Pit Bull is a term commonly used to describe several breeds of dog in the Molosser family that were historically used for dog fighting. The breeds most often placed in this category are the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
In the media the term is vague and may include other breeds with similar physical characteristics, such as the Perro de Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Alano Espanol, Japanese Tosa, Dogue de Bordeaux, Cordoba Fighting Dog, Bull Terrier, Antebellum Bulldog, Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, American Bulldog, Boxer, Valley Bulldog, Olde English Bulldogge, Renascence Bulldogge, and Banter Bulldogge. These breeds are rarely listed by name in breed-specific legislation, but they are sometimes included when the term is defined broadly and based on physical appearance.
Mastiff type dogs also have a long history in England; they are thought to have been brought by the Celts. It is also known that the Normans introduced the Alaunt. These dogs were used in battle and for guarding, but they also served utilitarian purposes, such as farm work. Specifically, these dogs accompanied farmers into the fields to assist with bringing bulls in for breeding, castration, or slaughter. The dogs, known generally as bulldogs, protected the farmer by subduing the bull if it attempted to gore him. Typically a dog would do this by biting the bull on the nose and holding on to the violently struggling bull despite injury. These traits permitted the development and rise of the bloody sports of bull-baiting and bear-baiting. In Elizabethan England, these spectacles were popular forms of entertainment, comparable to Shakespearean plays which often took place right next to the bearbaiting pits in Southwark. However, in 1835, bull-baiting and bear-baiting were abolished by Parliament as cruel, and the custom died out over the following years.
Dog fighting, which could be carried out under clandestine measures, blossomed. Since Bulldogs proved too ponderous and uninterested in dog fighting, the Bulldogs were crossed with English White and Black and Tan Terriers. They were also bred to be intelligent and level-headed during fights and remain non-aggressive toward their handlers. Part of the standard for organized dog-fighting required that the match referee who is unacquainted with the dog be able to enter the ring, pick up a dog while it was engaged in a fight, and get the respective owner to carry it out of the ring without being bitten. Dogs that bit the referee were culled.
As a result, Victorian fighting dogs (Staffordshire Bull Terriers and, though less commonly used as fighters, English Bull Terriers) generally had stable temperaments and were commonly kept in the home by the gambling men who owned them.
During the mid-1800s, immigration to the United States from Ireland and England brought an influx of these dogs to America, mainly to Boston, where they were bred to be larger and stockier, working as farm dogs in the West as much as fighting dogs in the cities. The resulting breed, also called the American Pit Bull Terrier, became known as an "all-American" dog. Pit Bull-type dogs became popular as family pets for citizens who were not involved in dog-fighting or farming. In the early 1900s they began to appear in films, one of the more famous examples being Pete the Pup from the Our Gang shorts (later known as The Little Rascals).
The Pit Bull is the only dog to have appeared on the cover of Life Magazine three times.
A comprehensive study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the pit bull breeds are the breed most often involved in fatal dog attacks in the U.S.A. Out of 238 dog bite deaths for which the breed was known from 1979 to 1998, 66 were caused by pit bull attacks (over 20%), more than any other breed.
"The problem with statistics appears to be that there is no consistency in where the figures are obtained, nor are there variables included in most studies. Some studies use AKC numbers, some use HSUS numbers and others use CDC&P numbers. Few include causes or contributing circumstances to the attacks, nor are the total numbers of dogs in a certain breed taken into consideration. There is no national recording system for non-fatal dog bites in the United States.
