OPINION: Pit Bull Breeds Unfairly Shoulder Blame for Attacks

Corinne D’Ambrosio, co-Founder, SoCal Pitbull TEAM advocacy group in Orange County, points to facts and statistics that show pit bull-type dogs are actually responsible for fewer attacks nationwide than other breeds.

Editor's Note: Corinne D’Ambrosio, Co-Founder, SoCal Pitbull TEAM advocacy group, wrote the following in response to the April 12 article . Investigators at Coastal Animal Services Authority and San Clemente Police Services have thus far declined to go on record to officially contradict initial reports of the dogs' breed type. D'Ambrosio said she has been in contact with their owner, however.

Despite the fact that we now know the dogs involved in the San Clemente attack were not pit bulls at all, but rather a Rhodesian Ridgeback/Cane Corso and Mastiff/Boxer mix, I am nonetheless dismayed by yet another incident involving so-called pit bull type dogs, and writing to offer readers some facts to alleviate the overwhelming misconception of these dogs as vicious and unpredictable.

I do so while extending my sincere condolences to the family of golden retriever Charlie, and to all victims of dog bites, human and canine.

An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year. What is important to remember is that at least 25 different breeds of dogs have been involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities in the U.S., and that pit bull type dogs come in at the BOTTOM of the list when dog bite statistics are taken into consideration versus the population.

To put this in other words, there are 72,000 St. Bernard’s licensed in the United States and 10 reported attacks versus 60 reported pit bull attacks out of a registered population of 5,000,000!

This means that St. Bernard’s are 100 percent more likely than pit bulls to be involved in a dog attack. If you need further evidence, see the chart below:

Registered Population # of Reported Attacks Breed % vs. Population Approx. 240,000 12 Chow Chow .005% Approx. 800,000 67 German Shepherd .008375% Approx. 960,000 70 Rottweiler .00729% Approx. 128,000 18 Great Dane .01416% Approx. 114,000 14 Doberman .012288% Approx. 72,000 10 St. Bernard .0139% Approx. 5,000,000 60 Pit Bulls .0012%

From: http://mabbr.org/pit-bull-ownership/the-truth-about-pit-bulls/

Why such a large population of pit bulls, you might ask? Many pit bull owners are unaware themselves that “pit bull” is not a breed, but a “type” that encompasses several registered breeds and crossbreeds.

There are currently 25 breeds that are commonly considered a “pit bull”, including any mix containing American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldog, and Bull Terrier. I think it may seem clear to many readers why statistics claiming pit bull type dogs are involved in more dog attacks can be misleading, since they are lumping many separate breeds of dogs together, then comparing those statistics to other dogs that are counted as individual breeds.

My goal in writing this article is not to detract from the suffering Charlie and his owners had to endure, or to make excuses for these types of incidents. Too often people cast the blame on the dog (or more accurately, a TYPE of dog), instead of focusing the responsibility on an owner who perhaps allowed a dog to run off-leash unsupervised, did not properly socialize his or her dog, or didn’t take the measures to prevent an incident like this from happening. There are some common threads in dog attacks beyond breed and beyond the larger than life myth of the pit bull.

For example, approximately 92 percent of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94 percent of which were not neutered.

Twenty-four percent of fatal dog attacks involved loose dogs that were off their owner’s property. Attacks happen most frequently when they involved unsupervised dogs, un-neutered male dogs, and what are often referred to as “resident dogs” rather than family pets. Family pets are socialized, well cared for, and welltrained.

Resident dogs are left in a backyard, often are chained, and the owner should be held responsible -- not the dog or breed of dog that is unfortunate enough to be left in such circumstances.

In response to these types of incidents, many communities have enacted breed-specific legislation (BSL) that prohibits ownership of certain breeds. This doesn’t just include pit bulls but in some cases, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, and others.

