Fighting Perception: “Pit Bull” Labels

We’ve talked before about how BSL (breed specific legislation) only perpetuates perceptions of pit bulls, American bulldogs or other targeted dogs as being dangerous. Laws like this force shelters into precarious positions where they have aggressively label dogs and fit mixed breed dogs into specific categories in order to comply with people’s perceptions or legislative requirements. A recent study published in March 2016 reviews how this labeling has been extremely detrimental to dogs called pit bulls (even if they aren’t actually pit bulls!). The accuracy of shelters (or anyone) in identifying pit bull dogs is an article for another day.

The study found that between two dogs that look very similar, the one with the pit bull label will have a  very different path through the shelter. Perhaps a path that ends in euthanasia.

So what’s in a name? Apparently a whole heck of a lot.

According to the study, dogs with the label of pit-bull end up with a 3x longer stay than a similar looking shelter dog that doesn’t get the pit bull label.

Dogs with the label of pit-bull end up with a 3x longer stay

Researchers looked into adoptions records at an Arizona shelter. From there, they found 15 dogs that were labeled as pit bulls and another 15 that were very similar to the “pit bulls” but that had not gotten the same breed label. What did they find? That despite both dogs having similar coats, size, markings, and head shapes the dogs with the pit bull label had a length of stay lasting 42 days. The other group? Only 13 days.

Remember, these are dogs that appear very similar but have a different name attached them.

How similar? Check out this image pulled from a Washington Post article on the same study:

pitbull and boxer but they'ere the same dog

Researchers did not find other reasons to suggest the difference in length of stay beside the naming used. The further confirm this bias, they created a short video using the similar looking dogs to potential adopters at the Arizona shelter. When the researchers labeled the dogs as pit bull or otherwise, viewers ranked the similar looking dogs are more attractive than the pit bulls.

How Does This Work?

The researchers then looked at people’s perception of the dogs in general. They showed pictures of a Labrador retriever, border collie, and a pit bull to a group of roughly 50 college students and almost 200 Reddit users. They asked them to place into the following categories:

  • Approachable
  • Smart
  • Friendly
  • Aggressive
  • Difficult to train
  • Adoptable

The pit-bull type dogs ranked the lowest in all categories except two. And I’m sure you already know what they are. Study participants felt that the pit bull dogs were the most aggressive looking and the most difficult to train.

Additionally, participants were shown similar dogs but this time next to an elderly woman, a small boy, and a tattooed man. Participants thought that the dogs next to the elderly women or the boy looked friendly or more adaptable than the dogs next to the tattooed man. In this case, the issue if the association of pit bull dogs with unsavory humans.

 That’s Horrible! Right? Well…

Well, there is an upside. Perception is fluid. And not to get too existential on you but there is true nature of human perception. It is malleable. The study shows the current public perception of pit bull dogs. But even more interesting, it shows how easy it be adjusted. While we can’t find an elderly woman for every old woman we can promote pit bull and bully breeds as the great family dogs that they are. This study shows how negative media coverage in which every dog attack seems to be perpetrated by a pit bull can be extremely damaging to all dogs.

Our Own Experiment

We decided to do our own experiment and see just how good some folks in the Aurora area are identifying a pit bull. So with the help of Pick The Pit, my local Aurora vet, and my buddy Chuck we decided to test our collective breed identification knowledge. Pick the Pit is a cool website that simply shows the user 25 canine images and the user has to decide which one is actually a pit bull.

Each of the dogs is a recognized and registered breed, except the American Pit Bull Terrier which is only recognized by the United Kennel Club and not the AKC. The website points out that, “When people talk about pit bulls, they’re generally talking about any breed or mix that looks like what they think of as being a “pit bull.” DNA tests of pit bull-looking dogs often come up with some surprising results. One dog, who looked to all intents and purposes like a pit bull, turned out to be 40 percent poodle!”

While DNA testing certainly has its faults, some BSL legislation is based around it. What would happen to that 40% poodle in the wrong place? It would be euthanized.

