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Politicians Profiled Dog Breed Include Westminster Winner


    It’s ironic. The winning dog at world’s most prestigious dog show isn’t allowed in Denver (as I interpret the description of breed standards for dogs banned in their city code), and would be forced to wear a muzzle in Boston.

      It’s as if the vociferous sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden was living in another world. They cheered wildly on Tuesday, Feb. 14 when Rufus, a spunky fun loving colored bull terrier won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Most likely they were not thinking about communities that ban the breed, and wouldn’t even allow Rufus to participate in a dog show.

      Rufus is no stranger to dog shows. At Westminster, he beat out 2,621 other show dogs in 165 breeds and varieties. To win the Terrier Group, he overtook favorites Coco, a top winning Norfolk terrier; and a Dandie Dinmont terrier, named Fineus Fogg, who is co-owned by Bill Cosby.

      Westminster is sometimes called the Academy Awards of the dog world. Well, what if the best movie of the year couldn’t be seen in some cities?

      Breed specific legislation is spreading across the country as politicians respond to a perceived notion that some dog breeds are inherently dangerous. Some cities ban breeds their politicians target; others figure they’re somehow being more reasonable if they place restrictions on breeds. The most common restrictions are muzzling in public, and mandatory high-cost home owner’s insurance which isn’t either affordable or even available in the first place.

      The breed most often outlawed is the pit bull, or any dog that looks like a pit ball.

      Instead of seeking to understand the circumstances which prompt any dog of any breed or mix of breeds to attack, the politicians’ knee jerk response is to profile one or more breeds.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once kept tabs on which breeds are most often involved in fatal dog attacks. But they stopped because of research (conducted by the CDC in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association) that concurs with what you’d think would be common sense. It’s far more important to determine why dog attacks happen – regardless of the breed or mix of breeds. Besides, the breed involved in an attack is sometimes misidentified.

      That’s the thing; even a Best Show judge at Westminster couldn’t differentiate a well bred American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire Bull terrier from a pit bull. A well bred American bull terrier might look similar to many not so well bred pit bulls used by gangs. Most communities that ban pit bulls can’t define exactly what a pit bull is. Indeed, the typical street pit bull is amalgamation of breeds and individual dogs. 

      Some politicians respond by writing their breed bans or restrictions to include all ‘bully breeds,’ – so even the bull terrier – the breed that won Westminster, gets tossed into the mix.  

      The bull terrier was the Spuds McKenzie dog. To my knowledge, no people were attacked during the making of those commercials. Another ‘bully breed,’ the Staffordshire Bull terrier is legendary for it’s affinity to children, so much so, that it’s been called ‘The Nanny Dog’ for generations.

      The simple truth is that among the final seven at Westminster being judged for Best in Show, one was Rufus the colored bull terrier; a second dog was a Shaka, a Rottweiler – another often banned or restricted breed – and Boomer the Dalmatian. There isn’t a community in the world that bans Dalmatians. Yet, for most pet owners, an outrageously energetic Dalmatian is harder to live with than either a colored bull terrier or a Rottweiler. Dalmatians were bred to run long distances, and they require lots of daily exercise. If Dalmatians receive that outlet for their formidable energies, they’re great dogs. And, in fact, Rottweilers, bull terriers, Irish Wolfhounds, pugs – even golden retrievers – aren’t for everyone. No dog breed is one size fits all. But also, no breed is inherently dangerous.

      I once got into big, big trouble and ultimately was fired (from my TV gig) for saying on live TV, “With young kids around, I’m just as comfortable with a well-bred, well-socialized Rottweiler with no long tail or long hair to pull, and a sort of stoic personality as I am with the ‘I need to be in your face’ attitude of many golden retrievers who can knock over children, and do have long hair and a long tail to yank on.”

      I got yanked right off the air for that one. That’s how strongly some people feel. But I wish they’d pay attention to facts.

      Listen, I concede there are a lot of dogs identified as pit bulls involved in serious attacks. Number one that’s because there are an awful lot of pit bull-type dogs out there. It’s no coincidence that’s the type you see most often these days in most shelters.

      Also, there’s a certain cultural mentality that gang bangers and others find appealing about that look of dog which pit bull-type dogs have. The fact is that many of the fatal and generally serious dog attacks happen with dogs that are associated with dog fighting, gangs and/or some sort of criminal activity. Of course, the politicians must know this, but they’re sadly helpless to do anything about the crimes. So, they blame the dogs.

      Dog attacks occur most often when owners are irresponsible, allowing their dogs to roam, tethering them for long periods of time and sometimes even encouraging them to be threatening. In Illinois, State Representative Mike Boland has a sensible plan to deal with these issues. If any dog of any breed or mix of breeds is responsible for a serious injury or death – and if the owner was deemed in some way responsible, that owner may be charged with a class four felony.

      Our pets have become like our kids. Well, by law, as adults we’re responsible for what our kids do. We should also be responsible for what our pets do. It’s exceedingly rare for a well socialized, well trained and supervised bull terrier, pit bull, Rottweiler, collie, schnauzer or any dog to cause serious harm.  

       The dog who wins Westminster always gets tons of press attention. Maybe as ambassador for ‘bully breeds’ – including pit bill-type dogs – Rufus can teach us a lesson by example: Instead of profiling based on a general physical feature – we ought to look at the individual. It’s a shame we haven’t yet learned that lesson.  

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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