A pit bull is any of several breeds of dog. All of the breeds share a similar history, with origins rooted from the bulldog and a variety ofterriers. The dogs called bull terriers before the development of the modern Bull Terrier in the early 20th century may also be called pit bulls. The American Pit Bull Terrier is the product of interbreeding between terriers and a breed of bulldogs. Because some pit bulls have been trained for criminal purposes such as dog-fighting or for the protection of drug trafficking operations, the subsequent aggressive behavior has led to many incidents between these animals and people. These incidents have stirred highly contentious debates concerning the restriction of their ownership, citing pit bulls as a public hazard. According to the American Temperament Test Society in their February 19, 2012 results, the American Pit Bull Terrier has an 86.8% passing rate as compared to a 82.8% rate for all breeds.
Although pit bull-type dogs were all created with similar crossbreeding between bulldogs and terriers, each individual breed within the type has a distinct history.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is the product of interbreeding between terriers and bulldogs to produce a dog that combined the gameness of the terrier with the strength and athleticism of the bulldog. These dogs were initially bred in England and arrived in the United States with the founders. In the United States, these dogs were used as catch dogs for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, to drive livestock, and as family companions. Some have been selectively bred for their fighting prowess. 
The United Kennel Club (UKC) was the first registry to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier. UKC founder C. Z. Bennett assigned UKC registration number 1 to his own dog, "Bennett's Ring", as an American Pit Bull Terrier in 1898.
American pit bull terriers successfully fill the role of companion dog, police dog and therapy dog. Terriers in general have a higher tendency towards dog aggression and American Pit Bull Terriers constitute the majority of dogs used for illegal dog fighting in the United States. In addition, law enforcement organizations report these dogs are used for other nefarious purposes, such as guarding illegal narcotics operations, use against the police, and as attack dogs.
The fighting reputation of pit bull-type dogs led the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1996 to relabel pit bull terriers as "St. Francis Terriers" (not associated with the "terrier" mascot of St. Francis College in New York) so that they might be more readily adopted; 60 temperament-screened dogs were adopted until the program was halted after several of the newly adopted dogs killed cats. The New York City Center for Animal Care and Control tried a similar approach in 2004 by relabeling their pit bull terriers as "New Yorkies", but dropped the idea in the face of overwhelming public opposition.
The American Staffordshire Terrier was the product of 19th century interbreeding between bulldogs and terriers that produced the "bull-and-terrier dog," "Half and Half," and at times "pit dog" or "pit bullterrier," the last named becoming the "Staffordshire Bull Terrier" in England. The bulldog of that time differed from the modern Bulldog, having a full muzzle and a long, tapering tail. There is some debate whether the White English Terrier, the Black and Tan Terrier, the Fox Terrier or some combination thereof were used. These dogs began to find their way into America as early as 1870 where they became known as Pit Dog, Pit Bull Terrier, later American Bull Terrier, and still later as a Yankee terrier. They were imported primarily, but not exclusively, for pit fighting.
In 1936, they were accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as "Staffordshire Terriers." Breeders started creating exemplars heavier in weight. Since January 1, 1972, it was renamed to "American Staffordshire Terrier" to make a separate breed from the lighter Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England.
Pit Bull breeds have become famous for their roles as soldiers, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, actors, television personalities, seeing eye dogs and celebrity pets. Historically,Sergeant Stubby the war hero who served for the 102nd infantry of World War I and Petey from the Little Rascals, are the most well known. Lesser known, but still historically notable pit bulls have been Helen Keller's family dog "Sir Thomas" , Buster Brown's dog "Tige", Horatio Jackson's dog "Bud", President Theodore Roosevelt's Pit Bull terrier "Pete", "Jack Brutus" who served for Company K, the First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the civil war and Sir Walter Scott's beloved "Wasp".
Modernly significant Pit Bull's are: "Weela", who saved 31 people, 29 dogs, 3 horses and even one cat. "Popcicle", a five month old puppy originally found nearly dead in a freezer, who grew to become one of the nations most important police dogs. Norton, who was placed in the Purina Animal Hall of Fame after he rescued his owner from a severe reaction to a spider bite. "Titan", who rescued his owner's wife, who would have died from an aneurysm and "D-Boy", who took three bullets to save his family from an intruder with a gun.
A limited number of studies have been performed on the number of human deaths due to bite trauma caused by dogs, and have generally surveyed news media stories for reports of dog bite-related fatalities. This methodology is subject to several potential sources of error: some fatal attacks may not have been reported; a study might not find all of the relevant news reports; and the potential for misidentification of dog breeds, although courts in the United States and Canada have ruled that expert identification, when using published breed standards, is sufficient for the enforcement of breed-specific legislation. It is possible to distinguish dogs by breed using DNA testing, but test results for any one dog can vary widely depending upon the laboratory that performs the test and the number of purebred dog breeds in the laboratory's DNA database.
