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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I want to thank you for this very brave piece. And brave it is, because fighting breed enthusiasts bring a whole new meaning to the word “bully.” I have read your books and enjoyed them greatly. With even the most so-called “radical” voices of the animal rights movement defending the continuation of fighting breeds, we desperately need AR voices to counter the short-sighted foolishness.
Jamaka Petzak says
Preaching to the choir — sharing with gratitude.
Mary Ann Redfern says
Excellent commentary….intelligent and forthright.
Clova Abrahamson says
If I may, I would like to add that those on opposite sides of the pit bull dog issue would be doing that breed and all other breeds a great favor by strongly backing intact permit ordinances and especially backing strong antichaining ordinances.
Few could argue the fact that bully breeds often suffer severe neglect and daily misery on the end of a chain. Stringent pet owner responsibility ordinances will hit neglectful bully breed owners where they live. And proponents of such ordinances don’t even have to use the word “breed.” in promoting such ordinnces.
Pitbulls running loose unchained and unfenced is not a better option, either. Total BSL is the way to prevent the bully breeds from being overbred, neglected and used in dog fighting to benefit those who use the dogs for profit and sadistic vile sports.
I will never, ever support strict anti-chaining laws. If a chained dog is abused, then that should be addressed. But, some dogs will get free and attack people when their owner isn’t home. And the only thing that stops them is to chain them. If they have food, water, shelter, whatever else (and the weather is okay), this won’t be so bad on them until the owner can get home and bring them inside or play with them. And it protects the neighborhood from them and them from getting run over, etc.
There was a very mean pit on my street (in a fenced yard) that always got out and tried to attack until the owner was made to chain him. This dog was not neglected and had a nice set up. But, he was very keen BEFORE the chain. He was nice to his owner, of course, but despised all other lifeforms.
Merritt Clifton says
Why is the dog who is chained outside while the dog’s people are away not left inside the house instead? If the dog is not house-trained, the basic requirements for a dog to live safely and comfortably among people have already been neglected. The remedy for this is not further neglect.
I think the dog liked the yard. It had a nicer set up than you’re imagining. I don’t really think it was neglected. But, I am most concerned about the vicious rampages it went on before the chain. I don’t know why it wasn’t kept inside all of the time.
The dog had a shade tree, a dog house, food, water, toys, fresh air and was only out on days that the weather was decent and only chained part time. I don’t have a dog, but is that honestly neglect?
If the thing had stayed in its yard or refrained from attacking people, then it would never have been chained. Most dog owners around here think a little chain link fence will contain their dog no matter what kind of dog.
Mary Finelli says
The “thing”? Like us, the dog is an animal, a sentient being, not a “thing” or an “it,” and should be referred to with at least that much respect. You wouldn’t refer to a human child or adult, as “it” or as a “thing,” I hope.
Chaining an unsupervised dog is a dangerous practice and can cause him or her to become aggressive. If the dog was escaping from the yard, the problem should have been remedied with a more secure fence or an appropriate pen. Chaining an unsupervised dog is not a humane solution. Dogs are also social animals, they generally very much dislike being left alone.
does anyone think anti chaining laws actually make irresponsible dog owners suddenly responsible? Like they will all of a sudden pay for a pit proof fence (they exist?), or take the dog in instead?
I just don’t see this happening. Instead, I see more loose pits, which means more dead and mangled pets, livestock, and of course, people.
Sure, chains aren’t a good way to contain a dog, but they do make pits stay put. It would be better if no one had a dog that killed when it got loose to begin with, but thats not what world we live in.
Maybe those laws do make bad owners better, I hope I am wrong. I just can’t see it though.
Mary Finelli says
Anti-chaining laws don’t solely apply to pit bulls. Many other types of dogs are cruelly left chained outside, too. An anti-chaining law prohibits people from doing that.
Some people may give a dog up if he or she can’t be chained out, and if that is how they would otherwise keep the dog it’s best that they don’t have one. Other people will keep their dog(s) in a better way, like inside and/or in a securely fenced yard, or even a pen could be better. If people let their dogs run loose they would be subject to a fine and having the dog confiscated. People who want to leave a dog chained up outside should not have a dog, and anti-chaining laws help to make that happen.
Incidentally, farmed animals should be referred to as such, not as “livestock.” That is an industry term that implies they are commodities, which they should not be.
