Sensationalized publicity about certain breeds being particularly aggressive, as well as popular beliefs about some breeds' physical and behavioral characteristics contribute to the erroneous belief that certain breeds have a propensity to bite people, the report states.
Saved from death row|
Such misconceptions might have played a role in the fate of a bulldog Akron police impounded during a drug raid a few years ago. The owner of the dog, a suspected drug dealer, ordered the animal to attack officers.
Akron police face this situation all too often, said Lt. Rick Edwards, public information officer for the department.
Officers must assess the situation in each case, he said. If a dog charges an officer, it might have to be put down.
''Each situation is different. They have to look at the aggressiveness of the dog,'' Edwards said.
In this case, the officers felt the excited dog was vicious and ordered it impounded at Summit County Animal Control, where it was held for several months awaiting disposition of the case. Eventually, Municipal Judge Annalisa Williams issued an order to euthanize the dog because it was used in a crime, said Craig Stanley, director of administrative services for the county.
During the months the dog lived at the pound, caretakers began to realize it was no more than 7 or 8 months old when it had arrived. And although it fit Akron's physical description of a vicious dog, it was obvious the animal was deaf and could not have responded to the suspect's order to attack, Stanley said.
''I would play with him every time I went in. I could stand right next to him and shout his name and he didn't respond,'' Stanley said.
''When the [euthanization] order came out, a lot of the employees were sad about it.''
He visited Judge Williams and explained the situation. She agreed to a plan to take the dog off death row. Pound workers moved it to a shelter outside the county, where it could be placed for adoption.
The chain of events illustrates the problems many animals face if they are the property of reckless owners, Stanley said.
Animal control is a law-enforcement agency charged with protecting the citizens of Summit County from vicious animals in a humane way.
Rescue groups, by contrast, have accepted the task of protecting animals from irresponsible owners, bad breeders and puppy mills, as well as dogs at the mercy of unscrupulous people.
Pawsibilities, the Humane Society of Greater Akron, is by law required to rescue and provide care for neglected and abused animals in Summit County.
Four years ago, as many as 80 percent of the dogs living at the Humane Society were considered pit bulls. Today, less than half that percentage call the Twinsburg shelter home.
''The Humane Society is one of the few shelters in the state of Ohio that takes them in and adopts them out,'' board member Carianne Burnley said.
Kristen Brannigan, director of behavior and adoption testing at the shelter, attributes the successful placements to programs designed to educate the public about ''bully breeds.'' Also, DNA testing is made available — at a potential owner's expense — to determine whether any breeds singled out by law are in the dog's genetic makeup. The $85 tests have helped increase adoptions of long-term residents, she said.
''If the DNA test comes back with no 'bully' breed, the adoption rates skyrocket from 30 to 80 percent,'' Brannigan said.
At the Humane Society's National Pit Bull Awareness Day program in October, more than 250 visitors were challenged to ''pick the pit bull'' on a chart with photos representing 24 breeds. The photos were pulled from reputable, pure-bred breeders' Web sites, Brannigan said.
''Not one [visitor] was able to pick out the American pit bull on the first try,'' Brannigan said.
The legal hassle of owning a dog that arbitrarily has been labeled a pit bull because of its appearance is one of the biggest problems the agency faces in placing animals.
Ohio is the only state that singles out ''pit bulls'' in its legislation as vicious dogs.
Brannigan said every dog at the Humane Society undergoes temperament testing before it may be adopted. Also, anyone who shows an interest in adopting a ''pit-bull type'' dog is advised of the law in his or her community and given leads on insurance companies willing to provide the $100,000 in liability coverage necessary to comply with Ohio law.
DNA testing in many cases is proving that although a dog's characteristics might indicate a certain breed, the animal's parentage is not reliably assessed by its appearance.
A study published this year in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science indicates that many mixed-breed dogs do not resemble the predominant breeds identified by a DNA analysis. The study, conducted by Victoria Voith, Elizabeth Ingram, Katherine Mitsouras and Kristopher Irizarry, shows there is little correlation between the probable breed composition assigned to a dog and the identification of breeds by DNA analysis.
In other words, it is unwise to judge mixed-breed dog by appearance.
''Justification of current public and private policies pertaining to breed-specific regulations should be reviewed,'' the study concluded.
Overcoming their past|
Best Friends Animal Society Sanctuary, a 33,000-acre animal rescue and rehabilitation center based in southern Utah, recently kicked off a national initiative called Saving America's Dog, to restore the pit bull's image and to challenge breed discrimination laws across the country.
In April 2007, in a highly publicized case, 51 pit bulls were seized from a dog-fighting operation at Bad Newz Kennels, owned by NFL quarterback Michael Vick in Smithfield, Va. Vick was ordered to pay nearly $1 million to rehabilitate the animals.
Animal advocates Bill and Kim Jones of Bath Township, who became involved with Best Friends when they helped the agency rescue animals after Hurricane Katrina, were called on to help rehabilitate 22 of the most challenged dogs taken to the sanctuary. They spoke Wednesday at the Fairlawn branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library.
The Joneses arrived at Best Friends the same day as the Vick dogs. They found the animals so traumatized, they cowered in corners when humans entered their pens and refused to cross thresholds because ''it meant something bad was going to happen to them,'' Kim Jones said.
Today, with some mishaps along the way, the majority of the Vick dogs are doing well. Three are certified therapy dogs and many have found new, adoptive homes after their painful start in life, Bill Jones said.
Because of the experience, the couple, along with Best Friends, have become breed advocates urging the removal of breed-specific language in favor of more effective laws to protect people from vicious dogs. Best Friends will be bringing that message to Ohio next year, Bill Jones said.
''Best Friends has targeted Ohio to get the [breed-specific] law rescinded,'' Jones said.
Readers can take a ''pick the pit'' challenge at Pet Pitbull - Find the Pit Bull