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Mandatory Euthanasia of the American Pit Bull Terrier

(I) Recently, more attention has been paid to Breed Specific Legislation. These are laws singling out a specific breed of canine, and the American Pit Bull Terrier is the breed being singled out this time. These laws are very stringent toward the breed and their owners because the American Pit Bull Terrier has been adjudicated a dangerous breed. These laws also provide for the banning of this breed from being owned in some places due to the classification of being a dangerous breed. Almost every state here in the United States, as well as in several countries abroad, use and enforce breed specific legislation. Because of Breed Specific Legislation, the fact that they have been classified as a “dangerous” breed, and the fear that many people have toward the American Pit Bull Terrier is why they are euthanized instead of being put up for adoption. “There are one million American Pit Bull Terriers euthanized per year, that is 2800 per day. Some estimates are up to double that number” (D’Addio2). This should not be happening to the American Pit Bull Terrier or any breed for that matter. They are being put down simply because of the way they look and the reputation they carry, simply because they are a “Pit Bull Terrier”. The following is a story about a dog named Lennox, an American Bulldog / Black Labrador mix. It is hoped that after reading this story eyes will have been opened and hearts as well, to the discrimination and hurtful mind set this beautiful breed faces every day of their lives.

For instance, Lennox was owned by Caroline Barnes and the Barnes family who live in Belfast, Ireland. The Barnes family had acquired Lennox when he was just a puppy. They never thought of their baby as being dangerous. To them, he was just a sweet, innocent member of their family. He was best friend to the Barnes’ disabled twelve year old daughter Brooke, and best buds with their boxer Juicy.

According to Poole, a writer for the Belfast Telegraph, the family’s nightmare started in May of 2010 when the Belfast City Council dog warden called on the Barnes’ home in Disraeli Court to check on an expired license. Lennox had been DNA registered, neutered, licensed, micro-chipped, and insured. (2) Dog warden Alexandra Lightfoot upon seeing Lennox thought he looked like a Pit Bull, a breed that is banned from ownership in Belfast. Ms. Lightfoot tried to measure his legs and muzzle but could not, due to Lennox jumping and bouncing. When Lennox knocked Ms. Lightfoot down she decided to seized him under the “Dangerous Dog (NI) Order 1991, this law deems any dog of the type known as Pit Bull Terrier to be dangerous and illegal,” according to LaFontaine, a writer for the Express Co., United Kingdom. LaFontaine stated that, “Lennox had been taken from his home and loving family two years ago and kept in isolation at an undisclosed facility, having no contact with his loved ones or the outside world.” (2)

Furthermore, at a hearing on March 29th, District Judge Ken Nixon of the Magistrates Court ignored the family’s pleas to release Lennox. Judge Nixon ruled that because of Lennox’s “total unpredictability” and under the Dangerous Dog (NI) Order 1991, he is a danger to the public and sentenced Lennox to be euthanized. Well known dog trainer and host of “It’s Me or the Dog,” Victoria Stillwell, went to Ireland and tried to meet with the Belfast City Council. She had the Barnes family’s permission to take Lennox with her back to the states, and she was prepared and more than willing to cover all the costs of taking Lennox to the United States and would take full responsibility for Lennox for the rest of his life. The Belfast City Council refused to talk to her.

In addition an appeal was filed by the family, and while in court it was learned that Lennox was put on anti-depressants after the majority of his hair fell out due to stress issues. It was reported by Poole of the Belfast Telegraph, that Ms. Lightfoot the dog warden, stated several times that Lennox was “unpredictable, aggressive and a danger to the public and everyone around him.” Poole also stated that Sara Fisher, a dog behavior expert, gave evidence in Lennox’s defense. Ms. Fisher said Lennox is “charming and gentle”, she also told authorities that he has “excellent self-control” and in her professional opinion he “does not pose a threat.” Peter Tallack, Poole reported, is a retired dog handler who spent 26 years with the Met Police. He describes the dog as “a problem waiting to happen,” Poole says. (2) According to Meredith, a writer for the Huntington Post, “Lennox, who was described as “shaking like a leaf” during his assessment, has been held in captivity for two years in reportedly inhumane conditions.” (3)

However, the 16 month ordeal of hearing and appeal came to a heart breaking close when Judge Henry Rodgers of the Belfast County Court ruled that Lennox, who has no known history of bad behavior and no aggressive or violent actions in his past, is a “menace to society” and he does pose a danger to the public, therefore, the sentence of death by euthanasia is still to be carried out. According to Meredith, the campaign to save Lennox had reached the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson who stated, “As a dog lover I am very unhappy with the outcome of this case.” Poole also stated that the First Minister spoke with Lord Mayor Robinson of Belfast, and suggested that the Belfast City Council look seriously at the option to re-home the dog. “He asked the Lord Mayor, “Why exercise the order if there is an alternative?” The council spokesperson said the destruction order “is an order of the court, which was affirmed on appeal, the council is under a duty to comply with the order” reported Poole. (4)

