What the Dog Saw – Troublemakers: What Pitbulls Can Teach Us About Crime

There’s never any shortage of things for a procrastinator to do when there is an upcoming deadline.  With my book deadline of March 15, I probably should be spending all of my free time writing and editing but I still managed to find a bit of time to read from Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw this week.  I didn’t read the whole book (deadlines and all that) but read a few of the stories that caught my attention.  Strangely enough, I skipped the story on Cesar Millan (which is where the book’s title comes from) but with two weeks left to procrastinate, I’ll reserve the right to revisit the chapter.

Three legged Tiger enjoying a summer morning in Kentucky

Anyway, the story that I found most compelling was Troublemakers:  What Pitbulls Can Teach Us About Crime. Now, before I go any further, I should probably state that I think Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)  is a bunch of garbage.   I’d have to guess that just about anyone that’s worked with Pitbulls knows that they can be very sweet and loving dogs.  Also, anyone that’s seen a dog (Pitbull or otherwise) neglected and abused can tell you that the dog’s problems are a direct result of owner negligence and not the dog’s fault at all.  Even well meaning and loving dog owners are often responsible for, however unintentionally, reinforcing bad behaviors in their dogs.

So then, what’s Mr. Gladwell’s take on BSL?  He’s decidedly against it.

Troublemakers starts out with a horrifying story of a child being attacked by three Pitbulls.  Anyone with a bit of human decency would be outraged at the story and it’s not really a difficult thing to see how five days after the attack, the city council enacted a sweeping ban of Pitbulls.  Unfortunately, it was an easy solution to a complicated problem.

I don’t want to rehash Gladwell’s work so I’ll just get to the bottom line – it’s the owners of bad dogs that should be targeted rather than sweeping bans of any specific breeds.  Even without going into all of the evidence, looking just at the dog attack statistics over the last several decades is enough to cast a strong doubt over the wisdom of banning specific breeds.  The bottom line is that while Pitbulls currently rank near the top of lists, looking back that wasn’t always true.  So why the sudden change?  Because the people that WANT to own a tough/attack dog are now favoring the breeds that make up the Pitbull category.  Before they were in favor these generally bad people chose to own and train (for their evil purposes) Dobermans, German Shepherds or Rottweilers and consequently, those breeds topped the list.  Isn’t that enough to generate a thoughtful discussion?  And if not, what will be left?  Attack Golden Retrievers?  It may sound far fetched but ANY DOG can be trained for evil purposes and if we ban all of the “aggressive” dogs through BSL, you can bet that all of the gentle, loving dogs that we’d never now consider dangerous will be topping the dog attack lists.  After all, one only needs to look back to the time when Petey was a part of the Little Rascals – back to a time when Pitbulls were thought to be great family dogs.

Petey or Pete the Pup

Again, I don’t want to give away anymore of Gladwell’s book and would encourage you to read it for yourselves but, like probably all “unprovoked” dog attacks, there is more to the story in the attack outlined in the beginning of the chapter.

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