The Results

Our veterinarian scored pretty well, which is good. However, it still took her three attempts to pick the right dog. First, she picked a Boerboel and then a Patterdale terrier. To be fair, we asked her to decide as quickly as possible to simulate a sort of snap judgment decision. The reason being, that a lot of the bad rap that pit bulls get is a result of a very quick look during a dog attack. If you haven’t heard of what a Dogo Argentino is but you see a big jawed dog coming for you I suspect most people are going to assume pitbull.

Second, was my turn. I am proud to say that I identified the American Pit Bull Terrier on my first attempt. I do have a distinct advantage however in that I have written countless words on the subject.

Then it was Chuck’s turn. Chuck is not involved in animal welfare in any way and represents our “guy off the street” …

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Want to know which states have taken a stand against BSL?

Breed-specific legislation, as well as breed bans, are hot-topics amongst dog owners throughout the States. Especially for those who live in the areas where certain types of dog are completely restricted. Here we bring you a map of the US where you can see which states have taken some steps against Breed-Specific Legislation. As you can see on the map below, the number of US states with (or at least considering) anti-BSL provisions is slowly increasing. Since more and more recent studies show that cities, where laws ban certain dog types who are labeled as “dangerous” or “vicious”, don’t actually record the decrease in the number of dog bites, they tend to focus on some other forms of regulations regarding the problem.

As you can see in the photo above, there are 18 States with anti-BSL provisions and another 6 States considering it. The important thing to say about those countries is that their laws and regulation target dogs as individuals and dog owners are therefore a subject to heightened responsibility and liability for their pets’ behavior. If you’d like to see some practical examples of how it works in some of the US cities, check our article on Alternatives To Breed Specific Legislation and find out more.

The reason behind taking a stand against Breed-Specific Legislation is that numbers show how in most of the cities and/or States, the introduction of Breed-Specific Legislation didn’t lead to decrease in the number of dog-bite related fatalities and cases. What we, the dog owners, need is the regulation of breeding, education, and creation of low-cost spay and neuter programs for our pets. Our laws should enforce penalties for dogfighting and irresponsible ownership and not support expensive politics that kill our pets and devastate our families… and give NO RESULT! #stopBSL


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Michigan : No bans on pit bulls allowed!

As Michigan’s Senate said – No bans on pit bulls allowed there!

They voted 22 – 13 on behalf of the prohibition of local governments from dictating BSL regulations on specific dog breeds. Since it was voted by the Senate, the bill now goes to the House for consideration, says UsNews.

Currently, there are around 30 local governments in the State of Michigan that enforce BSL in some form. Some towns entail outright bans, while others demand methods such as compulsory neutering or liability insurances, but according to this new Senate’s decision, that might soon change.

Lately, more and more States are considering banning BSL regulations which target canines perceived as aggressive, like pit bulls, American terriers, Rottweilers… In Michigan, targeted breeds were Pit bulls more than any other, but that’s likely to change soon.…

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What are the alternatives to breed specific legislation?

Every dog owner should know that his dear pet might pose a threat to the community if not treated properly. But, it’s not about the breed of the dog, but about the behavior – both the dogs’ and the owners’ behavior. Dog-bite-related cases have been the subject of many studies which say that most of the involved factors are under the control of the person who owns the dog (source: Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States). That being said, it’s crucial to understand that laws should not target dog breeds, but owners and their behavior. There are some alternatives to breed specific legislation in some US countries which we’re bringing up here.

Educate - don't discriminate!

Most popular alternatives to breed specific legislation in the US

Breed bans and breed specific legislation are something that causes a great number of loving and responsible pet owners to give up their pets. The worst thing is – it usually doesn’t make any difference nor makes the community safer in any way. Some countries are dealing with the problem with laws that focus on owners’ behavior instead of the dog breeds.

Illinois: Animal Control Act

Illinois Animal Control Act is one of the alternatives to breed specific legislation. In Illinois, all dog owners are a subject to heightened responsibility for their pets. According to that, the owners are liable for their pet’s bite, no matter if it’s the first or consecutive bite. Illinois also has some other Ordinances which support this Act, like Highland Park’s “Dangerous/Vicious Dogs and Problem Pet Owner Ordinance” or Skokie’s “Dangerous/Vicious Animals and Problem Pet Owner Ordinances”

Indiana: Responsible Dog Owner Ordinance

South Bend’s Responsible Dog Owner Ordinance no longer targets out pit bull-type dogs or any single breed as “dangerous”. Instead, the dog is labeled as “dangerous” according to his past behavior. Also, this Ordinance again lets Indiana pet owners have as many pets as they want, as long as all of them are spayed and neutered.

