Pit Bulls: a ban in Texas, an anti-dogfighting campaign in Philly

Big news day yesterday for my favorite dog breed.

The Huffington Post explored a proposed Pit Bull ban in the state of Texas. Justin’s Law, named for the ten-year-old boy mauled to death by dogs, would make owning a Pit Bull a felony. The piece suggests that the Pit Bull question is one of  ”…nature vs. nurture. Are pit bulls inherently dangerous, or are their owners responsible for making them aggressive?”

I guess some folks are still unaware that Pit Bulls were not bred to be aggressive toward humans. In fact, they were specifically bred for their loyalty and gentleness with people (and were noted for being especially affectionate with kids and babies). So, there is no “nature vs. nurture: question when it comes to Pit Bulls and people; no part of their “nature” includes aggression towards humans.

Unfortunately, Pit Bulls were bred to fight other dogs, and it is valid to consider that piece of their genetic makeup. Does that mean they’re automatically predisposed to pick fights with other dogs? I don’t know – I’m in the nurture camp: I have two dogs, one of whom is a rescued Pit Bull. She adores her adopted brother (a Pointer-Doberman mix) and plays beautifully with her pals at doggy daycare. (And this from a dog who was abused by her previous owners.)

According to the HuffPo piece, Animal People editor Merrit Clifton “argues that the humane community doesn’t encourage pumas for cat adoption, because ‘it is clearly understood that accidents with a puma are frequently fatal.’ ”  

Mr. Clifton, do you really think that’s an apt comparison? Last I checked, pumas are not domesticated animals who thrive living indoors as part of a human family. Likening Pit Bulls to pumas is a little like comparing a swimming pool to a rip current. Both can be deadly, but the former is a pleasure when shown respect and common sense.

Which brings me to this point: Pit Bulls are indeed strong and powerful animals. Like any dog, they can turn highly aggressive when mistreated. But professional football players are strong and powerful as well. They can turn highly aggressive, impervious to basic reasoning. Should we ban them from Texas? Hey, maybe I’m on to something…

Ok, no. What we do is raise our young (be they Pit Bulls or pro athletes in the making) with kindness and compassion. We teach them how to treat others by the way we live our lives. We create safe, humane environments where abuse is not tolerated.

Yesterday’s other Pit Bull news story came out of Philadelphia via NPR’s WHYY affiliate. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently launched its End Dogfighting campaign there in the City of Brotherly Love.

Already in existence in Chicago and Atlanta, the program “recruits… young, at-risk Pit Bull owners to take weekly training classes with their pets.” The goal is to instill in them a sense of pride in their dogs – a pride that comes from respect, not violence. And the program uses former dogfighters to help impart the lesson.

Part of me recoils at the idea of anyone ever remotely involved in dog fighting to be walking the streets, let alone shaping our youth. In the NPR article, these former dog fighters describe the beatings, burnings, and mutilations they perpetrated on live animals. But I do recognize that in some cases, redemption can be genuine, and those testaments can be the most powerful and influential of all.

One of the men, Anthony Pickett, tells how he fought their family dog, beloved by his children. His description of the aftermath – the unthinkable and prolonged suffering endured by this pup – left me nauseas and weeping. Pickett’s actions were every bit as barbaric and inhumane as Michael Vick‘s. But Pickett’s story hints at redemption.

Unlike Vick, it didn’t take loss of fortune and a prison sentence to “realize” that violence is wrong. He came by the epiphany sincerely, looking into the eyes of his kids, and now works for the End Dogfighting campaign.

The campaign’s latest implementation was made possible, in part, by a $50,000 donation from the city’s pro football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. A respectable sum. But for the record, Eagles’ management: You didn’t need to sign Vick in order to join the fight against dog fighting. You could’ve committed to the cause from the start.