BSL Is the Pits! Let’s Celebrate Pit Bull Awareness Day

October 27th is National Pit Bull Awareness Day, and we’re celebrating pit bull dogs and saying NO to breed-specific legislation (BSL). Will you join us?

Pit bull awareness
Even mixed breeds are labeled as pit bulls and can have trouble getting adopted. Mike, the Boxer mix shown here, did get adopted. By: Kristine Lacoste/Petful

The winner of our Halloween photo contest last year chose to donate her prize to Chako Pit Bull Rescue. What a great gesture.

Finding out more about this organization and what they do helped educate me on the laws and negative stigmas that plague dogs labeled “dangerous” or “vicious” based only on their appearances.

I didn’t realize the magnitude of breed-specific legislation (BSL) until I started reading more about state and city laws, hearing about dogs confiscated and the sad story of Lennox in Northern Ireland.

National Pit Bull Awareness Day is today. It’s all about awareness — through education and social media — of the challenges that pit bulls and their owners face.

How It Started

National Pit Bull Awareness Day was created in 2007 by Jodi Preis of Bless the Bullys in Tennessee. The group focuses on pit bull rescue and education, and creating a day to educate people and eliminate the negative reputation surrounding these dogs was needed.

This annual event is celebrated around the country with walks, events, costume contests and much more. Participants vary from rescues and shelters to animal control offices. Review the list here to see if someone near you is hosting an event or to add your own event.

Why It’s Needed

Breed bans still exist in this country and in other countries. Even though legislation is pending to repeal some of the bans, new laws are still being enacted against breeds. People live in fear of their dogs being taken away from them in some areas. They also fight hard to change the minds of legislators from a dangerous stereotype to “Deed, Not Breed” to judge an animal based on its actions and history — not physical appearance.

I have mentioned before, as many others have, that if someone came to my house to take my dog away, it would be a battle. For some pit bull owners this was their reality: Their dog was taken away and never returned.

The pain of losing an animal due to illness or old age can be traumatic enough, but to lose an animal because someone else, who may have little to no training, decides your dog must die fuels the contempt for these discriminatory and senseless laws. No evaluations, no temperament tests, no history checks, no discussions with a breeder or vet — one man or woman makes a decision, and your family is forever changed. Those scars are permanent.

“Our Gang” was on TV in the 1920s and ’30s, and featured a lovable pit bull alongside children. Where’s the lovable pit bull on TV these days?

BSL Isn’t New

Pit bull dogs didn’t always have it this bad. Do you remember the cute pit bull with the ring around his eye in those old Our Gang (“Little Rascals”) reruns? Dogs fitting today’s pit bull description were war heroes and known for being so excellent with children that they were called “nanny” dogs. Those same dogs are now labeled by many names: vicious, dangerous, predator… killer.

To be fair, attacks by pit bulls aren’t fictitious. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that pit bull breeds were responsible for more fatal dog attacks in the United States than any other breeds in the two decades between 1979 and 1998. Pit bulls made up almost 28% of the fatal attacks, while Rottweilers came in second, at 16%.

A newer study by Animal People shows that from 2002 to 2011, the number of fatal pit bull attacks in the U.S. and Canada has grown every year, climbing to a record 213 fatal pit bull attacks last year, which means that every 1.7 days someone in those two countries was killed after being attacked by a pit bull.

But these numbers need to be put into context. There are millions of pit bulls in the United States — perhaps six times as many pit bulls as Rottweilers or German Shepherds. So the statistics above, as bad as they sound, actually have nothing to do with how much more likely pit bulls are to attack. They are no more likely to attack than some other breeds are. The fact is, it comes down to the pet owner. Was the dog properly socialized with people and animals? Was the dog trained? Was the dog chained for most of its life? These factors can directly affect how an animal behaves — not just a pit-bull-type dog.

The media deserves a large amount of blame in this battle. When an incident involves a pit bull, it’s labeled, headlined and exploited around the networks. When it’s a Labrador Retriever or Chihuahua, it’s just a minor dog report. This isn’t new for dogs, though; previously breeds such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds were deemed vicious based on inaccurate data.

Unfortunately, some around the world will not let go of the pit bull stigma. It’s time we changed that.

Affecting the Military

Members of the military aren’t excluded from BSL, either. Some military bases and housing areas have restrictions on certain breeds of dogs. A new assignment could mean a soldier has to give up his or her family pet.

Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit charity, helps place dogs for departing soldiers on leave, but they also help find temporary homes for pets not allowed on military property. They’re also working to standardize military pet policies with a breed-neutral approach. You can learn more about their efforts and sign their petition here.

In the Media

A new documentary delves into the myths and stereotypes afflicting pit bulls. Beyond the Myth explores the BSL issue with information and commentary from proponents and opponents in four cities in the United States. The report explains all sides of the BSL battle by interviewing pet owners, public servants, veterinarians, animal control workers and rescue advocates.

I watched this documentary yesterday and recommend it to any dog owner, not just those with pit bulls. As we have seen in the past, breed-specific legislation can hit any breed at any time. This film is filled with quotes, statistics, examples and (of course) heart-wrenching stories. It’s no surprise that Victoria Stillwell called the film “fantastic.” Right now you can watch it now for free on Hulu.

One thing that stood out to me was an example of how residents fought back regarding their BSL ordinances. One by one, the opposing politicians were voted out of office, and those who were voted in to replace them were more aligned with the public’s opinion on BSL. This shows that people do have the power. We have the power to change, evolve, correct injustices or simply vote out those who support discriminatory killing of any animal.

It all starts with education, awareness and spreading the word that BSL has to go.

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, has been researching dog and cat breeds for nearly a decade and has observed the animals up close at dog shows in both the United States and the United Kingdom. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has researched and written about pet behaviors and care for many years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, another bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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