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Guide to Living With a Pit Bull in NYC

Dogs! They’re man’s best friend, a chew toy’s worst enemy, and are prominently featured on some of the best TikToks around. However, not all dogs are treated equally. Some breeds are seen as more aggressive like rottweilers and dobermans. Sadly, the majestic and goofy pit bull is also usually on that top three list, usually taking the number one spot. Just google “dangerous dogs” and you’ll find an endless stream of hate for these pups. Yet you’ll also find a lot of affection and advocates. So what’s the deal? Are pit bulls as bad and dangerous as people say? Did they earn their negative reputation? And what’s their status in this fair city of ours?

What Dogs Are Banned in NYC?

Sadly, due to their negative reputation, NYC doesn’t allow pit bulls to live in public housing. The same goes for rottweilers and dobermans too. All these breeds are seen as dangerous and aggressive. The justification for this is a study done in 2000 by the CDC, the Humane Society, and the American Veterinary and Medical Association. The study has shown that rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs are responsible for 67% of fatal dog attacks. Specifically, it states that pit bull-like dogs account for one-third of these fatal attacks.

If the phrasing of “pit bull like dog” bothers you, it should. A review done of this study noted that the information was from older records and eyewitness testimony, which means a larger than average margin of error is likely. Additionally, the American Veterinary and Medical Association admitted that breed was a poor indicator of aggression, even citing controlled studies that could not identify pit bulls as disproportionately dangerous to other breeds. The same study goes on to say that the popularity of the breed could have contributed to their high fatality numbers and cites that the most “dangerous” dog breed in Canada was the husky, the most popular breed in that country.

So is it fair to ban pit bulls simply because the numbers are stacked against them? Sadly, it’s more than just numbers, but public perception too. Despite countless articles, like this Newsweek piece from 2021, debunking myths of extreme violence in the breed, people still see pit bulls as aggressive fighting dogs. In some cases, people do use pit bulls for protection. Some monstrous people even use them for dog fighting. However, that’s not the breed’s fault. It’s the fault of negligent and abusive owners. 

The reality is that pit bulls were never meant to be fighting dogs because they aren’t even a consistent breed. Pit bulls can be a cross between terriers and bulldogs of many varieties. This made the “breed” versatile for a variety of tasks. However, no one is interested in the etymology of these dogs, just their continued persona. This has always baffled me. Personally, every pit bull I have met has either been the sweetest thing on four legs or a coward that’s afraid of plastic bags. They aren’t even, statistically, the dogs that are most likely to bite you.

When it comes to aggressive behaviors, small dog breeds take the cake by a wide margin. Chihuahuas and miniature poodles, especially, have a mean streak with owners and strangers alike. Again, aggressive behaviors aren’t breed-specific. There could be a variety of reasons these small dogs are aggressive. Their size could encourage them to be warier or their owners might encourage behaviors, like jumping and nipping, that would be frowned upon by large dog breeds. Either way, no one is seeking to ban the chihuahua from NYC public housing.

What Dogs Are Known as Aggressive Breeds?

“But Russell, those dogs are so small that their bites would never kill you!” You’re right, reader. So let’s look at a dog whose bite can and does kill people. In a survey done by Forbes of the top ten deadliest dog breeds, the labrador retriever made the top ten list. That’s right. A dog that is in no way associated with aggression made a top ten list for dogs that kill. And, while pit bulls sadly still made the top of said list, the labrador still killed more people than dobermans did, and dobermans are also banned in NYC public housing. And all of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt because, again, BREED IS NOT AN INDICATOR OF AGGRESSION.

The reality of the situation is that you are very unlikely to be killed by a dog of any breed. Only 40 recorded fatalities in 2017 came from dog bites, so you’re far more likely to be killed by a human being. In a way, though, even if you are attacked by a dog, it’s still most likely a human’s fault. It might even be yours! Dogs really only attack people if they feel threatened, which would explain why pit bulls who have been abused would lash out. It’s for their own protection. However, that protective instinct has earned them a nasty reputation that advocates will spend their entire lives trying to fix.

Every so often, NYC threatens to ban pit bulls outright. That’s not likely to happen, but the ban on them in public housing doesn’t appear to be going away either. Depending on how you look at things here, NYC is nothing compared to other cities. There are many places around the world that outright ban the breed, and the entirety of the UK has made them illegal and puts them to sleep should one be caught.

No dog is born aggressive just like no human is born aggressive. We are all a product of our upbringing and surroundings, and that includes dogs. Nurture, train, and love your pet, and your pet will love you too. Neglect and abuse your pet, and it will become aggressive and paranoid. It’s time to stop blaming dogs for the mistakes of man. Pit bulls are a wonderful breed that has brought joy to many families. The laws against them make no sense and should be overturned.

Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528