Here are some additional references on dog bites, dog bite fatalities and pit bulls, as well as a final rant.
The CDC listing of pit bulls as a 'dangerous breed' -- doesn't exist. The CDC lists no dog breeds as specifically dangerous and the comments of one of the main authors of the CDC study on dog bite fatalities (see next item) suggests strongly she finds the whole idea erroneous.
According to Dr. Gail Golab, co-author of the study and Assistant Director of the AVMA Education and Research Division. ". . . the breeds responsible for human fatalities have varied over time. Since 1975, dogs belonging to more than 30 breeds have been responsible for fatal attacks on people, including Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, a Yorkshire Terrier, and a Labrador Retriever,"
A CDC study of dog bite fatalities and breed-related issues. http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/dogbreeds.pdf This is the mother study -- the most comprehensive study of the subject I can find. I'll discuss it later in more detail as it relates to pit bulls.
A discussion of dog bites (as distinct from fatalities) in the US http://www.healthypet.com/library_view.aspx?ID &sid=1
A detailed study of dog bites in Denver in 1991 http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/dog3.pdf Only one city but some statistical analysis. It's interesting to note that the most common biting breeds were German Shepherds and Chows.
Article on the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association on 'dangerous' breeds. http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/nov00/s111500c.asp Short form: There effectively aren't any that are dangerous enough to be restricted or banned. This is a conclusion supported by the US humane society, the AKC
(which doesn't recognize pit bulls) and most other responsible groups.
Information from a book on fatal dog attacks http://www.fataldogattacks.com /
Quote from the web page: "Examination of newspaper archival records dating back to the 1950's and 1960's reveal the same types of severe and fatal attacks occurring then as today. The only difference is the breed of dog responsible for these events. A random study of 74 severe and fatal attacks reported in the Evening Bulletin (Philadelphia, PA) from 1964-1968, show no severe or fatal attacks by Rottweilers and only one attack attributed to a Pit-Bull-type dog. The dogs involved in most of these incidents were the breeds that were popular at the time."
I find this particularly significant because during that period pit bulls were, while not all that common, not all that rare as urban dogs in the US. This figures in the discussion of the CDC study below.
A San Francisco SPCA article on dog aggression, causes and cures. Note that it doesn't mention breed as a factor. http://www.sfspca.org/behavior/aggression.shtml#1
A UC Davis page devoted to articles, mostly from professional journals, on dog aggression. http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/CCAB/aggression.html
(I was particularly taken by the study that found a lot of aggression in Cocker Spaniels.) UCD is, of course, one of the country's leading veterinary schools. Again, notice that breed gets relatively little attention in the articles.
THE CDC STUDY AND PIT BULL FATALITIES Having read the CDC study on dog bite fatalities more carefully, I believe it considerably overstates the dangers of pit bulls because it fails to properly identify the dogs involved in many of the fatal attacks.
Before we look at why this is so, let's look at the Top 10 'killer' breeds in the US according to the study. They are
"Pit bull type" Rottweiler German Shepherd "Husky type" Malamute Doberman Chow Great Dane St. Bernard
In fact this is pretty much a list of the most popular large dog breeds in the United States. (The pit bull gets honorary 'large dog' status because of its extreme strength.) You'll note that both Great Danes and St. Bernards make the list of top killer dogs. There is no commonality of purpose among these breeds, which might indicate an in-born tendency to aggression. Some of these are guard dogs, some are working dogs and some are fighting dogs (including the Chow.) The only thing they have in common is size and that they are popular breeds. The conclusions are that the danger of a dog killing someone is related to its size more than anything else and what the dog was originally bred for is largely irrelevant.
(In this context it's interesting to note a dog which is _not_ on the list of killers. The Bull Mastiff. Bull Mastiffs were bred at the end of the 19th century as English gamekeepers' dogs to attack and bring down poachers. In the early 20th century a popular rural sport in England was to give a man a running start into the woods and then send a Bull Mastiff in after him. The object was to see how long it took the dog to bring down the man. If there was ever a breed that should be dangerous, the Bull Mastiff is it. Actually they're 110-pound pussycats. They're also not nearly as common as the dogs that are on the top 10 list.)
