What do you think about pit bulls? Are they dangerous or are they just dogs with a bad rap sheet?
I ask because next month City Council will be taking up the question of revising or repealing Minot’s breed-specific-law that makes owning a pit bull in town illegal.
The topic has generated a mountain of community conversation, and like the rest of American politics, there’s no shortage of people on both sides. And from among those passionate minorities (I would characterize those with no opinion as the majority), there seems to be no tolerance for alternative viewpoints.
None of that changes the fact that as a City Council member, I’ve got the job of deciding the issue. Mark your calendars, our meeting is tentatively scheduled for January 17th. Between now and then, I’m going to tease out my current views about pit bulls to see what you think about my thinking and how I’m approaching the issue.
A bit about my bias…
If there’s one thing that’s clear about this issue, it’s that we all have our own stories to tell. I’m no different. So before I tell you about the pitbull-arguments that are resonating with me, it seems appropriate that I share my background with dogs in general.
I’m not a dog owner, but I like dogs. And I love their honesty. I’ve never met a dog that didn’t tell me exactly what he or she thought about me right from the start.
I have one first-hand experience with a pit bull. She was adopted by a friend out of an Interstate-26 ditch near Charleston, SC. She was a sweet, gentle animal, great with kids, and an all around wonderful family pet.
I’ve also lived with a pair of Doberman pinschers. My first experience with those animals was the male hitting a sliding glass door separating us so hard he cracked it. He was outside; I was inside. He was a VERY protective dog — and at that moment he was trying to break through a glass door — I was a stranger in his house. The owner assured me that if I moved in, he would introduce me to the dogs carefully. Once socialized, I would enjoy the comfort of their fiercely protective dispositions.
I ended up moving into the place despite the unnerving first impression.
And while I lived there, I did enjoy the comfort of their protection. But make no mistake, those dogs were dangerous. In return for their protection, we had to be especially careful. We had to be careful with the garage door. We had to be careful with the mailman. We had to be careful with friends and family. Everyone we knew was warned not to ‘pop’ in on us.
The one time we slipped up, a friend got bit. The individual had been to the house before, had been socialized with the dogs. But on that night, he entered the house too quickly. The attack was on and then under our control in an instant. But not before our friend absorbed four painful-looking puncture wounds. Everybody, including the uninjured and the dogs, was shaken by the event.
So, those are my stories. That’s the baggage I’m carrying into the conversation. Pit bulls can be great, loving pets. Dogs of any breed — without a doubt — can be dangerous.
Why a Ban to Begin With?
So where do we go from there? My first stop is public safety. Let’s assume Minot’s current pit bull law was put on the books because a previous City Council viewed the breed as a danger to public safety. As such, they took action in an attempt to protect public safety.
It’s hard to argue with that logic. If we identify a risk, it seems prudent to take steps to minimize exposure to that risk.
But that rests on the assumption that pit bulls are indeed a risk to public safety — so much so that they warrant special attention under the law. This is the assumption that I’ve chosen to question first.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (Thank you, Mr. Twain)
Are pit bulls dangerous? To answer that, I could rely on statistics. I’ve received no shortage of links to various studies on both ends of that question. Here’s what I’ve discovered — I don’t trust any of the research or statistics. I see flaws in the scientific method. I see media bias. I see research bias. I see politically-driven motivations. In short, I see all sorts of problems with the statistics people show me about pit bulls, so I’ve chosen not to trust any of them.
That leaves me still looking for a way to determine if pit bulls are dangerous dogs. So, like it or not (and I want to hear from you in the comments if my method is flawed), this is the method I’m using this far: I’m basing my conclusion on whether pit bulls are dangerous dogs on the anecdotal answers to two questions.
That’s right; I’m relying on the stories I’ve heard in the news and the stories you all have told me. And these are the questions I’m attempting to answer after hearing your stories. Do pit bulls bite more often than other dogs? When pit bulls do bite, do they do inflict more damage?
Frequency & Degree of Injury
Now, before you jump down my throat, please remember that all I’m attempting to determine right now is, are pit bulls dangerous dogs? Do they represent a risk to public safety?
If yes, then I’m going to move forward with figuring out how to reduce risk to public safety.
If no, then I probably have to think about repealing our current pitbull law because there wasn’t a justified need to ban them in the first place.
Here are my conclusions:
Do pit bulls bite more often than other dogs? From what I’ve heard from all of you and experienced personally, I’m not sure. Let me put that another way. There’s nothing I’ve heard in the news and in the contacts I’ve gotten from citizens that leads me to believe pit bulls bite people more often than any other dog breed. My conclusion: No. I have no reason to believe pit bulls bite people more often than other breeds.
Do pit bulls do more damage when they bite? On this question, I’m willing to say the answer is yes. Again, this based on what I’ve learned from media reports and from the stories you’ve told me. I believe that when compared to dog bites from most other breeds, pit bulls cause more harm and greater injury.
Now, we’re nearing the end of this particular commentary on pit bulls, but I want to assure you I’m not done with the topic. And thus far, I’ve drawn only one conclusion — pit bulls represent a risk to public safety because when they bite people, they tend to do more damage and cause greater injury than many other breeds.
Yes, Pitbulls are Dangerous
Like it or not, that’s where I stand right now. And if pit bulls are a risk to public safety, then I’m willing to say we — as a City Council — should take steps to protect the public from that risk — if we can.
What should we do about that increased risk? I’m not sure yet. Alderman Straight’s committee recommended we adopt a dangerous dog ordinance mirrored after Fargo’s law. What I am sure of is there are a lot of factors to consider.
Part II of me sharing my thoughts on pit bulls will be published later this week. I’m going to jump into the potpourri of arguments and statements people have made to me in hopes of swaying my decision. Is there such a thing as dog racism? Is it the owner or the dog — a rekindling of the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate. Should I care about the message we (as a community) send to people who are considering moving to Minot? Should we be proactive or reactive? These are just a few of the arguments I’m hearing, and I’m going to touch on all of them.
In the meantime, I’d greatly appreciate you sharing your thoughts on my earlier conclusion. Use the comment forum below, because your voice won’t be heard unless you use it. It takes just a second to get registered, but it’s important. It proves we’re each talking to real, live Minot people.