There has been a surge of highly-publicized dog attacks this week, including one that was nearly fatal for a toddler in Maine. Yesterday alone in San Diego, three people were hospitalized for pit bull attacks, as was a toddler in Massachusetts after being mauled.
And today in the Portland Daily Sun, a writer titled a piece “How We Could Ban Pit Bulls.”
All of this raises the question: is it ever right to completely ban a breed of dog?
It’s a more complicated issue than it seems at first. Some states don’t allow municipalities to enact breed specific bans, while cities such as Miami and Denver already have blanket bans in place. Given the recent headlines and opinion pieces, dog breed bans are up for discussion across the country.
There are over 78 million owned dogs in the United States, and 39% of households own at least one dog, according to the Humane Society. Of that massive number, there only a few dozen fatal dog attacks in the U.S. each year.
But dog-kills-man stories get major national headlines, and that alone can result in bad laws. Even in generally freedom-loving Texas, legislation was prepared earlier this year that would have made owning a pit bull a felony (it did not pass). The bill was named “Justin’s Law” after a young boy who was tragically mauled to death by two pit bulls in 2009.
Several breeds, including Rottweilers, and in a famous San Francisco case, the Presa Canario, have fatally attacked humans. It is the pit bull, however, that is responsible for the majority of attacks on humans and is most often the target of legislative bans.
While Pit Bulls have killed people, there are at least tens-of-thousands of these animals that are stalwart, loyal, loving family companions. It does seem that blanket ban punishes an entire canine breed for the actions of a few.
So despite the low-but-real risks, should dog owners have the freedom to choose any existing breed?
In some respects, the debate over banning dog breeds seems to mirror a much more well-known national discussion: that of the right to bear arms.
Of course a dog doesn’t constitute “arms” under the 2nd amendment, but It may be instructive to think of certain dog breeds as tools of self-defense when discussing the pros and cons of a ban.
A dog is a companion, but under certain circumstances, a dog can also be a tool for self-defense. It is the owner that is responsible for the actions of a dog. These are familiar themes to those who cherish 2nd amendment freedoms.
For those who don’t believe a dog can be an effective weapon, a quick Google search of “Special Ops” and “Belgian Malinois” should change your mind.
Here is a short clip of the Malinois, ending a standoff with police that involved a suspect allegedly kidnapping a baby (released unharmed, thanks largely to the canine):
An elderly couple, for example, may wish to have a more robust dog in their home for personal protection. In some cities that have already effectively abrogated the Second Amendment and make it almost impossible for a citizen to acquire a legal firearm, a well-trained Doberman or American Staffordshire Terrier (Pit Bull) may be the next best available option.
Indeed, while fatal dog attacks are front page news, you are less likely to read about the countless crimes that are prevented by an alert pet, or even the human lives that can be saved by a loyal Pit Bull.
Another parallel to the gun rights discussion appears to be the increased licensing of so-called dangerous breeds. The same way that certain guns and knives are regulated differently depending on jurisdiction, towns and cities across America have enacted legislation for Pit Bulls and other dogs, including provisions that require owners to buy insurance.
No politician yet has suggested a license be required for a family’s teacup poodle, but a 130 lbs Neopolitan Mastiff could be quite a different story in some areas.
And even as states take a licensing approach, there are problems enforcing the regulations. What exactly is a pit bull anyway?
Generally speaking, people use visual traits associated with a pit bull that derive from the American Staffordshire Terrier. But does the Bull Terrier fit into that category? What about a mutt that is half-Staffordshire, half-Shitzu?
Miami-Dade County’s Pit Bull Ban is specific in its prohibition, stating that it is illegal to keep or own:
“American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or any other dog that substantially conforms to any of these breeds’ characteristics.”
It appears from this formulation of the law that if your shepherd-pit mix looks a little too menacing, animal control could show up at your door and take your family pet away.
Like many other laws, the desire to ban certain breeds seems to spring up from a nanny-state mentality that more rules always make us safer, and freedom should take a backseat to public order.
Certainly for the many Pit Bull owners across the country, the debate over banning dogs reflects larger debates on personal responsibility and individual freedom.
Blaze readers: please weigh in. Are Pit Bull bans ever appropriate? Should dog ownership be regulated by breed?