July/August 2005 Vol. 46, No. 6continued on page 14
ment of pit bulls and the legitimateinterest of protecting public safety.
Not Like Other Dogs
To fully appreciate pit bulls as being dif-ferent than other breeds, one must ex-amine the history and purposes of theintentional selective breeding of dogsand why the unique pit bull breedwas developed. The phenotypes of dogs that share the common definitionof “pit bull” derive their heritagefrom “the Butcher’s Dog”
developedthrough the sport of bull-baiting inEngland.
These dogs were intention-ally bred to result in better, stronger,and bolder dogs, more inclined to en-gage in the dangerous behaviors likelyto win in the ring. By 1835, bull-baiting was banned. Rather than giveup their gambling and dog-fightingexploits, the owners took theirdog fighting underground—literally.The coal-mining communities inStaffordshire County, England, broughttheir dogs to coal pits to fight. The breedwas manipulated to be better at fight-ing other dogs than bulls; the dogsneeded to be quicker and more agile,and not signal their intentions throughtheir body posture, as most dogs do.
This eventually resulted in smaller, te-nacious terriers—the similar pheno-types known as the American Pit BullTerrier, the American Staffordshire Ter-rier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The most significant point aboutthe justification for bans or restrictionsof pit bulls is that these are not depen-dent upon a claim that every pit bullhas a higher than average propensity forattacking humans. The justification isbased on the clear evidence that,
as a group,
pit bulls, compared to otherbreeds, generally have a higher propen-sity to exhibit unique behavioral traitsduring an attack. These behaviors havea higher likelihood of causing more se-vere injuries or death. The
trial court made this clear,stating that, while it could not beproven that pit bulls bite more thanother dogs, there was “credible evidencethat Pit Bull dog attacks are more se-vere and more likely to result in fatali-ties.”
The court, in great detail, notedfourteen separate areas of differences,including:
Pit bulls are extremely mus-cular and unusually strong for theirsize, generally stronger than manyother dogs.•
Manageability and temperament.
While pit bulls are one of many ag-gressive types of dogs, their tempera-ment varies in the same manner asother dogs and they can make gentlepets. Proper handling, including earlysocialization to humans, is very im-portant. Even their most ardent ad-mirers, however, agree that thesedogs are not for everyone and theyrequire special attention and disci-pline. The court cited one studywhich reported that over thirteenpercent of pit bulls attacked theirowners, as compared with just overtwo percent of other dogs.
Unpredictability of Aggression.
Pitbull dogs, unlike other dogs, oftengive no warning signals before theyattack.•
Pit bulls trained for fight-ing are valued for “gameness”—thetenacious refusal to give up a fight.The court found that pit bulls trainedfor fighting had this attribute, andthat credible testimony also provedthat, when a pit bull began to fight,it would often not retreat.•
Although there wasno scientific evidence that pit bullshad a greater tolerance of pain thanother dogs, the evidence showedthat, when a pit bull attacked,it would not retreat, even when con-siderable pain was inflicted onthe dog.•
Manner of attack.
The city provedthat pit bulls inflicted more seriouswounds than other breeds becausethey tend to attack the deep muscles,to hold on, to shake, and to cause rip-ping of tissues. Pit bull attacks werecompared to shark attacks.
Recent Developmentsin Ethology
Since 1990, there have been few devel-opments in ethology that directly relateto the behavior of pit bulls and the jus-tification for BSL, but one updated studyand one new article published by a rec-ognized expert in the field were thor-oughly discussed before Judge Egelhoff in the most recent case.A study published in 2000 by Sacks,Sinclair, Gilchrist, Golab, and Lock-wood involved a statistical review of dogbites resulting in fatalities (DBRF), bro-ken down by the breed reported to havebeen involved.
(A previous version of the study was introduced into evidencebefore the
Colorado Dog Fanciers
trialcourt; the updated 2000 study providedan additional ten years of data.) TheState of Colorado thought this study wassignificant because, during the last sixyears studied, there were more DBRFinvolving dogs reported to be Rottweil-ers than involving dogs reported to bepit bulls. The State argued that becausepit bulls were no longer the nationalleader in DBRF, there was no longer arational basis for Denver’s pit bull ban. Judge Egelhoff disagreed and acceptedthe city’s argument on this issue—namely, that the
Colorado Dog Fanciers
decision was clearly not based on a
Kory A. Nelson
is a Senior Assistant City Attorney in the Prose-cution Section for the City & County of Denver, Colorado. He hasprosecuted a variety of cases in Denver County Court for over15 years. He is an instructor with the Denver Sheriff’s TrainingAcademy and various municipal inspection agencies. He is a graduateof Arizona State University’s College of Law, has a B.S. in CriminalJustice from A.S.U., and is a U.S. Army veteran. He is the owner ofHeidi, a German Shepherd.
The justification is based on the clear evidence that, asa group, pit bulls, compared toother breeds, generally havea higher propensity to exhibitunique behavioral traitsduring an attack.