Many animal behaviorists believe that violence is not an inherent trait in any particular breed, but rather the result of the individual animal’s characteristics and/or its upbringing. Whether or not this is the case, statistics do show a disproportionate number of accidents involving humans and specific breeds. Certain states, including West Virginia, have enacted breed bans and have requirements for owners of certain breeds. States hope that these regulations will reduce the number of breed-related personal injuries, but some have called the effectiveness of breed bans into question.
About Breed Bans
Whether certain breeds are inherently more ferocious than others is a hotly debated topic in America. Pit bulls, in particular, have a negative reputation for being aggressive and dangerous dogs. While many organizations strive to break this stigma, statistics show that pit bulls consistently account for the majority of canine-related injuries and deaths. From 2005 to 2015, 360 Americans died due to canine attacks. Of these attacks, pit bulls were responsible for 232 deaths (64%). In 2015, pit bulls accounted for 82% of all canine-related deaths in the U.S.
Rottweilers, the second most lethal dog breed according to statistics, killed 41 people between 2005 and 2015. Together, pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for 91% of all canine-related deaths in 2015. Another 6% of deaths in 2015 were attributable to American bulldogs – a close cousin of the pit bull. The majority of canine-related deaths and injuries happen to children and the elderly, which are the two age groups most unable to defend against dog attacks.
Due to statistics that show violence trends with certain dog breeds, many states have turned to breed bans for a solution. A breed ban may reduce the number of “dangerous” breeds in the state, and thus reduce the amount of canine-related injuries and deaths. However, breed bans are difficult to enforce and may not address the underlying problem of dog aggression.
West Virginia Breed Bans
In West Virginia, breed-specific laws vary according to city. Seven cities have ordinances in place that restrict or ban certain dog breeds:
- Bluefield and Ceredo ban pit bulls
- Dunbar and Fayetteville declare that pit bulls are “vicious”
- Wheeling declares that pit bulls, American bulldogs, and canary dogs are “vicious”
- Huntington restricts pit bulls, rottweilers, and wolf hybrids
- Barboursville restricts pit bulls and wolf hybrids
If a West Virginia dog owner breaks the citywide breed restriction ordinance, he or she could face a fine and/or criminal charges. In West Virginia, dog owners are only liable for dog bite injuries according to West Virginia’s “one-bite” rule if the victim can prove that the owner had reason to believe that the dog was dangerous. Owning a restricted or banned breed serves as this proof. Owners of certain breeds must carry $100,000 in liability insurance and keep dogs properly confined.
Issues with Breed Bans
Breed bans are not as effective as states would like due to enforcement difficulties. Laws do not define “pit bulls” clearly enough. In many states, a ban on one type of aggressive breed merely led to an increase in another type. Many people argue that breed bans do not address the sources of canine aggression, and thus will not be effective in reducing the number of canine-related injuries. Despite breed bans in West Virginia, there are still reports of injurious and fatal dog attacks from pit bulls and packs of dogs.
Breed bans may not be the ideal solution for reducing the number of dog attacks, but it sheds light on the larger issue of canine aggression. Until state lawmakers determine a more comprehensive way to control violent breeds, it’s up to state citizens to protect themselves and others through responsible pet ownership.