I hope from the facts I have presented you can now see that any breed of dog can bite, and research suggests BSL does little to protect the community from dog-bite incidents. In fact, BSL can often have unintended negative consequences and costs, leading to increases in the number of homeless, stray, and euthanized dogs.

Responsible breeding and ownership, public education and enforcement of existing laws are the most effective ways of reducing dog bites. The American Humane Society supports local legislation to protect communities from dangerous animals, but does not advocate laws that target specific breeds of dogs.

Neither do the following well-respected organizations:

  • American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
  • The American Kennel Club (AKC)
  • The United Kennel Club (UKC)
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
  • American Temperament Testing Society (ATTS)
  • National Animal Control Association (NACA)
  • Maryland Veterinary Medicine Association
  • Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
  • American Canine Foundation (ACF)

In summary, pit bulls are no more vicious than Golden Retrievers, Beagles, or other popular “family” dogs. In a recent testing done by The American Canine Temperament Testing Society (ATT), pit bulls achieved a passing rate of 83.9 percent, passing fourth from the highest of 122 breeds. That’s better than Beagles, passing at 78.2 percent and Golden Retrievers passing at 83.2 percent. The average passing rate for ALL breeds is 77 percent.

In light of the attack in San Clemente and recently proposed breed specific ordinances in Riverside and San Diego counties, please join other dog lovers and advocates in supporting stricter ownership laws to prevent these types if incidents in the future, and hold the owner rather than the dog accountable. Responsible pit bull owners ARE the majority, we just don’t make headlines.

