One of my biggest beefs when it comes to dealing with the canine legislation is the number of people -- on both sides of the argument -- that routinely take information that they've heard, and like a parrot, repeat this information in defense of their argument.
As the Mark Twain Quote says: "What gets us in to trouble is not what we don't know, it's what we know for sure that just ain't so". Thus is the life of dealing with canine legislation -- on both sides of the argument.
This week, I stumbled across an article from East Bay, RI at how people can take something they've heard, and then repeat it as if it's true. Then the quote runs in a news source, and others believe it. It's a bad cycle. So go read the article here -- and come back, as I'm going to pull out a few quotes.
Let's start with the first quote in the paper -- this one by Dr. EJ Finocchio who is president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"The fighting gene has been ingrained in the pit bull. Man made him this way. It's our fault that we've made them this way," he said. "But how are you going to get that gene out of them?"
To see a quote like this, from someone in a position that they should actually know better makes me want to scream. In hundreds of years of genetic testing, no one has ever isolated this mysterious "fighting gene". Does such a thing exist? Does it somehow only exist in pit bulls? Or would other dogs (all descendents of wolves) have this gene? As a friend of mine has said, pretty much every breed of dog has been bred, over time, to hunt and be aggressive for something. Why is this "gene" only in pit bulls? And why has no geneticist been able to isolate that gene?
"They (pit bulls) fight till the end," he said, showing a photo of a large Labrador retriever with a huge scar. The dog was dragged around by a much-lighter pit bull, he said. "They lived next door to each other for two years. What set him off?" Mr. Holden said.
It's funny that pit bulls "fight till the end" and then shows a picture of a Lab that was bitten but not killed. Apparently the fight wasn't til the "end". Dogs sometimes get in fights. Anyone who has ever lived with any dogs knows that, like people on a Saturday night in your local bar district, sometimes dogs don't get along. It happens. I've seen it with pretty much every breed of dog I've ever had contact with. Getting in fights with other dogs isn't unique to pit bulls, and fighting till the end clearly didn't happen in the picture he showed.
Even people who love pit bulls get caught up in the parroting:
"They're genetically prone to be more aggressive to animals but not toward people," said Katenna Jones, an animal behaviorist who started a petition several years ago against a proposal to restrict pit bulls in Providence.
I hear this one a lot, particularly from people who work in rescue, that have heard it from someone else before and they just keep saying it. Almost everyone I know that works in pit bull rescue has 2, 3, 4 or even up to 8 dogs. Most of the time, all of these dogs get along just fine. If they were genetically prone to be aggressive toward other animals, this would be virtually impossible. The reality is that many of these people so believe the statement to be true, they resist taking their dogs around other dogs for fear that they will attack -- which causes the dogs to be under-socialized with other dogs. The reality ends up being that their dog IS more aggressive to other dogs -- but because they created the situation through owner behavior.
From my experience with working with my own dogs, and dozens of fosters that have come through, the only reason "pit bulls" can't become completely well socialized with other dogs is when owners won't give them the opportunities. And for any Dog Whisperer fans out there, you get to watch this every week when Ceasar Milan's favorite and most balanced dog, Daddy -- a pit bull that was neutered way later in life - -shows zero aggression around other dogs, even ones that show aggression toward him.
Ms. Jones continues her own stereotyping...
"I don't recommend pit bulls for any first-time dog owner. Pit bulls don't belong off a leash and they don't belong in a group of multiple dogs," she said.
Interestingly, Jones contradicts her own assumptions about pit bulls:
"I have never heard of a case (of an aggressive pit bull) where the dog was properly supervised, spayed and neutered, up to date on shots, properly restrained on a leash and properly trained and socialized as a puppy," she said.
Looks like she may be on to something with this whole proper training and socializing thing...
But then we get back to unfounded, parrotted information.
"I'd much rather get bitten by a Doberman or a shepherd than the pit bull, because they're going to bite me and screw," said Mr. Dave Holden -- also of the RISPCA. "Most of the bite comes from the back legs. Pit bulls shake. That's where the ripping and tearing comes from."
In Chapter 11 Karen Delise's new book, the Pit Bull Placebo, she notes the origins of a lot of these myths come from. She looks at major dog attacks from the past century -- and almost all cases show signs of dogs grabbing on and shaking. Breed is irrelevant -- and there is nothing unique to major pit bull attacks that are different from how other dog breeds attack. I'd recommend that Mr. Holden actually take a few hours to read a well-researched book vs talking about some nonsense of pit bulls biting with their hind legs...
I cringe when I read stories like this because you end up with a LOT of mis-information getting out to the public from people who have clearly not been well-researched in what they're talking about and are only repeating information that some ill-informed person told them years ago.
If we are every going to solve the "dog bite problem", then we need people on both sides of the debate to forget everything they think they know about "pit bulls" and start over with new, accurate, information.