Friday, November 11, 2011

Open Letter to Detroit City Council, Department of Health and Wellness, Department of Environmental Safety

To All This May Concern:

I am sure in the last few days you have received quite a few emails regarding the practices and policies at Detroit Animal Control. This email is not going to condemn or condone the choices made in the past week. Instead, it contains information to consider regarding your stance on policies regarding so-called "pit-bulls".

"Pit Bull" is not a breed. It's a generic term often used by the uneducated public and media to describe any one of a number of purebred or mixed-breed dogs that may resemble any of the Molosser breeds: Mastiffs * English Bulldogs * Boxers * American Bulldogs * Presa Canarios * Dogo Argentinos * Cane Corsos * Ca De Bous * Boerboels * Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldogs, and more.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the unfortunate aspect of breed bite statistics is that, "Dog bite statistics are not really statistics in that they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite... [T]he breed of the biting dog may not be accurately recorded and mixed-breed dogs are commonly described as if they are purebred." This is because most breed identification is done by visual identification by the victim or responding officer. In a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2009 that showed comparison DNA analysis versus breed designation by visual identification, 87.5% of the dogs were identified incorrectly. In fact, breed identification has proven so unrealiable that the Center for Disease Control stopped using breed designation in data collection in 2007.

Due to the high cost of DNA testing all dogs that are acquired yearly by Detroit Animal Control, I would assume DAC is often making breed designations based on appearance. Since there is no way to know breed for sure unless you know the pedigree of the dog or complete a DNA profile, and breed identification is overwhelmingly inaccurate, there is no scientific basis for the euthanasia of these dogs.

Statistically, it is impossible to reduce bite statistics by eliminating a certain breed of dog. According to an American Veterinary Medical Association study article released in October of this year, "Using dog bite injury data from the Centers for Disease Control, the State of Colorado, and other, smaller jurisdictions, along with guestimates of the population of various breeds or kinds of dogs, the authors calculated the absurdly large numbers of dogs of targeted breeds who would have to be completely removed from a community, in order to prevent even one serious dog bite. For example, in order to prevent a single hospitalization resulting from a dog bite, the authors calculate that a city or town would have to ban more than 100,000 dogs of a targeted breed."

I'd also like you to consider how effectively breed-specific policies and laws protect citizens from non-targeted breeds. Since we have already determined that breed identification is inaccurate, then we must assume that majority of dog bites and attacks are committed by non-targeted breeds. Breed specific policies treat victims and potential victims of dog bites unequally. Those who are threatened by a targeted breed get immediate action of public health and animal control. Those who are threatened by a dangerous dog of a non-targeted breed get a lower priority response. It is not acceptable to have unbalanced responses when it comes to public safety.

All citizens deserve protection from dangerous dogs, regardless of what the threatening dog looks like. I urge you to focus instead on effective methods of managing dangerous dogs. Unilaterally, communities that have repealed their breed specific policies and legislation have found that the most effective way to reduce bite statistics is enacting responsible ownership laws.

The primary indicator of risk regarding dog-human bite incidents is whether the dog is a "resident dog" or a "family dog". Resident dogs are dogs maintained outside the home or obtained for negative functions like guarding, fighting, protection, breeding for financial gain. They are removed from human socialization and cannot be expected to exhibit the same social behaviors as dogs kept as pets. Family dogs live inside the home and are afforded opportunity to learn appropriate behaviors through daily positive interaction with people. They also benefit from regular veterinary care, obedience classes and training, regular exercise, and regular feeding schedules. Laws against animals kept restrained outside on chains and laws that mandate adequate shelter identify irresponsible owners who are not providing socialization and proper daily care of their animals.

Dog-to-dog aggression is a reality for dogs regardless of breed. Dogs may exhibit no dog aggression, be less tolerant of certain dogs of the same gender, or react differently in highly-stimulating situations. Leash laws and laws that require permanent identification of owned animals, such as microchipping or tattoos, help in returning loose owned dogs to their owners as well as identifying irresponsible owners who let their dogs run at large.

Finally, adopting a non-breed specific dangerous dog law will help with identifying and removing the truly unsafe dogs from the pet population. This type of law would identify aggressive and dangerous behavior in a clinical and scientific manner that could be applied to all dogs regardless of breed. This would take into consideration location of the animal, situation, and severity of danger. A complete example of such a law can be found at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers website. ( )

Please consider changing the current ineffective policies at Detroit Animal Control. They are based in fear and reaction. You have a great opportunity at this time to review your policies and ensure all are based in fact, are scientifically sound, and promote a proactive response with measurable results.

Thank you,

Melissa Szumlinski, CPDT-KA

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