Jen May 01, 2013 at 03:18 PM
You're right, it was Lee that posted about Dr. DeMas, but here is a quote from roastpuppy to me when I questioned Dr. DeMas's experience with wildcats and shark bites: "To Jennifer: Will you stop already?! lee77 knows what he's talking about and you don't. You're just making a fool of yourself. BTW, I just read where a pit bull in Manatee, FL attacked a 6 year old boy and he had to be life-flighted to a trauma center. Another BTW, Jennifer, plastic surgeons go to medical school and they learn about different kinds of attacks, by sharks, wildcats and so on. The doctor doesn't have to be a forensic expert to compare the attacks of a pit bull to wildcats and sharks. Now, will you please do us all a favor and SHUT UP?!!!!!!! http://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/22081361/dog-behavior-expert-why-family-dogs-attack Now someone might be using your name, roastpuppy, which would be in poor taste, pun intended, but the writing style is suspiciously similar.
Clay Hundenshire May 01, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Roast puppy, You can wish all you want, but pit bulls will be here as long as people are here. That is a promise. I am from Boston, and my state is the 13th state to eradicate BSL. New Mexico is working on it now, and so are some other states. At least the trend setting states have laws against BSL, which others are following. Keep hoping and wishing all you want, but the only places that are passing BSL are podunk towns with very small populations. They are simpleminded and lower educated then most. Just like you.
Jen May 01, 2013 at 03:45 PM
All a person has to do is look at the vitriol of many of the comments from the anti-pit bull crowd. They call us dog freaks; accuse of us condoning these killer dogs and not caring about humans; being propagandists; fabricating hero pit bull stories; claim they know a pit bull when they see one, even though veterinarians, dog trainers and breeders cannot identify a mixed breed dog; claim that it's not if a pit bulls kills or maims, but when; claim to know genetics, but don't post sicentific studies; call us delusional, pit wits and nutters; claim our arguments don't carry any water but all of theirs do -- that right there makes no logical sense. In just this article, here are some quotes: "I'll bet your place of abode smells like a backed up sewer with four stinking fleabags peeing and having other "accidents" in the house. You should be ashamed of yourself for living in such filth!" This quote attributed to roastpuppy on another article on the New Orleans Picayune thread: "You were explaining how 'pit bulls' were 'invariably owned by ghetto rats, Mexicans and trailer trash'." "Dogs today are totally superfluous and the majority of people who own them are dog freaks who are such despicable excuses for human beings that if they have any companionship at all it is from a dog!" How is this furthering education about dog safety? It's not. Dogs today are superfluous? Really? I think not.
Nancy May 01, 2013 at 04:22 PM
A couple of people are vitriolic, Jen. However, from your point of view, I have experienced vitriol that was over the top, including someone nearly stalking me. Jen, is it acceptable to you that your compatriot in dog defense (Clay) tells people to "grow the f$@% up"? Or to call everybody a troll? I'm not sure what Roastpuppy's angle is, but it amazes me to see the vehemence and threatening language (with you as an exception) by those who demand that their dog be accepted by all. For the record, your statement about "animal behaviorists agree that there is nothing different about a pit bull." We had one of the top trainers (recommended by vets) in Orange County work with us and our dog. We asked if there was a dog he wouldn't train (He personally owned Rotts and Pinschers) and he said he could never guarantee a pit bull for anyone. Perhaps, if the dog was under the authority of someone like himself (or a Cesar Milan), it would be foolproof, but not in the hands of most (if not all) amateur owners. So, your statement about behaviorists is a personal opinion of yours, not a fact about all behaviorists.
RoastPuppy May 01, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Jen (or is it Gin? – you write like you’ve had a few!): I made a factual statement about anyone who attends medical school and said Dr. DeMas did not have to be "forensic expert" to compare the attacks of pit bulls to those of sharks and wildcats. Had I posted the schools he attended, articles he had written, where he did his residency, the number of dog bite injuries he had treated, and so on, then I would have been commenting on his "expertise." A mere generalization is not a comment on expertise. Now, why don't you explain that run-on, nonsensical sentenced I asked you about in a previous post? Everyone, please read the comments in the link Gin posted and see how she made a complete fool of herself.
Jen May 01, 2013 at 04:58 PM
