Breed-specific legislation: should we ban pit-bulls?

Breed-specific legislation pertaining to dogs is currently a hot-button issue here in Canada. The province of Ontario has banned pit-bulls since 2005, and with many other provinces are contemplating a ban. Quebec is particularly close to a ban following a woman’s death from a pit-bull attack earlier this month.

The SPCA considers breed-specific legislation a form of discrimination. Many people own loving pit-bulls and can’t imagine why anyone would believe these dogs are more likely to cause injury than other breeds.

The SPCA and pit-bull enthusiasts are wrong. It may feel right to defend the use of these animals as companions based on individual experience, but the record of attacks from these animals makes this position morally indefensible.

Emotion and breed specific legislation

breed specific ban pit-bulls

As the recent fire in Fort McMurray demonstrates, pets are probably second only to children in terms of the amount of emotional attachment people feel towards them. It’s imperative we make these decisions rationally when lives are at stake.

I realize my opinion is the minority among animal rights advocates, but I believe the SPCA and pet owner’s views on this subject are short-sighted.

As an ethical vegan, it may surprise my readers to learn that I am not a pet owner. I am fundamentally opposed to breeding animals as pets for a number of reasons (although I would consider adopting an animal from a shelter), but I understand that many people value animals as companions.

Why specific breeds?

Pit-bulls, and many other powerful dog breeds, were developed through a  breeding process that selected for aggressive traits. Aggression in pit-bulls is a feature, not a flaw.

While it is tempting to treat breed bias as form of speciesism (or what could be termed canine racism), it is not. These breeds were created by humans to be a threat to humans. They are the assault weapons of the canine world.

The chart below records attacks and maimings by dogs in the US and Canada during the period between 1982-2014. Note that Pit bulls and other members of the bullmastiff/presa canario line are nearly as likely to attack adults as children.

breed specific legislation

Among the dogs on this list, the least likely to attack adults are wolf hybrids and Huskies. Why? Because they are the closest to “wild” dogs that we have. Wolves instinctively go after what they perceive to be non-threatening victims.

Pit bulls, on the other hand, have been specifically bred to attack other dogs. Originally used for bull-baiting, pit-bulls were later used in dog-fighting once bull-baiting became illegal. Because dog-fights continued until one of the dogs gave up or died, breeders valued perseverance, and fearlessness. To be successful in fights, these dogs could not be afraid of larger targets, which is one aspect of why they will single-handedly attack fully grown humans.

Of course, it’s not the dogs fault that they have been breed for aggressive tendencies and that their bites often maim or kill. They are the innocent product of animal exploitation.

But does the fact that they are innocent mean that we should be continuing to breed them?

If factory farming were to end tomorrow, would it be moral to continue to breed animals that were so heavy that they couldn’t support themselves on their own legs? Would it be fair to continue breeding dairy cattle when they cannot even safely mate because of their [genetically engineered] size?

My proposal: breed-specific birth control

Euthanizing animals that have never expressed aggressive tendencies is tragic. But it happens every day. 40% of dogs euthanized in shelters are pit-bulls. Pit-bulls end up in shelters for a variety of reasons, but a lot of once-enamoured pit-bull owners eventually give up their animals.

Clearly, abandoning an uncontrollable animal is irresponsible. But it happens every day.

If these animals are kept outside of crowded urban areas, I think they should live out their lives in peace and security. Of course, keeping these animals in rural areas simply reduces the number of people exposed to danger – there are 4x the rate of emergency room visits from dog related injuries outside the suburbs.

There are plenty of people who are willing to risk their personal safety by keeping pit-bulls as companions. That is their choice, insofar as their decision is not a risk to other people and animals.

An individuals willingness to take on risk does not mean they are entitled to expose the rest of society to similar insecurity, and thus it is only right to spay or neuter animals from these breeds.

Pit-bulls and Rottweillers were responsible for 94% of deaths from dog attacks in 2015 (see dogbite.org). This staggering statistic is the highest on record, likely the result of a great deal of activism from pit-bull owners, who hope to convince the public these animals are harmless.

Nearly every dog attack death is related to animals that belong to the pit-bull/Rottweiller breeds. The simple answer? Stop breeding them. And ask yourself, why would anyone want to bring more violent animals into the world?

The moral imperative

I believe we have a moral imperative to do what we can to prevent violence and suffering.

In the case of pit-bulls and Rottweilers, there is a moral imperative to use breed-specific legislation to prevent these animals from continuing to pose a danger to humans beings as well as other animals (especially dogs and cats).

As a thought experiment, imagine a human male and female couple carry genes that give their offspring a 50% chance of murdering or severely wounding other human beings, if given the opportunity. Would the couple be right in having children?

“Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”

Of course, these issues are not black and white. I realize that many of you will feel very differently about this. And I recognize, too, that the supposed right to companion animals strikes a nerve with many.

Still, I think it is fair to say that your right to cohabit with an animal ends when that animal becomes a persistent and credible threat to the rest of society.

It is not enough to hold owners accountable. Owners of these animals have a duty (to their animal and society as a whole) to prevent unwanted offspring by spaying and neutering their animals immediately.

I live in a city where pit-bulls are incredibly popular as pets. I see them nearly every day in my neighbourhood, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it a concern. It would be irrational not to be concerned.

An additional consideration: remove the profit motive

If pit-bull owners love these animals, it seems like they would be willing to let them go to good homes at cost. Yet despite a ban on pit-bulls in Ontario, a cursory look at Kijiji (Canadian craigslist) revealed countless purebred pit-bulls for sale for thousands of dollars.

Clearly, these breeders are more concerned with covering their costs than they are the safety of the public (or the law). And even if they misguidedly believe their animals wouldn’t harm a fly, I believe society has a duty to intervene.

If you are a responsible owner of a pit-bull, please spay/neuter! Even if you were to take meticulous care of your animal and only give puppies to loving homes, it is likely that your animal’s offspring would suffer greatly throughout their lives because of their breed.

All facts and statistics referenced in this article were drawn from dogbite.org. I strongly encourage a visit to their website if you are curious about this issue.

2 Responses to “Breed-specific legislation: should we ban pit-bulls?

  • For the record, I think rescues are wonderful, and I know you are making their lives so much better 🙂

    I have known aggressive pit-bulls and sweet ones. It’s absolutely not their fault, either way. There are good owners and bad owners, but I really don’t think that punishing owners alone is enough to solve the problem. It’s realize its controversial, but I really think it would be in the interest of all parties concerned to make sure all Rottweilers and pit-bulls are neutered/spayed.

  • Another great article. I have mixed feeling about pit bulls. I know a number of them and they are very sweet but seeing that they are bred to be aggressive is scary. I feel so bad because it’s not the dogs’ fault.

    I have 2 dogs, both shih tzus that I rescued and they are the loves of my life (well besides my husband lol). I can’t imagine life without a dog but I hear you about breeding animals just for breeding.

%d bloggers like this: