August 17, 2006

Have they found the mythical "pit bull"?

Anyone who follows the fight against breed-specific legislation is well aware of one of the main complaints about laws aimed at the most targeted type of dog, the issue being that there is no such thing as a "pit bull".

The argument goes something like this:

First, you take some or all of five or so purebred breeds and you list them.

Then, because there are only a small number of purebred dogs of this type and because the owners of purebred dogs tend to keep hold of them and not let them run around biting people, you add a phrase such as "substantially similar" or "with similar physical characteristics", to include as many dogs as possible in the hopes of catching the few that bite.

The purebred dogs and the many mixed-breed mutts that fit the catch-all phrase can now be referred to by a single identifier: "pit bull".

In addition, we have the media representation and public perception of the dreaded "pit bull" as, essentially, any medium to large sized dog that is even remotely muscular and that has attacked, bitten, nipped, threatened, barked, run loose, charged a fence, played rough, or has, in some person's opinion, caused someone, somewhere, some concern or fear.

Many members of the public have never even seen a purebred dog of the targeted breeds. In Ontario, there are a minute number of these dogs born each year to breeders registered with the CKC, the AKC, the UKC, or the ADBA. If someone has seen a dog he thought was a "pit bull", it is most likely to have been a backyard-bred mutt of unknown lineage. The bigger the dog is, the more muscular the dog is, AND, most importantly, the more out-of-control or aggressive the dog is, the more likely it is that the uneducated, media-misinformed person will identify the dog as a "pit bull".

Eventually, through selective and inflammatory stories in the media, with the help of politicians' carefully crafted sound bites, the phrase "pit bull" begins to represent a mythical creature of legendary strength with a ferocity unrivaled in the animal world. The very words strike terror into the hearts of those who have never seen, touched, played with, or slept with one.

Some of the phrases used by politicians and gobbled up by the media (and eventually the public) are:

  • ticking time bombs
  • inherently dangerous animals
  • terrorizing the neighbourhood
  • 150 pound beast knocking a fence over and charging kids
  • eaten alive from the ankles up
  • we cannot have these animals walking the streets
  • it is a breed apart
  • this is far more "bull" than "pet"
  • locking jaws
  • extra endorphin in the brain
  • bred to kill
  • something has to be done about these dogs
  • afraid of nothing
  • something is wrong with people who own "pit bulls"
  • when they attack, they don't stop
  • assault weapons of the canine world
  • kids are being killed

In Ontario, every one of these phrases has been used by a politician or a reporter, yet not one has ever been backed up by facts or statistics, not even once. Each of these statements was simply launched, heard, and accepted, without question.

I believe, however, that we have finally solved the mystery of the mythical "pit bull". A strange beast has been found, dead, in Turner, Maine. It had been terrorizing the neighbourhood for years, killing pets and frightening residents. On one occasion, a lady even managed to "lock eyes" with the beast for a few seconds.

Here are some of the descriptions from the original article:

  • mysterious creature
  • mauled dogs
  • frightened residents
  • subject of local legend
  • hybrid mutant of something
  • evil, evil looking
  • horrible stench
  • half-rodent, half-dog
  • curled fangs hanging over its lips
  • something out of a Stephen King story
  • this is something I've never seen before ... it's an evil-looking thing
  • chilling monstrous cries
  • eyes that glow in the night
  • killed a Doberman and a Rottweiler
  • mystery monster that roams the woods

Wow, I think it really is the missing "pit bull"! Nobody can define it, but everyone knows one when they see it.

Read the whole story for yourself here (including a picture of the dead beast).

It's a shame that Maine wildlife officials and animal control officers declined to pick up the body and do an autopsy, as well as take measurements and photographs. A brain scan and a physical analysis of the jaw would also have been appropriate.

Enforcement officials across the continent could have used this data to compare to that of confiscated dogs in order to determine if they really are "pit bulls".

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