Editorial: The shelter killing of pit bulls

Editorial feature—

More adoptions will not end shelter killing of pit bulls

Tangible progress on behalf of animals is often hard to recognize,
amid paradoxes such as polling data showing that more people think about farm animal welfare even as world meat consumption is at an all-time high and rising.

Just about everyone agrees,  though,  that the past 25 years have produced unprecedented improvement in the human relationship with dogs,  especially here in the United States.  Americans keep half again more pet dogs than in 1986.  Average spending per dog per year for food,  toys,  and accessories has increased from $58 in 1986–with purchasing power worth $114 today–to $347.   Yet sales of doghouses,  once the most costly common dog accessory,  have crashed, because most dogs today live indoors with their people.

The first legislation to ban prolonged dog tethering had just been introduced in 1986.  More than 150 cities,  counties,  and at least four states now limit or ban tethering.

Average spending per dog per year for vet care has increased from barely $50–worth $98 today–to more than $200.  The percentage of dog keepers who spend more than $1,000 per year per dog on vet care has quadrupled in only 10 years.   Vaccination wholly eradicated canine rabies from the U.S. more than a decade ago.  By 1995 more than 70% of the U.S. dog population had been sterilized.

A dog who was impounded or surrendered to a shelter 25 years ago had just a 10% chance of being rehomed.  Dogs in shelters today have about a 60% chance of being rehomed–unless they happen to be pit bull terriers or close mixes of pit bull,  whose sterilization rate is still barely 25%.

Only 3.3% of the dogs advertised for sale online are pit bulls,  implying that only about 3.3% of all the dogs sold are pit bulls.  Yet more than 16% of the dogs adopted from animal shelters since 2007 have been pit bulls,  meaning that shelters are persuading adopters to choose pit bulls at about five times the rate that dog purchasers choose to buy pit bulls when they buy dogs from breeders. Despite that extraordinary rate of success in pit bull placement, however,  about 75% of the pit bulls and pit mixes arriving at shelters are killed,  either due to dangerous behavior or simply because shelters are receiving pit bulls in ever-escalating volume. Each year from a third to 45% of the total U.S. pit bull population enters an animal shelter,  a phenomenon never seen with any other dog breed.
Of critical importance to realize is that there are very few accidental pit bull births.  Because nothing resembling a pit bull occurs in nature,  it is necessary to practice line breeding,  mating pit bull to pit bull or a very close mix,  to continue to have them. Almost every pit bull who contributes to the surplus is a product of deliberate breeding,  sometimes by a dogfighter,  but most often just someone engaging in speculative backyard breeding,  capitalizing on a perceived vogue for pit bulls created at least in part by the aggressive advertising of shelters and individual rescuers who hope to rehome more pit bulls instead of having to kill them from lack of other options.  No dogs are shown more often in animal shelter adoption advertising,  including in poses involving facial contact and small children–which contradict almost every tenet of education about avoiding dog bites.

There may now be more organizations focused on pit bull rescue and advocacy than rescue and advocate for all other specific breeds combined.

Pit bulls rarely arrive at shelters as unwanted litters. Typically they come to shelters at about 18 months of age,  having already had at least three homes:  their birth home,  the home they were sold to,  and one or more pass-along homes that took the dogs in after problems developed in the first home into which they were purchased.  About two-thirds of the pit bulls entering shelters have been surrendered by their primary caretakers,  but many were not voluntary caretakers.  They simply ended up with an unwanted pit bull after a family member or friend abandoned the dog,  or a tenant moved and left the dog behind.

The pit bulls who are surrendered to shelters tend to be the lucky ones.  More than 5,000 pit bulls have been seized in dogfighting raids since 2000,  a mere fraction of the numbers believed to have been killed either in dogfights,  in connection with training dogs to fight,  or in culling dogs who lose fights or show little promise of becoming successful fighters.  Pit bull thefts by dogfighters looking for “bait dogs” are believed to be one of the major reasons why 19% of the dogs who have been reported stolen since 2005 have been pit bulls.  About 21% of the dogs impounded in cases of severe and prolonged neglect since 2005 have been pit bulls,  and also 21% of the dogs impounded in cases of violent abuse–including 49% of the dogs set on fire and 14% of the dogs raped in bestiality cases.