I’ve long wondered why we don’t allow mail carriers to arm themselves for protection from vicious dogs. Anyone who is still breeding these dogs whom most people are smart enough to not take a chance on has no leg to stand on when they claim to love the pit bull breed.
Sue McDonough says
Thank you for stating these facts. I’m a retired cop who focused on animal cruelty for 30 years. I love all dogs, but it is the ones who are bred for aggression who are forced to fight, tortured, and abused. They are the dogs who wind up in the wrong hands.
Are we doing them any favors by allowing them to come into this world?
craven desires says
Mary Finnelli, the dog tried to kill me. I don’t like it. Normally, I would not call a dog a ‘thing’. But, that dog was very mean. I called it ‘dog’ many times and ‘thing’ once. But, the dog is more important to you. This dog was extremely aggressive BEFORE it was chained.
Well, the dog is dead of old age by now (it could absolutely not still be alive). So, it is not chained at this point, for certain. I will never respect that dog, but I did not ever hurt it. I did not even yell at it. Nothing.
I had NO CONTROL over anything that happened with this dog. But, it wasn’t left alone all the time. I lived on the same street and saw it being played with by its owner every day. Then, they moved away. Maybe somewhere the dog didn’t have to be chained, I don’t know.
I am not saying, ‘oh, chain up all the dogs.’ I am saying there are some dogs that cannot be prevented from leaving their yards any other way. The dog should not be chained 24/7, but something has to be done to keep it on the owner’s property.
I think if a dog really is being abused or neglected, someone should help it. But, if a dog is mean, then it MUST NOT be allowed to escape and possibly kill someone. Ideally, people would not have mean dogs. But, reality is, sometimes they do.
Meals on Wheels says
Amen. You have said it ALL!
I don’t want to divert from this topic any more. So, this will be my last reply.
Here is a list of places with anti-chaining laws (some statewide).
These laws do not seem to prevent dog attacks (if you look at the areas compared to places with attacks).
That is the purpose of BSL, is it not? So, this is why I do not think these two things should be married together.
I am not for abusing animals. But, it is really hard to force people to be good pet owners especially if that is expensive (like a really, really good fence a pit bull/similar types cannot escape which is what I actually think would be the best solution, but… it seems few people have this).
Merritt Clifton says
Breed-specific legislation has multiple purposes, the most common of which for more than a century has been to distinguish between the physical needs of longhaired and short-haired dogs when left outdoors in winter. Breed-specific legislation pertaining chiefly to pit bulls has also been around for more than a century now, and also has from the beginning had multiple purposes. One is to prevent dogfighting by interdicting the supply of fighting dogs. Another is to prevent shelters from becoming glutted with pit bulls by mandating pit bull sterilization, as in San Francisco and Riverside. The most common purpose of breed-specific legislation pertaining to pit bulls has always been, yes, to prevent dog attacks. This type of breed-specific legislation comes directly from the reality that pit bulls have inflicted half or more of all fatal dog attacks in the U.S. in every 10-year time frame since 1844. A statistic of comparable significance, however, is that chained dogs (including pit bulls) have inflicted nearly a third of the fatal attacks on children during this time; 29%, according to research published in 1998 by Jeffrey Sacks of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, were chained at the moment of the attack. Sacks also found that 58% of the U.S. dog bite fatalities, 1979-1998, involved dogs who were confined to their owner’s property but not otherwise restrained, and 18%, including attacks on adults as well as those on children, involved chained or tied dogs (17% on the owner’s property and 1% elsewhere). Only 24% involved free-roaming dogs. Thus both the breed type of the dog and how the dog is kept are major contributing factors to fatalities. Both are therefore appropriate subjects of legislation.
Mary Finelli says
“Sacks also found that 58% of the U.S. dog bite fatalities, 1979-1998, involved dogs who were confined to their owner’s property but not otherwise restrained”
Presumably that would include dogs who were inside at the time.
(guardian, not “owner” please)
The irony of all this is that BSL laws would most of all help the pit bulls.
Certainly the pit bull breeders and fighters don’t like that idea, which would result in less income for themselves
And so they sell the concept of anti-regulation to “advocates” who don’t even seem to understand that by opposing BSL, they are helping the pit bull abusers abuse more pit bulls, more easily, and make problems worse.