by Dr. Lisa Chassy, Director, Young-Williams Animal Center Spay/Neuter Solutions. Photo by Young-Williams Animal Center
“You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” is a common phrase used to teach children not to prejudge or discriminate against a person because of their looks. The lesson applies to many things, including dog breeds like pit bulls. Because of the numerous misconceptions about pit bulls, people unfamiliar with the breed fall prey to stereotypes that are as unfair and untrue as racial stereotypes.
Since the 1980s, pit bulls have been reported to be inherently more dangerous than other strong breeds of dog, but there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Pit bulls can make loving, trustworthy, and gentle friends. Our community and animal welfare advocates need to work together to increase public understanding of the breed and to dispel the many myths surrounding it.
Teaching children that certain breeds of dogs are mean and others are friendly is inaccurate and potentially dangerous for the child. Any dog can be aggressive, especially one that feels threatened, such as a mother with puppies, or a dog chained to a post with no way to flee or hide. Under a stressful situation, any dog may bite.
Pegging a breed of dog, such as saying that a German shepherd is more likely to bite than a Poodle, creates a false sense of security. Children should be taught how to act around any dog, especially unfamiliar ones—regardless of the breed. In addition, learning how dogs communicate their intentions to us goes a long way to preventing injury.
Another reason to dispel the myths surrounding these breeds is to decrease the number of homeless and stray pit bulls and pit bulls mixes. Because pit bulls are so misunderstood, it’s tougher to find them homes. There are so many of them in the community that they often end up at the shelter where they are often passed over and overlooked.
In fact, the breed was once recognized as the perfect “nanny dog” for children because of its friendly nature, loyalty and stability.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) conducted a review of dog bite studies in North America and elsewhere and concluded that separate regulation of “pit bull” dogs is not a basis for dog bite prevention. The study also said that creating and enforcing nondiscriminatory responsible pet ownership laws is the most effective path to building safe, humane communities. Over the last 10 years, both the City of Knoxville and Knox County have revised Dangerous Dog and animal care ordinances that allow our Animal Control agencies to do just that.
Despite this and other studies, pit bulls continue to be unfairly labeled as aggressive because of isolated, sensationalized incidents. The media hype has encouraged some people to want a “tough-looking” dog, which in turn encourages irresponsible breeders and reckless pet owners. Regardless of the breed, spaying and neutering your dog helps reduce the chances of aggression and helps decrease the number of homeless pets in our community. Fewer homeless pets means a safer community for us all.
The good news is that by and large the majority of pit bull dog owners are responsible, everyday people. In fact, the breed was once recognized as the perfect “nanny dog” for children because of its friendly nature, loyalty and stability. On the silver screen, the pit bull was a constant companion to the adorable kids in both the Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies and Buster Brown.
Pit bulls make wonderful family pets, and by nature are smart, eager to learn, and trainable. Educating your children is an essential step toward achieving a community that provides compassionate care of all animals, including the pit bull breed mix.
Lisa Chassy, DVM, MS, is director of Young-Williams Animal Center’s public spay/neuter programs. Since 2007, Young-Williams has performed more than 47,500 spay/neuter surgeries, preventing hundreds and hundreds of unplanned litters that create thousands of homeless pets each year. For more information call 865-215-6599 or visit www.young-williams.org