The second thing to note is that while the "pit bull type" dogs top the list over the 20-year period the study covers, the actual leader tends to vary from year to year. In 1979-1980, for instance, Great Danes led the list.
Now let's look at why the study probably greatly exaggerates the danger of pit bulls. First, note that the study doesn't talk about 'pit bulls', it talks about 'pit bull type' dogs.
Now even if you accurately identified all the dogs on the list, 'pit bull type' dogs (and these are purebreds) include five or six different breeds, including pit bulls, English bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers and others. The only other kind of dog lumped in this fashion is the 'husky type' -- which means that true pit bulls are ovverrepresented even under ideal conditions.
But conditions aren't ideal and a large number of those identifications are very likely erroneous. As I've pointed out before, the pit bull is uniquely suited to misidentification. In fact any medium-sized, short-haired, short-muzzled dog that attacks someone is likely to be identified as a pit bull. This doesn't really matter to the responding officers, ER doctors or others treating a dog bite victim and they aren't going to spend too much time identifying the breed of dog. However such misidentification produces a bias in the study that doesn't apply to more readily identifiable dogs.
This suspicion is reinforced by the year to year breakdown of fatalities. In the last five years of the study (1993-1998) pit bull fatalities drop off sharply and Rottweilers replace pit bulls as the most dangerous dogs. In fact in that period Rottweilers caused twice as many deaths as pit bulls.
Pit bull fatalities spike strongly in the years 1983 to 1990. This coincides with the period when pit bulls burst strongly on the American consciousness as dangerous dogs. In other words the time was ripe for media hysteria over pit bulls and that is exactly what you would expect to produce erroneous identifications -- especially since a great many people had never seen a pit bull in that period. They just knew they were dangerous dogs. Here the Philadelphia study is also relevant. Over a period of decades there was only one fatality involving a pit bull type dog. Pit bulls were around in that period, they were just obscure.
But the real 'smoking gun' is that pit bull fatalities decline sharply after 1990. Yet this is a period when pit bulls enjoyed an unprecedented growth in popularity. Although it is impossible to come by accurate statistics because the breed is not AKC recognized and the huge majority of pit bulls are not registered, it is certainly true that there are more pit bulls now than ever. At the very least the numbers of pit bulls in the US did not drop significantly. Yet the fatality statistics drop as the numbers of dogs grow.
The third peculiarity comes when we look at the number of fatal attacks involving mixed breed dogs. Here pit bull mixes rank third behind wolf hybrids and mixed breeds. Now assuming that the identifications are accurate, and assuming that there is such a thing as a 'dangerous breed', you would expect the hybrids to show the same dangerous tendencies, albeit less strongly. Yet they don't. On the other hand, if the dogs were being misidentified, this is exactly what you would expect.
You could object that mixed breed dogs are much more common than pit bull mixes so they would naturally cause more fatalities under the theory the more popular the dog, the more attacks. That might be true. However the argument breaks down for wolf hybrids, which caused the most mix-breed fatalities, because they are relatively uncommon.
But enough. Whether the CDC study is accurate or not, I think the evidence unequivocally demonstrates that pit bulls are not the 'four legged assault weapons' they were characterized as in the post that got me into this thread. I would further submit that the evidence shows that pit bulls are not an especially dangerous breed of dog.
As I said at the beginning of this thread, Pit Bulls are not a dog for everyone. A pit bull owner has a responsibility to socialize and train his pet carefully and to practice the other basics of responsible dog ownership. If you don't the consequences can get ugly. Nor do I expect everyone to warm to them the way I have.
I have found the Pit Bulls I have known to be friendly, gregarious, fun-loving animals who made superb pets. I don't expect everyone to agree with that evaluation and I know there are a lot of Pit Bulls who don't meet those criteria. But they are most certainly not the dogs from hell and as a breed they deserve better than their reputation.