Yesterday, an article was published by the Associated Press about the "Softening" reputation on pit bulls.
The article was balanced -- but as with many cases with balanced reporting, the data actually is very heavily weighted to one side over the other - ie, just because two people disagree on something doesn't mean they're equally qualified to that opinion.
But as with any story, that tries to cover a large topic in a short story, there were some interesting "wow, if only you'd dug here a bit more" moments, so with that, and thus, a truth, two mistruths, an important factor and a telling quote from this AP story.
The headline to the story is an absolute thruth. Pit bull laws, and the reputation of pit bulls IS, indeed, softening.
We're not there yet -- but we are making great progress.
Currently, there are 16 states that prohibit laws targeting specific breeds of dogs -- with four of those states (Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut and Massachussetts) passing their law just in the past 16 months.
These state laws mirror what is happening on the local level -- where already 6 local communities that have repealed their breed-discriminatory laws -- this goes along with 22 local communities that repealed their laws in 2013. Finally cities are beginning to look toward the experts in animal behavior and their opinions on breed specific laws in making their decisions. And universally, all reputable national organizations of professional in the field of animal welfare reject breed specific policies.
Meanwhile, pit bulls continue gain in popularity -- as ownership of pit bulls has increased 47% over the past 10 years and pit bulls are now among the top 10 most preferred breeds in the US.
Yes. The perception is changing for the better. Truth.
Unfortunately, in the effort to portray two sides to a story, they interviewed three people who supported breed restrictions -- and along with that, came some mis-represented information. One of the people quoted was Don Bauermeister (misidentified as "Burmeister" in the article). Bauermeister is the assistant city attorney in Council Bluffs -- and ends up doing a lot of media appearances as one of only, to my count 8, public figures who support breed-specific policies. The mistruths then come out of this quote, not directly from Bauermeister himself, but by the writer of the article summing up what he was told by Bauermeister:
"After the Council Bluffs ban went into place, the number of pit bull attacks that resulted in hospitalization plummeted from 29 in 2004 to zero in the past few years - proof, Bauermeister said that breed-specific bans work."
Except, well, a little fact checking would show that the "facts" stated above are indeed, not true. However, according to information received by Animal Farm Foundation, the Iowa Health Department reports that in 2004 Pottawattamie County, IA (where Council Bluffs is located) had three or fewer hospitalizations due to dog bites in the entire county that year.
So, while the article states that 29 people were hospitalized from "pit bull attacks" in Council Bluffs in 2004, the actual statistical data indicates that in the county (1/3 of the population of which is not in Council Bluffs) is was three or fewer. And that's not from pit bulls. That's bites from ALL dogs in Pottawattamie County. Breed of dog involved in those incidents is unknown.
It's also specifically worth noting that total number of dog bites in Council Bluffs has also not decreased. Here are the total number of dog bites in Council Bluffs over the past 10 years:
2002 -- 97
2003 -- 85
2004 - 131
2005 - (the year the ban passed): 115
2006 - 132
2007 - 98
2008 - 98
2009 - 97
2010 - 97
2011 - 85
So, essentially, outside of three outlier years in 2004-2006 (one each before and after the ban year), the numbers have remained remarkably consistent over the past decade. So when actual data is analyzed, there is actually no evidence that the ban has made their community safer.
An Important Factor
The story also talked to Jeffery Borchardt. Borchardt too has become a voice for the anti-pit bull movement after his son was tragically killed by two dogs owned by his 14 month old son's baby sitter. The dogs were specifically brother and sister, although one was labeled as a "boxer mix" and the other a "pit bull mix". I sympathize with Mr. Borchardt and the tragedy his family has endured. While, by all accounts the dogs were well cared for (as is noted in this AP story) there is one important item that showed up on the police report that the media outlets have completely failed to ever mention.
According to the full police report, the babysitter notes that she obtained the two dogs at 3 weeks of age. Apparently the mother for the puppies was not producing enough milk and thus, the dogs were removed from the litter at 3 weeks.
Anyone who is a breeder, or a dog trainer, handler or has read any science, will tell you that this is a recipe for trouble. The science suggests that removing dogs from their litters too early can create a host of negative behaviors including high reactivity to noises, fearfulness, possessive tendencies, attention-seeking, and aggression. While this can be overcome, it is very challenging to do and takes someone with a very high level of skill and diligence to do. This would be especially true for pups that were removed at such an extremely young age.
It's just frustrating that this fact, which was likely a causal factor in the incident involving Mr. Borchardt's son has been virtually ignored and that the incident hasn't been used as a platform to provide more awareness of the importance of early socialization for young dogs and the importance of keeping litters in tact until at least 8 weeks of age.
My final piece of this is going to be a quote -- this one specifically attributed to Mr. Bauermeister. Again, Bauermeister is one of only about 8 figures publically in favor of laws targeting breeds, and I think this quote gives you a little insight into one of the leaders of this movement. In the article, it says:
"The opposition to pit bulls bans, Bauermeister added, is a sign that many American pet owners have lost touch with reality. 'Fifty years ago, you could take a sick animal behind a barn and put it out of it's misery,' he said. "That's just the way it was done. Now they investigate you for doing that. The emotional irrationality of Americans and their dogs has never been worse than it is today."
Nothing will get people on your side faster than telling them about how irrational they are for not wanting people taking their dogs behind the barn and shooting them.
While the movement to oppose laws targeting specific breeds is being led by national organizations of dog trainers, and veterinarians, shelter workers, of animal control officers, etc, one of the leaders of the "ban them" movement is calling people "irrational" and "out of touch" for not wanting dogs to be shot behind the barn.
This should give a little insight to the two sides of the story. Is America listening?