These are just some examples which show how targeting owners’ and their behavior can have a bigger effect on reduction of the number of dog-bite-related cases than breed bans and BSL. If you’d like to see more about how the BSL affects the lives of dogs labeled as Pit Bull or any other breed labeled as “dangerous”, click here.…

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Hats Off To Delaware Legislators!

Delaware has joined 18 others states in banning breed-specific legislation that discriminates against certain breeds! About 7 months ago, Delaware Governor John Carney signed House Bill 13 which specifically prohibits dogs from being labeled as dangerous based only the breed of the dog. When you say it like that, doesn’t the whole concept of breed specific legislation just sound ridiculous? House Bill 13 also restricts municipalities within Delaware from enacting any type of breed restrictive legislation.

Even better, according to The Dodo, Governor John Carney signed the bill within the Delaware Humane Society. Happy, healthy dogs of all breeds were present when the life saving, and just plain practical, the bill was signed into law. We can’t think of a better setting for such an event.

Delaware legislators clearly have a great grasp of why BSL doesn’t work. The executive director of Delaware’s Office of Animal Welfare commented, “HB 13 is in the best interest of public safety, it will ensure that laws are enforced consistently across the state, based on the actions of a dog or dog owner, and not a dog’s physical appearance.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

This change makes the northeast one of the best places to be a bully breed with New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all having similar anti-BSL laws on the books. This is why it is so important for Coloradans and residents of Denver, Aurora and surrounding areas to take interest in the legislation of their neighbors. It is not unusual to see these types of legislative effects occur in a sort of domino effect.

Get out there and let’s be the first domino!

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A Crack In The Wall Of Denver Breed Specific Legislation

While this story is a bit dated at this point we think it bears repeating. It is a story of about the first bit of sense in over two decades of BSL madness. 

But first, a little context.

You have to realize that not everyone who enforces the law wants the law to be in place. Shelter workers and animal control officers didn’t get into the animal welfare field to demonize specific breeds. Just like in any industry, there is good and bad. Now this change isn’t a result of an undercover anti-BSL agent (though we could use one).

But it is a crack in the wall that is breed specific legislation.

Sometimes the best way to change a law is to chip away at it slowly. For example, the shelter workers at Aurora animal control do not overtly disregard the breed ban but they do find a way to defend banned dogs by placing them in other areas. A great way to show that these dogs aren’t what they are made out to be.

Denver has come up with something similar in the case of making service animals exempt from the breed specific legislation. On April 5th, 2011, the Director of Animal Care and Control for Denver mandated that moving forward, officers “will not immediately impound a pit bull that is identified as a service animal by the owner.”

This is in response to the wave of legal action taken by people with disabilities who use pit bulls as service animals. These folks were having their service animals taken away or threatened to be taken away. Denver Animal Control decided the best move was to make these animals exempt from the ban rather than take animals from disabled people.

What is most interesting about the change is that it adds a different perspective to the way pit bulls are viewed by Denver animal control. Since they wanted to leave themselves room to seize dangerous dogs that mandate suggests that animal control officers “verify…owner’s claim that their pit bull is qualified as service animal”. That alone presents as difficult a problem as identifying which dog is greater than 50% pit bull as the criteria and credentials for service animals in Colorado is notoriously difficult to pin down. With the increased popularity of “emotional support” dogs, a number of service dogs have been steadily increasing.

But beyond yet is the really interesting part of this change. The document asks for officers to examine the pit bull’s current and historical behavior along with whether or not the dog “”tolerate[s] strange sights, sounds, odors,” and if it can “ignore food on the floor or dropped in the dog’s vicinity.”

As strange and somewhat arbitrary as that seems it is a different approach. It shows a qualitative approach that looks at the individual animal rather than painting a big wrong picture. And looking at the individual case is, after all, all that we want. Freedom to discuss the behavior of the dog and the background of that specific animal would hopefully decrease the stigma that the public places on pit bull dogs. 

