During the 11 year timetable from 2005 to 2015, dogs killed 360 Americans. Of those 360 dog bite fatalities, over 64% were inflicted by Pit Bulls. Moreover, when adding in fatal injuries caused by Rottweilers, the second deadliest dog breed, the two breeds accounted for more than 3/4 of all dog bite fatalities. DogBite.org reports that at least 28 U.S. state animal control departments, including Pennsylvania’s, have indicated that Pit Bulls are more dangerous than other dog breeds. To clarify, not only are Pit Bulls involved in more dog bite injuries but when they do attack, they afflict victims with disfiguring, permanent injuries.
Pennsylvania is among an extensive list of U.S. states that has Pit Bulls under close watch. According to a geographic map of dog bite incidents from DogBite.org , from 2005 to 2012 6 Pennsylvanians were killed in dog bite attacks. While there may be differing opinions on whether Pit Bulls are more likely to bite people, there is no debate on the severity of injuries that they may inflict. They contributed to 232 of 360 American dog bite fatalities from 2005 to 2015. For more information on Pennsylvania dog bite law, including what makes a dog “dangerous” click here.
For centuries, large dogs, especially Pit Bulls have been used for sport, and have been featured as violent, vicious predators. However, does that make an individual dog of a given breed more likely to attack?
Breed Dog Bite Fatality Statistics
Below are the 5 leading breeds of dog bite fatalities from 2005- to 2015, there were 360 total fatalities during the 11 year period.
- Pit Bull: 232 Deaths (64.4%)
- Rottweiler 41 Deaths ( 11.4 %)
- German Shepherd 13 Deaths (3.6 %)
- Mastiff/ Bullmastiff 12 Deaths (3.3%)
- Husky 12 Deaths (3.3%)
If we considered numbers alone, it would be very easy to quarantine Pit Bulls, however, other factors must be considered as well. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which is a non-profit organization representing over 86,500 licensed veterinarians, has urged state governments to not implement breed-specific legislation (BSL). They claim, based off a recent study, that even people familiar with dog breeds cannot determine the breed of a mutt, or mixed breed dog. BSL laws hurt innocent animals, urging lawmakers to focus on a dog’s breed rather than specific prior history. Moreover, the AVMA believes that money spent on BSL laws should focus more on leash laws, and restricting the activity of dogs who have previously bitten people.
All dogs can bite people, their breed does not determine whether they will but their prior history may. Male dogs that are not spayed and neutered represented 90 percent of dogs seen by veterinarians for dominance aggression. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) stated that the most important factor to consider is the specific needs of each dog. Both the AVMA and HSUS do not support the proposal for BSL legislation. They believe generalizing bites to a specific breed is entirely unfair to each individual animal.
While it logically makes sense that larger dogs such as Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers may inflict more devastating injuries than smaller dogs, it is unfair to generalize based on breed only. Furthermore, there is no scientific data that supports the claim that Pit Bulls more frequently bite people than other dog breeds. To learn how to better protect yourself from potential dog bites, please refer to our dog bite prevention page here.
Existing Breed- Specific Dog Laws
Over 700 cities in the United States have implemented breed-specific legislation, including several cities in Pennsylvania. Marple Township has declared Pit Bulls “vicious,”while the Borough of Glenolden took it a step further and actively restricts Pit Bulls. Bessemer Borough also has implemented a BSL that requires residents who own a Pit Bull or Rottweiler to pay a $5,000- 10,000 bond to cover medical costs in case of an attack. These laws do not take an animal’s prior history into account, they just wrongly spotlight the dog’s breed.
In Pennsylvania lawsuit case, Starkey v. Township of Chester (1986), the township determined that Pit Bulls are dangerous dogs, even charging fees, imposing regulations and requiring licenses of Pit Bull owners. Chester Township did not impose regulations upon any other dog breed but maintained that any Pit Bull that has previously attacked someone must be killed. To be clear, these current laws can declare innocent animals to be dangerous based on breed alone. Breed bias can also stem from traumatized victims, who identify a dog as a Pit Bull without certainty.
Does Breed-Specific Legislation Work?
The American Kennel Club (AKC) defines breed- specific legislation as “any bill that seeks to ban or place severe restrictions on owners of a particular breed of dog or dogs with certain physical characteristics, without considering whether the dog is a problem to its owner and members of its community. ” AKC stated that BSL forces local authorities to focus on appearance rather than behavior, which is likely to cause breed identification issues, as well as punishing innocent dogs.
All dogs have the potential to bite people. There is no statistical evidence to support the claim that one breed is more likely to bite than another. In fact, Prince George County, Maryland which passed a Pit Bull ban in 2003 has not seen an increase in public safety since. The American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) stated that BSL unfairly punishes innocent animals, and can force owners to choose between keeping their loyal, well-behaved pet and paying hefty fines and license fees. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that factors such as heredity, gender, training, and prior history are greater predictors of aggressive behavior than breed. In recent years, the Dutch government repealed their 15-year-long ban on Pit Bulls, and the United Kingdom has seen a rise in dog bite incidents with an active BSL. There has been no statistical evidence to support BSL, and often times the only effect BSL has is the punishment of innocent dogs.
Many animal advocacy organizations and legal authorities have actively spoken out against breed-specific laws, such as:
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- The American Kennel Club (AKC)
- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- The American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA)
These organizations believe that the most effective enforcement laws to promote community safety aren’t BSL, but include laws such as dog license laws, leash laws, and animal fighting laws-not solely based on breed.
Assessing Fault: The Dog or The Owner?
When looking deeper into BSL, we can see that regulations actively attempt to determine whether specific breeds are more dangerous than others, but what about their owners? A study published in the Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances found that owner behavior has a direct impact on dog aggression and personality. Furthermore, the study which focused on 50 purebred dog breeds found that training and care were inversely related to aggressive behavior. This conclusion indicated that regardless of breed, properly trained and cared-for dogs are much more likely to exhibit obedience than mistreated or malnourished canines.