A 2008 study of 6,000 dog owners who were interviewed indicated that smaller breed dogs were more likely to be “genetically predisposed towards aggressive behaviour.” Pit bulls were rated as “average or below average for hostility towards strangers.” The study also indicated that bites from larger dogs were likely to be more damaging and reported more frequently, giving the impression that larger dogs are more aggressive.
|Ontario, Canada||Active||Province||August 29, 2005||Pit Bulls are not allowed to be imported into or brought through Ontario. Severe fines are in place for bringing new Pit Bulls into Ontario. Pit Bulls owned prior to August 29, 2005 are grandfathered in. All grandfathered Pit Bulls of over 36 weeks of age are required to be sterilized immediately. Grandfathered Pit Bulls must be muzzled and leashed on a leash of less than 1.8 metres while in public. Sale of non-grandfathered Pit Bulls to residents of Ontario is illegal.|
|Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada||Active||City||1990||Pit Bulls are not allowed to be in Winnipeg by law.|
|Australia||Active||Country||March 10, 2006||Legislation and implementation dates varies across the different states, but here is the start of a list of the legislation in the various states: New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania.|
|France||Active||Country||April 30, 1999||Ownership restricted; non-pure-breed animals resembling pit-bulls are to be surgically neutered|
|United Kingdom||Active||Country||August 12, 1991||Specific breeds and similar cross-breeds banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991|
|Denmark||Active||Country||Banned alongside the Tosa in 1991 along with any non-pure-bred dog where either of the races are among the parent or grandparent animals|
|New Zealand||Active||Country||Must be microchipped, muzzled in public, and cannot be publicly advertised for sale|
|The Netherlands||Cancelled||Country||1993||On June 9, 2008 Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Gerda Verburg announced the ban on Pitbulls will be canceled before the end of the year. The reason for this was that there was no reduction of biting incidents with dogs since Pit Bulls were banned. The ban was installed in 1993 after three biting incidents where three children were killed. New rules will no longer select on breed or Molosserlooks but require a behavior test for any large dog that shows signs of aggression|
|Serbia||Active||Most of the Country||200?||Pitbulls are banned and all other breeds must be muzzled and leashed in public and the owners must pay an annual fee for any injuries caused by these dogs.|
|Italy||Active||All Country||200?||Pitbulls and other breeds such as Rottweilers must be muzzled and leashed in public and the owners must pay an annual fee for any injuries caused by these dogs.|
|Sioux City, IA||Active||County||September 15, 2008||Pit bulls ban ordinance passed on September 15, 2008 http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2008/09/16/news/local/79377d0e6eca4c9f862574c600111a35.txt|
|Livingston County, Michigan||Active||County||May 20, 2008||All "bully breeds" (American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Pit Bulls, and American Bull Dogs)|
|Overland Park, Kansas||Active||City|
|Miami-Dade County, Florida||Active||County||1989||Section 5 Code 17: "It is illegal in Miami-Dade County to own any dog which substantially conforms to a Pit Bull breed dog, unless it was specially registered with Miami-Dade County prior to 1989. Acquisition or keeping of a Pit Bull dog: $500.00 fine and County Court action to force the removal of the animal from Miami-Dade County."|
|Council Bluffs, Iowa||Active||City||2004|
|Royal City, Washington||Active||City||January 12, 2007|
|Denver, Colorado||Active||City||9 May 2005||First banned in 1980s, but later revoked|
|Prince George's County, Maryland||Active||County||1996|
|Springfield, Missouri||Active||City||april 13, 2006|
|Oklahoma||Proposed||State||June 21, 2005|
|Shelbyville, Tennessee||Proposed||City||November 18, 2006|
|Aurora, Colorado||Proposed||City||September 27, 2005|
|Youngstown, Ohio||Active||City||January 10, 1999||due to the illegal dog fighting / see for OHIO http://www.pittiesplace.com/BSLinOhio.htm|
|Richland, Washington||Proposed||City||December 21, 2006|
|Tupelo, Mississippi||Proposed||City||September 28, 2006|
|Parker, Colorado||Proposed||City||January 17, 2006|
|Chicago, Illinois||Proposed||City||November 17, 2005|
|Garfield Heights, Ohio||Active||City||October 24, 2007||60 days in jail and or $1,000 fine if owner does not comply with city law.|
|Melvindale, Michigan||Active||City||April 4, 1990||$100.00 fine or 30 days in jail.|
|Union County, Kentucky||Active||County||January 1, 2008||It is illegal to breed "pit bulls" and anyone who owns a "pit bull" inside county lines must register it as a vicious animal with the county clerks office. Owners must also have them fixed. And if owners keep pets outdoors they have to be kept in a Kennel with a concrete floor and on a chain.|
A followup to the study published in 2000 by Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association suggested that "generic non–breed-specific, dangerous dog laws can be enacted that place primary responsibility for a dog’s behavior on the owner, regardless of the dog’s breed. In particular, targeting chronically irresponsible dog owners may be effective.
