Your cover story on pit bulls (“Dog Days,” 11/23) was emotionally striking, but unfortunately, it was virtually fact-free. We made clear to your reporter the following facts, which appeared nowhere in the article.
1. Not a single reputable national humane or canine organization supports banning breeds of dogs. No organization that studies dog attacks supports banning “pit bulls.” This includes the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control, the two top expert organizations on the topic. The National Animal Control Association, the professional organization of animal control officers, is also opposed.
2. Nine cities, including Cincinnati, have repealed pit-bull bans because they are expensive and ineffective. Your article stated that only 45 pit bulls were seized in Cincinnati last year. That is false. That was the number sitting in the shelter on one day last August13 years after a “ban” was enacted. The AVMA found that “pit-bull” bans merely discourage people from registering their dogs.
3. That the Prince George’s County ban is a failure is not a matter of debate. The fact is that in 2000, P.G. County officials fudged the figures and failed to count pit-bull mixes and Staffordshire Terriers as “pit bulls,” as they had done the year before. Thus, through creative accounting, the numbers were magically reduced. In addition, P.G. County had to beg the state of Maryland to pay for overtime costs for police to seize perfectly good dogs from people’s homes.
4. Numerous cities have had pit-bull bans overturned on constitutional grounds. The state must make a rational connection between what is being banned and the public safety, and the law must be precise. Bans have been overturned because “pit bull” is a slang term which includes four or five distinct breeds, which only look similar. In the case of the D.C. proposal, at least two breeds described as “pit bulls” appear nowhere on Department of Health dog-bite statistics. Therefore, the proposed bills are overly broad and could be overturned in court fairly easily.
5. Last summer’s meeting of the Society of Anthrozoology devoted an entire session to the question of “dangerous breeds” and found no evidence to support the contention that “pit bulls” are genetically dangerous. James Serpell, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, stated, “Although they look different, dog ‘breeds’ have no more scientific basis than do ‘races’ among humans.”
The D.C. Dog Coalition is not merely concerned with the rights of dog owners. We also don’t want the District to waste a lot of money, and we don’t want animals killed unnecessarily. We also want a functioning and effective animal-control system. Enforcement of all animal-related laws should be a city function, and animal-control officers should write tickets. We also support dangerous-dog laws currently in place in Washington and California that create the category of “potentially dangerous dog” rather than name breeds. They allow for the pre-emptive seizure of dogs used for any type of harassment, intimidation, or illegal activity, regardless of breed. These are common-sense laws that actually work.
D.C. Dog Coalition