Hi Nancy, I agree there is vitriol on both sides, but I try to avoid it although I'm sure my frustration shows at times. I do my best to post what I know from experience or that which is backed by science or people who have worked extensively with all breeds. It offends and saddens me that some of the vitriol is directed at me by someone who has never met me or my dogs, simply because I have possible pit mixes (both spayed/neutered shelter dogs) that do therapy work. I have been accused of wishing ill on children, the elderly, students and people with mental health issues I work with just because of the perceived breed of my dogs. It gets my ruff up, so to speak. I work diligently in my community to educate people about responsible dog ownership and how to train and integrate dogs into a family so bites or attacks do not occur. I strongly support prosecuting bad dog owners, whether it's not abiding leash laws, letting your dogs run free, not picking up after them on trails, or knowing you have an aggressive dog and not dealing with its issues. Is that so wrong?
Jen May 01, 2013 at 04:59 PM
I also agree with you that not all experts feel the same about different breeds. The people I follow are reward-based, positive trainers and behaviorists who have successfully worked with pretty much all breeds of dogs and mixes. They would be the first to say that certain people should not own a border collie or a Jack Russel terrier or a bull mastiff. In fact, I just walked an off-leash trail with my dog who was playing with a Gorden setter. The owner said that most people shouldn't own Gordon setters because they require way too much exercise and can get into trouble if not properly trained. Those are the kinds of people I appreciate. That's what is important to me. Matching the right owner with the right dog. However, all dogs are individuals and therefore a blanket statement that all pit bulls or mixes are unmanageable or killers is untrue.
Vikki Foley May 01, 2013 at 06:49 PM
Not all pitbulls are bad but IMO pitbull owners have a real branding problem. For example, David Gizzarelli, who's pitbull Charlie attacked a police horse in San Francisco. Gizzarelli solicited $17K donations from the pubic nationwide supposedly for his defense. Mr.Gizzarelli exploited the breed for financial gain and publicity. I might add that Mr.Gizarelli is an aspiring actor. If responsible pitbull owners acknowledged that pitbulls (not German Shepherds, Boxers,or Akitas) are often the 'dog of choice' for criminals,the pubic would have more respect for the them. Pitbull backyard breeding offers a cheap source for thugs,and it is the poor genetics of these dogs (not the lack of training as many profess) that is causing these dogs to become unsound. Until the majority of pit owners are willing to admit that many breeds, not just pits, have very high prey drive, which is the the root cause of most attacks, pit owners credibility on canine behavior will continue to be challenged. Pitbull owners need to do a better job of promoting the breed through obedience and dog sports such as agility or flyball. Instead they show videos of their dog sleeping next to a baby. Any dog can do that.
HOBO87 May 01, 2013 at 07:14 PM
No, Roast you are obviously not at all learned, I guess the fact you admit it is at least something. Problem is though, the efficacy of BSL as a public policy rests directly on a scientific hypothesis, which is that the dangerous dog problem is inherent to a 'breed' or type of dogs. If you can't make that argument in a learned or scientific way, or point to scientific organizations which agree with the hypothethis, there's no reason for anyone to listen to your opinion on BSL, and that you consider your own opinion to be 'truth' is quite irrelevant. And that's the main point of that article that neither you nor the other usual BSL trolls, here or on other threads, has addressed. If BSL is such a good idea why does virtually nobody in mainstream veterinary science support it? And don't make more of a fool of yourself cooking up conspiracy theories about how science is 'bought off' by the 'dog industry'. That's one step away from homeless guys howling at the moon. No rational person is going to come over to your POV based on arguments like that.
Jen May 01, 2013 at 09:10 PM
I agree with you, Vicki. Criminals want large, scary dogs. But the more the public perceives certain dogs as scary, the more the criminals will breed them. Also, there are thousands of good owners. The Stubby Dog website proves that. I also agree about prey drive and that dogs need a variety of activities. My female dog is very smart and if we don't keep her stimulated she finds her own fun. A dog that's not socialized will find the wrong kind of fun, which may exhibit itself as aggression towards other animals and people. My dogs and I have done agility, nosework and general training classes, as well as the therapy dog work. I didn't set out to adopt a pit bull and for my purposes I don't need a purebred dog of any type. I adopted my two dogs because I felt they would best meet my activities and needs. One was a 10-wk-old puppy and one was a 1-yr-old wild and crazy boy who had no training. My shelter was very careful about who they adopted him to. We've had him 3 yrs now and he's taking the therapy dog eval. this summer.
RoastPuppy May 01, 2013 at 09:47 PM