There is some confusion over the "locked jaw" notion with pit bulls. There is no evidence for the existence of a physiological "locking mechanism" in the teeth or jaw structure of normal pit bull-type dogs, although a dog's jaws can be locked in a closed position by surgically correctable jaw abnormalities. However, pit bull-type dogs exhibit "bite, hold, and shake" behavior, which is seen in all breeds of dogs, and at times refuse to release when biting; methods to force pit bull-type dogs to release their grip include breaking an ammonia ampule and holding it up to the dog's nose, or using a "break stick" to lever the dog's jaws open if it bites a person or animal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in 2000 a study on dog bite-related fatalities (DBRF) that covered the years 1979–1998. The study found reports of 238 people killed by dogs over the 24-year period, of which "pit bull terrier" or mixes thereof were reportedly responsible for killing 76, or about 32 percent, of the people killed by dogs in the attacks identified in the study. The breed with the next-highest number of attributed fatalities was the Rottweiler and mixes thereof, with 44 fatalities or about 18 percent of the study-identified fatalities. In aggregate, pit bulls, Rottweilers, and mixes thereof were involved in about 50% of the fatalities identified over the 20-year period covered by the study, and for 67% of the DBRF reported in the final two years studied (1997–1998), concluding
"It is extremely unlikely that they [pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers] accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities."
The report's authors went on to say:
"Although the fatality data are concerning, one must broaden the context to consider both fatal and nonfatal bites when deciding on a course of action. ...[A] 36% increase in medically attended bites from 1986 to 1994 draws attention to the need for an effective response, including dog bite prevention programs. Because (1) fatal bites constitute less than 0.00001% of all dog bites annually, (2) fatal bites have remained relatively constant over time, whereas nonfatal bites have been increasing, and (3) fatal bites are rare at the usual political level where bite regulations are promulgated and enforced, we believe that fatal bites should not be the primary factor driving public policy regarding dog bite prevention."
The report's authors suggested that "generic non–breed-specific, dangerous dog laws can be enacted that place primary responsibility for a dog's behavior on the owner, regardless of the dog's breed. In particular, targeting chronically irresponsible dog owners may be effective."
The latest CDC "Dog Bite: Fact Sheet" includes a disclaimer regarding this study, saying that
"it does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002 percent of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."
An electronic search of newspaper articles by Dr. Malathi Raghavan, DVM, PhD, found that pit bull terriers were not responsible for 1 of 28 (3.6%) dog bite-related fatalities reported in Canada from 1990 through 2007. The study also notes that "A higher proportion of sled dogs and, possibly, mixed-breed dogs in Canada than in the United States caused fatalities, as did multiple dogs rather than single dogs. Free-roaming dog packs, reported only from rural communities, caused most on-reserve fatalities". It is also worth noting that the total number of fatal dog attacks from the 27 year period is equal to about one fatal attack per year, while the Clifton reportm, a more comprehensive study that includes the 1990-2007 period in the Canadian Veterinary Journal Study, shows an average of 6 fatalities attributed to pit bulls alone annually in the United States and Canada.
Many jurisdictions that restrict pit bulls, including Ontario, Canada, Miami, Florida, U.S. and Denver, Colorado, U.S., apply the restriction to the modern American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any other dog that has the substantial physical characteristics and appearance of those breeds. However a few jurisdictions, such as Singapore and Franklin County, Ohio, U.S., also classify the modern American Bulldog as a "pit bull-type dog", while in the United Kingdom a pit bull is an American Pit Bull Terrier. All of the breeds share a similar history, with origins rooted from the bulldog and a variety of terriers. The dogs called bull terriers before the development of the modern Bull Terrier in the early 20th century may also be called pit bulls.
A large number of jurisdictions have enacted breed-specific legislation (BSL) in response to a number of well-publicized incidents involving pit bull-type dogs, and some government organizations such as the United States Army and Marine Corps have taken administrative action as well. These actions range from outright bans on the possession of pit bull-type dogs to restrictions and conditions on pit bull ownership, and often establish a legal presumption that a pit bull-type dog is prima facie a legally "dangerous" or "vicious" dog. In response, some state-level governments in the United States have prohibited or restricted the ability of municipal governments within those states to enact breed-specific legislation, though these prohibitions on breed-specific legislation do not affect military installations located within these states.
It is now generally settled in case law that jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have the right to enact breed-specific legislation. Despite these findings by the courts, there remains some public skepticism over whether the laws are effective. One point of view is that pit bulls are a public safety issue that merits actions such as banning ownership, mandatory spay/neuter for all pit bulls, mandatory microchip implants and liability insurance, or prohibiting people convicted of a felony from owning pit bulls. Another point of view is that comprehensive "dog bite" legislation, coupled with better consumer education and legally mandating responsible pet keeping practices, is a better solution to the problem of dangerous dogs than breed-specific legislation.
A third point of view is that breed-specific legislation should not ban breeds entirely but should strictly regulate the conditions under which specific breeds could be owned, e.g., forbidding certain classes of individuals from owning them, specifying public areas from which they would be prohibited, and establishing conditions, such as requiring a dog to wear a muzzle, for taking dogs from specific breeds into public places. Finally, some governments, such as in Australia, have forbidden the import of specific breeds and are requiring the spay/neuter of all existing dogs of these breeds in an attempt to slowly eliminate the population through natural attrition.
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