Unfortunately, hopes of saving Lennox came to a tragic end when the Belfast City Council announced in a statement this morning that Lennox had been “humanely” destroyed, Meredith of the Huntington Post reported. And the council regrets that the court action was necessary but would emphasize that the safety of the public remains its key priority. (2/4) Despite Lennox having his DNA tested and registered as having an American Bulldog and Black Labrador heritage, and there has never been a reported incident of aggressive or violent behavior on Lennox behalf, yet he was measured by Belfast authorities and identified as a Pit Bull type breed and executed. There was even more outrage when the Belfast City Council refused to let the Barnes family see Lennox one last time to say good-bye; they also refused to return Lennox’s body to the family for burial, according to Meredith, “It’s leaving them feeling that they will never gain closure.” The family said, “We have been told that we cannot collect Len’s body and bring him home. We have been informed however that we will receive “some” ashes in the mail.” Caroline Barnes, Lennox’s owner said in a statement to reporters that her dog was killed “simply because of his appearance.” She said, “Lennox cannot speak, but we will be his voice. If this was a human we would declare this racism”, is what Caroline Barnes told reporters. (2/3)

After the destruction of Lennox, LaFontaine of the Express reported that there were, “web-sites that called for the Olympic torch to bypass Belfast, and for people to boycott travel to Ireland. The Belfast City Council used this to cast themselves as victims, trying to scramble to the high moral ground”, LaFontain reported. She also said “if they had simply talked to people and shown a modicum of human decency, the anger would never have boiled.” (2)

(II) The American Pit Bull Terrier has some history and background, and it is thought that the breed comes from a combination of English and Irish stock. “The Irish version of the pit was actually known as the ‘Old Family Dog’ because it was considered the perfect family pet, known to be especially good with children” (A Brief History1). Historians are still debating the origins of their past with some similarities, there are however, some points historians do agree upon. One of the points of which they do agree is that “the original “bulldog”, was used primarily for boar hunting as well as companionship and guarding purposes, they appear in paintings dating back as far as the 1500’s” (A Brief History1). The name Bulldog was given to them because of the fact they were the best dog for a popular blood-sport known as bull baiting, which was outlawed in England in 1835. The promoters looking for a new way to make money and to keep the participants happy turned to ratting, this is where rats are put into a pit with a dog, and bets are placed on the number of rats the dog can kill in the allotted time. Another blood-sport that gained in popularity was dog-fighting; this is when “pit” was added to their name. The blood-sport of dog-fighting is still being practice today. It is done in secrete because it is now illegal to promote or to participate in.

The American Pit Bull Terrier was “brought to the United States in the 19th century. Once in the United States pit bulls excelled as cattle dogs and “catch dogs” for pigs. And unfortunately, they were still used as fighting dogs” (A Brief History2). Back in the late1800’s the American Kennel Club was formed, they refused to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier for the fact that they were fought. Because of this, in 1898 a man named Chauncy Bennett created the United Kennel Club for the sole purpose of registering the American Pit Bull Terrier, the first to register was his own American Pit Bull. “Bennett also drew up rules and regulations for dog-fighting to bring “organization” to the blood-sport” (Pit Bull Faq2). Dog-fighting is done for entertainment and gambling purposes. At these matches there are usually other illegal activities such as the sale of drugs or guns. Pit Bulls are the dog of choice for those individuals known as “Dog-men,” they fight their pit bulls against other pit bulls. “Dog-men consider pit bull terriers, who are commonly called “100% bulldog” to be the ultimate canine gladiators. Pit bulls were selectively bred for “gameness”, the ability to finish a fight. A true game dog will continue fighting “on stumps”, two or more broken legs, and far worse. A single dog-fight averages about an hour in length but can last two or more. A dog-fight begins when a referee says, “Face your dogs,” then says “Let go.” The fight ends when one of the dogs will not or cannot continue to fight” (Pit Bull Faq2).

“The arrest and conviction of Michael Vick shows that dog-fighting still proliferates in the U.S. Law enforcement education, however, is on the rise. In July 2009, authorities unleashed an 8 state simultaneous dog-fighting sting and seized over 450 dogs. In December 2008, Edward Faron of Wildside Kennels, known as the ‘godfather’ of dog-fighting, was arrested and charged. Authorities seized 127 pit bulls from his property. Faron pleaded guilty to 14 counts of felony dog-fighting” (Pit Bull Faq2).