But pit bulls are not just the victims of mayhem. Disfiguring and fatal pit bull attacks on humans have occurred during the past two years at the rate of two every three days,  an unprecedented pace.  Pit bulls and close pit mixes have since 1982 accounted for 45% of all U.S. and Canadian fatalities from dog attacks on humans,  a total of at least 207;   51% of all dog attack disfigurements of children,   a total of more than 850;  and 66% of all dog attack disfigurements of adults,  a total of more than 700. Since 2005 pit bulls have also accounted for 51% of all reported fatal dog attacks and disfigurements of pets and livestock.

The advent of online news media data bases going back into the mid-19th century has enabled several different researchers to establish that there has never been a time since 1851 when pit bulls did not account for more than half of all fatal dog attacks over any given 10-year interval,  even though pit bulls–by all of the many names for them combined–never amounted to even 1% of the dogs in the U.S. and Canada until approximately 30 years ago.
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton began collating dog and cat theft data in 1980,  dog and cat neglect data in July 1982,  and breed-specific dog attack data in September 1982–all several years before pit bulls became a public issue.  The consistently disproportionate involvement of pit bulls in fatal and disfiguring attacks was evident by 1988.  Disproportionate involvement of pit bulls in theft and neglect cases took another five years to clearly emerge.  In the interim,  Patricia Curtis in her 1984 book The Animal Shelter issued a prescient early warning about an apparent resurgence of dogfighting and a rise in arrivals of pit bulls at shelters.  Mike Oswald,  the longtime director of Multnomah County Animal Services in Portland,  Oregon,  noted in 1986 that pit bulls had become disproportionately represented in shelter intakes and killing.

But no one appears to have imagined that pit bull proliferation would ever remotely approach the crisis that it has become.

Shelter killing accelerates

About 8.4 million dogs were killed in shelters in 1986,  of whom about 168,000 (2%)  were pit bulls,  according to the limited available breed-specific data.

Alarmed by several serious pit bull attacks in New York City public housing,  and by eruptions of dogfighting after it had been successfully repressed in New York City for almost a century, then-New York City mayor Edward Koch sought to ban pit bulls in 1987. The American SPCA and attorneys associated with the Animal Legal Defense Fund responded by initiating organized opposition to breed-specific legislation,  against the advice of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.

Though Koch was thwarted,  legislation to restrain pit bull proliferation was adopted in several other cities.  Denver in 1989 passed the strongest and oldest pit bull ban still in effect, emulated by some nearby suburbs.  In May 2004 the Denver pit bull ban was overturned by state legislation that forbade breed specific ordinances,  but it came back into force in late 2005,  after Denver won a court ruling that the state law infringed rights specifically given to local governments in the Colorado constitution.

The net result is that Denver is among the few major U.S. cities which have had no fatal dog attacks in the past 20 years,  while killing fewer impounded dogs of all breeds per 1,000 residents than any other major city between the coasts,  and killing less than half as many pit bulls per thousand human residents (.14) as Miami/Dade County,  the animal control jurisdiction killing the next fewest pit bulls (.33). Miami/Dade also has breed-specific legislation prohibiting possession of pit bulls.

The total number of dogs killed in U.S. shelters fell by more than 40% between 1986 and 1993,  but the number of pit bulls killed in shelters more than doubled,  to about 358,000–15% of the total.

Striving to implement the 1994 Adoption Pact,  which made San Francisco at least nominally the first U.S. “no kill” city,  the San Francisco SPCA introduced free sterilization of pit bulls.  When that did not stop the rising influx,  the SF/SPCA in 1996 renamed pit bulls “St. Francis terriers,”  in hopes that changing their image would make them more adoptable.  More were adopted–but the original “St. Francis terrier” program was suspended within 60 days,  as was a similar program introduced by the Wisconsin Humane Society,  when several of the strenuously screened and rehomed dogs turned out to be cat-killers.

