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As a lifelong resident of D.C. and the proud owner of an American pit bull terrier, I would like to salute Ta-Nehisi Coates (“Shoved Into the Doghouse,” 10/15) for being among the handful of journalists willing to give pit bulls a chance in an overwhelmingly hostile press. As a result of the media hype, legislation seems more aimed at eradicating the pit bull (along with any dog that resembles one) than reducing dog bites. Unfortunately, passing legislation against pit bulls and not their owners would have about the same effect anti-drug legislation has on reducing alcoholism.
Coates makes reference to the fact that pit bulls are among the most abused of any dog breed. In addition to being the victims of nefarious acts of cruelty, they have been the victims of negative attention that has made them the breed of choice for urban heavies and Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of city councils and media groups nationwide. Throughout this entire debacle, I’ve been constantly reminded of legislation passed against African-Americans in the form of Jim Crow laws. The parallels are obvious: Both sets of laws would aim at groups that were already regularly mistreated and oppressed. While on the books, the laws would deny the opportunity for members of either group to shine at their full potential. Although those potentials are exceedingly different, the point is that prejudiced legislation has no place in a society that is trying, at least theoretically, to be thought of as moral.
My purpose is certainly not to say that pit bulls have not caused any harm or that the current rash of attacks should go unaddressed. What I am challenging is the plan of action. I feel very strongly that neither the dogs nor any other living thing possesses a genetic disposition for random acts of violence. Current legislation in D.C. labels all dogs innocent until proven guilty—which is a fair condition. It is of note that not one single pit bull has been deemed dangerous under the law despite the constant reports of attacks. My conclusion is that enforcement is the issue that must be addressed, and I am not at all opposed to stricter penalties for careless dog ownership.
I concur with the views of the National Animal Control Association, the American Kennel Club, and the American Veterinary Medical Association: Breed-specific legislation is an attempt to remedy the effects of lax dog ownership that is destined to fail. At one point in our country’s history, pit bulls were our wartime mascot, and a generation of children lived in adoration of Our Gang’s “Petey.” Unfortunately, this generation is witnessing a Salem-style witch hunt that will undoubtedly go down as yet another futile crusade, this time against man’s best friend.
American University Park