Are pit bull bans ethical?

A picture of a man and his newly adopted pit bull went viral because of the dog's big smile, but the attention brought local police to the man's door demanding he return the dog as pit bulls are prohibited in the town. 

Stephen Brashear/The Billings Gazette/AP/File
Petey, a red nose pit bull, shakes after swimming in Lake Elmo near Billings, Mont., in 2005.

When musician Dan Tillery’s joyous photo with his smiling new dog, Diggy, went viral last week, it looked as though the story of a dog held in a shelter for nearly 100 days would have a happy ending.

But a pit bull ban in Mr. Tillery’s hometown, Waterford Township, Michigan, threatens to separate the two and has raised questions regarding the ethics of such bans.

On Thursday, Waterford Township police said Diggy may not be allowed in the town because he might be pit bull, which violates an ordinance banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes, according to ABC News.

Tillery is contending that Diggy is an American Bulldog, and got a dog license from the town stating that he was. A veterinarian from the Detroit Dog Rescue also classified the dog as an American Bulldog. However, the Detroit Dog Rescue had previously classified the dog as a pit bull mix.

The town’s ordinance allows police officers to ban any dog they believe is a pit bull at their personal discretion, the Huffington Post reported. Police Chief Scott Underwood told The Oakland Press that its “a pretty clear case of an ordinance that makes it clear what’s permissible and what’s not, and our job is to enforce the ordinance.”

This development has brought renewed attention to bans against pit bulls. Proponents of such bans say the pit bulls are a dangerous breed, while opponents say humans are responsible when their pets become violent.  

Proponents of such bans point to the reputation of pit bulls as dangerous animals. The April 2011 issue of Annals of Surgery asserted that one person is killed by a pit bull every 14 days, two people are injured every day, with children at a higher risk. The report concluded that pit bull attacks are associated with "higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs," and suggested that strict regulation of the breed could "substantially reduce" deaths from dog bites in the United States.

Colleen Lynn, the president and founder of DogsBite.org, a national dog-bite-victims group dedicated to reducing dog attacks, told Time violence is not a learned behavior in pit bulls, it is something they are born with.

"Pit bulls were specifically bred to go into that bite with incredible aggression and fight," she said.

A petition from opponents of Waterford's ban has 42,179 signatures as of Sunday afternoon.  

"We must remember, it is not the animal that is the beast, it is man that creates the beast," part of the petition reads. "Aggressive dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and BREEDS. This should be handled on a case by case basis."

In a response to the Time article, Sara Enos, the founder and executive director of the American Pit Bull Foundation argued that the problem is with people, not with pit bulls.

Ms. Enos wrote that pit bulls have many positive traits and serve in many capacities, such as being search-and-rescue dogs, companions, helping kids with reading disabilities, serving as seizure watch dogs, diabetic alert dogs, and comforting nursing home residents.

“Eradicating Pit Bull dogs will affect more than just our family dogs; it will affect the much larger number of citizens that these dogs help, as opposed to attack,” she wrote.

As for Diggy, it is unclear whether or not he will be allowed to stay in town. Kristina Millman-Rinaldi, the executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, told the Huffington Post that the group is waiting to hear back from the township.

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