I don’t’ think this will lead to the BSL being overturned anytime soon but this does introduce the option to look at dogs on an individual basis.

And that’s the first step.

Let me know what you think!

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Aurora Animal Shelter Finds A Way Around BSL Euthanasia

Even though the breed specific legislation has been in place since 2005, animal welfare organizations are still finding new ways around the restrictive laws. Aurora Animal Shelter, a government-funded shelter, is now transferring pit bulls from the Aurora location to other Colorado shelters where the breed ban is not in place. The first question I asked was, “Where are these pit bulls coming from if there is a city-wide pit bull ban?” While that alone should be a major indicator that the pit bull ban is not working, legislators are clearly not listening to facts when it comes to the breed ban so it is a bit of a moot point- at least for this post.

What is interesting is how many of the “illegal” dogs would have been euthanized in the past. But now, with new leadership and the same laws, these dogs are finding a positive outcome. With this system, it appears that pit bull type dogs are now being held to a standard more similar to other dogs. Still, I’m sure that the pit bull dogs are judged more harshly. And of course, they have to be. Aurora Animal Shelter is not the only organization that is looking to transport pit bulls so space is likely limited across the state.

This approach raises an interesting question about breed specific legislation in that the government animal control and sheltering facility, the same one intended to regulate this law, is the organization that is finding creative loopholes to work around it. If these dogs are so dangerous, then why should they be allowed to be house anywhere? Not only is BSL bad legislation in that it doesn’t solve any problem it is Not In My Backyard politics at its worst.

When we solve problems without considering the big picture we get short-sighted solutions. In the case of BSL, these solutions hurt dogs that are simply being placed up for adoption in surrounding counties without BSL laws. Are we seeing a high increase in dog bites in these areas?

What do you think?





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9 Facts About Breed Specific Legislation

“Breed-specific” legislation is yet another type of legislation that sounds good but actually does nothing. Unfortunately, these laws are generally based on either the most recent big-dog attack, or dog breeds that “look scary”.

BSL is obviously unjust, coming down harder on dogs than it does on poor owners. Not just that, but it’s also completely ineffective. Completely, utterly, and entirely ineffective. There’s plenty of evidence that proves exactly how ineffective it is.

Due to this fact, a number of cities, states, and even countries have been repealing their BSL laws. Unfortunately, Aurora is not one of those cities. Here in Aurora, we still have significant breed bans against a variety of bully type breeds.

The worst part is that many states consider dogs to be property, instead of members of the family. This is why these laws hurt even more. Not only do they break up families, but they treat dogs like objects.

If you’re unfamiliar with BSL, or you’re familiar with it but don’t know what you can do, here are some facts that can help you.

1. BSL Kills

Pit bulls have almost no chance when they’re put into public shelters. Some BSL laws demand they be euthanized immediately. Others euthanize simply because they know that no one will adopt the poor dog due to the restrictive law. Some shelters are able to put the dogs up for adoption but only adopt them out to areas in which there is no breed restriction. However, not all shelters and areas are so lucky.

2. No Evidence Exists That Banning Breeds Lowers The Number Of Dog Bites

“If it saves even one life, it’s worth it” some people will claim. Well, there simply isn’t a single shred of evidence that it saves even one life, so this argument falls flat.

3. While Pit Bulls Are Most Affected, Other Breeds Are Also Banned

The American Kennel Association gives only lip service to the temperament of purebred dogs, which is why there’s a stigma around certain breeds. However, pit bulls tend to score quite well on temperament tests.

As if that wasn’t enough, “pit bull” isn’t even a dog breed. Rather, the term is an umbrella term used to describe a certain type of terrier.

Because of this, dogs that have a similar appearance to “pit bulls” tend to get caught up in BSL laws. These can include dogs such as bulldogs, mastiffs, Doberman pinschers, the list goes on.

4. BSL Can Tear Apart Families

Since breed bans rarely grandfather in people who already own the banned breeds, the city can legally take your dog away from you. Because of the way the laws push good dogs out of good homes, mnay of these dogs end up euthanized.

