Municipal Law Alert, October 2007
Dog attacks have recently received a great deal of media attention, and pit bulls have taken center stage in the controversy. Not surprisingly, pit bull ordinances are a hot topic in local municipalities. Pit bulls are commonly depicted as being different than other dog breeds, bred to be violent and designed to inflict maximum damage on their victims. However, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), pit bulls are only one of twenty-five dog breeds responsible for fatal attacks in the United States. A frequent question is: should a municipality ban the breed or the deed?
Pit bulls were originally bred to herd bulls in England. Their job was to subdue a bull that attempted to gore a farmer. A dog would typically subdue the bull by biting it on the nose and holding on until it stopped fighting. The dogs were bred to have powerful jaws and muscular bodies to endure the bull’s thrashing during this violent struggle. These same historical traits make pit bulls successful dog fighters in modern times. Dog fighting controversies, such as the one surrounding National Football League quarterback Michael Vick, only fuel discussion and concern over pit bull regulation.
Pit bulls’ powerful jaws have led to widespread belief that pit bulls have so-called “locking jaws” that cannot be disengaged even after the animal is tranquilized or killed. However, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin and other experts testified in a recent Ohio lawsuit, City of Toledo v. Tellings, that pit bulls do not have locking jaws. Evidence gathered from “actual dog dissections and measurement of their skulls … demonstrated that pit bull jaw muscles and bone structure are the same as other similarly sized dogs.” The myths about the pit bull’s bite likely stem from the breed’s trait of staying committed to a task, even when enduring severe pain and discomfort.