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Experts say pit bulls are not more aggressive than other breeds



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Dolly, a two-year-old pit bull, sits in the yard of the Bloomington Animal Shelter on Wednesday afternoon. People sometimes mistakenly think of pit bulls as being aggressive or having trouble with other dogs or kids, Animal Shelter Director Virgil Sauder said. Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

Leo was once a fighting dog. Then, the pit bull terrier was sent for rehabilitation at Our Pack Inc. He trained to be a therapy dog and visited nursing homes and sick children. He earned the nickname Bouncer for jumping around and dancing when people came by. 

Pit bulls are not any more aggressive than other breeds, said Lexi LaPorte, IndyVet Emergency and Specialty Hospital emergency veterinarian. Their temperaments depends on how they were raised. 

“I think people want someone to blame,” LaPorte said. “People just lay the blame on the breed of dog and don’t think about how the dog was raised, trained, socialized or the situation the event occurred in. It’s hard to blame people for the problem and easier to blame a breed.”

Maggie Marton, a passionate pit bull advocate and writer, led a “What is a Pit Bull Terrier?” discussion for a group of approximately 10 people Wednesday evening at the Monroe County Public Library.

Pit bulls were bred from English bloodhounds, which included bulldogs and terriers. They came to the United States from England as beloved family pets and remained that way until dog fighting became popular in the U.S., Marton said. 

Marton presented a grid of 24 dogs that were labeled as pit bulls, but only one had DNA matching that of a pit bull. 

Only one person in the audience guessed correctly which one was the pit bull.

“If you mix a lot of breeds together they end up looking like pit bulls,” said director of Bloomington Animal Care and Control Virgil Sauder. “Even if they have no pit bull DNA.” 

Labeling a dog as a pit bull hurts the dog's chances at adoption. 

Not only is breed-specific legislation ineffective, but it is also costly, said Ledy VanKavage, legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society. For example, if Monroe County were to enact breed-specific legislation, it would cost approximately $200,000 per year. 

“Animal welfare is a bipartisan issue,” VanKavage said. 

Many cities and states have started to repeal their breed-specific legislation. South Bend, Indiana, has notably adopted a dangerous dog act in place of breed-specific legislation. The city now judges animals and owners on past behavior, VanKavage said.

“I’m half-Italian, and people used to say that all Italians were a part of the Mafia,” VanKavage said. “Just because I’m half-Italian doesn’t mean I am in the Mafia. Just because a dog is a pit bull doesn’t mean it is vicious.”

Rebecca Huss, a law professor at Valparaiso University, worked on the Bad Newz Kennels case in which more than 70 dogs were seized from a dog fighting ring at the home of football player Michael Vick. She said the attitudes of the dogs are the responsibility of the owner.

She said she believes breed-specific legislation isn’t going to solve the problem of dangerous dogs. It does not stop owners from inappropriately raising their dogs just because they have to wear a muzzle in public, for example.  

“Many people believe that pit bulls have locking jaws,” Marton said. “That is not true. Their jaws have the same locking mechanism as any other dog.”

Another common stereotype is that pit bulls have a stronger bite force than any other dog, she said. 

The most common stereotype, however, is that pit bulls are inherently vicious. 

“Every dog of every breed should be judged as an individual,” Marton said, while showing pictures of her pit bull playing with her young child. 

VanKavage said that just because a dog is a specific breed does not mean it is violent. There are bad dogs like there are bad people, and every dog deserves a chance. 

“If you have a dog that’s not good around other dogs, it’s your responsibility not to put them in a situation where they could get in trouble,” Huss said. “The dogs are the ones who lose, they are the ones that are euthanized.”     

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