Pit bulls: Focus on the dog, not the breed

May 03, 2012

Over the past 12 years that I have lived in Baltimore, I have grown to respect the caliber of reporting that I find in the Baltimore Sun. Over the past two years, I have seen significant stories researched and presented in impressive ways, even as your reporters, as so many in print media, have faced staffing cuts and lost talented staff to early retirement, you have managed to maintain exceptional quality in reporting.

Until yesterday.

Your choice to publish Dan Rodricks' opinion piece "Pit bulls: Own at your risk" (May 1) was irresponsible. In his piece he cites facts that are blatantly untrue. While I recognize that opinion pieces have a different standard of editorial scrutiny, out and out untruths should not be tolerated.

Study after study has found that there is no breed of dog that is more likely to bite a human than any other. Certainly larger dogs are more likely to cause damage when they do bite. The vast majority of dog attacks are preventable. Not by banning a breed of dog but by encouraging responsible dog ownership, training owners how to recognize warning signs of aggression, teaching people how to interact with the animals in their communities appropriately and most importantly, dealing harshly with those who abuse animals.

My beloved pit mix, Piper, died in January after a battle with cancer. In the last five years she worked with me at my store greeting customers. She licked and welcomed each customer as they came through the door. We used to joke about getting her a vest like a Walmart greeter. She had a sunny disposition and was one of the most predictable, loyal, kind and empathetic creatures I have ever met in my life. She's even mentioned in the Yelp reviews of my business. Our customers cried with me when she died.

Is every pit like her? Of course not. She was a very special dog. Just like any breed, there are pits that are wonderful with people and others that aren't . The point is, knowing the breed of a dog tells one not much about the dog's personality and abilities. A breed can indicate that they are more or less likely to be good at certain things. It can give one an idea of what the animal is likely to look like. But it will tell you very little about their personality or their future aggression (or lack there of). There are Labradors that are vicious, Dobermans that wouldn't hurt a fly and collies that are completely unpredictable. Dogs, like other domestic creatures, show tremendous diversity. The most reliable predictor of an animal's behavior is the environment in which it is raised, socialized and trained.

Labeling a dog because of it's breed is not only inaccurate, it's dangerous. It causes people to make assumptions that are often inaccurate. We need to deal with dog aggression where it really starts: with people. People who are irresponsible, or people who are intentionally cruel. Not with mislabeling an entire breed.

Jacqueline Jones, Baltimore

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