Don’t Take My Pit Bulls Away From My Family

by Kathryn Leehane
pit bulls
Kathryn Leehane

My husband and I have two children, ages 13 and 10. We also have two American Staffordshire Terriers, more commonly known as pit bulls. These dogs are our constant companions. They play with us. They watch television with us. They sleep with us.

They are very much a part of our family.

Breed-specific legislation (BSL) would tear my family apart. It would require that we rehome or kill our dogs. And it would rob us of two of the most loving and gentle dogs we’ve ever had in our family.

BSL enacts laws that ban or restrict certain types of dogs based solely on their appearance. The severity of the law depends on the location. The one temporarily suspended in Montreal, for example, calls for the massive extermination of pit bulls currently in shelters and puts in place strict policies for current pit bull owners — think criminal background checks, expensive fees, muzzles for family pets going on walks — that infringe on a family’s quality of life.

Unfortunately for many dog owners, pit bulls get a bad rap — much like German Shepherds, Rottweilers,and Doberman Pinschers of generations past. Because of that unearned reputation, they are frequently targeted by BSL because they are perceived to be “dangerous” dogs.

This assumption could not be further from the truth.

Kathryn Leehane

I should know. In addition to our current forever dogs, my family has also fostered two other pit bulls in the past. Each one of those dogs, just like every human, had a different temperament. They each had unique personalities, but all of those pit bulls were among the most loyal, trusting, and affectionate animals we’ve ever met.

BSL, such as the one in Montreal, would have forced our sweet foster dogs and our rescue pups to be exterminated before they even had a chance to meet their forever families — all because of an undeserved reputation and just plain ignorance.

The ignorance is rampant. People I know have asked me why I would put my kids at risk by bringing “dangerous” dogs into our household. Far from being vicious, these dogs have brought love, laughter, and joy into our lives.

Kathryn Leehane

All of these dogs had been abused or neglected in some way, but they each came to us with loving, open hearts, ready to join our family. And they have taught us some valuable lessons.

Mimi has taught us about forgiveness. Even though she had been confined to a backyard, neglected, and used for breeding, she doesn’t hold grudges against humans. In fact, she showers everyone she meets with warmth and affection.

Scooter has taught us about compassion. Born with severe birth defects (possibly due to inbreeding), he has difficulty walking and will never be a “normal” dog. None of us see a disorder; we see an affectionate, happy dog. We were honored to save him and count him as a unique part of our pack.

All of these dogs have taught us about busting stereotypes and unconditional love. They remind us to appreciate the simple things: food, friends, a warm bed, a safe hug. There is nothing ferocious about them — except maybe their snuggling.

Kathryn Leehane

Don’t get me wrong. There are indeed dangerous dogs out there. They come in every breed and size and shape. More often than not, what they have in common is an irresponsible or malicious owner. One who doesn’t neuter or spay their dog. One who keeps the dog chained up and not properly socialized. One who does not seek training. Or one who channels the dog’s loyalty in sick and twisted ways.

Their unsafe behavior has nothing to do with their breed however, and breed-specific legislation is not the answer for protecting people against them. Because it just doesn’t work. The Humane Society of the United States reports: “Experts agree that breed-specific legislation (BSL) and similar policies that restrict dogs based on appearance do not reduce dog bites in communities or enhance public safety.”

In fact, BSL does more harm than good. It spreads fear and causes certain breeds to be more attractive to criminals or outlaws. It requires excessive money to enforce. Money that could be spent on stronger enforcement of existing animal codes (i.e., breed-neutral vicious animal, nuisance animal, and leash laws and anti-dog fighting laws).

We need to go after the irresponsible dog owners, not a specific canine breed. Those people who neglect or abuse dogs. Those who deliberately train a dog to act aggressively toward people or other animals. And even more so, those who use dogs in the commission of a crime. Those are the ones who should be penalized. Not the dogs and the families of those who love them. So fight for that.

Don’t discriminate. Don’t tear families apart. Don’t euthanize dogs in shelters or reduce the quality of life for dogs owned by responsible families.

Stand up against discrimination. Rally against breed-specific legislation in your communities. Educate those around you. And maybe go hug a pit bull. It’s guaranteed to make you feel better.

Kathryn Leehane