NORFOLK, Va. — It was a blazing-hot day when PETA’s fieldworker found her.
Star — a pit bull PETA’s fieldworkers had been visiting and helping for years, providing her with food, water, a doghouse and much-needed affection — was dead on a chain. It had become tightly wrapped around a pole and a bone-dry concrete water bowl, preventing her from reaching shade or shelter. Star broiled to death on the patch of dirt where she’d been forced to eat, sleep and relieve herself for years.
Star’s case is far from unique. During my years of working to protect abused and neglected animals, I’ve seen firsthand that pit bulls are the dogs who suffer the most at human hands. More than any other breed, they are sought out and exploited. Their muscular physique, large jaws, “tough” appearance and willingness to do anything to please their guardians make them targets for dogfighters, drug dealers and others with cruel intentions.
That’s exactly why people who love pit bulls — and by “love,” I mean truly have pit bulls’ best interests at heart — should support laws regulating these dogs’ acquisition and care, including requiring them to be spayed or neutered.
PETA’s fieldworkers routinely find pit bulls suffering from heartworm disease, internal and external parasites and/or bite wounds. They strain at heavy chains or pace in small, filthy makeshift pens, kept outdoors 24/7 through all weather extremes.
Storm, another chained pit bull, was only 4 years old, but years of neglect and overbreeding had left her with the physical condition of a much older dog. Her owner finally surrendered her after PETA’s fieldworker found that her collar was deeply and painfully embedded in her neck. Storm was suffering from terrible arthritis and other serious, terminal health issues, and euthanasia was the kindest thing that could be done.
When I was an animal control officer, I met countless pit bulls who were scarred all over from fights. Their owners admitted that they chained the dogs to “bulk them up” and “make them mean.” One man even told me that his pit bull had been fed gunpowder and was “never right after that.” He was a huge, handsome dog who was eventually shot to death by a police officer because he attacked another dog and wouldn’t let go.
It’s no surprise that these dogs — who were bred to kill each other in a pit and are disproportionately neglected and abused — often lash out, attacking other dogs or humans, sometimes fatally. But legislation can save lives: In San Francisco, the number of pit bulls euthanized by animal control dropped 24 percent 18 months after the city passed a pit bull sterilization ordinance, and animal control officers reported that the pit bulls they encountered were calmer and better socialized — a result of sterilization.
Pit bulls are the number-one breed admitted to many animal shelters, and countless others eke out an existence on the streets. Some 70 million homeless companion animals are struggling to survive on any given day in the United States, so why breed more dogs of any kind?
PETA’s mobile veterinary clinics sterilize pit bulls free of charge — 1,797 just since the beginning of 2020. But we can’t fix this national crisis alone. Communities must act, by passing meaningful animal-care laws.
Restricting and regulating ownership of pit bulls protects dogs like Star and Storm by keeping them out of the clutches of people who seek them out specifically to exploit and abuse them. People who cry “Discrimination!” should ask themselves whether they care about animals’ best interests, their own selfish desire to possess a certain type of dog or a misguided sense of “justice” that has harmful and even deadly consequences for the dogs they claim to love.
Not all pit bulls are abused, and the lucky ones who are cared for by loving and responsible guardians should be allowed to live out their lives with their families. PETA has always supported laws that grandfather in pit bulls who are sterilized, kept indoors and treated as individuals, not security systems or status symbols.
Preventing more pit bulls from being born into a world where so many of them are exploited, abandoned or tormented isn’t breed-specific discrimination — it’s breed-specific protection. Pit bulls are bred, fought, abused and neglected because of their breed. It’s not only fair but also essential to protect and regulate them based on their breed as well.
Teresa Chagrin is the animal care and control issues manager in the Cruelty Investigations Department of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Virginia. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.