Pit bulls are the most bred dog in America. They are the most common in shelters, and they are the most euthanized as well. There are organizations whose sole mission is to make the breed extinct. The existence of pit bulls is now threatened due to their aggressive reputation.
On December 19th, 2013, police officers served a search warrant at a home in Oakland where they unexpectedly stumbled upon a dogfighting operation. Eleven dogs were found chained up. The police shut it down and placed the dogs with Oakland Animal Services. Nine out of the 11 dogs were able to be rehabilitated and adopted. One of the rescued pit bulls, named Tanner, found a home with Travis Greenly.
“Tanner is a great dog. He’s very calm, he’s a little shy, and he absolutely loves to run. That’s Tanner, he’s either being a perfect little angel inside, or he’s just running like the wind outside,” says Greenly.
Tanner, the rescued pit bull, stands as a counterexample to common public perceptions of the breed. PETA spokeswoman, Lisa Lange, thinks that the reason why people fear pit bulls has to do with the dog’s nature.
“Dogs have been bred with a genetic blueprint that makes them more likely to do certain things,” said Lange.
But pit bulls are not a specific breed. The word pit bull is used to describe a group of dogs with certain characteristic looks in common. Pit bull type dogs include breeds such as Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, and American Staffordshire terriers, amongst others. All were historically bred for two purposes: to control vermin and to fight. Lange said that those traits can be passed down, but there are other factors too that can determine a dog’s behavior.
“The way we treat dogs can also have a huge impact on their behavior. Neglecting, abusing, or bullying them in any way is a recipe for disaster. Especially when the dog naturally has fearful or protective instincts,” said Lange.
Pit Bulls have proven themselves dangerous numerous times. Stories about people getting mauled to death by pit bulls are frequently told in the mass media.
“Over time, if you hear a particular story over and over it becomes what we call a trend story. It’s talking about a particular trend in automotive, the housing market, gasoline prices, unfortunately with the dogs, it has become a particular trend in a dog story,” says Linnea Edmeier, Director of External Affairs at the UC Berkeley Journalism School.
It’s become such a trend that the American Society for Protection and Cruelty against Animals, ASPCA, has reported that the media specifically told them that they have no interest in reporting on dog attacks that don’t involve pit bull type dogs.
Anti-pit bull groups use the media to build their case against the dogs. Dogsbite.org is a group that tracks what it calls “dangerous dog breeds”. They counted news articles and found that pit bulls killed 27 Americans in 2014. That’s nearly two-thirds of all reported dog-related deaths in the United States.
That kind of stat has led to legal action in some cities. Pit bull breeds were banned in Denver, Colorado in 1989. But it’s not making people safer - dogs continue to bite more people in Denver than almost everywhere else in the state. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention say that breed bans are not effective because they don’t address the biggest problem: unfixed dogs.
“You see that most of the cases involving any kind of serious injury are intact animals of any sort,” says Rebecca Katz, Director of Animal Services in Oakland.
Around the country, only 1 in 600 pit bulls gets out of an animal shelter alive.