ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Montreal, it's about to become illegal to adopt or buy a pitbull. After a dog attacked and killed a 55-year-old woman, the Montreal City Council passed this ban, which goes into effect Monday. People who already own the dogs will have to register and sterilize them and muzzle them in public. This is just the latest place to ban these dogs. The neighboring province of Ontario already had a prohibition in place. Bronwen Dickey is a journalist and author of "Pit Bull: The Battle Over An American Icon" and joins us now.
Welcome to the program.
BRONWEN DICKEY: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: What is a pit bull exactly? Is it a distinctive, recognized breed?
DICKEY: So there are four pedigreed pit bull breeds. But multiple studies have confirmed that the visual identification of any dogs, but especially pit bull dogs, is highly subjective and unreliable.
SHAPIRO: It sounds like the old line about pornography. I know it when I see it.
DICKEY: Very much so. And especially when you look at Montreal's ban, I think something that should kind of take everyone aback is that there's a provision that says any dog that has a characteristic of a pit bull breed. And it doesn't say which characteristics they're even talking about. So, you know, four legs and a tail is a characteristic (laughter).
SHAPIRO: If there's not a lot of evidence showing that pit bulls are actually more aggressive than other dog breeds, why do so many of the dog attacks and fatal dog attacks that we see come from pit bulls?
DICKEY: Well, we're not sure that they do, first of all. So all the data that purport to say certain types of breeds attack more than other types of breeds are just completely suspect and unscientific.
SHAPIRO: Why do you think pit bulls have fallen into this particular niche?
DICKEY: I think part of what the media did during the 1980s for various reasons was to link the pit bull, in particular, to the urban underclass and make it this proxy for the, quote, "drug dealer" or thug or gang member. And because of all the things that were going on culturally and politically in the 1980s - it was the very beginning of the all-out assault of the drug war - that really struck a chord with people and made people terrified. It was this ongoing vilification of a certain social group.
SHAPIRO: If you saw a string of attacks by pit bull-type dogs in a city, what step would you advise that city to take if you don't think a ban is a good idea?
DICKEY: I would encourage anyone in the legislature to take the long view. So in Calgary, they have ownership by law that really zeroes in on the problem owners who are, you know, leading dogs to run at large, to menace people, to become a nuisance. And by enforcing the existing leash and containment laws and things like that, they've seen a dramatic reduction in bites.
SHAPIRO: Bronwen Dickey is a journalist and author of "Pit Bull: The Battle Over An American Icon." Thanks for joining us.
DICKEY: Thank you so much.
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