The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of Pit Bulls show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, 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 jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
A variant of the "locking jaw" story is told by Tom Skeldon, Lucas County (Ohio), dog warden, who said that an impounded Pit Bull that had been used in fighting started "going wild," biting at the walls of the kennel. He shot the dog with a tranquilizer, and then left it for five minutes to let it pass out. When he came back the dog had indeed passed out, but not before it had leaped up and clamped its jaws on a cable used to open the door of the kennel. "Everything else was relaxed, the dog was out cold, but its jaws wouldn't let go of that cable, and he was hanging in midair," said Skeldon. "Not even a jaguar will do that."
However, an incident reported by the Associated Press suggests that other breeds may also fail to relax their jaws when they become unconscious. An Albuquerque police officer was attacked, in October 2005, by a Belgian Malinois, a dog used for herding and police work, with no significant commonality with "Pit Bulls." The dog bit the officer on the arm. When the officer couldn't shake free, she shot the dog, killing it. Still, other officers had to come to her aid, and pry the dead dog's jaws off the officer's arm.
Some insurance companies have taken a compromise position, and will only insure Pit Bull owners if their dogs have achieved a Canine Good Citizen award.
Pit Bull Terriers are regulated in the United Kingdom under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, administered by the government agency DEFRA. It is illegal to own any of these dogs without a specific exemption from a court. Licensing is done by local governments, dogs must be muzzled and kept on a leash in public, they must be registered and insured, and receive microchip implants. In November 2002, The Princess Royal was fined £500 under the provisions of the Act.
The Canadian province of Ontario, on August 29, 2005 enacted a ban on Pit Bulls. It was the first province or state in North America to do so. The breeds listed in the ban can no longer be sold, bred, or imported and all Pit Bull owners must leash and muzzle their Pit Bulls in public. A 60 day grace period has been put in place to allow for owners to have their Pit Bulls spayed or neutered. Also it left a period to allow municipalities to adjust to the new law. Prior to the bill's passage, the Ontario government cited what it deemed the success of a Pit Bull bylaw passed by Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In Colorado Dog Fanciers, Inc. v. City and County of Denver, the Supreme Court of Colorado reviewed en banc claims that the 1989 "Pit Bulls prohibited" city ordinance was unconstitutional. The ordinance made it:
unlawful for any person to 'own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell within the City any Pit Bull.' § 8-55(a). The ordinance permitted an owner of a previously licensed Pit Bull to keep the dog only if the owner (1) annually renewed a 'Pit Bull license' (2) proved that the dog had been spayed or neutered and had been vaccinated against rabies, (3) kept the dog confined or securely leashed and muzzled, and (4) maintained $100,000 in liability insurance. § 8-55(d).
The ordinance defined a Pit Bull as:
Any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying a majority of physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.
The trial court held that the ordinance on its face was unconstitutional as a violation of due process rights because it placed the burden of proof on the dog owner that his animal was not a Pit Bull for purposes of the ordinance. Furthermore, the trial court severed the licensing requirement as lacking a rational basis. It judicially modified the ordinance and ordered a 120 day notice to affected owners to comply with the provisions of the modification. Both parties appealed the decision.
