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Don’t Judge An Entire Breed

Photo credit: MythicSeabass / Flickr

Society increasingly accepts social equality as a basic human right. History is peppered by rebellions against laws that that treated certain citizens as second-class, simply because of characteristics they couldn’t control.

Today, laws strip the equality of millions of dogs. Unfortunately, certain breeds have inescapable reputations for violence and aggression. Though many of the correlations are caused and perpetuated by humans, legislation still singles out these breeds and causes devastating repercussions.

The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, a council that includes the American Humane Association and the ASPCA, determined that the targets of breed-specific laws are overrepresented in euthanasia statistics and overpopulated in animal shelters.

Shows like Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls & Parolees” have helped spread the word about breed-based discrimination. The show follows the founder of Villalobos Rescue Center, the biggest Pit Bull rescue facility in the country, and has helped spark a trend toward open-mindedness and sympathy for dogs like Pit Bulls.

Even the White House has taken a stand on the issue. In an official White House statement released in August 2013, they called breed discrimination a bad idea and supported efforts to raise awareness about misinformation and myths associated with particular breeds.

Breed Discrimination

Everything from cancelled homeowners insurance to city-wide bans currently discriminate against specific dog breeds.

National Geographic concluded that commonly targeted breeds include:

  • Pit Bulls;
  • Dobermans;
  • Akitas;
  • German Shepherds;
  • Rottweilers;
  • Great Danes;
  • Boxers.

The Dog Bite Myth

Many discriminatory claims are made all the more trivial by a look into these breeds’ past. If Pit Bulls were inherently aggressive, would they have earned a reputation as “nanny dogs” for children in the Victorian era?

The Center for Disease Control explored this correlation in a comprehensive special study, which tracked fatal dog bites in the two decades between 1979 and 1998. Although researchers found that Pit Bulls and Rottweilers made up the majority of dogs who inflicted mortal wounds, they conceded that the link only “appeared” extraordinary but was in fact highly skewed by the inaccurate reporting of the breeds.

Severe bites, they contended, were more likely to be connected to certain breeds, without further investigation of the actual genetic makeup.

The American Humane Association even provides online access to peer-reviewed studies that explore the different possible reasons for this correlation. The AHA determined that in order to ban specific breeds, there must be a universal way to identify breeds, and even today’s expensive methods don’t always have conclusive results.

Purebred dogs aren’t the only victims of discrimination; any dog that resembles a Pit Bull’s body or skull shape is likely to suffer from the same restrictions.

Fatal Odds for Shelter Dogs

As a result of fear-based legislation and sweeping generalizations, at-risk dog breeds end up in shelters more frequently than other breeds, and fewer get adopted. It’s impossible for rescue organizations to motivate potential adopters whose landlords or city officials have banned a particular breed.

The ASPCA itself was created in response to the brutal dog fighting that was rampant in 1867. Unfortunately, the organization released a groundbreaking report in 1981, almost a century later, in which they exposed just how widespread dog fighting still was in this country.

Pit Bulls are overwhelmingly represented in this vile underworld, leading to a mistaken notion that the dogs themselves attract and instigate violent altercations.

Counterproductive Consequences

Unnecessary suffering and deaths aren’t the only downsides of breed-specific legislation. According to Stop BSL, breed bans have unintended consequences that actually perpetuate the cycle of discrimination, abuse and violence.

By “blacklisting” certain dogs, especially for reasons related to violence, lawmakers and landlords turn those dogs into black market commodities. Associating them with danger makes breeds more desirable to criminals and irresponsible owners, and this irresistible outlaw reputation can even serve as a kind of encouragement for horrific crimes such as dog fighting.

Breeders and rescuers alike agree that this cycle needs to stop. The American Kennel Club’s Gina DiNardo Lash told National Geographic that banning entire breeds did nothing to address the real issues, and instead increased the underground value and outlaw appeal among dog owners who choose their dogs as accomplices or victims of crimes.

Holding Owners Accountable

Breeding a dog to show aggression is abuse, plain and simple. Unprovoked attacks are the result of intense fear and defensiveness. Dogs need love and attention, not solitary confinement or anxious, negative energy, in order to overcome their abusive backgrounds.

The only solution is to enforce animal cruelty violations and promote positive, respectful relationships with animals. There’s no question that breed-specific legislation affects the lives of dogs.

In many cases, it ends them. But it also punishes the responsible owners who would otherwise give loving homes to rescued dogs, or who must alter their living arrangements because of newly implemented bans. The worst part of this misguided penal system is that it doesn’t affect the actual perpetrators of the crimes.

If breed-specific legislation is repealed, every dog will have the opportunity to defy unjust stereotypes and receive a second chance in life. Because human behavior has created this epidemic, it’s up to human law enforcement officials and legislators to undo the damage and give these dogs the freedom to express their own individual personalities.

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