By the 1900’s pit bulls were known for their courage and loyalty; being companions to “both adults and children, even acquiring the nickname “nanny dogs” in some locations” (A Brief History2). In the beginning of the 20th century, the American Pit Bull Terrier was the closest thing to a national dog the United States had. Pit Bulls Terriers were the dog of choice for famous people “such as Helen Keller (her service dog), Laura Ingalls Wilder and President Theodore Roosevelt. Pit Bulls were chosen as mascots by the Buster Brown Shoe Company and by the United States itself, which featured Pit Bulls on American propaganda posters for each of the first two world wars” (A Brief History2). The pit bull also served in the military during both world wars, used for taking communications to and from the front lines. “The first dog decorated with medals by the Armed Forces was one “Sgt. Stubby” (an American Pit Bull Terrier). In the first world war, Sgt. Stubby not only survived being twice wounded in combat, but captured a German spy and saved his entire platoon from a poison gas attack” (A Brief History2).

(III) Many people believe that this type of life is all a pit bull is good for, or that all pit bulls are dangerous. If all members of a breed are grouped together, both the good and the bad, and the label of vicious is placed on them, they are being forced to spend their entire life being discriminated against. If they were human beings this way of thinking would be considered racist. And even if Pit Bulls do end up in a shelter that is willing to give them a break and put them up for adoption, this way of thinking is one of the reasons Pit Bulls have a really hard time getting a forever family. The main reason the American Pit Bull Terrier has the highest euthanasia rate is because it has been a common practice in many county run shelters to simply euthanize a pit bull instead of putting it up for adoption. The shelters say they do not put Pit Bulls up for adoption because it could end-up in the fight ring or the animal could injure someone, by euthanizing the pit bull they do not have to worry about these things happening. When a pit bull is picked up at large by a county run shelter, like Polk County Animal Services or Putnam County Animal Services, they are held 5 days to see if they are claimed. If they are not claimed, than on day 6 they are euthanized, not put up for adoption, this is very wrong. The American Pit Bull Terrier is unjustly prosecuted without due process, and the sentence of mandatory euthanasia is just wrong, and needs to be stopped.

(IV) There are a lot of people that believe that the Breed Specific Legislation against the American Pit Bull Terrier is a good thing and that it will cut down on bite incidents and vicious attacks. The thing about Breed Specific Legislation is it does not work, because it does not cover the main problem which is the ignorant and dangerous owners. Not only that, but it is extremely costly to try to enforce and there is not enough man power to enforce it. And the truth is any dog will bite given the right circumstances. People think that pit bulls are born aggressive. If this were true, “Dog-men” would not have to spend so much time and money training their dogs. And if they are asked, any dog behaviorist or trainer will tell people that a dog is almost 100% a product of its owner and the training the dog receives. Renowned scientific researcher, John Paul Scott said this about aggression, “Defensive fighting can be stimulated by the pain of an attack, but aggression, in the strict sense of an unprovoked attack, can only be produced by training. Heredity can enter into the picture only in such ways as lowering or raising the threshold of stimulation, or modifying the physical equipment for fighting. In considering hereditary effects, we must always remember that the environmental situation is always important” (The Truth About Pit Bulls4). Dogs are like children, they have to be taught a bad attitude, when a child is born they are a clean, blank slate, ready to absorb what you teach them, it is the same with an American Pit Bull Terrier puppy. According to the web-site, Pit Bull.org, The American Temperament Test Society (www.atts.org) preforms their temperament tests on popular dog breeds on a regular basis. Anyone can visit their web-site to check the dates and locations of upcoming tests and get their own dog tested to see how it does. The most recent test results for American Pit Bull Terriers were in 2008. The following is a description of the test that is given to all dogs: “the test simulates a casual walk through a park or neighborhood where everyday life situations are encountered. During this walk, the dog experiences visual, auditory and tactile stimuli. Neutral, friendly, and threatening situations are encountered, calling into play the dog’s ability to distinguish between non-threatening situating situations and those calling for watchful and protective reactions. The dog fails the test if it shows: unprovoked aggression – panic without recovery – strong avoidance. The American Pit Bull Terrier passed the test at a rate of 85.3%. This is higher than Collies, Golden Retrievers, and other dogs generally considered “family friendly”. The average dog population is around 77 %”( Are Pit Bulls Dangerous2).