Petitioners opposed to the ordinance made several constitutional challenges:
The Supreme Court rejected each of these claims. It found that Pit Bull owners as a class were not constitutionally suspect when identified in a statute (as opposed to race, ethnicity, and natural origin). Furthermore, the ownership of an animal was not a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, but a liberty interest to be safeguarded. Consequently, the court required only a rational basis test for the constitutionality of the ordinance. It held that state police power held a "significant state interest" in public safety and welfare, and that regulation of dogs was a proper exercise of that power. The court adopted the trial court findings that, "Pit Bull attacks, unlike attacks by other dogs, occur more often, are more severe, and are more likely to result in fatalities. The trial court also found that Pit Bulls tend to be stronger than other dogs, often give no warning signals before attacking, and are less willing than other dogs to retreat from an attack, even when they are in considerable pain. However, the court did not cite any scientific sources for this legal conclusion.
The Supreme Court did affirm the lower court's ruling that the burden should fall to the state in proving whether an owner's dog was a "Pit Bull" for purposes of the ordinance. Given the case's federal citations for due process claims, this is particularly significant to those statutes of other states which place the burden on the owner in contrast to the Colorado ruling. Pit Bull owners facing prosecution who hold the burden of proof for their dog could challenge the statute on due process grounds under the reasoning in Colorado Dog Fanciers.
The Colorado case did not address expert findings that specific breeds should not be banned from municipalities. Other jurisdictions have deferred the weighing of scientific evidence to the legislature, but do not accept expert testimony to the contrary if the legislature has a "rational basis for public health and safety.
Subsequent to this ruling, a 2004 law passed by the Colorado General Assembly now prohibits breed specific laws. The city of Denver challenged the law on the basis of home rule wherein the city's charter could supersede state law if the issue was to be considered as "local" as opposed to that of a mixed concern, or statewide concern. The district court (not the Colorado Supreme Court) said that there was no new evidence to change its ruling on the Dog Fancier's Case and that it was a local issue. The court refused to allow evidence in which was given to the Colorado Legislature when they passed HB 04-1279 previously. Therefore, the Denver ordinance was reinstated. Over 260 "Pit Bull type" dogs have been seized from their homes and euthanised since this date, resulting in national protest by dog owners and animal rights lobbying groups. Since 1989, Denver authorities have confiscated and destroyed over 1100 Pit Bulls from city residents who have violated the ordinance. Dog owners continue to bring Pit Bulls into the city.
No such ban on other dogs deemed dangerous has been enacted.
Ohio became the first state jurisdiction to find its breed specific legislation unconstitutional on due process grounds. In Toledo v. Tellings (March 3 2006), a 2-1 decision, the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals struck down breed specific legislation that restricted Pit Bull ownership in Toledo, Ohio. The law had relied on a state definition of a vicious dog as one that has bitten or killed a human, has killed another dog, or "belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a Pit Bull dog." The court held that the legislation was void for violation of a Pit Bull owner's right to due process, because the owner could not appeal a designation of his pet as a vicious dog. For the majority, Judge William Skow wrote: "Since we conclude that there is no evidence that Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous or vicious, then the city ordinance limitation on ownership is also arbitrary, unreasonable, and discriminatory." The court found no rational basis for the law. The case went before the Ohio Supreme Court and a final determination was made that overruled the 6th District Appellate decision. Mr. Tellings has appealed the case to the SCOTUS (Dec, 2007) and is awaiting a decision on hearing.
The State of Virginia now has Anti-BSL laws prohibiting cities and counties from banning a dog of certain breed or cross breed.
The State of Florida, Statute 767.14 forbids local governments in Florida from enacting breed specific laws unless the law was in place before October 1 1990. Several communities, including Miami-Dade County, Florida had such laws in place before the law took effect and Pit Bull ownership is banned there.
