The problem with pit bulls is that they simply aren’t just like other dogs:
Pit bulls make up only 6% of the dog population, but they’re responsible for 68% of dog attacks and 52% of dog-related deaths since 1982, according to research compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, an animal-news organization that focuses on humane work and animal-cruelty prevention.
Clifton himself has been twice attacked by dogs (one pit bull), and part of his work involves logging fatal and disfiguring attacks. Clifton says that for the 32 years he’s been recording, there has never been a year when pit bulls have accounted for less than half of all attacks. A CDC report on dog-bite fatalities from 1978 to 1998 confirms that pit bulls are responsible for more deaths than any other breed, but the CDC no longer collects breed-specific information.
Another report published in the April 2011 issue of Annals of Surgery found that one person is killed by a pit bull every 14 days, two people are injured by a pit bull every day, and young children are especially at risk. The report concludes that “these breeds should be regulated in the same way in which other dangerous species, such as leopards, are regulated.” That report was shared with TIME by PETA, the world’s largest animal-rights organization.
“If you need a marker in your head for when pit bulls got out of control, it’s 2007 with Michael Vick,” Lynn says. Vick’s high-profile trial for dogfighting and cruelty to animals roused a growing sympathy for pit bulls, which led more people to adopt them and bring them into their homes.
“We need to get used to mauling injuries, because we’re going to be seeing a lot more of them,” warns Lynn. “Each of us will know a mauled, disfigured child by a known dangerous breed of dog. There will be one in every school.”
But what can be done about the growing number of pit bulls? Some say the best solution would be breed-specific sterilization, which would curb the pit-bull population and reduce euthanasia in shelters. Most dogs of all breeds are spayed and neutered — about 80%, by Clifton’s estimation. But only 20% of pit bulls are sterilized, partly because the population that owns pit bulls tends to resist the spay-neuter message. He notes that there are a number of free sterilization programs for pit bulls, including one run by the ASPCA, but that even the largest programs aren’t sterilizing enough pit bulls to reduce the number of shelter intakes.
Lynn agrees that breed-specific sterilization laws are the most humane and efficient way to deal with the situation and avoid having more dogs euthanized. “If you want to hit that ‘no kill’ status, you better do something about the pit-bull problem.” Pit bulls currently account for 63% of the dogs put down in shelters, but only 38% of the admissions. Lynn says that all pit bulls should be sterilized, except those that come from licensed breeders.
Even PETA, the largest animal-rights organization in the world, supports breed-specific sterilization for pit bulls. “Pit bulls are a breed-specific problem, so it seems reasonable to target them,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president of cruelty investigations. “The public is misled to believe that pit bulls are like any other dog. And they just aren’t.” Even the ASPCA acknowledges on its website that pit bulls are genetically different than other dogs. “Pit bulls have been bred to behave differently during a fight,” it says. “They may not give warning before becoming aggressive, and they’re less likely to back down when clashing with an opponent.”