Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pit bull ownership: a felony?

Texas is about to start the 2011 legislative session. Already, East Texas legislators have been presented with a proposal to ban pit bulls.

The proposal would make a felon out of anyone who is found in possession of a "pit bull" (currently defined in the proposal as APBT, AST, SBT, AB, mixes, and any dog that resembles one).

Probably aware that a ban is a longshot, the group has a fallback proposal: force "pit bull" owners to follow a variety of special restrictions, e.g. muzzles, special containment, special license, liability insurance, etc.

Being a Texan "pit bull" owner myself, I'm deeply concerned not only about the proposal, but about the logic driving it.

East Texas has a dog problem. A large number of abusive, neglectful, irresponsible dog owners reside there--and their unfortunate dogs happen to be "pit bulls" (the most common type of dog, because the definition is so vague and generic). Because much of East Texas is rural and impoverished, many of those areas have pathetic dog laws--not even a leash law in many areas--and they are lacking in animal control officers, dog owner resources (spay/neuter clinics, training classes, etc.), and humane societies.

But while East Texas wants to deal with their dog problems by getting rid of "pit bulls," the rest of the state doesn't seem to need such regulations. In my area, for instance, we have three nearby low-cost spay/neuter clinics; regular vaccination clinics; more humane societies, rescue groups, and shelters than I can count on one hand; training classes galore; a highly responsive animal control department; and decent dog laws that let AC do their job before there's a real problem.

We still have a "pit bull" problem, in that there are tons of "pit bulls" in our local shelters. Again, that's due to the extremely vague definition of the term "pit bull," resulting in almost any medium-sized, short-haired dog being labeled as such. (I suppose what we really have is a shelter glut of short-haired dogs.)

But around here, "pit bull" isn't such a dirty word as in East Texas. We have several active groups in the animal community that stick up for pit bulls, educate about them, and work hard to rescue, train, and rehome them. The normalization of pit bulls--that is, the framing of pit bulls as pets and family dogs--has reduced their desirability with thugs and idiots.

Love-A-Bull, in particular, has been boldly pushing responsible ownership values, and their large group of responsible, upstanding, pit bull-owning supporters has demonstrated to the less-responsible crowd, as well as the general public, that "pit bulls" are not necessarily status symbols or badass dawgs. These dogs can don pink tutus and glittery bunny ears, and parade amongst hundreds of other "pit bulls," and not have a mentionable incident. The theme of spay/neuter was prominent at Love-A-Bull's heavily-attended Pit Bull Awareness event last week--much to the crowd's pleasure.

A pit bull ban would only infect the rest of Texas with the pit bull problems experienced by East Texas. The attitude of the general populace toward a particular breed ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you portray a particular breed as dangerous, scary, evil, or threatening--as they have done in East Texas, and as breed-specific laws do--you will find that that breed becomes used almost exclusively in a negative manner.

Just ask Ohio about the results of their breed-specific state law:
Shawn Webster, a Butler County [Ohio] veterinarian and former state representative . . . believes Ohio’s singling out of the breed has helped foster the vicious stereotype, and led gang members and drug dealers to seek them as status symbols and for protection.

“From that point on, the population of pit bulls exploded,” he said. “I think it’s put a stereotype on this breed that’s been harmful to everyone involved.”
Only through social normalization of the breed, and intolerance for irresponsible human behaviors--as is being worked toward in Austin and other areas--can you reduce the number of thugs and irresponsible jerks who acquire the dogs for inappropriate purposes.

Get with the program, East Texas.


Leila said...

this is what happens when people want to 'fix' a symptom and not the actual problem. The people pushing forth the legislation do not want to put the onus of responsibility on the people who will keep them in office. What a travesty.

Do the legislature not do the research? BSL does not work? Bad owners get worse, tax payer money is wasted and dogs are murdered because they are the 'right' kind. While the 'right' kind still suffer from incompetent owners and continue to cause problems in the community.

I know that I'm preaching to the choir, but I just don't understand how the legislature there can be so blind.

Kirby, CGC said...

That is so unfair! We have communities here in West Michigan that have banned pit bulls. The best thing to do is to educate people about the breed and to put responsibility on the owner. It's because of this lack of responsibility that all the shelters are loaded with pitties. I always believe that all dogs are good dogs, it's the owners that can be bad!!

Nice post!

Kirby's mom