End the Cruel, Unscientific Ban on Pit Bulls

By Ross Pomeroy

Poor Mark Buehrle. Recently, the major league pitcher has had no luck at all when it comes to dog ownership. In the past year, Buehrle has been traded to two teams based in cities where pit pulls are banned. That means that Slater, Mark's adorable two-year-old American Staffordshire terrier, isn't allowed.

When Buehrle played for the Miami Marlins last year, the ban was certainly inconvenient, but still fairly easy to work around. He and his family simply lived in neighboring Broward Country, and the pitcher commuted 30 minutes to work at the ballpark.

But now, things have gotten a whole lot more complicated. At the end of last season, Buehrle was traded to Toronto, the capital of Ontario, and pit bulls are outlawed throughout the entire province. He and his family -- which includes his wife, two kids, and four dogs -- are a tight-knit bunch, and they faced a painful possibility: leaving floppy-eared, belly rub-loving Slater behind.

But, that was never really an option, insists Buehrle. Instead of abandoning Slater, the family reached the collective decision that Mark will live in Toronto by himself and everyone else will live 800 miles away in St. Louis, Missouri. 

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Regardless of whether or not you feel sorry for Buehrle, him being a highly paid athlete and all, the situation is undeniably unfortunate. Especially when you consider that it's a result of legislation that is predicated on irrational fear and misinformation, not common sense and science.

Pit bulls -- a breed group comprised of American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers -- are outlawed in many municipalities and counties across the United States. The list includes Miami, Denver, and Malden, MA. Until last May, it also included Cincinnati.

Many of these bans were originally put in place as a result of over-hyped media coverage of savage dog attacks accompanied by CDC statistics supposedly showing that pit bulls were the primary perpetrators. One caveat that was left out of those media reports, however, was that the CDC has stated that fatal canine attacks are so rare -- and their reporting so plagued with inconsistencies -- that they are "statistically insignificant in addressing canine aggression." In other words, the reports are not good science.

Discrimination against pit bulls stems primarily from media sensationalism. Over the past decades, thousands of articles and reports have depicted the dogs as powerful monsters that will attack children unprovoked, locking their jaws down upon unsuspecting victims and not letting go. All of this is simply untrue.

It is true, sadly, that pit bulls have been widely exploited for use in illegal dog fighting, potentially due to their strength and athleticism. This has promulgated the dogs' vicious stereotype. Additionally, three different studies have found that dogs commonly perceived as "vicious" -- pit bulls, among them -- were more likely to have owners who committed crimes and scored higher in psychopathy. It follows that these owners may be more likely to mistreat their pets, which can adversely affect the pooches' demeanor.

The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) is an organization that scores different dog breeds for their ability to interact with humans and their environment. ATTS's signature temperament test, which the organization has conducted on over 30,000 dogs, measures "stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog's instinct for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat." How well did the pit bull score? It was found to be the second most tolerant breed, losing out only to golden retrievers.

Moreover, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) contends that, "controlled studies have not identified [pit bulls] as disproportionately dangerous." The AVMA also insists that "it has not been demonstrated that breed-specific bans affect the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community."

Pit bull bans are ineffectual and irrational. It's high time that they were ended, and that Slater is reunited with Mark.

Ross Pomeroy is the assistant editor of RealClearScience.