Pit bulls

The name game

“Pit bull” is a generic name given to a small variety of dogs that at other times are referred to as the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, etc. See, for example, Alaskan Village, Inc. v. Smalley (1986) 720 P. 2d 945, 947 (Alaska Supreme Court): “At some point, subsequent to obtaining the permit, Scepurek acquired two Staffordshire terriers, commonly called pit bulls.”

“Like the familiar generic terms spaniel and retriever, which refer not to one, but to several recognized canine breeds characterized by common phenotype, origin, or traditional use, the term pit bull describes a subgroup of the larger terrier breed group. Within the subgroup of dogs commonly referred to as “pit bulls,” the American Kennel Club (“AKC”) registers the Staffordshire bull terrier and the American Staffordshire terrier, and the United Kennel Club (“UKC”) registers the Staffordshire bull terrier and the American Pit Bull terrier. Neither organization recognizes a “pit bull” breed or group.” Kristen E. Swann, Note, Irrationality Unleashed: The Pitfalls of Breed-Specific Legislation, 78 UMCK L. Rev. 839, 840 (2010) (footnotes omitted); accord Safia Gray Hussain, Note, Attacking the Dog-Bite Epidemic: Why Breed-Specific Legislation Won’t Solve the Dangerous-Dog Dilemma, 74 Fordham L. Rev. 2847, 2851–52 (2006).

The number of other animals that pit bulls kill per year

In 2014, 34,250 pit bulls attacked 82,000 other animals. Of these animal victims, 59,000 died. The dead included 15,500 dogs, 95% of them attacked by pit bulls, and 6,000 hooved animals, 93% of them attacked by pit bulls. Pit bulls also inflicted at least 60% of the 29,000 fatal attacks on domestic birds and small mammals, and at least 60% of the 8,250 fatal attacks on cats. Merritt Clifton, How Many Other Animals Did Pit Bulls Kill in 2014?. 

Court opinions regarding the dangerousness of pit bulls

In Maryland, the Court of Appeals has said with regard to pit bulls, “the extreme dangerousness of this breed, as it has evolved today, is well recognized.” Matthews v. Amberwood Associates Ltd. Partnership, Inc., 719 A.2d 119, 127 (Md. 1998) (determining liability in tort for a dog attack). However, in Maryland, the fact that a dog is of a certain breed, standing alone, cannot provide sufficient proof that a specific dog is dangerous. See Ward v. Hartley, 895 A.2d 1111, 1117 n.7 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2006); McDonald v. Burgess, 255 A.2d 299, 303 (Md. 1969); Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-1901(b) (West 2014). The Court of Appeals has recognized that the control or banning of pit bull breeds is accomplished pursuant to legislation. Matthews, 719 A.2d at 127 n.4 (“A number of states or municipalities, recognizing the unique danger pit bull dogs pose to their citizens, have enacted legislation that classify pit bull dogs as vicious, thus enabling them to control or ban this breed’s presence in their communities.”).

Kansas has acknowledged the validity of breed-specific presumptions encapsulated within local ordinances. See Hearn v. City of Overland Park, 772 P.2d 758, 768 (Kan. 1989) (determining that a local ordinance containing a pit-bull-specific presumption did not violate the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights).

In Alabama, the supreme court has held that in tort actions, “an owner or keeper of an animal will be charged with knowledge of the propensities of the breed of animal he or she owns.” Humphries v. Rice, 600 So. 2d 975, 978 (Ala. 1992). However, the Alabama court has not extended this to permit a presumption that a specific breed is “dangerous” for purposes of determining tort liability. See Gentle v. Pine Valley Apartments, 631 So. 2d 928, 932 (Ala. 1994) (citing favorably Lundy v. California Realty, 170 Cal.App.3d 813, 216 Cal.Rptr. 575 (1985), which refused to take judicial notice that the German Shepherd Dog breed is inherently dangerous).