HOBO: Just about everyone who has posted about BSL has explained and explained and explained why "virtually nobody in mainstream veterinary medicine supports" BSL. Obviously, you're so busy spewing ignorance that you can't be bothered to actually read the comments of those with whom you disagree. I wasn't the first person to say this, but I'm going to repeat it just for you: Every time a pit bull attacks another animal (a pet or livestock) and the animal doesn't die, but is badly injured, some veterinarian usually pockets thousands of dollars to put the poor beast back together. It's all about money! Expecting the average veterinarian to tell the truth about something that will significantly reduce his/her income is equivalent to expecting sugar manufacturers to admit sugar is killing people. It's not going to happen! Veterinarians are looking out for themselves! Basic economics – something you obviously know nothing about! You’re not as intelligent you think you are. Big surprise there!
RoastPuppy May 01, 2013 at 09:58 PM
You have no proof whatsoever that "most of the time the dogs in these stories are misidentified." Furthermore, I, and everyone else, can judge anything we choose without having "met the individual." For example, I judged Osama bin Laden as a dangerous Islamic extremist and I never met him. Was I wrong? If so, then the majority of people in the US are wrong, and that includes our elected officials, because they judged him in the same manner and they never met him either! And you expect everyone to refrain from judging something as worthless as a dog when it attacks a human just because we haven’t met the dog? You are delusional!
Vikki Foley May 02, 2013 at 12:09 AM
@ Jen, You sound like a very good owner with a good understanding of your breed.
RoastPuppy May 02, 2013 at 12:24 AM
Clay Hundershire (LOL!): Apparently, you consider yourself an expert on BSL and brag that your state, i.e., Massachusetts, "is the 13th state to eradicate BSL." And as you have said, who am I to argue with such a well-informed expert from such a progressive state? So, Mr. Hundenshire (LOL!), would you please tell us about S969 (this means Senate Bill 969) sponsored by Michael F. Rush? There are probably some here who haven't heard of it and since you're from Massachusetts and an expert, I bow to your superior knowledge.
Grant May 02, 2013 at 12:46 AM
Vikki, you hit the nail on the head! Some on this blog seem to believe that the bad reputation of pit bulls is entirely the fault of the "sensationalistic media". How absurd! So, if a dog that is not a pit or pit-mix kills or maims someone, they don't report it? Really, are you that naive? If you checked out the records in hospitals and coroner's offices throughout the county (or world, for that matter) you would find pit bulls being falsely charged as a matter of course? For what purpose would thousands of agencies around the world deliberately lie about this? What could possibly be their motive? All I know is that I've been hearing awful stories of pit bull attacks for decades, on a monthly or even weekly basis. If this breed is so benign, then the owners of these dogs need to really step up to the plate and show us why our gut feelings are so wrong. So far this year, the only fatalities reported in this country have involved pit bulls or pit bull mixes. I'd love a rational explanation of this. And please refrain from using vulgarity or calling us "simpleminded and lower educated then most" (as Mr. Clay Hundenshire does in an earlier post) for merely expressing our opinion.
Nancy May 02, 2013 at 12:49 AM
I agree. If only all pitbull owners had the expertise handling their dog that Jen seems to have.
Grant May 02, 2013 at 12:59 AM
@ Jen: I'm encouraged that you are such a responsible dog owner; all dogs should have such an owner! And, for the record, I don't support breed specific legislation of any sort. The legal "can-of-worms" that is opened when such laws are passed ensure a clogging of our already over-crowded courtrooms.
RoastPuppy May 02, 2013 at 03:33 AM
If you're Jaloney Caldwell, I'm Clay Hundenshire! You should be ashamed of yourself! I'm a veteran, I haven't been without a job since I finished school and I've never been "on meds" because, unlike you, I'm not crazy. In other words, I'm not a pit bull owner!
Lovingbulldogowner May 02, 2013 at 07:23 AM
The reason why there are so many unresponsible pit owners is because pits need a pack leader and are very high maintance when it comes to training. Most people when they get a pit dont understand this and then just through the dog in the back yard. its unfortunet but thats what happines. and if pits are not well socialized they will get aggressive. And to the hole hospital situation Pits have stronger jaws then labs and many other dogs witch will cause more damage when they bitte. P.S. what about these little yeaper dogs ? Those things are crazy and scary I would rather walk next to or by a pit then a chewawa. Talk about pits having bad owners chewawas and other small dogs I believe to have the worst owners and to be some of the most aggressive dogs I have ever Encountered.
Cathy Chrislip Gronau May 03, 2013 at 05:38 PM
This is so untrue. An AMERICAN BULLDOG is NOT also known as a pit bull. That is complete BS. They are strictly the American Staffordshire Terriers who were bred with the prey drive. American Bulldogs do NOT have that prey drive and to say so is to spread false information. Shame on you! But I do agree that it's the Owner's fault if their dogs get out or are off leash. Every time I walk my dogs; there is always some idiot with their dog off leash. Some people are just plain stupid.