After retooling and relaunching the “St. Francis terrier” program several times,  and having another fiasco in 2003 when an adopted pit bull attacked a police horse,  leading to two human injuries,  the SF/SPCA and San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control between them reduced their pit bull killing to 450 per year. Then,  against vigorous opposition from the SF/SPCA and local animal rights groups,  the SF/DACC persuaded the San Francisco City Council to pass an ordinance requiring all pit bulls to be sterilized.  Pit bull shelter killing in San Francisco fell to 300 in the first year after the ordinance passed.  Within another year San Francisco shelters were killing fewer pit bulls than any cities except Denver and Miami.

Nationally,  in absence of any effective brake on pit bull proliferation outside of the few cities with breed-specific laws, pit bulls by 2003 accounted for 23% of dog admissions to U.S. animal shelters and 50% of the dogs killed in shelters:  upward of 900,000.

Echoing the “St. Francis terrier” program,  the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control opened 2004 by announcing that pit bulls would henceforth be promoted as “New Yorkies.”  That lasted just three days.
Ontario province,  Canada,  in 2005 adopted a law prohibiting possession of pit bulls,  but allowing pit bulls already in Ontario to remain if they were licensed,  sterilized,  vaccinated,  insured, and kept in a safe manner.  The Toronto Humane Society howled that this legislation would introduce a pit bull holocaust.  In truth, Ontario shelters now kill fewer pit bulls,  cumulatively serving a population of 13 million humans,  than the shelters in the Detroit metropolitan area,  just to the south,  which serve a human population of only 1.2 million.

U.S. shelters in 2006 killed approximately 967,300 pit bulls.

Impoundments of fighting dogs and impoundments of neglected pit bulls both soared after the April 2007 arrest of football player Michael Vick in connection with dogfighting.  Twenty-six percent of the dogs entering U.S. shelters were pit bulls.  Yet,   for the first time in at least 20 years,  the numbers of pit bulls killed in shelters actually dropped.  The Best Friends Animal Society,  already opposed to breed-specific legislation,  ramped up efforts to block breed-specific laws,  and redoubled promotion of pit bull adoptions. The American Humane Association also became active in opposition to breed-specific legislation.

The publicity boost from the Vick case and the investment of Best Friends et al in saving pit bulls appeared to pay off,  for a time,  as the numbers of pit bulls killed in U.S. animal shelters fell from 920,000 in 2007 to 825,000 in 2008 and 810,000 in 2009. But the U.S. economy turned bad in 2008,  causing more people to surrender pets to shelters,  more people to neglect pets,  and more people to try to earn a few dollars through backyard breeding.

Meanwhile,  the vigorous pit bull promotion appeared to hit inherent limits on just how many dogs of any one type can be adopted out. Even if every pit bull had the positive qualities of Lassie,  and no problematic behavior,  there are only so many people who want big dogs.

Even the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services,  which appears to rehome more pit bulls than any other agency in the U.S., kills about 40% of pit bull intake,  and has reported increasing pit bull intake since 2008. More pit bulls have been rehomed in recent years than ever before,  but as most of the U.S. still has no effective brake on pit bull breeding,  pit bulls in 2010 rose to 29% of shelter dog admissions and 60% of shelter dog killing.

The 2010 U.S. shelter pit bull toll of 930,300 was the second highest yet.

In view that the U.S. adoption capacity for pit bulls appears to have maxed out at about 320,000 (16% of total dog adoptions), there is no chance that the humane community is going to be able to adopt its way out of killing pit bulls in high volume until the numbers of pit bulls who are surrendered to shelters or are impounded,  nationally,  drop by nearly 90%.

That requires reducing the total pit bull population of about 2.4 to 3.5 million currently in homes at any given time to no more than the numbers who are now kept safely in stable homes.  Since nearly 1.1 million pit bulls per year come to shelters,  and the numbers who die from abuse and neglect also must be considered,  as many as half of all pit bulls may have unsuitable homes.

Merely stabilizing shelter intake of pit bulls at the present level would require achieving the 70%-plus sterilization rate that keeps supply-and-demand for other dogs in the U.S. relatively balanced.  This would mean nearly tripling the present pit bull sterilization rate of about 25%.

