Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The history of the American pit bull

This story is sort of strange........


On November 20, 2006, three American pit bulls belonging to Tesmi Holdings in Mmamashia killed their second human victim and the veterinary officers had no option but to destroy them. The question now is what to do about this breed of dog in Botswana. Knowing more about the history of the breed might help to understand why this particular dog is so deadly.

The American pit bull breed can be traced back to the bulldogge used in a bloody sport called bull baiting, which was common in the 1700s and early 1800's in England. The bulldogge was put in an enclosure with a bull and it was allowed to tear the bull apart until it was killed. At the time, this appears to have been some sort of morbid entertainment.

In 1835, the authorities in England put an end to the inhuman activity but its fans would not be thwarted. They moved on to dog fighting in which two dogs were thrown into a pit and they fought it out until one was horribly maimed or killed. Spectators gambled money, betting on which dog would win the fight. It was a cruel and inhuman practice which, unfortunately, is still taking place, albeit illegally, in many parts of the world, especially in the United States

Breeders at the time crossed the bull-baiting bulldogge, with their killer instinct, massive skull and powerful jaw muscles, with various breeds of terriers of the time. The terriers were chosen for their tenacity and bravery. The result was what is today the American Pit Bull Terrier. This history helps us to understand some of the unique characteristics of the breed.

The American Pit Bull was bred to fight other dogs. Unlike other breeds, it will fight with little or no provocation. Dogs are normally controlled by the "dog pack" mentality. There is a strict hierarchy that is tested during fights. The victor is now the boss and the loser there after will show submissive behaviour, such as rolling onto its back and showing its stomach, to the winner if they meet again. They needn't fight again because the hierarchy in the "dog pack" had been decided. This is not so for the American Pit Bull. If it fights a dog and loses, if they meet again, it will fight again. Also, there are stories of submissive dogs showing their bellies to an American Pit Bull only for the pit bull to maul them. It was bred to fight and that is exactly what it does.

Besides fighting with hardly any cause, unlike other dogs, it will give no warning of attack. Other aggressive breeds, such as Rotweilers or German Shepherds, would growl and bare their teeth before attack to warn the other animal or human that an attack is imminent. A pit bull will suddenly attack without any warning at all.
The American Pit Bull has been shown to have insensitivity to pain and some scientists believe they may even be addicted to the endomorphins released when the body is subjected to pain and may go in search of pain because of it. They can withstand high levels of pain. American Pit Bulls also are much quicker to anger because they appear to have higher levels of the neurotransmitter L-Tyrosine.

The tenacity of the American Pit Bull can be seen in the length of a typical attack. Attacks last fifteen minutes or longer and nothing will stop the dog from continuing to attack. Most dogs that are fighting can be stopped if water is thrown on them or they are beaten, not an American Pit Bull. There are stories from people who have been attacked by American Pit Bulls who talk of beating the dog with various objects but it still held on and continued to attack.

Most dogs will either bite or hold the victim in some way. When American Pit Bulls attack they are intent on causing maximum damage, that is what they've been bred to do. This is the reason why most attacks by pit bulls will end in severe injury or death as compared to other dog breeds.

The original American Pit Bull was bred only to attack other dogs. In fact, a dog that attacked humans was killed. People running the dog fights had to ensure that the dogs could be handled safely inside and outside of the pit.

But then something went wrong. In the 1980's the American Pit Bull became the pet of choice for tough guys and thugs. How macho you were could be determined by how mean and vicous your pit bull was. People owning such dogs choose them for the very reason the rest of us fear them. In New York City, for example, police have found that drug bosses have taken to using pit bulls to protect their drug stashes- the meaner the better. In 1997 alone, 83 American Pit Bulls were captured and destroyed during drug busts.

Supply and demand economics came into play and irresponsible backyard breeders sprouted up, crossing pit bulls with guard dog breeds such as Rotweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, long bred to attack humans. And to make matters worse, they bred them in the typically American fashion of bigger is better so the American Pit Bull breed of today is much bigger than the one of 15 years ago.
Voila! Now you have a big, tenacious dog, addicted to pain, with a short fuse and which will attack without notice; and it has human beings in its sight. You now have a problem- a deadly one.

And indeed the world over the American Pit Bull is quite successful in what it has been bred to do. From 1979-1996, 279 people were killed by dog attacks in the United States, and, of that, the highest number of killers was the American Pit Bull breed, with 60 deaths credited to them. In Australia, from 1991-2000 there were seven people killed by dogs, four of them met their deaths in the jaws of an American Pit Bull. The recent deaths in Botswana just add to the American Pit Bull's curriculum vitae as a killer.

What Can Be Done?

In the United States, they have found it difficult to pass laws against American Pit Bulls with dog enthusiast challenging them in court when laws are passed. However, in April 2005 in the city of Denver, Colorado, the American Pit Bull was banned by law. Two hundred and sixty pit bulls were confiscated and destroyed. Many municipalities have passed laws that require pit bulls to be muzzled and on a leash in public places. New York City is in the process of requiring owners of American Pit Bulls to have US$100,000 (P618,000) in liability insurance to get a dog license that is needed to keep a dog legally in the city.

Most states in Australia have passed laws requiring American Pit Bull owners to keep their dogs on a leash and, in most cases, muzzled outside of their property.

On August 29, 2005, after a particularly horrific attack of a 2-year-old boy and his parents by an adult American Pit Bull and its two puppies, the province of Ontario (Canada) passed a law that banned all American Pit Bulls. They could no longer be sold, bred or imported. The ones that lived in the province were not destroyed, but their owners were now required to muzzle and leash them in public.

The most comprehensive law was passed in the United Kingdom. The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 banned American Pit Bulls. All pit bulls were confiscated and destroyed. Anyone found in possession of an American Pit Bull in the UK can now face up to six months in prison and an unlimited fine.

Dog lovers like to say that the problem is not with the American Pit Bull breed but with irresponsible owners who do not train the dogs properly. They claim dogs are dogs; it is the owners with the problem. But Katherine Houpt, the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University in New York, was quoted in an article written by Brian C. Anderson on City Journal website as saying, "Different breeds have genetic predispositions to certain kinds of behaviour, though they can be influenced by how they are raised.
The pit bull is an innately aggressive breed, often owned by someone who wants an aggressive dog, so they're going to encourage it".

The question now is whether the individual's right to own the dog of their choice, even an American Pit Bull, is outweighed by the protection of the public? Time will tell us the answer to that question in Botswana.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you say "claptrap"?

11:40 PM  

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