LOS ANGELES (Circa) -- Flyers alerting the public of the "dangers" of pit bulls have been popping up in some cities across the U.S., including Boca Raton, Florida, and Los Angeles.
The flyers, titled "Pit Bull Facts," say things like, "In 2017, pit bulls killed 38 humans, 13,000 dogs, 5,000 cats, 20,000 farm animals," and "Pit bulls were originally bred to kill bulls and bears."
The latter claim is misleading. Pit bulls were originally bred to bite and hold bulls, not kill. The Pit bull Rescue Central (PBRC), a pro-pit bull organization, echoes this statement.
"They have been bred to do what man wants them to do," the organization told Circa via an email statement. "They are people-pleasers. Animal aggression and human aggression are two completely separate behavior traits. One does not mean the other will exist."
Animals 24-7 cites the same claim, but doesn't source it. The poster is not affiliated with DogsBite, but includes a link to the site on his flyer. DogsBite.org describes itself as a "national dog bite victims' group dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks," and said it was unaware of these posters' existence until I emailed them about them.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals says that pit bulls are genetically pre-disposed to be more aggressive since they are descendants of the English original bull-baiting dog, but says that the "vast majority of pit bull type dogs in our communities today are the result of random breeding. The result of random breeding is a population of dogs with a wide range of behavioral predispositions."
Still, the creator of the flyers, who says he's part of the Anti-Pit Bull Street Team and asked to remain anonymous because he fears he'll receive more death threats, stands by the flyers. He told Circa that after being attacked by a pit bull a year ago, he decided to take action. He says he hopes the posters "spark people's curiosity and motivate them to look further into the issue."
He's posted pictures of the flyers on Twitter using the hashtag #BanPitbulls.
California couple Stephen Elliott and Rusty Fox think that's a good idea. Their Yorkie was killed by a pit bull four years ago as they were walking down the street, when the dog came running out of a store without a leash and sunk its teeth into Vargas, their Yorkie.
"The dog, in its force of shaking Vargas, threw me into the street, and into the traffic," said Rusty Fox.
Indiana resident Stephanie Schofield's 3-year-old son was defaced by a pit bull.
"A neighbor, she had let her dog out, and it saw my son, and just went straight towards him and just did the lock on, and then it took two people to fight the dog to try to get him off," said Schofield.
There are also the horror stories of people dying to pit bull attacks. Last year, a 76-year-old man died of injuries sustained from an attack while walking his dog.
Groups like DogsBite.org, which tracks attacks by dogs, "chiefly Pit bulls," will tell you that in 2017, 74% of fatal dog bites in the U.S. were caused by pit bulls. PBRC claims that DogsBite regularly conflates statistics. "The site claims dogs of even distantly related breeds, including Boxers, Bulldogs and Mastiffs to all be 'Pit bulls' in their statistics," said PBRC.
DogsBite.org founder Colleen Lynn says that is not true. She says they include those breeds together (Mastiff and Bullmastiff) in an infographic for 2005-2017 "only to keep better track of the rising Mastiff and Bullmastiff attacks" in a graphical chart, but that this is disclosed to readers in a footnote. She points to a 3-year report issued by her nonprofit in 2009 as proof that all breeds are tracked "in their own category, separately." According to the site's founder, their most recent 2017 statistics are deduced from a self-collected sample of around 900 articles regarding dog-related deaths, 8 Freedom of Information Act requests and breed identification photos. The total number of deaths from dog attacks from before 2016 are derived from the CDC's WONDER Database, which collects underlying cause of death for all fatalities in the U.S., including those caused by being "bitten or struck by a dog."
For what it's worth, back when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kept track of dog bites, it found that most dog bites happened when dogs were not spayed or neutered, regardless of breed.
A 20-year study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about a third of deadly dog bites came from pit bull-type dogs.
"We limit things all the time for public safety. You cannot have certain animals as pets. You would not be able to have a coyote or a bobcat, and I think that pit bulls are just as dangerous."
As far as the flyers go, Lynn says pamphlets from free agents are common, and it's common for the creators to want to remain anonymous.
She told me the following via email: "You have to understand that there is often a lot of outrage after a person suffers a violent attack by one of these dogs. They are routinely marginalized by the system, even blamed for the attack, while the dog owner usually gets to keep the dog and is seldom insured, so there is no compensation for your medical bills. Then victims go online and learn that this problem has been going on since the mid 1980s with basically no progress at all."
For people who own pit bulls, the flyers are misleading and upsetting.
"Personally, you know, I make my dogs grow up to be nice and gentle. They like to cuddle. I've had German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Chihuahuas and never had any issue with any of them," said Crystal Santos, who's had two pit bulls for eight years now.
"Pit bulls are absolutely sweet and affectionate, and excellent dogs. And I would say the same thing for every dog breed," says Alexandra Hanlon, a Los Angeles resident who's fostered Pit bulls exclusively for the past 4.5 years. She's currently fostering a dog named Linus. "I don't think Pit bulls are any more aggressive or anything if they're given the same chances as other dogs."
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For its part, PETA has condemned pit bull bans in the past and told Circa in a statement:
"PETA supports legislation that mandates spaying and neutering for pit bulls, just as we support spaying and neutering for Chihuahuas."
Still some are in favor of breed-specific bans that can limit where a pit bull can be or even ownership in some cities.
"I think it's a good idea," said Stephen Elliott. "We limit things all the time for public safety. You cannot have certain animals as pets. You would not be able to have a coyote or a bobcat, and I think that pit bulls are just as dangerous.”
About 30 states have some kind of breed-specific laws, according to a 2015 map from BSL Census. Some states, like California, outlaw legislation that bans breeds. Montreal rolled back a controversial pit bull ban, just months after enacting it.
But even after suffering from pit bull attacks, victims differ on their stance.
"I think it has more to do with the owner," said Stephanie Schofield. "To let the dog out when there are all these kids is not the best idea."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article referred to DogsBite.org as an "anti-pit bull" group. That is incorrect, and we apologize for the error.
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