Picture: Supplied – The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) has come out in support of a petition to ban pit bulls as domestic animals in South Africa. The breed can trace its history back nearly a thousand years to Europe, where they were used in blood sports such as bull baiting, bear baiting and dog fighting.
By Dominic Naidoo
I have had the privilege of being loved and comforted by five different dogs throughout the span of my life – a mixed breed called Sneakers, Sasha, an intelligent little dachshund, Mr Jones, a lively little pug, Bella, a mellow Boston Terrier rescue and Cash, another dapper rescue pooch.
This motley canine crew joined me at very different stages of my life, from being an unruly toddler to a busy young professional, they waggingly loved me through it all.
I am a firm believer that no animal wants to do wrong, for all intents and purposes, animals cannot purposefully do wrong or commit “crimes” as we would label it. Besides crows, they can literally hold a grudge for two years, but that’s a feature for another day.
Pitbulls have been in the spotlight recently, having been “convicted” of unprovoked vicious and deadly attacks on children and adults over the past few weeks.
A mother of six suffered deep bite wounds to her leg after she was attacked by two pitbulls last Saturday, November 26. Fortunately, she was saved by a shop owner. A 15-month-old child from East London succumbed to his injuries in hospital after he was attacked by a pitbull on Wednesday, November 23.
Two children were attacked by a neighbour’s pitbulls on Sunday, November 20. Three-year-old Keletso Saule was mauled to death by two pitbulls in the Free State.
Just days before, Bloemfontein SAPS shot dead a pitbull that jumped over the wall and mauled an 8-year-old boy. Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thabo Covane said the dog escaped from its enclosure and got into the yard where the boy was.
In Gatesville, three pitbulls were stoned and stabbed before being set alight by angry residents. It is alleged they had attacked a young girl in the community who was rushed to hospital for urgent care.
I will never feel a hundred percent safe with any “power” or “bull” breed dog, no matter how much the owner tries to punt on its “friendliness,” and I will tell you why.
The majority of pitbull terriers, along with rottweilers, dobermans and a few other large breeds are being bred specifically to be aggressive and vicious for the purposes of security, dog-fighting or just plain toxic masculinity.
For all the power breed “dog moms,” I said majority. I know not all power breed dogs are dangerous. Still, I will not be testing that theory.
According to Highland Canine, a US-based dog training service, “pit bulls were created by breeding bulldogs and terriers together to produce a dog that combined the quick gameness and agility of the terrier with the strength of the bulldog.”
The breed can trace its history back nearly a thousand years to Europe, where they were used in blood sports such as bull baiting, bear baiting and dog fighting.
As British animal welfare improved, these blood sports were banned in 1835 but dogfights, which were cheaper to organise and far easier to conceal from the law, became more prevalent.
“In the early 1900s, dog fighting was used as both a blood sport (often involving gambling) and a way to continue to test the quality of their stock. For decades afterward, dog fighting clandestinely took place in small areas of Britain and America,” Canine said.
Since then, pit bulls have been selectively bred for their fighting prowess. Selective breeding would involve taking the most aggressive pup from a litter and breeding it to a proven fighting dog, creating a litter of naturally aggressive pups. This cycle continued for generations of dogs.
Often this can lead to aggression issues no matter how much you socialise your dog. Usually it’s animal aggression, but occasionally they have turned on their owners or neighbours, as we’ve recently seen in South Africa.
The organisation said that there are records of pit bulls behaving really well with other dogs for a number of years and then suddenly turning violent.
“It truly is not their fault; it’s simply human error. We have destroyed this breed. Many of our clients who are pit bull owners have to sign up for our board and training programs to get control of their dog and maintain the training so they can take their dogs for walks in public, however, many are still unable to turn them loose to play with other dogs,” it said.
With the Sizwe Kupelo foundation calling for an outright ban on pit bulls, South Africa is divided. Dog lovers sympathise with the breed, calling instead for stricter regulations concerning the ownership and breeding of pit bulls while on the other side of the court, these dogs are seen as volatile and violent with an extremely short fuse.
Nicole Jack, founder and chair of Durban-based SerendiPitty Rescue, a pit bull rescue and rehoming non-profit said that “the recent attacks are a result of people not the dogs.”
“Being a responsible owner of any breed means researching and catering for the needs and wants of that specific breed. Backyard breeding of any dog results in poor genetics which in turn leads to dogs which may not be able to socialise well with other animals or people.”
Jack explains the process of adoption of a dog from a reputable organisation.
“When adopting a dog from a responsible organisation you need to sign a contract, pass a home inspection, commit to training and consent to frequent home visits from representatives of the organisations.”
“They are not genetically inclined to hurt people, unless there are bad genetics involved. I love the breed. I will always stand up for the breed being homed responsibly. That includes education for owners which seems to be much needed,” Jack said.
Sauri Moodley, founder of the KZN Doghouse, another canine rescue organisation does not believe that certain breeds are more dangerous than others.
“It really is all dependent on training. We send kids to school and teach them right from wrong, so why is a dog treated any differently? How does one expect them to know better if they aren’t taught better?, asked Moodley.
She believes that any dog, with the right training and socialisation, can be a family dog, unless there are obvious medical or trauma related issues, power breeds included.
“But even those can sometimes be worked with. It’s just about finding the right family and environment for the dog and them being responsibly homed from the onset. Proper checks and introductions should be done to ensure that the home that any puppy is going to is the right fit for that dog,” said Moodley.
“Especially when it comes to power breeds. They shouldn’t be sold or adopted to just anyone. That’s also why adoption agencies are so strict with regards to home inspections and applications for these animals.”
Upon being asked the question of whether power breeds can be family dogs, Moodley agreed with Jack, they can be.
“Again, it depends on the family and the dog. With the ones we have at the shelter, we can safely say yes. They’re brilliant with kids. But it’s taken a lot of hard work and socialisation to get them to that point. Not every dog will be okay with a 3 year old kid, regardless of breed.”
On the issue of the call to ban the breed, Jack said that a ban will only serve to encourage underground activities.
“How would the resources be found to manage a ban? Won’t work here. Nobody has the right to tell someone they cannot have their family pet. I’d sooner leave the country than give up my dogs. They are my family.”
“People are the problem, not the dogs. Next it will be rottweilers or boerboels or German shepherds.”
Long story short, if you want a family dog, get a labrador retriever, irish setter or beagle. If you want security, cameras, beams and electric fencing don’t need constant attention, food or visits to the vet. If you need a power breed to compensate for something, see a therapist.
Dominic Naidoo is a environment activist and writer.