By: Ashley Bacani, Johnathon Hendon, Elizabeth Mares, David Murray, Ashlee Pershing
There are many assumptions made about dog breeds, whether good or bad, and they can play a misleading role in the laws that are created in reference to the ownership of these breeds. Omaha is no different; we have our own laws that target the specific breeds that are portrayed to carry aggressive behavior. This study examines the Omaha city ordinances and newspaper coverage related to the laws that govern dog aggression and ownership. The newspaper articles were gathered mainly from the Omaha World-Herald, WOWT6, and KETV 7. This study analyzed the articles to question the breed stereotypes and the role of the media in promoting stereotypes.
The beginning steps we took to gather data was looking for articles that related to our projects themes. The group accessed databases and searched for articles with keywords such as: pit bull, attacks, dog fights, stereotypes, etc. to find information that would be useful for this project. In regards to the information that we searched for, it had to relate to Omaha in some way, shape, or form and ranged in dates from the 2000s to present day (2016). The group took to searching the internet for reputable sources that covered stories of anything relating to pit bulls, whether it be good or bad. The internet websites that we used were from KETV 7 and WOWT 6 in which we collected a total of 18 articles. Secondary data offers topics of discussion that relate to current events that are happening in the real world today with all of our articles being from the past decade. Once all this data was collected, the group members went through each article individually in which they wrote an orientating memo as well as coded the data. By each group member doing this individually, it offered new insight and different points of view of each of the articles. The data was color coded based on the five major themes that were present: dog on dog attacks, dog on child attacks, owner negligence, stereotypes given (visual and auditory), and the environment the dog was raised in. Using these five themes as an outline, it helped to organize the data in a way that made the final project possible.
When you Google the term “dog attacks” the first articles always found involve that of a pit bull because of the huge media focus on that particular dog breed due to their supposed viciousness. Throughout the research we found that the theme of every article found roots within owner negligence. For instance, for the themes of dog on dog attacks and dog on child attacks, many of the reports were because the owner was either not home or did not have proper restraints for their dog.
Theme 1: Dog On Dog Attacks
Many times, when dogs attack, they are attacking other dogs. This can be to show dominance, or if they are raised in dog fighting rings that’s all they know. Dog on dog attacks were a reoccurring theme throughout our research. Many pit bulls broke loose and attacked or even killed other dogs. Other dogs like the ones in the findings reveals about a dog fighting ring were “bred and trained pit bull dogs for fighting”. When attacks occur, the owner blames the dog and occasionally the dogs are even put down. If the dog attacks other dogs this can be the fault of how the owner raised the dog.
In many other articles, the owners did not restrain their dogs properly, and forced the dogs to fight. In July 2016, two pit bulls leapt over a fence and attacked and killed a seven pound Papillion named Mojo. The owner of the two pit bulls was out of town. Not restraining the two pit bulls properly lead to the attack on the Papillion. If the dogs would have been properly looked after the attack could have been prevented. In July 2009, 350 dogs were seized in a dog fighting ring investigation. The dogs were being raised to fight, denied medical care, and even shot if they did not perform well. The owners of the dogs bred them to be fighters, this fault of the owners taught the dogs to be aggressive towards other dogs. Some of the dog on dog attacks 0030•could be stopped if the owners would restrain their dogs properly, and if the owners would not start illegal dog fighting rings.
The dogs that react with aggression do so because of how the dogs were treated and how they were raised. The owner can shape the dog to have aggressive tendencies. Aggression is not a trait that the dogs are born with, it is a learned characteristic. Certain breeds of dogs have a stereotype that they are aggressive but this is not always the case. Dog on dog attacks can be stopped by the characteristics and the actions of the owners.
Theme 2: Dog on Child Attacks
Pit bull aggression towards children is a major reason why they are seen how they are, in today’s society. There have been many cases of bully breeds attacking and harming children, from a 14-month-old girl being attacked after a pit bull after broking away from his owner, to a 9-year-old being attacked by a pit bull after a teenager commanded it. Case after case of pit bulls and other bully breeds breaking away from their owners, people approaching them, or getting out of their owners possession without the proper safety precautions and kids getting bit because of it.
