RDOWS’ Letter to the Editor of the Daily Mail in Provo, Utah

August 21, 2008

P.O. Box 1406 Newport, WA 99156
Web Site http://www.povn.com/rdows E-mail US rdows@povn.com
Blog https://rdows.wordpress.com E-mail List http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rdows

Cherie Graves, Chairwoman, WA, (509) 447-2821
JSD, Assistant to the Chair,
Director at Large, GA Chevalier@chevalier-bullterriers.com
Elizabeth Pensgard, Executive Secretary, Illinois Director, bpensgard@yahoo.com
Hermine Stover, Media Liaison, Director at Large, CA, hermine@endangeredspecies.com
Mary Schaeffer, Finance Director, finedogs@hotmail.com
Arizona Director, John Bowen, johnalldogs@sprintmail.com
California Director, Jan Dykema, bestuvall@sbcglobal.net
Indiana Director, Charles Coffman, candkcoffman@comcast.net
Iowa Director, Leisa Boysen, rdows_iowa@yahoo.com
Mississippi Director, Dan Crutchfield, farmer1@telepak.net
Nevada Director, Ken Sondej, 4winds@viawest.net
Tennessee Director, Gina Cotton, ginacotton@msn.com
Texas Director, Alvin Crow, crobx@austin.rr.com

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to the opinion editorial “Note to cities: Sic ’em” which appeared in the Tuesday, August 19, 2008 edition of the Daily Herald.

Remember how during the 1992 presidential campaign James Carville quipped, “It’s the economy stupid”? Well here I just can’t resist saying to you: It’s the Constitution stupid. I will never understand those who prostrate themselves before their government — federal, state, county, or municipal — and say “Take my constitutional rights, please” which is in effect what this op ed was saying by asserting that breed bans aren’t “about constitutional rights or discrimination” but “about public safety.” After all, the government must know best right? They wouldn’t ask you to give up fundamental inalienable rights (that’s inalienable, as in “not transferable to another or capable of being repudiated”) without a good reason like safety, right? And of course everyone knows that breed bans indemnify the public against attacks from all other dogs, right? Oh wait, no they don’t. Breed bans can’t even indemnify against attacks from the breeds banned!

But what if, just if, you needed to defend your property rights one day? And what if you needed your due process rights to defend those property rights? What if you needed equal protection under the laws? What if you needed your right to privacy? These are all rights negated by bad animal laws, like breed-specific legislation, and they cut a swath of rights negation far broader than most Americans can fathom.

Perhaps that’s why some are so quick to give their rights away. They don’t know what rights they have so they’re not afraid to lose them. Worse, they don’t know who they’re giving their rights to. All throughout history, the negation of fundamental civil and other inalienable rights like the rights to property, privacy, equality, etc. have ended badly. Think of the U.S.S.R., China, and Germany just to name a few. The only way rights were ever restored, if they were restored, was through bloody revolution.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” That means we must ever be on the lookout for those who would try to take away the freedoms we should be holding so dear.

Perhaps you will wonder what that has to do with “pit bulls.” But that’s just it. It’s not about “pit bulls.” It’s about the inalienable rights to due process and equal protection; the rights to life, liberty, and property. And safety? Well, prove that the public is in danger. While you in the media label almost every attacking, biting, or killing dog a “pit bull,” there is no such breed. The slang term “pit bull” can refer, and has referred, to any medium- or large-breed dog. I just saw a city in Nebraska define the “pit bull” “breed” as an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentina, Presa Canario or Cane Corso. This list of breeds, that’s ‘breeds’ as in plural, includes both medium- and large-breed dogs. How can it be that this “breed” “pit bull” is made up of six breeds, at least according to this town in Nebraska?

Does it not follow that if you have to define the “pit bull” as at least SIX breeds — not including mixes of those breeds or dogs resembling those breeds, which is the language in many breed-specific ordinances — that statistics on “pit bulls” would be skewed? Since “pit bull” is not a breed but a conglomeration of breeds that can include basically any breed of dog you want it to, how can any city be certain that the breeds it defines as “pit bulls” are the breeds originally responsible for the attack, bite, or fatality that so often prompts a call for a breed ban? I hesitate to even use the do-you-really-know-which-breeds-were-attacking argument because it still fingers a breed or breeds of dog as if there is such a thing as an inherently vicious breed, though no credible scientific study has ever proven that.

The “pit bulls” “are more dangerous than average canines” mythology has long been debunked and is now only told by braggarts, those who don’t know any better, and worse, those who do know better but spread this falsehood anyway because it accomplishes some end. For some, the belief is that getting rid of “pit bulls” will get rid of the drug dealers, gang bangers, and/or dog fighters who are purported to be the only kinds of people owning these breeds, but 1) breed-specific legislation has little to no effect on the few criminals owning these breeds, and 2) such a supposition, if taken to its full-drawn conclusion is racist against people — like blacks and Latinos — who are believed to be the predominant owners of these dogs. And of course since it is asserted that likewise only drug dealers, gang bangers, and dog fighters own these dogs, the racist syllogism (Many blacks and Latinos are “pit bull” owners, which is of course what many people believe; many or most drug dealers, gang bangers, and/or dog fighters are “pit bull” owners, which is also what many people believe; therefore many or most drug dealers, gang bangers, and/or dog fighters are “pit bull” owners) is quite obvious.