Going from 25% sterilization of all other breeds of dog to 70%-plus took about 15 years of aggressive promotion of sterilization surgery,  from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s.  Pit bull keepers during that time conspicuously ignored the messages that persuaded most other Americans who keep dogs.

Following that effort,  we have now had more than 15 years of increasingly well-funded and well-promoted programs aimed specifically at sterilizing pit bulls.  Hundreds of humane societies now sterilize pit bulls for free.  The San Francisco SPCA has even paid pit bull keepers to have their dogs sterilized.  Yet few cities, if any,  have reduced pit bull intake at animal shelters without the help of breed-specific legislation.

Raising the pit bull sterilization rate to 70% would keep the annual shelter killing toll of pit bulls close to 900,000 per year. Reducing the pit bull population to the numbers kept safely in stable homes would require sterilizing 90%.  A 90% sterilization rate has been achieved,  so far,  only among indoor pet cats in the more affluent parts of the northeast and west coast.  Realistically,  a 90% pit bull sterilization rate would be elusive,  even if the entire U.S. adopted a pit bull sterilization requirement similar to the 2005 San Francisco ordinance.

Since dog licensing rates tend to run well below 25%,  there can be little hope of enforcing pit bull sterilization through licensing enforcement alone.  But,  completely setting aside behavioral issues,  looking just at the numbers,  a 90% pit bull sterilization rate is necessary if no-kill sheltering for pit bulls is to become a theoretical possibility.

Only if that is achieved is the hope of achieving no-kill sheltering for all dogs possible.

Unfortunately,  behavioral issues cannot be ignored –whether the focus is the behavioral traits of pit bulls or the attitudes and behavior of the people who tend to keep pit bulls.

Opponents of breed-specific legislation often argue that that disproportionately high rates of fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks on humans and other animals are the fault of the keepers of those particular pit bulls,  and are not representative of typical pit bulls.

This overlooks that pit bulls,  like other breeds produced for specific purposes,  have been bred for the traits suiting those purposes.  Pit bulls have been bred for the ability and the inclination to tear other animals to pieces.  This has in turn made pit bulls attractive to the sort of people who have made them the dogs most likely to be violently abused and/or neglected:  sadists, people with drug and alcohol addiction,  people engaged in criminal activity,  and people seeking tough surrogates to compensate for their own perceived inadequacies.

A hint as to how extreme that attraction may be came in a 2006 peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence which discovered that among a sampling of 355 people who kept pet dogs,  all who kept pit bulls turned out to have had some sort of trouble with the law.  Wrote lead study author Jaclyn Barnes of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center,  “Owners of vicious dogs who have been cited for failing to register a dog [or] failing to keep a dog confined on the premises…are more than nine times more likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children,  three times more likely to have been convicted of domestic violence …and nearly eight times more likely to be charged with drug [crimes] than owners of low-risk licensed dogs.”

Not “nature vs. nurture”

The central behavioral issue involving pit bulls is not a matter of “nature versus nurture,”  but rather a matter of inherently problematic dogs being acquired by inherently problematic people, who then keep and train the dogs in a manner that multiplies the risk factors.

The past 25 years of animal advocacy opposition to legislation to stop pit bull proliferation echoes mistakes which were behind two of the most catastrophic humane movement failures of earlier eras,  each of which caused even more millions of animals to suffer and die,  and die suffering.  Each of these ancient mistakes has ongoing repercussions.

The first monster mistake came in 1923,  when the American Humane Association rejected surgical sterilization of dogs and cats, endorsed for the first time by the American Veterinary Medical Association,  as “vivisection”–even though the AHA did not actually oppose vivisection.  The AHA,  then the only national humane organization,  did not acccept dog and cat sterilization for more than 50 years.  By then Friends of Animals,  the ASPCA,  and HSUS had long since reversed majority opinion within the humane movement.

The AHA,  which for the first half of the 20th century operated the largest public orphanage in New York state,  was in 1923 engaged in an ultimately successful fight against eugenicists who sought to impose forced sterilization of orphaned girls.  The AHA board felt that approving dog and cat sterilization would set a bad precedent.

