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Collar The Owners Of All Vicious Dogs, Experts Say

September 19, 1987 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ Laws should force pet owners to bear responsibility for vicious dogs of any breed rather than focusing on pit bull terriers as the news media have, experts at a national conference said.

″People make the dogs what they are,″ Fred Miller, president of the United Kennel Club, said Friday. ″The dogs creating the problems around the country are mixed-bred dogs, not purebred.″

Miller was one of a dozen speakers at a conference at Tufts University titled ″The Pit Bull Terrier Revisited: How To Break The Vicious Circle.″

The speakers agreed legislation is needed to tighten animal control laws and force more responsibility on dog owners. They differed, however, about widespread fear that pit bulls are particularly dangerous.

Ed Swift of Sports Illustrated, who wrote a cover story on the animals, acknowledged that the news media have played up pit bull attacks, but he criticized advocates of the breed for failing to understand people’s fears.

‴Dog bites man isn’t news,′ I was told time and time again by pit bull lovers, ‘but pit bull bites man is news.’ These people do not seem to understand the difference between a bite and a maiming, but in the victim’s view there is a larger difference,″ he said.

Several participants in the conference traced the pit bull scare to a report on ABC’s ″20-20″ program several years ago in which the dog was described as being to other dogs what ″Superman is to mortal man,″ Miller said.

″When anybody in the country now thinks of a mean dog, they think of the pit bull,″ said Randall Lockwood, an animal behaviorist and director of higher education programs for the Humane Society of the United States.

The society reported 13 deaths blamed on pit bulls last year and six this year as of July.

The name pit bull is used for several breeds, including the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the American pit bull terrier and sometimes the bull terrier. Bred over the centuries for dog fighting, they have powerful chest, neck and jaw muscles.

Mike Lawrence, a reporter for Boston’s WNEV-TV who has covered several local pit bull attacks, called the negative attention given almost exclusively to pit bulls ″canine racism.″

To illustrate their belief that the pit bull has been unjustly publicized as murderous, several panelists pointed out that the animal has never been the dog of choice by police, the military or other security organizations.

″Why doesn’t the attack dog industry use them?″ said Lockwood. ″It’s always the German shepherd and to a lesser extent, the rottweiler.″

Andrew Rowan, director of the Tufts University Center for Animals, said one reason pit bulls have been targeted over other dangerous dogs is their resistance to pain when disciplined or restrained.

″They’re a good choice for the demonic dog of the ’80s, because they can tolerate pain more than most animals,″ Rowan said. ″But to condemn them for this quality is unfair.″

Legislation proposed at the conference to ensure public safety while safeguarding the rights of pit bulls and their owners centered on more aggressive enforcement of existing dog laws and stiffer penalties for owners.

″Many municipalities tried to deal with the problem by banning pit bull terriers,″ said Massachusetts state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley.

″This does not work and is at best a Band-Aid solution. Breed-specific legislation is not the answer to vicious dog attacks that can kill or maim.″