pit bull

Comparing pit bull restrictions to gun rights gets us nowhere.

story printed in my local Longmont, Colorado paper yesterday hailed the softening of attitudes and laws toward pit bulls. The past decade or so has been a hard time for dogs who happen to be (or look like) a pit bull, not just in Colorado but all over the country. Several cities in Colorado, including the capital city of Denver, have laws that prohibit pit bull type dogs within city limits. Some Longmont residents tried unsuccessfully to persuade the City Council to pass a similar ban in 2006, but fortunately the effort failed.

The article is mostly good news: people in Colorado, and around the country, are realizing that breed specific bans are not an appropriate response to the problem of dangerous dogs, and some of the prejudice against pit bulls is beginning to soften. (One local story from a couple of weeks ago helped: a local man was involved in a fiery automobile accident; his pit bull dog was with him at the time, and refused to leave his owner’s side. Man and dog died together in the fire.)

What struck me as odd was that the author of the news story several times compared pit bull restrictions to gun restrictions. Pit bull defenders and gun rights defenders have fought restrictive legislation with similar zeal; the pit bull issue is deeply personal, like the gun rights issue. Doesn’t this choice of analogy simply reinforce prejudiced attitudes toward pit bulls—that they are like weapons: inherently dangerous, particularly when placed in the wrong hands?

I’ve seen this analogy used in other news reporting on pit bulls. If we are really going to overcome breed prejudice, perhaps a better choice of words is in order.  

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Originally published on Psychology Today and republished here with the kind permission of the author, Jessica Pierce, Ph.D.

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Bioethicist and writer Jessica Pierce, Ph.D., is the author of Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets (Chicago, 2016) and The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the Ends of Their Lives (Chicago, 2012). Additional authored and co-authored books include Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (New World Library, release date of Feb. 6, 2019, with Marc Bekoff), The Animal's Agenda: Compassion and Coexistence in the Age of Humans (Beacon Press, 2017, with Marc Bekoff), Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals; Contemporary Bioethics: A Reader with Cases; The Ethics of Environmentally Responsible Health Care; and Morality Play: Case Studies in Ethics. Some of the questions she explores in her writings on death and dying in animals are: Do animals have death awareness? Why is euthanasia almost always considered the compassionate end point for our animals, but not for our human companions? Is there ever a good reason to euthanize a healthy dog? Why do people often grieve more deeply for their pets than they do for people?