Just as rejecting breed-specific legislation has obliged animal shelters to kill unadoptable pit bulls in volume unprecedented with any other breed,  rejecting dog and cat sterilization forced the humane community to kill ever larger numbers of unwanted puppies and kittens.  This led to the AHA vigorously promoting decompression killing from 1950 until it was abandoned by the last agencies using it in 1985,  having been recognized as inhumane many years earlier by the AVMA and by almost every other humane society in the world.

(The AHA in 2010 began promoting decompression to stun chickens,  using claims and language echoing those used to introduce decompressing dogs and cats 60 years earlier.)

Most of the longterm consequences of continued opposition to legislation mandating sterilization of pit bulls are still evolving, but educated guesses can be made about what those consequences might include.

Alexandra Semyonova,  author of The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs,  suspects that the 2008 repeal of a 1993 Dutch ban on pit bulls is behind growing resistance in the Netherlands to admitting any dogs into apartment houses and places of business.  The oversupply of housing on the U.S. market has worked against a similar trend developing here,  but the momentum of past decades toward opening rental accommodations and condominums to dogs appears to have slowed.

Political strategists for agribusiness in several states are believed to have weighed the advantages of preserving their longtime alliance with dog breeders against the possibility of using humane organizations’ defense of pit bulls as a wedge issue to splinter off public support.

This may never happen,  partly because PETA,  one of the animal advocacy organizations most feared by agribusiness,  is the only major national pro-animal organization to endorse mandatory sterilization of pit bulls.  HSUS,  the most prominent organization in advancing farm animal legislation,  does not oppose mandatory sterilization of pit bulls.

Yet one scenario that ANIMAL PEOPLE editorially warned against in January/February 2004 has come to pass:  in absence of laws that effectively reduce the numbers of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks,  obtaining liability coverage for dogs is much more expensive,  for both individuals and animal shelters.

According to the Insurance Information Institute,  dog bites now account for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims,  a recent average of about 16,000 per year.  The average payout per claim rose 37% between 2003 and 2010,  and is now $26,166.  Total payouts run more than $410 million per year.
Since 2004,  according to IRS Form 990 data,  the insurance premiums paid by major shelters in cities which have legislation to reduce pit bull numbers  have declined by an average of 20%;  but the premiums paid by shelters which actively promote pit bulls have increased by an average of 33%.

In response to complaints from keepers of pit bulls, Rottweilers,  and other high-risk breeds that they cannot find affordable liability insurance,  Michigan and Pennsylvania have passed laws to prevent insurers from charging breed-specific premiums,  which are meant to reflect the true actuarial risk associated with each type of dog.  Similar legislation has been introduced,  but not passed,  in at least 23 other states.

Credibility at risk

ANIMAL PEOPLE has warned,  many times,  that the trustworthiness of the humane community itself is at risk when animal advocates deny the realities of the pit bull crisis.

One of these realities is that shelter and rescue dogs have disfigured 26 Americans since 2007 and have killed six–twice as many people in less than five years as were disfigured or killed by shelter and rescue dogs in the preceding 25 years.  Sixteen of the dogs who inflicted disfiguring injuries since 2007,  and four of those who killed people,  were pit bulls.     Another was a Presa Canario,  produced by crossing a pit bull with a mastiff.  The cumulative liability from attacks by dogs from shelters and rescues in lawsuits known to have been settled within the past year alone is in excess of the annual budgets of more than 93% of all U.S. humane organizations.

Another reality is that many of the statements repeatedly uttered by animal advocates on behalf of pit bulls are demonstrably false and easily exposed.

No,  pit bulls were never “America’s favorite pet.”  There is scant evidence that pit bulls were commonly kept anywhere as family pets until barely 20 years ago.

No,  pit bulls were never “nanny dogs.”  The sole known published reference to this notion,  before the rise of opposition to breed-specific laws,  came in a 1922 work of fiction,  Pep:  The Story of A Brave Dog,  by Clarence Hawkes,  a blind man who wrote by dictating his stories and–though able to spin a gripping yarn–routinely muddled his facts.

