Why do we let people breed “bully” dogs, let alone sell them?
by Lee Hall
The orientation for new U.S. mail carriers includes a half-day of video clips showing guard dogs charging professional dog trainers. The carrier learns: When taken on by an aggressive dog—and as a mail carrier you will be, probably soon and probably often—stand and face the dog with your lower torso covered by your satchel, and keep the dog’s teeth on the soft object until the owner arrives to stop the incident. I’ve seen a mail carrier do just that. It worked. But the carrier had approached the house by way of a stone walkway covered by black ice, and the dog’s impact sent the carrier back-diving faster than Madonna in a tight cape.
One day I was delivering mail alone in the suburbs when two large Rottweilers appeared; one stayed beside the house while the other roamed over the adjacent property. The dogs were between me and half the street segment I had to cover. My bag full of letters and parcels could hardly be positioned as protection against two massive dogs. Nor could I just avoid one property and work around it.
I am an animal-rights advocate. I also take human rights seriously. And the existence of guard dogs has never done much for either platform. Not that any dog should be condemned to death because people force them into this existence. The dogs aren’t culpable. But it’s time for activists to stop repeating “Don’t Bully My Breed,” and start developing a campaign platform to stop the breeding. If we can stop breeders, wherever they are, from rubbing two pit bulls together, let’s do it. Dog rescue groups and animal advocates should adopt that platform and become leaders in community efforts to ban dangerous dog breeding.
Attachment does not justify selective breeding
Some might object that we ought to challenge the breeding of all dogs if we’re going to challenge the breeding of certain kinds. Fair enough. If animal rights means anything, it means ending our exploitation of other animals, and championing their interests in living on their terms and not ours. If we apply this to wildcats and wolves, we cannot accept the breeding of these animals into a vulnerable state as pets. Nor does calling them companion animals or pretending that they are members of human families redeem the injustice. Our deeply personal connections with cats and dogs are real, of course; but they don’t justify selective breeding. The most thoughtful love for an individual cat or dog would, on the contrary, bring us to confront the injustice done to animals through humanity’s penchant for such manipulation.
That said, dog breeds enter the stream of commerce one by one, like new car models. In 2015, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden introduced the new Coton de Tulears and the Wirehaired Vizslas. We should work to stop this commercial circus. Moreover, if dog breeds are introduced one by one, then phasing out breeds might well be accomplished in the same manner: breed-specific. It’s hardly absurd to suggest that the starting point involve animals subject to physical extremes or unremitting abuse, including pit bulls, bulldogs, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, wolf hybrids…
What is absurd?
What is absurd? Likening breed-specific policies to racial profiling, or to a “violation of our rights as stated in the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution”—as more than 30,000 people recently claimed in an online petition to the White House. White House reps answered: they don’t support breed-specific laws, which are [in the view of the spokespersons] ineffective; instead, “a community-based approach to prevent dog bites” is “a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners.” No wonder pitbull-breeding enterprises like MGXL Pits of Connecticut, Big Gemini Pitbulls of Los Angeles, and Bossy Kennels (“We ship internationally”) are still in business.
Several million people are bitten by dogs each year. Most are elderly or young children. And then there are the thousands of injured mail carriers. The postal service training videos explain that a guard dog’s urge to get at the worker who shows up daily will often build up over time, until one day the dog finally breaks through a screen or fence to tackle the carrier. Neither the carrier nor the dog is responsible for what happens then, but the dog might well be slated for a one-way trip to the animal-control office, while the worker deals with the physical, mental, and professional setbacks connected with the injury. Logic and decency call on us to stop forcing animals to be guards or fighters, and to stop the danger they present to people.
Meanwhile, industry groups such as the American Pit Bull Foundation are out to vaunt the public image of these dogs, and “promote responsible breed ownership through providing owner and public education.” Why should animal advocates defend the existence of “bully breeds” and thereby buttress the industry’s deadly position? And make no mistake; it is deadly. Including to the dogs themselves. Members of the “bully breeds” make up the clear majority of dogs confiscated from crime scenes; they often get shot during the busts. About every 30 seconds, a pit bull dies in a pound. It’s unwise, insensitive, and incorrect for animal-rights advocates to argue pit bulls aren’t inherently dangerous. Of course, a dog’s tendency to bite depends not only on selective breeding but also factors such as the dogs’ training and environment. Yet it’s sound policy to start reducing the influx of dogs selectively bred for aggressive traits, and the worst history of being condemned to detention and death for expressing those traits.
Lee Hall, an adjunct professor of environmental law, just spent two months with the U.S. Postal Service as a City Carrier Assistant. Lee is the author of numerous books and articles on animal rights, including On Their Own Terms: The Handbook. Animal Rights for the Classroom and the Community (forthcoming, 2015). On Twitter: @Animal_Law
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