It seems that most of these stories have something in common. They all have human error involved in some way. Whether the dog was approached by a human, such as the case where a little girl got bit because she was reaching over the fence of a yard that happened to have a territorial pit bull with no owner supervision, or in the example above, where a teenager had trained the dog to attack on command and forced the pit bull to attack a child. The pit bulls owners, knowingly or not, enabled these horrible things to happen to these innocent children. If the owners of the dogs kept them muzzled when outside, on leather leashes, and taken the required courses to own a pit bull, these infants would not have had to go through this unnecessary pain.
Understanding that people’s shortcomings are behind the decisions made by the dogs are crucial to understanding the sociological issues at play. These dogs cannot succeed when they finally get outside, with little to no socialization with the outside world, owners who aren’t responsible enough to train them, children that don’t know what they are doing and everyone being panicked by them just from what they have seen on television.
Theme 3: Owner Negligence
Pit bulls were victims of their faulty environment. There were 4 articles in particular that direct the fault of the incident to the owner of the pit bull. For instance, the “2001 Omaha pit bull attack victim ‘totally traumatized’, is an article that covers an attack by a pit bull breed towards a 18 month old baby and it also mentions that the pit bull had been abused before. Another article that “negligence by owner” was involved was the article, “Omaha Police Officer Shoots at Dog”. In this article, the owners were confronted for not vaccinating their pit bull, and there were a lot of instances where it could be seen that there was a lack of effort put forth by the pit bull owners to keep them “legal” (vaccinated, registered, etc.) All the themes are basically connected by one sole factor, Owners. It’s the owners who make, shape, and provide the environment for the pit bulls. It is undeniably their responsibility when they provide and raise the pit bulls in a toxic environment where the dog is left with no option but to learn and feed off of their surroundings.
In a scholarly journal, there are lab results that shows how misunderstood pit bulls are to the general populace, which further goes to show that pit bulls are only acting in such malice behavior because they’re, in fact, the victims of human ignorance in the “pit bull owning” community. In “Dog’s Features Strongly Affect People’s Feelings and Behavior Towards Them” by Gazzano Angelo, aimed to question the stereotypes people held against certain breeds. Despite the fact that the pit bull breed had the highest negative sentiment from arbitrary passerby’s, pit bull breed, according to the American Temperament Test Society, passed a test that measures stability, aggressiveness, friendliness, and protectiveness with a 86.8% which was higher than that of a golden retrievers who scored 85.2%.
Theme 4: Stereotypes Given
Often people believe that pit bulls are dangerous by nature. This is a classic stereotype the breed must go through every day, but is that belief correct? The media plays a huge part in feeding us information that results in misconceptions of pit bulls. When an attack occurs because of a pit bull the media covers it far more than if it were any other breed. People read other’s experiences, and create their own beliefs and stereotypes based on that information alone. When an attack occurs, many times the pit bull may be put down because it is deemed too dangerous. In reality, an innocent pit bull was just put down because of the miscommunications between the human and dog.
The main thing that leads a pit bull to be dangerous is the owner. People over look this fact, by just assuming the dog’s personality is just aggressive. In 2001, an 18-month-old boy was attacked and his genitalia were torn off. The mother of the child stated “We just don’t know what make those dogs tick” along with “all dogs need love, but for some reason, that breed just can’t get it right.” She believes that the dogs should be banned from the city, because they are just too dangerous. However, the dog that they owned had been abused before the attack. Being raised in an abusive environment could have altered the personality of the pit bull to become aggressive. However, the mother believes that it was dangerous only because of the breed their dog was.
There are instances where a pit bull was raised in a loving and caring home, and have never had problems with attacking. This is the case of the pit bull Capone, who belongs to the Swanson family who was looking for a new home. Multiple times they had been turned away just because of the fact their dog was a pit bull, even though they have never had any problems before. As stated “Capone may be cute, affectionate and a member of the family, but he’ll always be a pit bull and that brings a stigma with it.” Unfortunately, that is the truth of all stereotypes. It doesn’t matter how the dog was raised or if they never had any problems, the misconceptions of the breed are just too engraved in our minds that we can’t see through them.
