DEAR DR. FOX: I appreciate C.L.’s concern for pit bulls, but take off the rose-colored glasses: Yes, a pit bull can be a loving pet, but in our cities, most people who own pit bulls would not own other dogs. The pit bull is a prop to a “badass” persona, and the dogs are often abused to make them “tough.”
I’ve checked out our local shelter, and at any given time, nearly all dogs taken in are pit bulls. I love dogs, but to me, attempts to “rescue” shelter pit bulls, who probably were abused, is a dangerous tossing of the dice. It may sound cruel, but euthanasia is preferable, especially given the number of other breeds waiting for homes. -- R.F., Bridgeport, Connecticut
DEAR R.F.: Your point is very important, and one that I have made on many occasions. I have been criticized for being a closet racist -- not only for singling out a particular breed of dog, but also the people who live in violent communities where these dogs are kept for personal protection, often left in outdoor yards, and forced into illegal dog fights.
All of this is a sad reflection of the times. The more openly we can discuss these kinds of issues, getting beyond “racist” epithets, the better chance civil society has in the Divided States of America. Without the right breeding and the right rearing, the American pit bull, like those who mistreat them, is yet another tragic product and victim of dystopia.
Expert Paul Scimone of St. Louis, who has rescued and rehabilitated many traumatized, neglected and abused pit bulls, writes to me on this topic:
“Folks in impoverished communities mistreat this breed much like they did Rottweilers, Dobermans and German shepherd dogs in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s not a racial issue, but a cultural issue. The problem begins with those who mistake racism for cultural criticisms -- very complex, divisive forces that will no doubt be here for a long time.
“Street ‘pitties’ (pit bulls) have been bred to assume a dominant role in their pack for a long time, from their origins in England to their journey to the States (with exceptions, of course), so I understand the writer’s concern here. Even the role they played as ‘nannies’ at the turn of the last century was one of protection and assertiveness. From there, they were used for ‘sport’ fighting.
“It has been a mess from there. In fact, most of the behavioral cases I get calls on are about pitties that are aggressive with other dogs or strangers. You are spot-on, though, in that it is people who have cultivated this aggression -- not nature itself, or just genetics.”
MICHIGAN SENATE APPROVES BILL BANNING DOG BREED-SPECIFIC ORDINANCES
The Michigan Senate voted to prohibit cities, counties and other local governments from instituting dog breed-specific regulations, including ownership bans, compulsory neutering, muzzling rules and requirements for owners to carry additional liability insurance.
A study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that specific dog breeds are not more prone than others to aggression. AVMA animal welfare scientist Dr. Emily Patterson-Kane says human behavior is more to blame for dogs’ aggression. (Detroit Free Press/Associated Press, April 13)
AVMA’S VIDEOS TEACH KIDS ABOUT DOG BITE PREVENTION
National Dog Bite Prevention Week focused on educating people about preventing dog bites. The AVMA has developed a series of videos featuring Jimmy the Dog, a helpful pooch who shares tips for kids on how they can be safe around dogs and prevent bites. Search for “AVMA Jimmy the Dog” on YouTube.
DEAR DR. FOX: Over the years, I’ve heard so many conflicting opinions on giving bones to dogs. A friend of mine has a 25-lb. mixed-breed dog who loves to grind up all kinds of bones, mostly ribs and chicken bones. She has incredibly strong jaws (I think she has some pit bull in her).
Other dog owners I know say, “You should NEVER give a dog a bone, because the slivers can tear their insides.” My friend says the dog enjoys this, and he won’t stop giving them to her.
What is your opinion? Is he running a big risk doing this? He loves his dog dearly and would be devastated if he were responsible for her death. Is it OK for some breeds? -- J.M.K., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR J.M.K.: I appreciate your concern for your friend’s dog, and you should lay down the law with him about giving bones to dogs.
The so called “BARF” diet for dogs (“bones and raw food”) gives the false impression that it is OK to give dogs bones to chew and swallow. A proper BARF diet has some bones already ground up in the formula to avoid the serious, costly and sometimes fatal penetration of the digestive tract by bone splinters.
Cooked bones, rather than raw, are more likely to splinter. The only safe raw bone, in my opinion, is a raw beef knuckle or stewing marrow bone. Avoid all cooked, smoked and otherwise processed bones, along with the bull penises and pig parts sold widely in pet stores, because of the risk of fragmentation and internal damage or obstruction. Obstruction is a not-uncommon consequence of dogs swallowing the knotted end of rawhide chews. Salmonella and other bacterial contamination are also of concern with these items. Hard bones and deer-antler dog chews can crack dogs’ teeth, another painful and costly consequence of purchasing a product from a store that one believes to be safe.
Dogs do enjoy chewing, and I just bought our dog some rawhide made from U.S. cattle that comes rolled into tubes without any lumpy knot on each end. I let her chew on those for 10-15 minutes a day. But her safe and tasty chewy delight, which she has twice daily, is a natural dental chew called PetzLife Complete Treats. Our dog’s teeth need no cleaning! Visit petzlife.com for more details.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)