Reflections on HB14

As pit bull advocates celebrate the recent passage of HB14 in Ohio, which repeals regulations on pit bulls by removing them from the definition of "vicious dog" in state law, a recent article in the Toledo Blade caught my eye. The article, titled "Move doesn't fix problem, Lucas County warden says" explains that simply removing pit bull regulations won't increase adoptions automatically; there are more pit bulls flooding the Lucas County pound than there are homes for. Despite the fact that the Lucas County pound intends to "loosen" requirements for rescue groups to take pit bulls directly from the pound, they still anticipate the continued euthanization of pit bulls, due to lack of homes. Which got me to wondering.... who in Ohio, is breeding pit bulls, if so many of the dogs end up homeless?

There is widespread agreement amongst dog lovers, humane advocates, and trainers as to what constitutes a responsible, ethical breeder of purebred dogs. The rubric for the ethical hobby breeder is defined quite clearly by hundreds of dog advocates, breed clubs, trainers, and humane groups and can be found easily in an internet search. Ethical breeders breed to "improve" the breed. They don't breed frequently, and have a well defined breeding program. They breed only titled dogs, and only to parents who have been screened for all genetic defects common to the breed. They require puppies going to pet homes to be sold with a spay/neuter contract. They belong to a breed club, and compete in some way in conformation or performance activities. Puppies are sold with the agreement that if the owner cannot keep the dog, it can be returned to the breeder at any time during the dogs life. They are there as a resource for puppy buyers, to provide help and advice on behavior, training, and health issues for the lifetime of the dog. Prospective puppy buyers will be carefully screened, and may be required to provide references. Puppy temperaments will be evaluated and the breeder will carefully match puppies to the right family.

In the case of working dogs, the breeder will not breed to any physical standard, but makes the dogs performance in the "work" he was bred for the basis of the breeding program. In the case of hunting dogs, the breeder will often have dogs titled as field trial champions. Breeders of working dogs will also screen prospective puppy buyers, and will refuse to sell a high drive, working dog to a "pet" home where it's need for exercise and meaningful "work" will go unmet. Again, dams and sires will be screened for any genetic defects common to the breed.

Breeders who fall outside of this description are "for profit" breeders, often called "backyard breeders". The goal of breeding the dog is simply to make money from selling the puppies. Obviously, there is a problem in Ohio with so many unwanted pit bulls flooding rescues and animal shelters... and that problem can be traced right back to the breeders, whose right to continue breeding pit bulls was defended and supported by the Ohio legislature. So who, exactly, are these people?

Imagine that I am a responsible dog owner who has decided that I want to purchase a pit bull puppy from a reputable breeder. I have researched what to look for in a breeder, and know exactly what I want. I do not want to rescue a dog; I have heard how "wonderful" pit bulls are at dog sports like agility and obedience, so I want to buy a registered dog from a breeder that I can "socialize" and start training from puppy hood. I decide to start my search on the AKC website, in the breeder classified listing, for an American Staffordshire Terrier. No Ohio breeders are listed. I then take my search to the national breed club listed on the AKC website.... The Staffordshire Terrier Club of America. I look at the national breeder listings here.... no Amstaff breeders listed in Ohio. I then tried to find a regional AmStaff club, based in Ohio, or even the midwest. No luck there.

I decided that I would try finding an American Pit Bull Terrier breeder from the UKC national website, based out of Ohio. There is only one name listed, with a phone number. Under "Health Screenings", there are "none listed". I google the name and phone number, hoping to get a kennel website, or at least find the breeder's name listed under UKC show results, but nothing comes up. This makes me uncomfortable, so I continue my search. I locate the national bred club..."The National American Pit Bull Terrier Club of America". I search for breeder listings, but none are listed. I search current events, looking for Ohio shows to try and find a kennel...no shows are listed in Ohio.

I next try to find a local breed club, and find the name of "The New Central Ohio American Pit Bull Terrier Club" listed on-line, with a name and phone number. However, I can find no website, or other reference to this club, no show listings, etc. I find no evidence that this club actually exists, so I move on.

I finally find myself at the ADBA registry, the American Dog Breeders Association. This is the breed club dedicated to "preserving" the American Pit Bull Terrier in its "original" form.... the registry for "game-bred" dogs, the dogs from fighting bloodlines. While the registry publicly condemns the "sport" of dog fighting, I am uncomfortable with this groups desire to "preserve" the trait of dog aggression that has proven so deadly to innocent pet dogs across the country. Since I am looking to be able to compete in dog sports, a game bred dog may be a bad choice for me, since a dog aggressive pit bull would be dangerous to have in off leash competitions and at dog shows. Still, I decide to see if I can find a local breed club to get more information....but none are listed in Ohio. I then turn to the breeder classifieds, where there are two litters listed in Ohio. Neither listing gives a breeders name, just a phone number and e-mail. I try to google what appears to be the kennel name of the sires and dams with no luck. Again, I am looking for a "responsible" breeder, who is proud to put his name and kennel out there, and show the public what his dogs have accomplished. However, I find another dead end.