Like most large breed dogs, pit bulls are great with kids. They have a high tolerance level so they will tolerate child’s play. Remember, just like with any other breed, a child has to be supervised at all times when around any dog, and taught how to interact with the dog and how to behave around it. The dog should also be properly trained and socialized. One important point is that pit bulls thrive on love, human contact is a necessity for a pit bull and they need to be raised as a member of the family, not abused or neglected. The American Pit Bull Terrier is an excellent working dog, extremely intelligent, with high energy and endurance levels, they are used here in the United States as cadaver and search and rescue dogs. They are also used by the border patrol and law enforcement for sniffing out drugs and bombs, and there is “a pit bull named Popsicle who holds the Texas record for the biggest drug bust, having sniffed out 3000lbs. of cocaine” (A Brief History3-4). They are also services dogs, for the deaf, for the blind, for the physically impaired and handicapped, and they can also be found in hospitals being used as therapy dogs. There are also the Michael Vick dogs, remember them? Every one said that they should all be put down, euthanized because they had been fought. People said that none of the dogs would ever be able to be rehabilitated. These days all of Michael Vick’s dogs are now members of loving forever families, and four of them work in various hospitals as therapy dogs and one is a reading dog with children. These are just a few good reasons that mandatory euthanasia of the American Pit Bull Terrier needs to stop.

(V) Granted in the State of Florida Breed Specific Legislation pertaining to the American Pit Bull Terrier was passed by the State of Florida pursuant to their findings: “that dangerous dogs are an increasingly serious and widespread threat to the safety and welfare of the people of the state of Florida” and the state legislators felt that the American Pit Bull was the main offender (Statutes/Laws5). It has been said that pit bulls have been selectively bred to have “enormous jaw strength, as well as a ruinous “hold and shake” bite style, designed to inflict the maximum damage possible on their victims. This bite trait delivered winning results in the fighting pit. When the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the Denver Pit Bull ban in 2005, the high court set aside characteristics that pit bulls display when they attack that differ from other dog breeds. One of these characteristics was their lethal bite: “[pit bulls] inflict more serious wounds than other breeds. They tend to attack the deep muscles, to hold on, to shake, and to cause ripping of tissue.” Pit Bull attacks were compared to shark attacks” (Pit Bull Faq3). This is only true to a point. When it comes to jaw strength a Pit Bull has around 325 lbs. per sq. in. of pressure when they bite, a German Shepard has 321 lbs. per sq. in., and a Rottweiler has 328 lbs. per sq.in. giving the Rottweiler a stronger jaw and bite down pressure. Granted they do have a “hold and shake” bite style, and yes this bite style inflicts severe damage but as for the design, the blame goes to the man upstairs not the dog. They are not taught this bite style they are born knowing it. Those Pit Bulls that have never been trained to be aggressive, have in actuality gone through obedience training and are loving members of a family have the same bite style when they perceive a threat the their family or themselves. There are more, sweet, friendly, loving Pit Bulls that are great family pets than there are those that have viciously attacked and maimed or killed. It is also understood that according to the ASPCA “between 10 and 20 people are killed each year by dogs and of the approximately 4.5 million who are bitten annually, around 750,000 seek medical attention” (Neil1). It is also understood that in the state of Washington, in June, enacted new legislation allowing prosecutors to file felony charges against the owners of dangerous dogs the first time the animals attack someone, where before there had to be a prior bite or attack record. Back in 1996, the Washington Supreme Court determined that the owner of two pit bulls could not be prosecuted under the old dangerous dog laws for a fatal attack on a 75-year-old man sitting in a wheelchair earlier this year (Neil3). Granted these things are all valid points, but they should not encompass the entire American Pit Bull Terrier breed which is what they are doing. In society, criminals such as rapists, child molesters and sexual predators, are given a second chance at life. Society gives these two legged scum of the earth the benefit of the doubt, yet they cannot do the same for the American Pit Bull Terrier. The American Pit Bull Terrier is a trustworthy, loyal, dedicated, and protective breed, a person could not ask for a more loving pet or companion. This is a breed that when they love their family they will protect them at all costs.

(VI) On the other hand, if you ask people what they think the problems are in regard to American Pit Bulls one of the things that might be stated is over-population. “There is an estimated 3 to 5 million pit bulls in the United States. The term ‘Pit Bull’ encompasses mainly three breeds of dog: the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier”(D’Addio1). I agree that the over-population of the Pit Bull Terrier is a problem, but the answer is not Breed Specific Laws that put all pit bulls into one group whether they are good or bad, or to euthanize them which puts an end to a life. There is a really good way to control the over-population of this breed; the state of Florida could do something similar to what San Francisco is doing it has helped bring the problem under control there. In San Francisco, California “great work is being done to curb the Pit Bull over-population by organizations such as the San Francisco SPCA. The facility offered one month during which all Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes were sterilized free of charge. It went so well that they have extended the program indefinitely. “We know first-hand through previous initiatives the positive efforts like this can have in a community,” says Jeannette Goh, D.V.M., Director of the SFSPCA Spay and Neuter Clinic. “We’re excited to offer this service free of charge from here on out.” San Francisco has a legal requirement that all Pits and Pit-mixes be spayed or neutered because over 60% of the dogs euthanized in the city are Pit Bulls” (D’Addio2).

