Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fun with numbers

A lot of people focus on numbers and statistics when it comes to pit bulls. Reporters, in particular, are fond of plucking numbers and stats out of various reports and using them, out of context, to support whatever sensationalized editorial happens to be selling papers that day.

There are many famous quotes about statistics - a lesser-known one is one of my favorites:

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than illumination." — Andrew Lang.

As we've seen, these kinds of uneducated critics point to the breed as “unpredictable” and “vicious,” citing popular myths as “locking jaws,” saying that the dogs just “snap,” mentioning an “inherent aggression” due to their historical roots as pit fighting dogs. This is often followed by citing out-of-context statistics to prop up such fallacies.

The good news: these critics are wrong. Plain uneducated, ignorant, and wrong. The bad news: pit bull popularity is on the rise, and the rash of backyard and plain over-breeding has led to an overpopulation crisis of epidemic proportions.

So, a lot of people routinely write to us and ask for numbers after reading the kinds of editorials mentioned above, and after yet another concerned citizen read an inflammatory and ridiculous piece in the local paper and decided to write to us for numbers, I figured that today might be a nice day to share the ones I have on-hand, in the context of refuting the various random editorials written by people who've most likely neither met a pit bull, nor have ever visited a public shelter.

We, Bad Rap, have placed over 300 pit bulls in loving homes – an insignificant number given that our shelters are 60-80% full of pit bulls, most of which will not get out alive – but significant to us, and to those lucky folks who love and cherish their family pet.

With so many unlicensed dogs out there, it’s difficult to get a hard number on pit bulls. This is what we know:

  • The ADBA registers about 200,000 pit bulls a year. (I called and asked - they don't usually release this information, but I did get it from the source.)
  • The UKC registers about 300,000 dogs a year, and pit bulls are #2. Is 30-50,000 dogs a fair estimate? Probably. They're not talking.
  • HSUS estimates that 400,000 pit bulls are involved in illegal fight rings. (I got this directly from John Goodwin, Deputy Manager of Animal Fighting Issues for HSUS.)
So: counting just the registered dogs and the dogs owned by felons participating in fight rings, we have about 650,000 pit bulls. This is 2/3 the number of total AKC registered dogs, and adds up to more than their top 20 breeds combined.

Of course, most dogs flooding the shelter system are not from fight rings, and they're not papered either. The backyard breeding epidemic is what's leading to the overpopulation crisis. Last time I checked, Lawless links listed over 400 pit bull "kennels" - and those are just the ones who submitted themselves, i.e. the ones who have a website and chose to submit themselves to that particular directory. Sigh. (The page is down now, but a simple Google search found another random page with almost 400 kennels listed on it.)

Anecdotally, if you ask someone in the public shelter system what percentage pit bulls are making up of their intake, it's anywhere between 20-80%.

NYC also does population studies on licensed dogs (and, as we know, most of the dogs landing in the shelters are not licensed - NY is around 1%, last time I checked) and pit bulls are routinely in the top 5. The study results for 2001 and 2003 are online, along with licensing stats.

Of course, the dogs making newspaper headlines and being peddled off in the backyard are not papered, registered dogs. Furthermore, HSUS estimates that more dogs are euthanized in our shelter system annually than the total number of dogs registered by the AKC.

One thing is certain: as pit bulls have become the dog du jour for unscrupulous breeders, they have begun to show up in our shelters and our streets in alarming proportions.

At the end of the day, the only number one needs to know with regards to pit bull overpopulation is 2. Most of us have two eyes and two legs: march both sets down to your local shelter, and take a good hard look. Walk through an urban neighborhood. Check the number of classified ads in your local paper or online. If you have two good ears, talk to a Shelter Director or Animal Control Officer. We have; in our conference travels, we are often disheartened to hear that pit bulls are regularly streaming into the shelters in places as far-flung as Idaho and Nova Scotia. The vast majority of these dogs do not leave the shelter alive.

With so many exploited pit bulls out there, some skeptics might wonder at dog-bite fatalities with the breed declining steadily over the past two decades.

The reason: Pit bulls are among the most stable breeds out there with people. Critics are so quick to claim that the sexy, media-worthy "fighting dog" history causes a hardwired "aggression," but these folks aren't understanding the difference between dog aggression and human aggression (does a Jack Russel's predisposition for rat and dog aggression mean it's hardwired to eat people?), and they're conveniently forgetting that the breed was also specifically bred for unwavering bite inhibition towards people, in order that the trainers, owners, referees, and spectators of this unfortunate bloodsport be safe in the amped-up environment of a dogfight.

The pit bulls that make newspaper headlines share the attributes common to all breeds that have led various bite statistics over the years: unaltered, badly bred, overbred, and off-leash. The CDC’s report is often pillaged for breed-specific stats to fuel the fires of hysteria, but their own conclusions - right there in a box on the front page of the report - specifically note that dog bites are not a breed-specific problem. This conclusion was seconded in the AVMA’s 2001 “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention,” wherein the Task Force noted that singling out breeds “ignores the true scope of the problem,” and furthermore debunked dog-bite statistics as “not really statistics.”

It's easy to write an attention-grabbing article with the word "pit bull" in it - America loves its monsters - and grab some numbers and stats to create statistical lies that sound legit for the purposes of persuading JQP as to a headline-worthy conclusion. But it's disingenuous and harmful to the public discourse and the public safety.

Just remember this: Statistics 101 taught me that the average human being has one female breast and one testicle.

The root of dog bite prevention lies in responsible breeding and owernship. It is only when we as a community address the real problems that dog bite incidences will decline – and those problems stem from the human end of the leash.


Anonymous said...

Great article!

Anonymous said...

Great article! I hope lots of uneducated people read it and learn from it.

Kathy Marks

Anonymous said...

Great article! I hope lots of uneducated people read it and learn from it.

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Anonymous said...

Nice article, I have even come across other PitBull owners who thought the 'jaw lock' was a reality...People need to be educated, thats the problem here.

Unknown said...

It hurts my heart to think of all the wonderful pit bulls out there being euthanized everyday because of overbreeding :( I'm strongly against breeding and refuse to take any part in it. I always feel like there is more I should be doing!