After NJ attacks: Are pit bulls really dangerous?
True or false: Pit bulls are dangerous dogs that are bred to be deadly, and will often attack without being provoked.
The answer: It's not really all that clear-cut. While a CDC report on dog-bite fatalities between 1978 to 1998 indicates that pit bulls are responsible for more deaths than any other breed, the ASPCA cautions the public to keep in mind that many dog breeds can be trained to be aggressive.
"The reality is that dogs of many breeds can be selectively bred or trained to develop aggressive traits. Therefore the responsible ownership of any dog requires a commitment to proper socialization, humane training and conscientious supervision," the ASPCA says in a statement on its website.
According to the ASPCA, today’s pit bull is a descendant of the original English bull-baiting dog — a dog that was bred to bite and hold bulls, and large animals around the face and head. In addition, some pit bulls were bred for their fighting ability. But although they may be more likely than other breeds to fight with dogs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they "can’t be around other dogs or that they’re unpredictably aggressive," the ASPCA said in its online statement.
"Other pit bulls were specifically bred for work and companionship. These dogs have long been popular family pets, noted for their gentleness, affection and loyalty. And even those pit bulls bred to fight other animals were not prone to aggressiveness toward people," the ASPCA states.
But even though many pit bull owners and animal activists say the terriers are safe to own, what's not helping pit bulls and their reputation is the fact that there are regularly stories being reported about harmful —and sometimes deadly — attacks by pit bulls.
Earlier this week, police were forced to shoot and kill a pit bull after an 11-year-old boy called 911 as the family’s pit bull terrier attacked his parents in Paterson. Earlier this month, a 13-year-old girl and her grandmother were injured after two family dogs — a pit bull and a boxer — went after another family pet, and then the two people in South Brunswick.
The reports have prompted several municipalities throughout New Jersey, and the rest of the country, to pass ordinances regarding ownership of pit bulls.
In Highland Park, for example, pit bull owners are required to pay a $100 fee when applying for a dog license, because the borough "finds a threat to public health and safety is present when dangerous dogs are allowed to roam at large, even when accompanied by a handler or not properly secured on an owner's premises.”
In Atlantic City, municipal code states that “there shall be a refutable presumption that any dog registered with the Department of Animal Control as a pit bull dog is a dangerous dog."
So is it safe to have a pit bull as a family pit? The ASPCA says yes, and offers several tips for anyone planning to adopt a terrier. Among the suggestions: enroll the dog in a puppy class that involves off-leash socialization with other dogs. The organization also suggests establishing "house rules" for the dog, making time each day for play and having information handy in case you have neighbors who may be nervous about having a pit bull in the community.
"Be prepared with breed facts and history to let people know that it’s bad ownership—not bad dogs—that causes pit bulls to be aggressive," the ASPCA suggests.
Do you own a pit bull or would you consider adopting one? Have you ever been the victim of a pit bull attack? Comment below or tweet the author @ToniRadio1015 and your comments may appear in a future post.
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.