Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dead Dogs: Breed bans, euthanasia, and preemptive justice.

Nowadays, dangerous-dog hearings decide if dogs live or die. Vicious-dog law, or what some simply call “dog-bite law,” usually precludes any legal challenge—especially if the offending animal happens to be identified as dangerous simply because of the breed.

In May 2005 animal-control units began to round up all pit bulls within the Denver city limits. Dogs were taken from their homes and put down regardless of their disposition or demeanor. Last summer the New York City Housing Authority issued a ban on pit bulls (also identified as American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers), rottweilers, and Doberman pinschers—“all of these either full breed or mixed breed”—or any other full-grown dog over 25 pounds in all public housing. So New York, the most urbane of American cities, now boasts the harshest public-housing dog regime in the country. What Gladwell described a few years ago as “a generalization about a generalization about a trait that is not, in fact, general” anticipated the undesirable, if not toxic, effects of unfounded prejudice.

In May of last year, Judge Burke F. McCahill of Loudoun Circuit Court in Virginia ruled legal Loudoun County Animal Care and Control’s current “No Adopt Out” policy. That meant that any abandoned dog identified as a “pit bull,” even if judged temperamentally sound by animal-behavior specialists, had to be euthanized rather than adopted. In the past three years, more than 200 dogs have been put down in Loudoun County. McCahill ruled that “a Citizen’s right to own a pit bull is entirely different than a citizen’s right to adopt.” So if you already possess a pit bull you can keep it, but anyone who wants to acquire one from a shelter is prohibited from doing so.

Today’s pit bull bans tell us more about ourselves than about the breed: about the rituals and the illusions that have become necessary to our survival.


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