The claim that “pit bulls” are more dangerous than the average canine is just another variant of the locking-jaws/more-powerful-jaws urban mythology of “pit bull,” which is wholly false. In 2005 Dr. Brady Barr in a show for National Geographic called “Dangerous Encounters” conducted bite-force tests for several kinds of animals from crocodiles and white sharks to snapping turtles and hyenas. Also included in the tests were three breeds of dog: the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. [And while the APBT is an actual breed, I should make it clear that we still don’t know if this is the breed the media and others mean when they use the slang term “pit bull” to describe bites/attacks, though this is almost always the breed banned when “pit bull” bans are passed.] Of the three the American Pit Bull Terrier had the least amount of bite force, which was found to be well below the average dog’s 320-pound bite pressure.

Further, Dr. I. Lerh Brisbin, Ph.D., who is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Georgia Savanna River Ecology Laboratory and an expert in training, handling, behavior and the anatomy of bully breeds has said that,

“The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of [the American Pit Bull Terrier] show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than 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.”

Dogs of any breed can do extensive damage in the rare instances when they attack simply because of the frenzied state they are in. For example, in 2005 a woman in France became the first successful recipient of facial transplantation after her dog, a Labrador, mauled her face unrecognizable. Yet did France ban Labradors? Absolutely not. Would we have even known about the mauling had the woman not been a breakthrough in medical science? Probably not, because it involved a Labrador, and Labs aren’t on the list of breeds targeted for banning or restriction. So, the proper conclusion to draw here is that dogs of any breed can bite or attack.

Also, fatalities due to dog attacks are so much rarer than drownings, car accidents, or even slips and falls. Still, I have yet to see pool bans, automobile bans, or bans of slippery surfaces. A better way to look at dog attacks is that they are rare, isolated incidents and that while America has grown in population size from approximately 150 million in the 1950s to an estimated 300+ million today, the number of fatal dog attacks each year has remained approximately the same. In other words, while the population of the U.S. doubled and millions more Americans owned dogs, the number of dog-bite related fatalities stayed virtually the same.

Yet even after being shown evidence debunking claims of “pit bulls'” supposed heightened aggression and more damaging bite, those hell-bent on pushing breed bans will inevitably point to “pit bulls'” fighting heritage. However, the widely-held belief that dogs belonging to breeds that were bred for fighting are more likely to bite people and are thus categorically deserving of the vague classification “vicious” is not founded in fact. In truth, difficult as it may be for the average person to understand, the opposite is true. The proper temperament selected for and propagated by old-time fighting-dog breeders included an extreme aversion to aggression towards people. It was imperative that the “game” dog be entirely reliable around people because even when the dog was in the extreme state of aggressive arousal during the actual dog fight, the human handler had to be able to hold and pick up his dog and these handlers would often not be the owner.

Temperament tests for bully breeds substantiate the claim that these are some of the most mild-mannered and pleasing breeds in existence. American Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and Bull Terriers on average rated 84.1%, 84.3%, 83.4%, 88.8%, and 92.1% respectively on their temperament tests according to the American Temperament Test Society (atts.org). Compare these ratings to the Golden Retriever, 84.2%, which is thought to be a more mild-mannered breed.

If anything must be made of these breeds’ former fighting heritage, it is that some may not get along with other animals. But this can be true of any breed of dog. For instance, if a Labrador chases chickens because it can’t distinguish between wild game like a pheasant and domesticated birds like chickens does that make it vicious or simply a Labrador? If a Jack Russell Terrier chases rabbits in a field but accidentally kills a domesticated rabbit in the house does that make it inherently vicious? No, that makes it a Jack Russell. If these are undesired behaviors in the dog, then it is the owner’s responsibility to train the dog out of these undesired behaviors, or to keep the dog contained. Proper training and containment are the responsibility of every dog owner, not just those possessing of certain breeds, because any dog of any breed can bite or attack when left untrained or left to free-roam.

The CDC concluded the same:

“Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive. From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or nonfatal dog bites. An alternative to breed-specific legislation is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior.”

Since publishing your op ed I’m certain that the numerous e-mails you have almost certainly received have shown you that the issue of breed-specific legislation is bigger than your mere opinion. Still, because of the magnitude of the soap box on which you stand, those in Utah (elected officials and civilians alike) might actually give your opinion credence though it is nothing more than ignorance, deserving of no more weight than water cooler gossip. As such, perhaps you could give equal space to those who are possessing of more than a mere opinion.


Elizabeth Pensgard
Executive Secretary and Illinois Director, Responsible Dog Owners of
the Western States
Director, Responsible Dog Owners Group of Illinois



One Response to “RDOWS’ Letter to the Editor of the Daily Mail in Provo, Utah”

  1. dave obregon said

    Your article was a very well-thought out attack at the irrationality behind BSL. I am currently fighting the city council in the small town of Swaledale, IA, as they have given me notice to get rid of my APBT claiming that he is dangerous. They listed him under Gorillas, in the animals that are banned from the city list. Since it is such a small town, I am having problems convincing the elderly that they have nothing to fear. I have 2 “pit bulls” and 2 Chihuahuas, yet they only told me that i had to get rid of one of my so called “pit bulls.” Please, Please help in any way that you can. Thank you in advance, for your time and effort.

    The Obregon Family

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