Pit Bull Terriers and similar dogs are “not suitable companion animals for every family circumstance”, the USPCA has warned.
The controversial warning comes after over 280,000 people signed an online petition to save Belfast pet Hank last month, who was deemed to be a Pit Bull by experts.
The breed is currently outlawed under the Dangerous Dogs Act, which was framed in 1991 after a number of high-profile fatal attacks by the breed on adults and children.
A Belfast court recommended recently that Hank be placed on the exemption register rather than be destroyed.
However, while now lobbying for “a radical change” to the current ‘Breed Specific Legislation’, a USPCA spokesman also sounded a note of caution.
“The USPCA accepts that large and powerful dogs such as Pit Bull Terriers are not suitable companion animals for every family circumstance,” a spokesman said.
“They require understanding owners capable of controlling and caring for a breed that has many merits.”
He added that Hank was “the victim of a law that makes a life or death decision based on breed and not on temperament”; the current 1991 act was as a “knee jerk” reaction to a series of fatal Pit Bull attacks “carried out by animals whose temperament was compromised beyond repair by their reprehensible owners”.
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) animal welfare scientist Dr Emily Patterson-Kane conceded to the News Letter that there “may be overall tendencies more common in some breeds than others”. But she added that this does not allow reliable predictions for any specific dog’s temperament.
In 2000 her organisation said the Pit Bull had committed by far the most fatal attacks of any breed in the US over 20 years – 66 deaths.
The AVMA concluded that “fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (Pit Bull-type dogs and Rottweilers)”. But it advocated non-breed specific legislation to address the issue.
Dr Patterson-Kane said further research showed the breed implicated in serious bites varies geographically and over time “due to the primary role of human factors in creating high risk situations”.
Hank’s owner, Joanne Meadows, said everyone needs to assess their situation prior to committing to getting a dog.
“A large dog can be hard work, much harder than a small dog,” she said.
She added: “I have young nephews who have socialised with Hank since I got him home. He was never a concern. He loves to see him and jumps on their laps for snuggles and big licks.”
MOST LETHAL BREEDS IN THE US
The figures show fatal dog attacks by breed over a 20-year period in the US.
1. Pit Bull type 66
2. Rottweiler 39
3. German Shep’rd 17
4. Husky-type 15
5. Malamute 12
6. Wolf dog hybrid 14
7. Chow Chow 8
8. Doberman 9
9. Saint Bernard 7
10. Great Dane 7
Non-specified breeds killed 12 people in this study.
(Source: Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the US 1979-1998, JAVMA Sept, 2000.)