In Vanater v. Village of S. Point, the Ohio federal district court held that the village criminal ordinance prohibiting the owning or harboring of pit bull terriers within the village limits was not overbroad & was rationally related to the village's duty to protect the safety of its citizens. Also, the court determined the village showed that pit bull terriers are uniquely dangerous & therefore, are proper subjects of the village's police power for the protection of the public's health & welfare. Pit Bulls also possess the quality of gameness, which is not a totally clear concept, but which can be described as the propensity to catch and maul an attacked victim unrelentingly until death occurs, or as the continuing tenacity and tendency to attack repeatedly for the purpose of killing. It is clear that the unquantifiable, unpredictable agressiveness and gameness of Pit Bulls make them uniquely dangerous. Pit Bulls have the following distinctive behavioral characteristics: a) grasping strength, b) climbing and hanging ability, c) weight pulling ability, d) a history of frenzy, which is the trait of unusual relentless ferocity or the extreme concentration on fighting and attacking, e) a history of catching, fighting, and killing instinct, f) the ability to be extremely destructive and aggressive, g) highly tolerant of pain, h) great biting strength, i) undying tenacity and courage and they are highly unpredictable. While these traits, tendencies or abilities are not unique to Pit Bulls exclusively, Pit Bulls will have these instincts and phenotypical characteristics; most siginficantly, such characteristics can be latent and may appear without warning or provocation. The breeding history of Pit Bulls makes it impossible to rule out a violent propensity for any one dog as gameness and aggressiveness can be hidden for years. Given the Pit Bull's genetical physical strengths and abilities, a Pit Bull always poses the possibility of danger; given the Pit Bull's breeding history as a fighting dog and the latency of its aggressiveness and gameness, the Pit Bull poses a danger distinct from other breeds of dogs which do not so uniformly share those traits. While Pit Bulls are not the only breed of dog which can be dangerous or vicious, it is reasonable to single out the breed to anticipate and avoid the dangerous aggressiveness which may be undetectable in a Pit Bull. http://www.animallaw.info/cases/caus717fsupp1236.htm
Pit Bulls are said to be popular with irresponsible owners, who see these dogs as a symbol of status or machismo. This type of owner may be less likely to socialize, train, or desex their pet. It is known that unneutered male dogs account for a disproportionate amount of all fatal dog attacks. Some say that many of those who do not believe in altering male dogs also believe that having and training an aggressive dog "goes with the territory," so to speak. Irresponsible ownership can have a great impact on how a breed is represented in attack statistics .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which maintains the United States' database on fatal wounds inflicted by dog bites, does not advocate breed-specific legislation, instead encouraging "Dangerous Dog" laws that focus on individual dogs of any breed that have exhibited aggressive behavior. The CDC study is also admittedly flawed due to a large number of dog breeds being unknown when the study was compiled. It bears mentioning that using newspaper reports as evidence is hardly the most valid data available.
Huntsville, Alabama police raided a dog-fighting arena on 28 February 2002 and seized 10 Pit Bulls. The city's attempt to legally euthanize four Pit Bull puppies, never trained to fight, was stopped by Madison County Circuit Court Judge Joe Battle, who ruled that the Pit Bull puppies were not dangerous by virtue of their genetics alone (AP Wire; 6 April 2002).
Huntsville appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which affirmed (City of Huntsville v. Sheila Tack et al., 1010459, S.C. Alabama; 30 August 2002) the Circuit Court opinion by a 6-2 vote; the written dissent addressed procedural matters of legal status of the parties, not the nature of the dogs. The puppies were adopted. Animal Rights group PETA sent the Judge a letter calling for the execution of all the pups. Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, officially advocates the euthanasia of pitbull dogs brought in to animal shelters, as well as a ban on their breeding. PETA's position on dog breeding in general is that it is an unnecessary practice, and is not limited to pitbulls.
