Saturday, March 5, 2011

Letter to ASI: Part 2

Revised: Jan 7, 2013; 00:44 GMT

Subsequent to posting our open letter to ASI (Animals & Society Institute), SRUV engaged in an email conversation with a prominent scholar of international environmental and animal law. That conversation is reproduced here. Full disclosure: SRUV has slightly expanded our portion of the discussion while the correspondent has not had the opportunity to do so.

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CORRESPONDENT: I have received and read your letter, but I do not understand what you are seeking to happen??

SRUV: That's a question we hadn't anticipated. Would it be too presumptuous to say we'd like to "start a national conversation" about BSL (Breed Specific Legislation).

We'd like to put Dr Shapiro and other scholars on notice that they're part of what is essentially a public health issue. Dr Shapiro and others may be acting morally, in their view. But we think they're mistaken in their position against BSL.

The resistance to BSL runs throughout society, from top to bottom. Some of us see this resistance as damaging to the humane movement, to human-animal relations, and to society at large.

We hope that our initiative will, over time, generate enough interest that scholars and policy-makers will question what has come to be a received opinion about BSL. At some point institutions such as ASI may break away from these beliefs and help forge new and different attitudes about BSL.
Thank you for writing,

CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, I would say public safety rather than public health, but clearly an important topic. I think that many of us oppose BSL because of its basic unfairness, in that, most of the risk to the public arises from the human treatment of the dog rather than the inherent traits of the dog itself. If all pit bulls were removed from the US, then those humans who intentionally or un-intentionally create bad pit bulls will just find another dog breed to use, and the risk of harm to the public will remain at about the same level.

SRUV:  There are many who would disagree with you on this matter. Owners of retrievers know that their dogs jump into the water to retrieve a stick or ball, practically from birth, while my blue heeler walked around puddles on the sidewalk when possible. The skill of Border Collies to herd, from birth, is not questioned; in fact generations have come to depend on it. Anyone who has watched field trials in Wales or Scotland comes away from the experience awestruck. We know that ratters, pointers, and other breeds each have their own unique calling.

Why then should we ignore, or deny, the fact that pit bulls retain the specific traits they've been selected for, for centuries? It's unreasonable to accept genetic imprinting for other breeds, but to insist that pit bulls are not subject to genetic imprinting.

The argument that another breed would become the dog of choice for fighters and criminals is often used by pit bull advocates. This belief has percolated through society and become received opinion, strongly reinforced by the pit bull advocacy groups. I recently asked Merritt Clifton for his response to this argument. His reply:
  • Dogfighters have been trying to breed more successful fighting dogs for centuries & have never yet come up with any that can beat pit bulls, or even be induced to fight to the death the same way. Note that the non-lethal traditional Central Asian style of dogfighting is quite different from Cajun Rules of dogfighting.
  • All of the other fighting breeds are essentially just pit bulls crossed with big breeds, mostly mastiffs:  Dogo Argentino, Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Fila Basiero, et al.
The lesson in all of this is that to win in the pit, it is necessary to breed back to the pit bull behavior & body type.

If all the pit bulls were removed from the US, dogmen and criminals might indeed find other breeds to train, but the end result would not be the same. Other breeds may be trained to be fierce, but it is not in them to fight to the death, or to tear out a human infant's esophagus, or worse. The actuarial risk factor of pit bull attacks is exponentially greater than the attacks of any other breed.

Some pit bull owners are fortunate enough to enjoy their animals for life without ever experiencing an attack. But "the risk to the public" is clearly, demonstrably far greater from pit bulls than from any other dog.

All best wishes,