Banning the Breed

For some dogs, their reputation preceeds them

Story and photos by Eva Mizer

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A pit bull puppy saved by Desiree McKaliven of the Adirondack Pit Bull Rescue.

No one is sure where she came from. She was found walking along the road, cold and malnourished, when a man pulled over and called her over. He seemed nice, so she obeyed and jumped into his truck. He brought her to a place where she was treated, fed, and put into a cage. People came looking at the other animals, and sometimes they even played with them. But not her. She wagged her tail, but they didn't bend down to say hello. They saw her and recoiled, quickening their step to the next cage. No one wants her because she is vicious and dangerous. No one wants her because she’s a pit bull, and they can’t take her home.

In various regions across the United States and Canada, counties are allowed to enact bans on specific breeds. Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL, can limit not only the types of breeds allowed, but also what you can do if you have a “banned” dog. For example, in Canada, a person cannot own, breed, transfer (whether by sale, gift or otherwise), abandon, import, or train a pit bull for fighting. In other areas, bans can be lighter, and just require that selected breeds wear harnesses and muzzles to keep others safe. Fortunately for owners and pit bulls alike, New York State does not allow local governing of BSL. However, this does not stop other institutions, such as insurance providers and landlords, from banning the breed.

“Landlords around here are getting so strict,” said Dan Anderson of Animal House pet shop. “Some won’t allow any breed that could be dangerous.” In a study conducted by Merritt Clifton, the correlation between the number of dog attacks in America and the specific breed of an animal was analyzed with information from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spanning 20 years. According to the data, pit bulls were the second most likely to have a fatality as a result of an attack on humans, while the first were Rottweiler’s. The study has enacted debate on both sides of the issue. Dr. Katherine Houpt, of Cornell University’s Canine Behavioral Center in Gaylord, Michigan, has seen a fair number of these “dangerous breeds” come into her clinic.

"They take them to socialization class, they take them to obedience school, they are fine for a few years, and then they kill the neighbor’s dog."

“[Rottweilers] have become more aggressive over the past 15 years, and they have also become more popular,” said Houpt. “The increase of their killing people has increased out of proportion to the number of Rottweilers in the population. I think people who would have gotten pit bulls got rottweilers instead but still had the same ambitions for the dogs. They selected them and almost trained them to be aggressive towards strangers.”

“Everything is nurture and nature, but they have been selected for that behavior,” said Desiree McKaliven. “So they are more likely than your average beagle to be aggressive.” Throughout the years, she has seen various examples where nurture has not paid off. “I have seen so many pit bulls taken by very nice, very dog-savvy people who did all the right things,” said Houpt. “They take them to socialization class, they take them to obedience school, they are fine for a few years, and then they kill the neighbor’s dog.”

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Although portrayed as savage killers, pit bulls are loving and playful if treated correctly.

However, nurture does play a significant role when it comes to dogs that pose a significant risk. “The wrong people get the dogs and abuse them,” said Desiree McKaliven of the Adirondack Pit bull Rescue. “It’s all in how they’re brought up.” Dogs bought as guard dogs or yard dogs pose the biggest risk for attack due to the lack of socialization of both other dogs and humans alike. This lack of socialization can lead to erratic behavior such as aggression, fear, biting, and excessive barking, all of which could be lessened or prevented by constant training. “I do not believe in tying up dogs,” said McKaliven. “Tying up dogs changes their personalities.”

"To cover the damages from a typical dog bite or attack, insurance companies must pay about $25,000."

While the study was originally meant for educational and legislative purposes, it has since been used as a weapon against breeds with a higher correlation of fatal attacks than others. Seen by some as the “bad dog” list, it is constantly used by insurance companies to weed out possible liabilities.

To cover the damages from a typical dog bite or attack, insurance companies must pay about $25,000. On average, insurance companies pay out about $310 million a year for such incidences. Because many small insurance companies cannot risk the financial loss due to a careless owner or a dangerous dog, they can exclude the dogs from their policies.

Well-socialized dogs make great companions and interact well with others.

There are many large insurance companies that accept breeds, such as the pit bull, into their policies. Depending on the region, insurance providers such as State Farm, Kemper, Chubb Group, and Farmers Insurance. Nationwide will also cover pit bulls, but only if they have their Canine Good Citizen certification (or CGC).

If you cannot change your carrier but still wish to have your dog covered, consider a few alternate options. First off, unless you have papers tracing the lineage of your dog, it is best to get it genetically tested to be sure it is a full “dangerous” breed or just a mix. Since mixes aren’t seen as a threat the way purebreds are, they will be less likely to be a liability.

One way to encourage your (or your landlords) insurance company to include your dog in your policy is to get it trained and tested for a Canine Good Citizen Certification. Dogs wishing to become certified must first complete 10 tests. These tests, designed to demonstrate the dogs temperament and demeanor, include accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, walking on a loose lead, walking through a crowd, basic commands, reactions to another dog, and reactions to distractions and being left alone with a stranger. The certification process will also help you train not only your dog to be more obedient and safe, but yourself as well.


How do you feel about breeds with bad repuations?

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