people often can't distinguish between an APBT and any other stocky, broad-faced, muscular dog. To further prove this point, please visit Here you will find 25 pictures of dogs, many which are often incorrectly identified. Take the test and see if you could determine which is an APBT, and which isn't. I have to tell you, I own a pit bull, and have been an advocate for many years, yet I guessed wrong....eleven times.

The CDC reports that of the 279 dog-attack fatalities in the USA between 1979 and 1996, 60 attacks were from dogs identified as pit bulls , followed by Rottweilers, who were responsible for 29 attacks. Although most agencies agree the majority of dog bites go unreported, you will find that the breeds at the top of the list for biting statistics are the most popular breeds at the time.

While pit bulls have caused more fatalities than any other breed in the US, the percentage of the population involved remains minuscule. There is no one breed or original breed purpose involved in biting incidents, as every single breed of dog has been guilty of biting incidents of one kind or another. Most dogs never attack, and of those that do, the overwhelming majority are from breeds that were NOT originally bred for fighting. Dogs that attack are not restricted by size either. It should never be implied that small dogs are not a danger. Small dogs simply aren t a significant danger to adults. Children, however, the most common dog-bite victim, are still at risk of serious injury from even the smallest of dogs.

In fact, no breed of dog has more than 0.1% of it s members involved in serious attacks. So as far as breed banning goes, it is absurd to punish the 99.9% of dogs who never attack. Breed bans assume every member of a breed poses an identical risk. Bans assume individuals are guilty, with no opportunity to prove innocence. Breed generalizations are equivalent to national generalizations, they rarely hold true at an individual level. Studies have shown that breed bans do not reduce the number or severity of dog bites.

There are many urban legends surrounding pit bulls, mostly based on the idea that they are somehow physiologically different from other breeds. Many people believe that pit bulls have a locking jaw mechanism, and the dog is incapable of letting go. It is indisputable that pit bulls have strong jaws for their size, however, Dr. I Brisbin of the University of Georgia states, the few studies conducted on the structure of the skulls, mandibles, and teeth of pit bulls show that their jaw structure is no different from that of any breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of 'locking mechanism' unique to the structure of the jaws and or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier .

Some people contend that pit bulls cause more fatalities when they do attack due to their strong jaws and tendency to remain clamped on when attacking. However, Dr. Brady Barr of National Geographic (Dangerous Encounters: Bite Force. 8/18/05) measured the bite forces of a German Shepard, Rottweiler, and APBT using a computerized bite sleeve. Of the dogs tested, the APBT generated the least amount of pressure.

Most people who own this breed direct their dog's energy towards nonviolent tasks. Some train them for dog agility, weight pulling and obedience competitions, or schutzhund. The pit bull often excels at these sports. Out of the 17 dogs who have earned UKC superdog status ( by gaining enough championship titles), 9 are pit bulls. Another little known fact is that the dog who has obtained the most titles of any breed ever, was and APBT named Bandog Dread, owned by Diane Jessup.

For as much negative information about this breed, there is also positive information. Some pit bulls work in hospitals as therapy dogs. Some are employed by US Customs as police K9's for finding drug smugglers and in various search and rescue organizations, and many are well-loved family pets.

Dogs are what we make of them. In it s simplicity, this statement sums up everything you need to know in order to understand why some people develop one model canine citizen after another, while other don t. Good dog owners use their knowledge to ensure the same level of conduct for their dogs as they might for their children. Just as a parent is responsible for the actions of their minor child, so too must owners be held responsible for the actions of their animals and pets. Take the Diane Whipple case. This was one of the first times the owner was held responsible for a dogs actions. Please note that the breed involved was the Perro de Presa Canario (canary dog), yet the brunt of the negative press targeted the pit bull, an all but unrelated breed.

I could fill another ten pages with my own opinions and stories about this misunderstood breed. I could tell of the months spent trying to find an apartment and being denied because of pit bull ownership, or that the reason I don't take my dog to "dog parks" isn't because I am afraid my dog would injure someone, but because pit bulls are especially susceptible to parvo. Or how my 73 lb killing machine regularly plays with a 3 lb Chihuahua, although I do believe, if given the chance, he would eat my iguana. But then, my uncle's 4 lb Yorkshire Terrier has eaten parts of my pet lizards before. But this letter isn t to tell of my personal experiences, it is to put some factual information in front of you and let you draw your own conclusions. I thank everyone who takes the time to do the research, even if they do not conclude the same things as I. Because ignorance is not always bliss.

Kelly Needham
Anchorage, AK - USA

About: "Born and raised in Ketchikan."



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