Florida and Pennsylvania are set apart from Maryland, Alabama, and Kansas in that Florida and Pennsylvania both have legislation that criminalizes the ownership of a dangerous dog when all of the elements of the crimes described in the relevant statutes are satisfied. Fla. Stat. § 767.13(2) (1994); 3 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 459-505-A (2008). However, neither the Florida Statutes nor the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes contain any provision providing that there is a presumption that particular breeds are dangerous. While the Florida judiciary has upheld ordinances containing presumptions regarding pit bull breeds, see, e.g., State v. Peters, 534 So. 2d 760 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1988), these presumptions have not been applied to the state’s dangerous dog legislation. In Pennsylvania, the Legislature has gone so far as to forbid the enactment of local ordinances that prohibit or limit specific dog breeds. 3 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 459-507-A(c) (2008) (“A local ordinance . . . may not prohibit or otherwise limit a specific breed of dog.” (in part)).

In the realm of tort liability, Florida’s courts have explicitly refused to find that pit bull breeds are inherently vicious. See, e.g., Olave v. Howard, 547 So. 2d 349, 350 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1989) (“We are not prepared to say, as appellant requests, that any dog with a trace of pit bull ancestry is under the law deemed vicious.” (quoting Bessent By & Through Bessent v. Matthews, 543 So. 2d 438, 439 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1989))).

In Hardwick v. Town of Ceredo, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of a municipal ordinance banning ownership of pit bulls, saying:

Defendant’s dogs are of the breed that is typically referred to generically as pit bull dogs which are aggressive by nature, have been known as attack animals with strong massive heads and jaws, and have been found to represent a public health hazard. The majority of jurisdictions have accepted the proposition that dogs of this type have a propensity to be aggressive and attack without provocation and it is well established that such dogs have gotten a lot of notoriety of being dangerous to public health and safety. 

“Pit bull dogs represent a unique public health hazard not presented by other breeds or mixes of dogs. Pit bull dogs possess both the capacity for extraordinarily savage behavior and physical capabilities in excess of those possessed by many other breeds of dogs. Moreover, this capacity for uniquely vicious attacks is coupled with an unpredictable nature.” Burnett ex rel. Burnett v. Clarke, No. 309373, 2013 WL 1010062, at *9 (Mich. Ct. App. Marh. 14, 2013) (Gleicher, J., dissenting and quoting Hearn v. City of Overland Park, 772 P.2d 758, 658 (Kan.1989).)

See also:

Bess v. Bracken Cnty. Fiscal Court, 210 S.W.3d 177, 182 (Ky. 2006) (“[T]he determination by the Bracken County Fiscal Court that pit bull terriers have ‘inherently vicious and dangerous propensities’ was certainly not unreasonable, given the evidence to support that finding.”).

Garcia v. Village of Tijeras, 767 P.2d 355, 359 (N.M. Ct. App. 1988) (noting “evidence establishing that the American Pit Bull Terrier breed possesses inherent characteristics of aggression, strength, viciousness and unpredictability not found in any other breeds of dog. . . . They have exceptionally strong bites, possibly twice the strength of bites of other dogs.”).

Cleveland v. Johnson,130 Ohio Misc.2d 17, 24 (Ohio Mun. 2005) (“Given the inherently dangerous nature of pit bulls and the proper and reasonable exercise of Cleveland’s police powers in adopting the ordinances at issue, the defendant has not been denied his right of due process. . . [A] pit bull dog is clearly vicious by its nature. It would be unreasonable and against the public interest to first conduct individual hearings on the viciousness of pit bulls after an injury has been inflicted.”).

Pit bulls and politics

In the year 2000, the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that pit bulls and Rottweilers were the chief canine killers of people. “Despite these limitations and concerns (about identifying exactly which ‘breed’ of pit bull-type dog was involved), the data indicate that Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs accounted for 67% of human DBRF [dog bite related fatalities of human beings] in the United States between 1997 and 1998. It is extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.”

This was hardly news, because in every 10-year period going back to the 1800’s pit bulls have been identified as the breed that killed the most human beings. In 2014 and 2015, pit bulls killed over 50 Americans and almost 100,000 pets and hoofed animals.

This has continued because of politics. Lawmakers privately admit fear of the pit bull lobby, which is known for harassment of those who oppose them. Meanwhile their animals go on killing.

Further research about pit bulls

The top two researchers pertaining to pit bulls are Colleen Lynn and Merritt Clifton. Lynn’s website is Dogs Bite. The entire website is devoted to detailed analysis of pit bull mayhem. Clifton’s website is Animals 24/7 and his compendium of pit bull information is titled Pit Bull Statistics.