To the editor:
As an ER veterinarian and Barrington resident, I was alarmed to see Dr. Karl Stephens’ call to ban pit bull-type dogs . Restrictions such as this have been unlawful since …
To the editor:
As an ER veterinarian and Barrington resident, I was alarmed to see Dr. Karl Stephens’ call to ban pit bull-type dogs. Restrictions such as this have been unlawful since bill HB 5671, which bans breed-specific legislation, was signed into Rhode Island state law in 2013. Breed-specific legislation has been denounced by many experts, including the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Society of Behaviorists, and even the US Department of Justice in regards to service dogs.
While a full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of a letter to the editor, the assumption that a dog’s physical appearance has any genetic link to their behavior has been disproven by substantial peer-reviewed research on the canine genome. Peer-reviewed research has shown that the breeds most likely to exhibit aggression towards humans are Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Jack Russell Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, American Cocker Spaniels and Beagles. For those interested, a PubMed search on these topics will bring up this research. I have been a veterinarian for 14 years, and anecdotally, I can only remember treating a handful of aggressive pit bulls, whereas for other breeds that number is in the hundreds.
In actuality, the true breed-related problem in our town and nation is the rise in popularity of brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs. Many pet owners adopt brachycephalic dogs with no knowledge of the severe health issues associated with their appearance. These dogs are born without the ability to breathe normally, and what we think is cute snorting is redundant tissue blocking their airway with every breath. This same redundant tissue can make a single episode of vomiting fatal, as it predisposes them to inhaling, and choking on, their own vomit. The deformed vertebrae that make them so compact predisposes them to spontaneous, painful, sometimes paralyzing spinal cord damage. I have seen too many bulldogs choke to death in situations that a dog with a normal skull would have survived. Their lives are at risk any time they vomit, get excited or stressed, or get mildly overheated. We need to stop buying and popularizing these breeds.
I will end with the story of a pit bull I met who had been stabbed by a human, and despite this, as we treated his wounds, he wagged his tail and tried to climb into the nurses’ laps to snuggle. When we put a sweater on him to help keep his wounds covered, he wagged his tail so hard I thought it was going to fall off. The real problem is that human beings have failed dogs. We choose to demonize the kindest dog breeds because our prejudice tells us they are vicious and we prioritize aesthetics over their basic health and comfort. As stewards of animals, we must do better.
Shelly Kamath Pancoast, DVM