Theme 5: Environment Dog Raised In
For sake of understanding, a dog can be raised in one of two environments, a positive or a negative one. Regardless of which environment the dog was raised in, there will still be a stereotype surrounding Pit Bulls as an aggressive breed. There are many dogs that have been raised in negative environments but have never lashed out at a human or even another dog, take for instance dogs rescued from a dogfighting ring. The personnel that were running these dog fighting rings were charged with cruelties ranging from “denying animals medical treatment to shooting dogs in the head when they didn’t fight well, then throwing their carcasses into a river or burning them in a barrel.” However, these dogs were not automatically euthanized because of the environment that they had been raised in; instead they were given the opportunity for rehabilitation and to be adopted out.
A common factor seen is that when a dog is raised in a poor environment it is completely linked with owner negligence and this has resulted in dog on dog attacks as well as dog on child attacks. Many cases state that the owner was not home at the time of the incident or that the owner did not have the proper restraints needed when owning a Pit Bull and therefore, we know that that particular dog wasn’t necessarily raised in the best of conditions or to have the best of manners. There are many owners that are taking the time to go through the Breed Ambassador training that requires the dog go through a Canine Good Citizen test. In 2012, there were 33 Breed Ambassadors that were trained, which proves there are owners out there committed to raising their Pit Bulls in a positive environment. This down the line helps with the stereotypes given to this breed as well.
There is a very obvious connection between Human-Animal interactions and relationships and these interactions are so important in teaching the dog manners and how to interact with other dogs as well as humans. A dog can be well loved and well trained without there being abuse or neglect; neglect of a dog forces them to fend for themselves and creates a fear of humans – typically causing them to lash out. When a dog has been abused, whether or not that dog is a pit bull or golden retriever, the owner needs to have patience with the animal and have an environment that is not hectic or noisy. How a dog was raised as well as genetics (the nature vs. nurture theory) both play a role in the temperament of that particular dog which is why it is difficult to group all dogs together in one category. Just like humans, dogs have varying personalities, in particular for this study, pit bulls have varying personalities, and each needs to be cared for and treated as an individual. This all starts with the environment in which a dog was raised..
On the list of temperament and trainability of ten of the most popular breeds in the United States from 1926-2005 pit bulls do not show up, since the breed was not recognized by the American Kennel Club. The 14 categories that these dogs were tested in are as follows: level of trainability, stranger-directed aggression, owner-directed aggression, dog rivalry, stranger-directed fear, nonsocial fear, dog-directed aggression, dog-directed fear, touch sensitivity, separation-related behavior, excitability, attachment, chasing, and energy level. The types of dogs that were tested on these 14 traits were deemed as the most popular of the time and they include the following: Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, Chihuahuas, Miniature Schnauzers, and Doberman Pinschers. It can be seen in the data that some of the most popular dogs show traits of aggression to other dogs as well as to their owner. While looking at the tables, it is important to note in this research that there is a negative correlation between the popularity and the trainability of the dog. It is also important to note that there was a positive correlation between the popularity and separation problems, fear of other dogs, and aggression directed toward the owner. A table outlining each category and an example of how each is tested is shown in Figure 1.1 below. How well each dog did during the testing is then shown in Figure 1.2.
Figure 1.1: Shown are the 14 variables that were tested and an example of how each would be examined. Taken from Ghirlanda, Stefano, Alberto Acerbi, Harold Herzog, and James A. Serpell. “Fashion vs. Function in Cultural Evolution: The Case of Dog Breed Popularity.” PLOS, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2017. <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone .0074770>.
Figure 1.2: Shown is one graph per dog based on the 14 categories shown in Figure 1.1. The bigger the “piece of pie” on each graph, the more those traits were represented during examination of the particular breed.Taken from Ghirlanda, Stefano, Alberto Acerbi, Harold Herzog, and James A. Serpell. “Fashion vs. Function in Cultural Evolution: The Case of Dog Breed Popularity.” PLOS, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2017. <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone .0074770>.
In light of the facts stated by the research above and the examination of numerous articles from multiple local news sources, it can be concluded that aggressive pit bull behavior can largely be attributed to owner negligence. The environment the dog was raised in also plays a sizable role in the possibility of developing a threatening demeanor later in life. Understanding that pit bulls are no more likely to be aggressive than any other type of dog is crucial to retiring unlearned stereotypes that negatively impact the entire breed.
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