In November 2014, the City Council of Hallsville, Missouri voted unanimously to lift the city’s ban on residents owning pit bulls after a local family discovered that their dog was, in fact, a pit bull mix. Other towns across the country are following suit, as they have found the bans difficult to enforce and sometimes controversial.
Nonetheless, many municipalities in Missouri still have pit bull bans in place. Although Chesterfield is not on the list, some Missouri cities have ordinances banning all pit bulls or those pit bulls that have been declared “vicious” or “dangerous.” Kansas City actually requires mandatory sterilization of pit bulls. Overall, these bans are put in place as a public safety measure; by keeping pit bulls outside of city limits, municipal governments hope to reduce the overall risk of dog bites.
Many pit bull owners feel that their dogs are the victims of stereotyping, however. Oftentimes, owners may feel that bans are unfair in singling out their pets, especially if their individual dogs have not shown vicious or aggressive tendencies. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), in its official position on pit bulls, states that “laws that ban particular breeds of dogs […] create the illusion, but not the reality, of enhanced public safety.”
The effectiveness of pit bull bans continues to be a hotly debated topic. Understanding the history of the pit bull breed and the factors contributing to its current bad-dog reputation is important for both city officials and dog owners alike.
Why Single Out Pit Bulls?
Why do municipal laws often single out pit bulls when banning specific dog breeds?
Because the term “pit bull” doesn’t refer to a single breed of dog, and because many dogs are of mixed and/or unknown breed, identifying a dog as a pit bull can be tricky. Generally, the legal definition of “pit bull” includes American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and Staffordshire bull terriers, as well as mixed breed dogs that have at least one of these breeds in their pedigree.
These dogs are often singled out by policymakers because of their reputation as fighting dogs. The breeds identified as “pit bulls” have a long and varied history, and have not always been viewed as particularly vicious. When dog fighting began to regain popularity in the 1980s, however, pit bulls were the primary breeds used. As such, some pit bulls alive today are, in fact, the descendants of dogs bred specifically for dog fighting.
Because both genetics and the environment play roles in shaping a dog’s personality, not all pit bulls are aggressive. Nonetheless, the history of the breed has made many people wary of them, and some would rather be safe than sorry.
Their notorious reputation as aggressive fighters has, for better or for worse, caused many cities across the country to implement bans on these dogs—but are pit bull attacks any worse than attacks by other dogs?
Are Pit Bull Bites Worse?
All dogs, big or small, have the ability to bite, and all dog bites should be taken seriously. Nonetheless, proponents of municipal bans on pit bulls point out that even though all dog breeds may bite, pit bulls’ great jaw strength often results in more serious, and even fatal, injuries.
Have you ever wondered why pit bulls and bull dogs have the word “bull” in their names? They were once used by humans to help subdue angry bulls. These dogs would bite the bull on the face, latching on with force until the bull’s handler could regain control of the animal, so pit bulls needed a powerful, unrelenting bite in order to hang on to a bucking bull.
Because they were bred to help bring down much larger animals, pit bulls have a tenacity and jaw strength that can be extremely dangerous when used on humans. It is often said that a pit bull simply won’t let go once it has bitten something—or someone. A pit bull’s brute strength and persistence can be a deadly combination, especially if the pit bull has not been raised by a responsible owner.
Should Pit Bulls Be Banned?
There is little doubt that pit bulls have the capability to seriously harm humans due to their genetic makeup—but that does not necessarily mean that all pit bulls will attack humans. The National Canine Research Council notes that breed-specific legislation has not yielded definitive results in reducing the numbers of dog bite injuries. Furthermore, this type of legislation can be costly and difficult to enforce.
For now, the best way to prevent dog bite injuries is through responsible ownership. Dog owners can help prevent dog-related injuries by treating their pets appropriately and keeping them away from situations in which they could be provoked into attacking another person. Nonetheless, even the most careful dog owner cannot fully predict his or her animal’s behavior at all times.
What Do I Do If I’m Bitten by a Pit Bull?
Whether or not you live in a city that has a ban on pit bulls, you have rights should you be attacked by one of these dogs. As Missouri law states, “The owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation […] is strictly liable for damages suffered by the persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s or possessor’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
Even if the pit bull in question does not have a previous history of biting humans or other animals, the owner is legally responsible for the dog’s behavior. Even seemingly harmless dogs can turn on humans in a moment of aggression or confusion, at no fault of the human victim.
If you or a loved one has been harmed by a pit bull, or by any dog, please contact our office right away. We will stand by you and your family during this time and make sure you get the help you need to recover. It only takes one attack, one bite, to change the course of a person’s life. No one should have to suffer through dog bite injuries alone, no matter the circumstances—so give us a call and let us help you find the path towards healing and recovery.