Bad dogs

2006/02/13 at 09:36

In a recent New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell examines the recent trend of local governments out lawing pit bull-like dogs (see here, for instance). Gladwell makes a case that the fundamental problem isn’t with specific dog breeds, but with the type of people who want to own bad-ass dogs; pit bulls are just the current popular breed for such people.
The problem for governments, Gladwell points out, is that it’s easier to make laws based on generalizations about dog breeds than it is based on generalizations about people. In regard to a recent pit bull attack, Gladwell concludes:

It was a textbook dog-biting case: unneutered, ill-trained, charged-up dogs, with a history of aggression and an irresponsible owner, somehow get loose, and set upon a small child. The dogs had already passed through the animal bureaucracy of Ottawa, and the city could easily have prevented the second attack with the right kind of generalization—a generalization based not on breed but on the known and meaningful connection between dangerous dogs and negligent owners. But that would have required someone to track down Shridev Café, and check to see whether he had bought muzzles, and someone to send the dogs to be neutered after the first attack, and an animal-control law that insured that those whose dogs attack small children forfeit their right to have a dog. It would have required, that is, a more exacting set of generalizations to be more exactingly applied. It’s always easier just to ban the breed.