There is scant published reference to pit bulls as anything but fighting and pig-hunting dogs before recent decades.  The most prominent news media mentions of pit bulls 50 years ago,  in 1961, came in coverage of the purported centennial celebration of an annual dogfighting convention held in Lafayette,  Louisiana.

No,  bloodhounds as we know them today were not a feared breed in the 19th century.  The much-feared “Cuban bloodhound” of the mid-19th century was a cross of pit bull with mastiff,  much like today’s Presa Canario,  bred to hunt and kill runaway slaves.  The dissimilar and unrelated floppy-eared English bloodhound came to the U.S. decades later.

No,  there is no evidence that if pit bulls were unavailable, some other type of dog would be comparably exploited.  Dogfighters have been trying to produce more dangerous dogs for centuries.  No breed not closely resembling a pit bull and derived from essentially the same lineage has ever succeeded as a fighting dog.

No,  it is not true that breed-specific laws do not reduce bites,  though the reduction is typically proportionate to the numbers of pit bulls formerly within the jurisdiction.  The reduction in bites reported in Ontario after pit bulls were banned was 4%. However,  the primary goals of breed-specific laws are to reduce dog attack fatalities and disfigurements,  and to reduce shelter killing. These goals have been fulfilled wherever breed-specific laws have been brought into force.

No,  breed-specific legislation is not inherently hard to enforce because of the difficulty of defining particular breeds of animal–so long as the definitions are written to be practical, instead of dwelling on the minutiae for which dog show breed standards are notorious.  Many animal control agencies already enforce breed-specific regulations pertaining to what sorts of dogs and horses may be kept outdoors in freezing weather.  Breed-specific rules have also long governed horse racing and livestock exhibition.

Yes,  the “bad boy” comic strip and silent film character Buster Brown kept a pit bull named Tige.  But the whole story is that Tige appeared in four films.  His roles included attacking two humans and one other dog.

Egregious misrepresentation aside,  the offense for which the humane community is most culpable is promoting pit bulls in a manner which provides free advertising to the pit bull breeding industry.

Paradoxically,  some humane organizations recognized back in 1987,  when Budweiser introduced the party bull terrier Spuds MacKenzie to promote beer,  that this might lead to more people acquiring bull terriers on a whim and then dumping them at shelters. Spuds MacKenzie,  though often remembered today as a pit bull,  was actually a much smaller and facially different breed of dog–but his bodily resemblance to a miniature pit bull also produced some concern about him possibly helping to make pit bulls more popular.

But that concern was quickly forgotten in the rush during the next 10 years to condemn Walt Disney Inc. for popularizing Dalmatians by re-releasing the 1959 animated anti-fur classic 101 Dalmatians, and then,  at intervals of about three years,  producing a live-action version plus a sequel.  Indeed the popularity of the 101 Dalmatians films did precede a surge of Dalmatian surrenders to shelters–which raised total Dalmatian intake at shelters to about 1% of all dogs.  Pit bull intake at shelters during the same years doubled,  to 15% of all dogs.

An even more dramatic demonstration of the influence of exposure on dog breed popularity came when Taco Bell in 1997 introduced a mascot Chihuahua.  Chihuahua acquisitions soared sixfold in 10 years,  making Chihuahuas the third most popular dog breed, and for the first time inundating animal shelters in parts of the U.S. with more small dogs than they could rehome.  Shelters in California and elsewhere in the southwest are now exporting surrendered Chihuahus to adoption agencies as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia.

But while blaming Taco Bell for the Chihuahua explosion, much of the humane community remains oblivious to the role of adoption promotions featuring pit bulls in expanding the market for pit bull breeders,  leading inevitably to more pit bulls eventually coming to shelters.

It works like this:  humane societies vociferously allege that pit bulls make wonderful pets.  But shelter dogs of any breed have a reputation as damaged goods.  The ever-increasing numbers of fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks increase public apprehension of adopting an adult pit bull of unknown history,  but the public tends to believe that pit bulls can make great pets if “raised right” from puppyhood.

