Over the weekend, three Pit Bull attacks in Philly made headlines. A woman's wrist was severely injured when her neighbor's dog bit her. Philip Sheriff was attacked by two Pit Bulls his friends were walking; doctors are fighting to save this poor child’s arm. And most tragically, Christine Staab lost her life when her mother's Pit Bull attacked her after she fell during a fight the two were having in her mother's home.
One attack is bad enough, three is just unbearably heartbreaking on so many levels. As Pit Bull advocates, we are quick to jump to the defense of a breed, argue against breed bans, and to point out irresponsible human behavior. But what often gets lost to the point, is that part of the anger and upset felt is due to the fact that humans are being needlessly hurt. Lives forever changed. When the finger is pointed at the wrong suspect, the real "bad guys" get away unnoticed. And go on to cause more harm down the road. We want less attacks, not more – and so we are angry; angry that a breed gets blamed, and attention is taken away from real solutions that might actually have a real impact.
In cases of "pit bull attacks", when the finger is pointed at the breed for being the 'bad guy', the real issues (irresponsible, ignorant humans and negligent behavior) get overshadowed, nothing gets solved. And more - not less -attacks are the result.
Let's take the Sheriff case for instance. In the above report, there are some very glaring red flags - namely young children unsupervised walking two dogs much stronger than they, dogs that were found as strays merely 3 months prior to this attack. That hints at an unknown history, new dogs that might not have been properly evaluated for temperament, nor received proper training or socialization. The dogs, obviously out of control since one broke free and began to run off, ended up fighting. When two dogs fight, a young child can very easily become the initially-unintended target.
In the case of Christine Staab, there was a dog placed in the confusing, frightening situation of his human facing a perceived threat. Dogs allowed free reign in the midst of domestic disturbances - which can be extremely agitating to dogs – dogs who can very easily in the midst of confusion, yelling, and thrown objects, act in defense by attacking one of the involved humans.
We expect dogs to protect us when there is a threat, be docile and our best friends at all other times, and remain calm and collected no matter what chaotic situations we place them in as long as WE personally deem the situation "non-threatening". That is an awful lot of pressure placed on dogs, and when dogs make "mistakes", instead of owning up to human fallacy (hey parents, kids shouldn't walk dogs they are physically incapable of handling, and adults shouldn't scream and throw things at each other in the presence of dogs who may feel a need to defend self, human guardian, or property), we point the finger at the easy target: a "bad" breed.
Why exactly do dogs act aggressively, or attack? The underlying factor is fear of harm: a need to protect, defend, remain safe. This is true of ALL dogs. When dogs are placed into situations where a human is incapable of providing a safe, controlled environment, the dog is set up to fail and the humans are left in a vulnerable position. But this is what humans consistently do with dogs: set them up to fail. Dogs are not socialized yet forced to exist in a world that demands they always "act nice"; don't receive proper training but are expected to always behave; are mismanaged and abused and expected to "take it"; do not receive health care; are not spayed and neutered (intact male dogs are the biggest culprits in attacks); kept on chains (which are another factor implicated in attacks); kept by humans who lack even a basic understanding of dog behavior and can very easily miss warning signs that their dogs are presenting signs of potentially dangerous behavioral issues; left alone with children and the elderly; [omit a myriad other examples for sake of space and time].
Erasing a dog breed as if it alone is the problem – or even just PART of the problem – will leave ban supporters clamoring unsatisfied when the next wave of popularity sweeps dogdom and another breed becomes victims to the whims and ignorance of humans. What then? More breeds banned? Where do we draw the line? When do we expect humans to take responsibility for what is, in fact, theirs to be responsible for? Instead we lay blame at the feet of an animal; ban a breed, as if that will suddenly solve all our problems. So we can keep attempting to wipe out dog breeds until we are left with none, or we can begin to address societal issues that bring us to these discussions in the first place. And we can start expecting people to actually be responsible for their dogs, to engage in proper management, care, training. To educate themselves on at least the basics of dog behavior and learning. And to face the consequences when they fail to live up to their responsibilities.