Pit Bulls Are Not Bullies
By Daylina Miller
Tampa, Fla. (April 9, 2010) - When Monique Baiss’ fiancé brought home a pit bull a year ago, she was scared to death. She had heard reports in the news about the dogs attacking people and did not want to risk one in her own home.
But Baiss couldn’t change her finance’s mind about the dog, so this USF student researcher went online to do what she does best – gather some facts.
What she found came as a surprise – to herself and to others. And this month it became the subject of Baiss’ project for the 2010 Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Baiss discovered that pit bulls, by their nature, are sweet, friendly dogs. LawDogsUSA is a nonprofit organization that specifically trains purebred American pit bulls to detect narcotics, arson materials and explosives and won’t train them to be biting patrol dogs because of their demeanor.
“Pit bulls have such a bad rap but they are amazing dogs,” Baiss said, a senior in communication at USF. “Any dog can bite. Any dog can attack.”
Thorough research led her to debunk many myths about the breed and now Baiss hopes to develop a public information campaign around her research. The Florida Legislature is considering a proposal repealing a ban on breed-specific ordinances, making it easier for communities to ban breeds considered by some dangerous. Pit bulls likely would be among the breeds targeted.
Advocates for the breed say those who fear pit bulls as a breed are barking up the wrong tree.
“Purebred pit bulls are not human aggressive,” Baiss said. “Backyard breeding does that to them. “You had to be confident the dogs aren’t going to turn on you in dog fighting, not that I agree with it.”
Historically, pit bulls have been bred for bull baiting and dog fighting. In the past, dog fighting was considered a gentlemen’s sport. Dogs did not fight to the death and were rewarded for winning by being allowed to spend time with the family, Baiss said.
Though Baiss’ research started off with a personal motivation, she said it evolved as she adopted it as her project for a directed studies course.
Inspired by a class on campaigning in a health communication course, Baiss is crafting her pit bull research into a campaign that she hopes to spread out into the community to counter what she believes is bad publicity that has given the breed a negative image.
Dog attacks are often misidentified by police and misreported as being by pit bulls, when the offending dog might likely be one of more than 50 breeds commonly mistaken for pit bulls.
Through her research, which was directed by Ambar Basu, assistant professor of communication, Baiss found every person she interviewed who said they feared pit bulls based it on what they had heard or read about the dogs, not from personal experience.
Breed Specific Legislation has been banned in Florida for the past 20 years, but the legislation continues to be in play as lawmakers enter the final weeks of their annual session.
Currently, Miami-Dade County has a ban on pit bulls on the books, but officials say it has been difficult to enforce. Animal welfare advocates believe that given the opportunities, other communities would consider bans on pit bulls.
Baiss is an advocate for training. Her pit bull “Bear” does training sessions with a professional trainer to make him understand that he is not the alpha dog, but Baiss and her fiancé are the heads of their “pack”.
“You train children,” Baiss said. “Who’s going to argue against teaching a child obedience? But a dog’s a difference species so sometimes you need that expert opinion.”
Baiss’ campaign also encourages responsible ownership, training, socialization, regulation of the breeding and Canine Good Citizen Certification, offered by the American Kennel Club.
“They don’t have voices,” Baiss said. “You have to be their voice. You have to stick up for an abused child. You have to stick up for abused dogs, too.”
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.