As for Breed Specific Laws they do not work because they do not deal with the real problem which is irresponsible dog owners. The state of Florida could set up an agency to deal with just Pit Bulls Terriers and Pit Bull-mixes. Where by law the owners of a dog of this type breed had to register their dog or dogs, this would produce a list of every pit bull and pit bull type dog in the state. Files could then be created on those dogs that have reported incidents. In this way the dogs that truly are dangerous can be monitored better, as well as keeping tabs on their owners, because after all, these dogs did not get their bad attitudes by themself. The state can take part of the Breed Specific Laws and apply them to the new agency as the agency’s regulations; all owners would have to abide by these regulations because they are still state laws. The dogs that are deemed dangerous could be checked on four to six times a year depending on the level of danger the dog imposes. An employee of the agency can go to the registered address where the dog is being kept, to make sure that the dog/dogs are being kept in accordance with the laws and cared for properly, as well as making sure the dog/dogs are not being abused or neglected. Those that truly are family pets can be checked the same way, but they would only have to be checked on once or twice a year.

Another reason that so many Pit Bulls are euthanized is due to shelter over-crowding, when a shelter is needing kennel space pit bulls are the first ones to be euthanized, this comes in part because the shelters refuse to put Pit Bulls up for adoption. The state could open and run a shelter just for Pit Bulls, where employees have time to do background checks and investigate those that want to adopt a pit bull. The state could make it mandatory the adoptee to take classes with their new pet in obedience training and socialization. This would benefit the new owner in learning how to handle the dog properly so there are no incidents involving their new pet. That way the state could make a little money and Pit Bulls get a chance at finding a forever home and family.

(VII) Granted there are problems when it comes to the American Pit Bull Terrier, but they are not problems that cannot be solved. The breed’s over-population can be solved with sterilization programs. And a way to stop shelter euthanasia or at least slow it down would be to have educational programs to educate the public about the Pit Bull Terrier. To try and dispel the fears many people have about the breed and to encourage people to adopt them. Put Pit Bulls that are in the shelters up for adoption and require the new owners to attend classes for the care and up-bringing of the Pit bull. That way they know how to do a good and proper job caring for their pet so there will be no incidents involving the dog. Something has to happen soon, if things keep going like they are the American Pit Bull Terrier will continue to be unjustly prosecuted without due process, and the sentence of mandatory euthanasia which is very wrong will continue as well.

Elizabeth Cooper
Professor Niedbalec
English 1102
3 December 2012

Bibliography
“A Brief History of the American Pit Bull Terrier.” PitBull.org. N.p. Feburary 2009.
Web. September 11, 2012
“Are Pit Bulls Dangerous.” PitBull.org. N.p. no date. Web. 11 September 2012
D’Addio, Pam. “Pit Bulls and Euthanasia Rates.” Examiner.com. N.p. 12 May 2011.
Web. 3 October 2012
La Fontaine, Lisa. “For Lennox Barnes” Express.co.uk. N.p. 12 July 2012. Web.
6 November 2012
Meredith, Charlotte. “Battle to Save Condemned Family Dog Lennox Ends in Tragedy”
TheHuffingtonpost.com. The Huntington Post. 12 July 2012. Web. 6 November 2012
Neil, Martha. ‘Fighting Fido” ABA Journal 89. January 2003: 26-27. Web. 30 August 2012
‘Pit Bull Faq.” Dogbite.org. N.p. no date. Web. 30 August 2012
Poole, Amanda. “Pitbull Lennox’s Plight Followed Throughout the World.”
Belfasttelegraph.co.uk. Belfast Telegraph. 1 October 2011. Web. 6 November 2012
Statutes/Laws - Florida. Michigan State University College of Law. N.p. 1990. Web.
24 January 2012
“The Truth About Pit Bulls.” Kitsap humane. N.p. February 2009. Web. 19 September 2012
Research paper
Introduction
Historical background
Thesis
Data against mandatory euthanasia
Data for mandatory euthanasia
Refutation
Conclusion
Set up in this way as per Prof. Niedbalec
Final draft due 12/6/12 – paper, note cards, bibliography cards, all research.