lily May 04, 2013 at 07:49 AM
In some of those attacks that involve small children the caretakers (parents or babysitters) were arrested for child endangerment for not properly watching the child. While horrific and terribly tragic, the deaths you mention don't even come close to the numbers that are lost to DUI's in our country. Do you suggest we kill all drunk people too?? Now that statment I just made is silly, of course, but imo just as silly as killing off an entire breed in case they "go wild".
lily May 04, 2013 at 07:52 AM
Debbiebell we have had this discussion on another forum your facts on this are grossly in accurate.
lily May 04, 2013 at 07:57 AM
nancy misidentification of this breed happens all the time. This article proves that. The term "pit bull" is a catch all phrase. It was once the rottie, then the german shephard, the chows, and now the "pit bulls". They have all take their turn as the "bad dog". If you start calling for the banning of one type of dog, make sure you are aware your favorite may be next...
lily May 04, 2013 at 08:02 AM
My lab pit mix is always confined to my property. He is not taken to dog parks, because I would not set him up to fail. He is very gentle and kind, but if a fight did break out, and my dog fought back, based on his size and strength he would win. Because he is part pit bull he would also be blamed no matter what, so why set him up to fail. People need to be responsible pet owners no matter what kind of dog/s they own. My dog is not walked in other peoples yards, to take a dump, yet folks do that all the time, big and small dogs. The epitomy of rudeness. There are all kinds of irresponsible pet owners from the mildly annoying to the outright dangerous.
lily May 04, 2013 at 08:09 AM
vikki, it is well known that pit bulls became the dog of choice for the criminal element. What responsible pit bull owners would like to do is have people at least acknowledge and understand is... its not ONLY that criminal element that own these dogs. Because of these thugs and drug dealers I have been told "you must be a drug dealer you own a pit bull". In other words, sterotyped for the kind of dog I adopted. Nonsense. Backyard breeding is one way this breed is being destroyed, but lack of training, is also another. My lab pit mix has zero prey drive, my chihuhua has more prey drive than he does. IMO a person that would have a small child un attended in a home with ANY large intact (not neutered) male dog, is asking for trouble.
lily May 04, 2013 at 08:12 AM
cathy yes so true. My lab pit mix has never been at large, he is always on leashor in our house, or in our fenced back yard. We did not adopt him until our backyard was secure. We have a high fence, no jumping over it, no digging out, etc. A owner has to be responsible. There is a lot more to pet ownership than just cuddles and kisses.
lily May 04, 2013 at 08:16 AM
Nancy 8:55 pm on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 Congratulations, you found one non-pitbull in an attack on a person. Now match the same numbers of attacks that I provided. And no more BS about how all of these cases represent a mis-identified dog. Nancy its not bs. many of these cases are mis-identified. one that is bent of pit bull hatred will always be looking at with the opinion such as yours though.
Vikki Foley May 06, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Lilly, I think we are saying the same thing. You can't make broad statements about any group. I would never use the word "all" but you can identify 'trends' and draw a correlation between criminals and their choices, i.e., 'generally', drug dealers will own guns. People are ignoramuses if they said to your face that you must be a drug dealer because of your breed. The rescue people think I'm a pretentious highbrow because I will only own a purebred AKC dog. I could care less. They are entitled to their opinion. It's my money and my training time that I put into my dog. Like I said , pitbull owners need to get out there in the dog sports world like Jen. Once the public see's more of these dogs doing amazing work with their responsible handlers, this will show the breed in a more positive light. Instead they sit on chat rooms and complain how they are discriminated against. AKC now allows mixed breed and non-AKC registered dogs to compete in obedience. This is not an expensive sport and can be very rewarding for both dog and handler.
PK May 06, 2013 at 08:22 PM
Bottom line is that any animal that is abused or trained to be aggressive by low life owners will be a threat to people and other animals. You cannot blame the animal for how it is treated. It is the owners who brutalize breeds to become this way. I have known some pit bull's that have been treated well, with love and care, and they are the nicest most loyal animals out there. Owners and breeders are responsible.
lily May 06, 2013 at 09:51 PM
Vikki yes I agree, more bully breed owners should be out there advocating for the breed. There are wonderful groups that do just that, but we need more.


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