Last week, in Victoria, Australia, the Laffan family said goodbye to two beloved members named Kooda and Bear. The two pups, little more than a year old were hugged and kissed, patted and stroked, before their owners placed them on the veterinarian’s table where they were euthanised.
Kooda and Bear were not homeless. They did not have a painful, life altering disease or injury. They had never hurt another man, woman, child, or dog – or even displayed any signs of anti-social behaviour. No, Bear and Kooda, were killed because of how they looked. These much loved, gentle, healthy dogs with their whole lives ahead of them were put to sleep because a local council declared them a ‘Dangerous and Restricted Breed’ based on their looks alone. There was no DNA testing, just one council’s decision that the dogs ‘looked’ like Pit Bulls and therefore were to be killed. Their owners were given five minutes with them to say goodbye.
For those that don’t know, the restricted breed dog legislation came into effect in Victoria last September, stating any Pit Bull Terrier type dogs not registered before the 29 September 2011 would be seized and destroyed. This law has left countless dog owners across the state fighting for their pets’ lives as councils implement the law on any dogs resembling Pit Bulls across the state. This law, and others like them, have attracted criticism from the Australian Veterinary Association, renown dog trainers, such as Cesar Milan and Victoria Stilwell, and the RSPCA, for their ineffectiveness and ambiguous nature.
To put it simply, Breed Specific Legislation is little more than a band aid solution and will do little to reduce the number of dog attacks in Australian communities. Problem being, Pit Bulls have been so vilified in the press and court of public opinion that few people are left to demand a better solution. Pit Bulls are routinely feared by the majority of Australians. It’s not our fault, we’ve been fed so many ‘facts’ and sensationalised news grabs that it’s hard to make head or tail (get it?) of the situation. So, for the Pit Bulls out there – and for anyone wanting to work towards a real solution preventing dog attacks in Australia – here are the 5 myths you need to know:
1. Pit Bulls are the most dangerous breed of dog. Ummm, no I’m sorry to say, Pit Bulls are more what you would call a ‘flavour of the month’ or a current ‘darling of the media’. Remember a few decades back when every dog attack reported was by a German Shepherd? Or in the 80s where every guard dog featured on TV and in the movies was a Doberman? (Magnum PI has a lot to answer for!) I’m pretty sure Rottweilers had their time in the spotlight too, and Staffies were a recent hot favourite – but just like Paris Hilton, they were eclipsed by their lesser known, larger bottomed friends as we made our way into a new decade. Jokes aside, the point I’m trying to make is every decade, we try to pin point dog attacks on one breed thinking this will ‘solve the problem’. It doesn’t.
2. Pit Bulls have lock jaws. I used the think this one was true. I don’t know why, I heard it once and just went with it. But no, we’re busting myths today and I can reveal it’s not true. Pit Bulls have jaws just like every other dog. And yes – just like every other dog those jaws can be dangerous. But you know what else can be dangerous? Jack Russells. I have a scar on my left ring finger to prove it. Cats can be dangerous too. One swipe and there goes your eyesight. A Border Collie has enough jaw power to crush every bone in your hand. A Golden Retriever’s teeth are sharp enough to rip through every layer of your skin. And don’t get me started on the emotional abuse Teacup Chihuahua’s are capable of! But really, every dog is as dangerous or as loving and gentle as their owner allows them to be.
3. They were bred to fight. I assume you mean just like chickens were as well right? Because in true fact Pit Bulls were first bred to become farm dogs for hunting, driving livestock and companionship. Yes, they were bred for their strength, and courage – but also for their gentleness with loved ones. A well cared for Pit Bull in a comfy home has as much interest in dog fighting as my Border Collie has in getting off the couch to go round up some sheep.
4. Banning Pit Bulls will reduce dog attacks. Believe me, I can tell you every dog owner worth their salt would do anything to decrease dog attacks. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of anyone being hurt by a dog, especially when the case involves children. Problem is, banning a breed is not going to fix the problem. The answer lies with education and strict regulation. Across Australia, governments need to work on creating laws restricting the sale of dogs to certified breeders and rescue organisations who can screen and educate prospective owners on their responsibilities as a dog owner. Children and adults alike need to be taught basic safety measures around dogs, such as the correct ways to approach a dog, to reduce the likelihood of preventable accidents. Education and prevention are the key. Targeting just one breed of dog is like trying to save the Titanic armed with a coffee cup and a sieve – no matter whether you have Leonardo DiCaprio on your side or not, you’re doomed to fail.
5. Without fighting, Pit Bulls have nothing to offer. Tell that to the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting ring who now spend their days working in educational school programs or as much loved family pets. Or Petey, of “The Little Rascals” fame, who to this day is said to have been one of the most intelligent dogs in Hollywood. Yep, he was a Pit Bull. Or Stubby, the Pit Bull Cross that served in WWI and went on to inspire the United States Military K-9 Corp. And you can’t forget Sir Thomas, Helen Keller’s Pit Bull who served as her loving companion and therapy dog. To date, Pit Bulls have proven to been excellent dogs of agility, therapy pets, heroes and loving companions.
It just goes to show, any dog presented with kindness and compassion has much to offer this world.
Do you agree with Victoria’s Breed Specific Legislation?
What experience have you had with Pit Bull type breeds in your life?
IMAGES: (From Top Left)
Frodo – one of the Pit Bulls rescued from Michael Vick, now lives happily with his new family.
Sergeant Stubby – the most decorated war dog of WWI. He saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, located and comforted the wounded, and reportedly once saved a young girl in Paris from being hit by a car.
Petey – one of the most celebrated dogs in Hollywood history.
Daddy – Cesar Milan’s right hand pooch who was also his partner in rehabilitating other dogs.
Sir Thomas – Helen Keller’s much loved therapy dog and companion.