American Airlines banned "Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and any mixed breeds containing one or more of those breeds" in August of 2002 following an incident involving an American Pit Bull Terrier puppy that escaped from luggage into the cargo hold of an airliner, causing damage to the cargo hold. The American Kennel Club lobbied the airline to lift the restriction, arguing that the incident was merely one of improper restraint, and could have involved any dog breed.
The restriction was lifted in May 2003 after a compromise was reached that requires portable dog carriers in the cargo hold to employ releasable cable ties on four corners of the door of the carrier.
Most people who own these breeds direct their dogs' plentiful energy toward nonviolent athletic tasks. Some people train their Pit Bulls for dog agility. Others involve their Pit Bulls in weight pulling competitions, obedience competitions or Schutzhund. The Pit Bull often excels at these sports.
Some work in hospitals and care facilities as certified therapy dogs, many are well-loved family pets, and some have even saved people's lives There are many instances of Pit Bulls being productively employed by U.S. Customs , as police K9s.
Pit Bulls have been reported in the news media as "adopting" other species of animals, such as kittens (fig. 1). This is one possible origin of the breed nickname "nanny dog". However, it is more widely accepted that the "nanny dog" nickname comes from Pit Bull-type dogs' innate love and tolerance of children.
A rescued Pit Bull called Popsicle is a United States Customs dog, and is famous for sniffing out one of the biggest cocaine busts in history.
In February, 2006, New Yorker magazine writer Malcolm Gladwell published an article surveying the research on Pit Bulls which concluded that legal attempts to ban the breed were both crude and unnecessary.
In February 2007 a Pit Bull named "Chief" rescued his family of humans from a spitting cobra by dashing in front of the attacking snake and taking the deadly bite himself. Chief subdued the snake but died of the venom 30 minutes later.
In April 2007, columnist John Canzano of The Oregonian newspaper wrote a favorable piece on Hollywood, the Pit Bull that formerly belonged to NBA player Qyntel Woods. Hollywood, renamed Stella, was adopted by a loving owner and reformed from a fighting dog to a lap dog.
Nearly fifty Pit Bulls were seized from Michael Vick's dogfighting operation in 2007. Of those dogs, one was euthanized because of aggression issues. About half were sent to Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah animal sanctuary, where they are receiving care and behavioral training. The others, which were behaviorally evaluated as being suitable candidates for adoption, went to various other groups. Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls (BAD RAP), transported thirteen of these dogs in an RV across the United States to Oakland, California, where they were placed in adoptive and foster homes. . BAD RAP detailed the timeline of the dogs progress, from initial evaluations to fostering and adoption, on its website. News reports of injuries and fatal attacks
News media stories of Pit Bull attacks involving disfiguring injury to humans and other animals, the latter very often also fatally, ranging in size from attacks on smaller nonpitbull dogs to horses can be found globally. The Pit Bulls involved were not always loose and off the owner's property, but sometimes were inside the home of the owner, who, or a family member or visitor, was the victim of the aggression. Fatal Pit Bull attacks to children and adults have been reported by the English-language news media in the United States and United Kingdom.
There have been numerous news media stories of pit bulls attacking animal control officers (fig. 2).
American actor Peter Strauss was attacked and bitten on his calf by a neighbor's pit bull mix as he worked in his orchard on his farm in Ojai, California on Sunday, March 23, 2008. The injury required multiple stitches. The dog was later euthanized by authorities with the owner's consent.
It is very common for dog attacks involving other breeds to be mistakenly labeled as 'Pit Bull attacks'. Often, the attacking dog is not a Pit Bull, but is mistakenly reported as such.
Negative perceptions about Pit Bulls are prevalent enough to be spoofed, as in The Onion's mock caption "Heroic Pit Bull Journeys 2,000 Miles to Attack Owner" (17 April 2002) and "Department Of Homeland Security Deputizes Real Mean Dog", a Rottweiler-Pit Bull-Doberman mix introduced to the press corps approvingly by Tom Ridge (May 21 2003).