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February 12, 2013

Can't Judge a Bull by the Cover, Page 3: Breed Bans are Bad Science

No scientific evidence shows that one type of dog is more likely to bite than another

All Animals magazine, March/April 2013

  • Dogs awaiting adoption play at Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. Brian George/BARCS

The idea that breed-specific policies will lead to fewer dog bites “is absolutely a fallacy—it’s just not going to happen,” Coleman says. There’s no scientific evidence that one kind of dog is more likely than another to bite or injure people, and breed bans in several cities have not reduced reports of dog bites, according to the National Canine Research Council, which funded the Maddie’s shelter study.

Breed-specific policies are similar to profiling people based on their color, height, or style of clothes, Brause says. “You’re looking at an animal, and by its looks you’re saying it’s going to bite you, and that’s not true. It’s just not a fact.”

One type of dog or another tends to be perceived as dangerous at any given time; Dobermans, rottweilers, and German shepherds have all gone through periods when they were seen as the ultimate “tough” dog, and that reputation heightened public fears. “Unfortunately, we’re in the decade of the pit bull,” Brause notes, “and it’s going to be another dog after this.”

Policymakers sometimes base their decisions on those perceptions rather than facts. Says Coleman: “The overwhelming majority of pit bull dogs—whatever it is you’re calling a pit bull—live companionably and unremarkably in just regular homes. … But yet we hear a story about a human-canine bond that has gone wrong, or somebody has been injured by the dog, and that becomes the loudest voice. That becomes the thing that we base law on, even though that is really an exception to what truly happens on an everyday basis.”

Can you tell a bull by his cover? Test your breed IQ »

In Maryland, a few dozen of an estimated 70,000 pit bull-type dogs have been responsible for reported bite cases, says Bernthal. “Breed-specific legislation dramatically impacts the 99.9 percent who have done absolutely nothing wrong.”

After the court decision, Maryland shelters experienced a smaller influx of surrendered animals than feared, Santelli says, but that may be because the ruling was temporarily put on hold when the court was asked to reconsider, and some landlords may not have realized the ruling’s implications for them. Brause says the number of calls and surrenders at her shelter slowed down as everyone waited to see what the legislature would do.
 
(Geronimo was adopted out to a new home, and Mazzetta’s landlord allowed him to retrieve his dogs after the court decided to exclude pit bull mixes from its ruling.)

But the injustice of the decision isn’t far from Brause’s mind.“Most of what we deal with are mixed, shorthair, stocky dogs—call them pit bulls if you want—and most of them are extremely friendly and loving. And we’ve placed thousands of them—thousands of them—into homes, wonderful homes, with children, with adults, with all different kinds of people,” she says. “… To turn around and say, ‘But they’re vicious,’ it makes me sad, and it shocks me. It’s like, how can you say that when we know otherwise?”

To read stories from pit bull owners and pledge to support Maryland families, go to humanesociety.org/protectmddogs.

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