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July 30, 2014

Prejudice and Pit Bulls

Dogs have a great capacity to forgive and forget. It’s a characteristic on display in so many cases where dogs have been dealt a terrible blow or bad hand from callous people. Despite their experiences, animals who’ve known only hardship so often come to trust again in the presence of people who really care. That’s why I was so struck by an article in the latest issue of Esquire magazine where the writer, Tom Junod, writes about his own experience with his adopted pit bull-type dogs.

Dog
There is no credible evidence that shows pit bulls are overrepresented among classes or breeds of dogs who bite.
Photo: Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The pit bull “has become less a type of dog than a strain of dog that still makes many Americans deeply uncomfortable,” Junod writes. “We might accept pit bulls personally, but America still doesn't accept them institutionally, where it counts; indeed, apartment complexes and insurance companies are arrayed in force against them.”

Here at The HSUS we believe that dogs called “pit bulls” are just dogs, and we fight against misperceptions and prejudices. One of our most recent legislative fights, in Maryland, corrected a legal problem that declared all pit bulls as dangerous, despite their individual personalities or their record of gentle behavior in the home. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill removing the declaration of “inherently dangerous” from any­­ breeds or types of dog. He, and state lawmakers, corrected a policy grounded on unfamiliarity and, one might also say, ignorance.

While any pit bull type dog can do damage when they bite, because many of them are strong and agile, there is no credible evidence that shows pit bulls are overrepresented among classes or breeds of dogs who bite. Professional animal expert organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, concur that bad behavior among dogs relates more to improper socializing of the animals, and not to the inherent characteristics of the breeds or types. In 2014, reflecting the increasing acceptance of that principle, three more states added themselves to the list of those which prohibit breed-specific restrictions in their borders – now 17 in total. Pit bull-type dogs are among the most popular pets in America, and they are perhaps the most persecuted of dogs, too.  Many sheltering and adoption organizations are doing tremendous work in their communities finding new homes for dogs by keeping their focus on making great matches between dogs and people that will last a lifetime, and that includes pit bull-type dogs.

I am heartened by the stories like one that came out of Alabama this week, as the latest chapter in our anti-dogfighting work and our attempt to rehabilitate and adopt dogs wrongly conscripted into the world of dogfighting. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that most of the dogs rescued from a dogfighting operation, which The HSUS assisted Alabama law enforcement officials with in November last year, had found new homes. It took a lot of effort on the part of our animal care team, and both expertise and faith among local animal welfare groups and potential adopters. These dogs teach us a lesson about both forgiveness and resiliency and the power of good influences in their lives.

The HSUS is committed to advancing companion animal welfare by providing access and information to communities, keeping pets in their homes and leading a paradigm shift in animal welfare philosophy. Pit bulls are special not because of their breed, but because they are dogs. And like any other dog, they deserve to be kept safe with loving families.

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