5. Science Proves Breed Isn’t A Factor In Dog Bites

While no one is denying a large breed dog can produce a great deal of jaw strength, the National Canine Research Council has done research proving breed simply isn’t a factor in dog bite related fatalities. Rather, the factors include:

No one present to intervene (87.1% of fatalities are caused this way)

The dog being unfamiliar with the victim (85.2% of dog bites occur due to this factor)

Poor training by previous owner (37.5% of dog bites occur for this reason)

Neglect or abuse of dog by former owner (21.1% of bites are caused this way)

And of course, 80.5% of cases included more than one of these factors.

6. “Pit Bull” Is Subjective

As mentioned, “pit bull” isn’t actually a breed of dog. Since it refers to one of numerous dog breeds that share a similar appearance, shelter and city workers will often declare a dog to be a pit bull even if it’s not one of the breeds commonly associated with the term. As if that wasn’t enough, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association stated in a 2013 paper that in more than 80% of all dog bite cases, the breed of the dogs couldn’t be readily identified.

7. Most Major Organizations Oppose BSL

Pick an organization that you trust. The ASPCA, the Humane Society of the U.S., the CDC, the American Animal Hospital Association, they’re all against BSL.

8. Even The Public Opposes BSL

The Best Friends Animal Society commissioned a poll to gauge public opinion on BSL. 84% of those surveyed said the government shouldn’t keep a person from owning any dog breed they wish.

9. BSL Wastes Money

The enforcement of any law requires funding, and this is no different for BSL laws. However, it’s even worse in the case of BSL, since there are literally no benefits to enacting the policy. In the city of Miami, it’s estimated that $603,445 is spent annually enforcing BSL. And yet, there’s not a single reduction in dog bites that can be connected to these laws.

What do you think Aurora taxpayers are forking out?

On the plus side, multiple organizations are working to get these laws repealed.

Here’s how you can help.

There are plenty of groups working on anti-BSL and pit bull advocacy. You could join one of them. A few suggestions are Stop BSL, Love-A-Bull, and Hershey Anti-BSL Group. Search for these groups on Facebook.

If you live in Aurora, where BSL laws are on the books, contact your representative. Voice a strong opinion against BSL to them. In addition, make certain to spay/neuter your dogs. The ASPCA has found more than 70% of all dog bites involve male dogs that are still territorial due to being unneutered.

Make sure to educate those you speak with. These laws sound so barbaric that many dog-lovers can’t imagine they exist. Tell them, and make sure they know.


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Over 10 Years of The Aurora Breed Ban

Since 2005, residents of Aurora have had to deal with a breed ban that is simply not an effective way of managing dangerous dogs. Numerous professional and legal organizations have come forward to strongly oppose the Aurora breed ban legislation. Some of these organizations include the American Bar Association, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the National Animal Control Association (NACA) and even the Center for Disease Control (CDC)- to name a few. Every single one of these organizations has conducted its own independent studies and research on the issue and have duly concluded that breed-specific laws are not the way to go. But yet they continue.

The truth of the matter is that the ban has not done anything to ensure the safety and well-being of the people of Aurora, Colorado. The number of dog bites in Aurora has actually increased over the years since the law was put into effect. Immediately after the law was passed, there was a surge in the number of cases of aggressive dogs in the city. The raw numbers clearly show that the enactment of legislation into law did absolutely nothing to improve the safety of the public. The reverse was however true.

Dog bites from targeted breeds only account for 15% of dog bites that occur in Aurora. The remaining 85% of dog bite cases are from breeds that are not targeted by the ban. Most people are not aware of these crucial facts. Even with this information right out there in the open many media outlets in the Aurora and Denver area are not willing to publish these facts. The facts simply aren’t as interesting as sensationalizing the next dog bite.

Over the years, many people who have supported the ban including Aurora City Council members have come to realize that it has done more harm than good. This realization has been long overdue despite the supporting factual information that is there for people to see. The truth of the matter is that public safety has not improved because of the enactment of this legislation into law. The people behind the ban in the first place have been strongly criticized for not approaching the issue with fairness and open minds. The different opinions regarding the ban have led some crucial figures in Aurora to associate the banned dog breeds with certain social classes of people and races. Such associations are obviously beside the point and they do not help to address the big issue of public safety that is in everyone’s mind.…

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