Campus personalities present and past Rebecca C. Brown and Tommaso Sciortino tackle the issues. This week on a very special CalJunket: Rebecca learns not to chew with her mouth open and Tommaso finds out his best friend is addicted to no-doze.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Part two: Statistical and representational analysis
Not a month ago, an elderly Walnut Creek woman was mauled to death by a dog, reportedly a pit bull. As with all dog attack stories said to involve pit bulls, this event spurred many Bay Area residents to yet again pick up their pitch forks and decry the ownership of this breed; some even resurrected the idea of a breed ban (which, for several reasons, has yielded predictable yet unconsidered side effects for communities that have adopted such bans). This article by C. W. Nevius from the Chronicle parses out the most common arguments against pit bull ownership, and I would like to explain the fallacy in each of the author's main points.
Pit bulls, because of their breeding (and not upbringing), are inherently more dangerous to people than other breeds.
Breeds commonly used for fighting have been bred for aggression toward other dogs only; conversely, loyalty and kindness toward humans has been selectively bred into pits. Aggression toward humans is commonly a result of habitual mistreatment by an owner or is prompted by the victim inadvertently threatening the dog's space or food in some way. (Nearly every breed of dog, right down to the snuggly Westland Terrier, is prone to snap when another creature invades its territory or gestures toward the animal's food. That's what we get for making pets out of wolves.) As is the case with any dog (or human, for that matter), pits may occasionally bite or attack for seemingly no reason at all.
Pits are more aggressive than other breeds.
Toward other dogs, yes. When it comes to their behavior toward your mom and cousin and baby sister, there isn't any definitive evidence to support that assertion. The findings of the American temperament Test Society even show APBTs and American Staffordshire terriers having excellent temperaments compared to many more beloved breeds.
Look! Look at these statistics! They prove that pits are more prone to bite people.
Pit bulls are far and away the number one breed cited in dog bites and fatalities. That much is indisputable. However, these statistics are questionable for a number of reasons. First, as the author notes so astutely later in the article, the pit bull is one of the most common breeds found in urban areas, especially in the last decade. Because there are no statistics that definitively reveal how common each breed is, no one knows how much of the dog population is pits. If what the author infers from shelter populations is true, though, and even close to half the dogs in an urban region are pits, it would be perfectly logical that pits would be responsible for half of all dog bites and fatal attacks. Instead, the author lists only raw numbers and not percentages, but my own research shows that pits and Rottweilers together usually represent about 50% of dog attack fatalities. In non-fatal bites, even severe bites, pits are implicated in a much lower proportion, sometimes lower than 10%. Again, emphasis must be put on the fact that raw numbers are painfully unhelpful unless we know the proportions in which each breed comprises the entire population.
Second, pit bulls are very likely to be falsely implicated in attacks, both in animal control reports and especially in media coverage. For people not very well-versed in the art of recognizing breeds and mixes (which is, oh, just about everybody), if a dog is muscular, has a stalky snout, is medium-sized, and is growling, it is assumed to be a pit bull. Less than a year ago, Rebecca C. Brown could not have told you the difference between an APBT and a Staffie, a Staffie and a shepherd/Shar Pei mix. Even now, after hours of internet research on pits, I need to pause to distinguish a pit from another stout, medium-sized breed. What these statistics don't account for is that Joe Bystander probably didn't get up-close and personal with the pup before it ate his neighbors face off. So, when asked what the breed was, he might just answer with whatever mean dog breed he can think of first.
Third, when analyzing statistics based on media reports, it goes without saying that pit attacks are more likely to be publicized than chihuahua attacks. Along those lines, pit bites are probably more likely to be reported to animal authorities than beagle bites. I can't claim that a terrier will do as much damage with his jaws as an APBT, but to attribute these statistics to inherent dog behavior is irresponsible.
C. W. Nevius is not alone in his opinions. Even usually informed people normally cautious of media generalizations will make judgments about the breed before doing research of their own.
For more information about pits (and to look at adoptable pups), please visit www.badrap.org. The story of Bullet is especially engaging.