However,  shelters typically don’t have puppies these days. Pit bull puppies are in effect in the commodities speculation market, until they grow up and are dumped in shelters.  So,  persuaded by advertising meant to promote adoptions to acquire a pit bull,  Joe and Josephine Q. Public buy a pit bull puppy from a backyard breeder. About one of those puppies in three will come to a shelter within less than two years.

Recommendations ignored

Had the recommendations of ANIMAL PEOPLE president Kim Bartlett to the 2002 Conference on Homeless Animal Management and Policy in Hartford,  Connecticut been heeded,  animal shelters since then might have killed between eight and nine million fewer pit bulls.  Pit bull overpopulation would no longer be an issue.
“I believe that pitbulls have a more negative reputation than most members of the breed deserve,”  Bartlett said.  “I am not endorsing any arbitrary killing of dogs simply because they are of a particular breed,   but I favor a ban on breeding of all pit bull-type dogs.  I think it is unethical to breed any dogs,  or cats, so long as they are being killed by the million for population control.  I would rather dogs,  as well as cats and other animals, were not bred at all for purely human purposes.  Since pit bulls clearly can be more dangerous to humans and other animals,  and are more difficult to handle than most other dogs,  and–most importantly–since they attract ‘owners’ who may want to exploit and abuse them,  then for the dogs’ own good,  preventing further breeding should be a priority for the animal rights cause.

“I have an uneasy feeling that a lot of people claiming to be pitbull rescuers are actually pit bull breeders and even dogfighters in disguise,”  Bartlett added.  “Otherwise why would they oppose breeding bans that would not affect dogs already born?  People who rescue feral cats want to see an end to their breeding.  People who rescue exotic animals such as parrots,  lions and tigers,  and potbellied pigs would like to see breed bans on those species.  Why not the so-called pit bull rescuers?  Allowing people with commercial interests in companion animals to have a leading voice in setting policy on dog and cat issues is in my view like allowing chicken farmers to have a leading say in whether or not the animal rights movement advocates vegetarianism,”  Bartlett continued.

“Public policy on animal welfare issues should not be set by breeders and fanciers,  and certainly not by dogfighters who pose as breeders and even pretend to be rescuers.  When so-called pitbull lovers and rescuers use language like ‘it is the right of Americans to buy [or breed] whatever kind of dog they want,’  then they are quite obviously not animal rights advocates,”  Bartlett finished, pointing out that breeding,  buying,  and selling any animals is inconsistent with the goal of ending animal exploitation.

ANIMAL PEOPLE again reminds the humane community that an effective response to pit bull overpopulation must target breeding, and must be legislatively mandated,  since pit bull breeders have proved intransigently resistant to any and all forms of gentle persuasion.

ANIMAL PEOPLE does not favor confiscating or killing any dogs who have safe and stable homes–but we would favor confiscating pit bulls and other dogs of “fighting” breeds from breeders,  as well as from people who abuse and neglect them.  ANIMAL PEOPLE believes active enforcement of breed-specific legislation would be most effective if enforcement is triggered by evidence of breeding,  sale, or other exchange.  The act of offering animals for sale constitutes an admission both that the animals belong to the would-be seller and that they are not considered members of the family.

Effective breed-specific legislation could stop the reproduction of pit bulls and other problematic breeds,  stop dogfighting and speculation on fighting bloodlines,  curtail shelter intakes of pit bulls and other “fighting” dogs,  and reduce attacks on people and other animals.

In some communities,  effective breed-specific legislation could not only reduce shelter killing of pit bulls,  but also reduce killing of other shelter dogs,  whose numbers often have to be reduced abruptly,  if their legally mandated holding time has expired,  to make room for incoming pit bulls.

“Anything that just brings a heap of dead dogs is another tragic failure–and is basically where we already are,”  ANIMAL PEOPLE editorialized in December 2005.  It is profoundly disappointing that six years later the heap of dead pit bulls is many times higher,  while much of the animal advocacy community continues to promote the same policies and practice the same denial that for 25 years have contributed to manufacturing the pit bull crisis.

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