Ultimately, I simply google "American Staffordshire Terrier breeders, Ohio", to see what I can find. I am encouraged to find a web page of AmStaff breeders, with four listed in Ohio... but none of the kennels can be found on-line, and although I can find some names of conformation champions in on-line pedigrees with two kennels, the information is dated; there is no indication that these kennels still exist. I do get several on-line classified ads for back yard breeders, or individuals with limited command of the english language looking to sell their pit bull which they can no longer keep, sell puppies, or stud out their male pit. I decide to try googling "American Pit Bull Terrier breeders, Ohio". I find a back yard breeder of hideous looking "American Bullies", selling untitled dogs with no health screenings...even though the OFA current data suggests that Amstaff and APBT suffer from some of the worst rates of hip dysplasia of ALL dog breeds. About 25% of the dogs tested... by their responsible breeders who actually test... are dysplastic. Imagine the rates of HD in these, bow-legged, cow-hocked monsters known as "American Bullies"?

I decide on one last try, and google "pit bull terrier breeders, Ohio". I get more back yard bully breeder/puppy mills selling puppies over the internet to anyone with a credit card. And of course, plenty of on-line classified where teenagers are trying to get 50 bucks for unvetted, six week old pit bull puppies. More of the same on Craigslist, where young women and wanna-be gangstas are trying to unload their pit bulls because the landlord is threatening eviction. So what can we conclude from this exercise? Does this mean there are NO responsible pit bull breeders in Ohio? Not exactly. I am quite sure there are a few kennels breeding and showing Amstaffs or APBTs that would meet the criteria of responsible, ethical breeder. But it appears that an average person looking for a "responsible breeder" of pit bulls would be unable to find them. It means that the handful of "responsible breeders", if they do exist, are in no way contributing to the crisis of unwanted pit bulls in Ohio. Most pit bulls being bred in Ohio are the product of unscrupulous back yard breeders, whose ONLY goal is to make money, and who are ignoring the health and temperament problems that plague the breed. Sadly, that is the best case scenario.

According to Pet-Abuse.com, a clearinghouse for information on animal cruelty cases across the country, there have been numerous cases of organized dog fighting across Ohio in the past decade. Game-bred pit bulls from fighting bloodlines can command top dollar in the underground world of dog fighting; judging from the number of large scale dog fighting rings that have been discovered in Ohio, dog fighters are also breeding pit bulls that end up in the Ohio shelter system. Add to this the fact that drug dealers in Ohio, like everywhere else in the country, are using pit bulls for guard dogs, and it becomes clear where all the homeless pit bulls are coming from.

So, who is breeding pit bulls in Ohio when thousands of pit bulls are euthanized in shelters each year across the state for lack of homes? We have the dog fighters, who are trying to breed animals that are so aggressive they will race across a pit to slaughter another dog in an unprovoked attack. We have criminals, gang members, and drug dealers, breeding human aggressive guard dogs. We have back yard breeders breeding macho dogs as thug fashion accessories. And we have the lazy, the uneducated, and the clueless kids who think they can make a few bucks selling pit puppies to their friends. None of the people breeding pit bulls care about the welfare of pit bulls... they don't care about breeding dogs that are healthy, and they don't care about breeding dogs with safe temperaments. The public has been asked to believe that the types of individuals breeding pit bulls in Ohio are somehow producing wonderful family pets, even when its obvious that many are selecting for aggressive temperaments, and the rest are ignoring temperament altogether.

Pit bull advocates who successfully lobbied the Ohio legislature to pass HB14 have not scored a victory for pit bulls... they have scored a victory for pit bull breeders. By removing insurance and containment restrictions, its easier for more amateur dog fighters to become involved in this underground "sport". Its easier for more young men who lack the drive and ambition to get an education and a real job to make money breeding "Monster Blue Pits" with bad hips and sketchy temperaments. Demand for hard looking dogs amongst irresponsible, transient youth will continue to feed the cycle of acquiring and abandoning pit bulls. Rescue groups that celebrate the passage of HB14 won't be celebrating when they realize that most families looking for a pet still don't want a pit bull. Insurers still won't sell policies to pit bull owners, based on their actuarial data; landlords still won't rent to pit bull owners because of liability issues. Home owners associations, condo boards, and military bases will still restrict them. The criminals, thugs, animal abusers, gang members, kids and losers who are breeding them will continue to create dogs with unstable temperaments. Pit bull attacks will continue to make headlines, as unstable dogs are adopted out into pet homes whose owners are unprepared to deal with them. Rescue groups and shelters will still be flooded with dogs that no one wants, and will continue their desperate attempts to market the dogs and make them more popular, while lowering their standards on who can adopt. In the end, permanent homes with responsible owners who contain, train, and manage the dogs appropriately will remain rare, and the cycle of acquisition, abuse, and abandonment will continue. Instead of addressing the problem at its source, and working for meaningful change to end animal suffering, pit bull promoters instead protect and support the very people who are hurting the breed they claim to "love". Until some animal welfare advocates have the courage to stand up and address the real issue of pit bull overpopulation by advocating restrictions on pit bull breeding, the number of homeless pit bulls euthanized will likely increase after the passage of HB14.

And that is definitely not worth celebrating.

Branwyne Finch