Dear Mayor Menino: Breed Specific Legislation

This is a letter to the Mayor of Boston in response to SD 1247, a bill proposed by State Senator Mike Rush, that will open the door to allow breed bans and mandatory muzzling of specific breeds. Please help by writing or calling your State Rep, and in a courteous manner, ask that they do not support this bill.

I sent a similar letter to Senator Rush. 

Also, I really do wish to meet with the mayor or any other official that would like to make their constituents safer, and there are many ways to do so without breed bans. Ask any mail carrier or dog trainer - it's not just Pits that aggressively bark and bite! Please share my letter, or write your own if you feel so inspired. 


Greetings, Mr. Mayor!

I'm a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) in the Boston area, teach in Charlestown, and am really concerned about the proposed Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) regarding muzzling Pit Bulls. Here's where I'm concerned.

In a Fox 25 interview, you stated that there is "something in them that is vicious". I would like to formally invite you to one of my classes, or even a public training space so you can see with your own eyes where a blanketed statement such as that can be hurtful - not just to dogs that are considered bully breeds, but to dogs that really do need muzzles.

In the 10 years I've been teaching, I have witnessed several dogfights. In one particular fight, a beautiful Irish Setter charged at a bully breed (Mastiff/Staffordshire Terrier cross, which was labeled as a "Pit Mix”). The Irish Setter got off of his leash, charged at the Pit, and lunged with his teeth bared. The Pit turned his head away, and the Setter continued to instigate a fight. Eventually, the Setter lunged with his teeth bared at the Pits neck. The Setter turned and bit his owner when the owner tried to break up the fight. The entire time, the Pit just stood there, tail tucked, and took the assault.

In this instance, who should have been muzzled? My professional opinion would state the Setter, not this particular bully breed.

When I was attacked by the family Husky growing up (I still have the scars up and down my arm 30 years later), my dad dealt with that one particular dog, not the other 10 we used for dog sledding.

Lastly, I want to bring your attention to a young boy who took my Frisbee class with his dog. This dog is the quintessential Pit Bull type dog. Short, black, stocky, well muscled, and a boxy head. This boy had a form of Autism and couldn't focus. His mom got him a dog. This dog did EVERYTHING the boy asked, and the boy started to engage with the dog in a way that he hadn't engaged with anyone or anything before. This Staffordshire Terrier (what most people call Pit Bulls) was athletic, smart, sweet, and one of the best Frisbee Dogs I've ever seen. To see this boy light up when he worked with his dog was one of the highlights of my career. This family was told the dog was a Black Lab/Boxer mix by the rescue group. They had to continue to say that on all of their paperwork for the dog so their homeowners' insurance did not go up. If they said they had a Staffordshire Terrier, even as awesome as this dog is, they would not be able to afford the insurance. This dog changed this boys life for the better, and this is a model citizen dog.

My Border Collie could not pass the Canine Good Citizen test due to dog-dog aggression. Both dogs mentioned above absolutely could pass that test on any given day.

Please reconsider your stance on BSL. Take each dog as an individual and not brush all dogs with a certain aesthetic with a broad stroke. By doing so, you put undue stigmas on the good dogs while taking the focus away from educating the public on how to approach dogs, how to live with dogs and encourage the public to muzzle dogs that need to be muzzled (like an aggressive Irish Setter).

If you'd like to meet with me in a classroom so you can meet some dogs that (I promise) are of sound mind and well socialized, of all breeds, including some from the Bully Breed category, email me: mmccue@gmail.com. If you still feel that they are bullies after educating yourself, after reading this and getting around these dogs in person (you can make it a press event, I'd welcome cameras if you like), then I'll get off of my soapbox quietly. I implore you to have an event with animal behavior specialists, and professionals in the community that deal with these dogs every day. Do what you can first to educate yourself before going forward with this legislation. I feel that you’ll find there are other avenues to take to protect the citizens of Boston that are more effective and efficient - but you have to talk to the professionals in the community. I’d be happy to lead this effort if you’d let me.

You're the mayor of a big city, and I'd feel better if you got around these dogs in a safe environment, learned about dog body language, and how to change the city of Boston for the better regarding dogs that are actually vicious, instead of legislating against an entire, unenforceable group. Keep in mind that Pit Bulls aren't a breed, but a look, so it will be really hard to enforce. Would you ban just the Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pitbull Terrier or would you also include the American Bulldog, Bull Mastiffs, Swiss Mountain Dogs - who have a similarly boxy head? To emphasize how hard this legislation would be to enforce, try to find the one Pit Bull in this lineup.

There are so many things that we can do to make our cities safer and more friendly to animals and humans alike. You can lead the nation on this, but please reconsider BSL, and meet with animal professionals. We have great ideas that can be enforced and can make our city safer, but you have to talk to us instead of legislating broadly.

Thank you for your time.
Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA


  1. Count me in. I'm going to share your letter with Rep Coppinger and Sen Rush.

    City Councilor Rob Consalvo has also been working on this issue that he sees as ...dog on human violence, with a similar breed-centric view.

    Do you think dogs that have bitten humans should be required to wear a muzzle when outside of their owner's home?

    Should dogs that bite at the jugular be put down?

    - Francis

    1. Thanks for your response, Francis!

      I think for the safety of the public, a fearful dog who has bitten might need a muzzle, but the owner needs to also be proactive and take steps to ensure their dog is safe/the public is safe. This is equally true for bully breeds and any otther dog.

      There is a difference between reactive (my dog bites in response to someone getting too close) and aggressive (my dog goes charging down the street to attack someone, intentionally to do harm). The aggressive dog should prbably be muzzled for public safety. The reactive dog MIGHT consider muzzling. Both need to work with a professional to help the underlying issue.

    2. Very well said. I am a dog trainer. I have been bitten three times, and two of them were from small "fluff dogs" and once from my own when I put my hand out to protect another dog. It was before I was trained and put my dog in a position that he felt he was protecting me.

      ANY elected politician should be listening to its' constituents. Unfortunately, we have a Mayor that is blinded by his personal opinion with absolutely no facts to back him up. He thinks he knows more than, and wants to prove he has more power and pull than, our Governor!

      I urge Mayor Menino to sit down with professionals and listen. You can, and should, listen to both side, but with an open mind. There is not only no shame in admitting you came to a wrong conclusion but most people would applaud him for being big enough to admit it!

      Personally, I do not care for him and never have. I am looking forward to his last day as Mayor. And yes, I have an open mind and may even change my mind about him should he do the right thing.

  2. I'm sorry but have to disagree.

    It isn't a question of Pitts being the only breed that barks or bites. Nor are Pitts the breed that bites the most. But Pitts, as a breed, do bite more than others, are less predictable than other breeds, and inflict FAR worse damage. Poodles my bark and bite more, but they usually bite and release and the bites are not typically dangerous. Pitts bite, lock jaws, shake and tug. They zone out, disregard personal pain, and don't give up until broken from their 'trance'... they inflict horrific and many times life threatening wounds. I had a friend that spent ten years working with the Pitt rescue and finally gave up as the dogs were too far damaged or were uncontrollable and unpredictable even when well cared for so could not be safely placed in a home. I have close friends that love the breed and are great owners, knows the breed's quirks and tendencies, and deals with it. Lovely dogs. But even they have had to pull back from dog play groups, saw unpredictably aggressive behavior near a school and can't bring the dog to pick up their kids, etc.

    All breeds are descendants of initially wild dogs and have bred for certain traits. Dogs to work in the field, protect a home, ferret out vermin, retrieve birds in hunting, etc. Physical traits have been bred out or in to help, but also behavioral tendencies such as the tenacity of breeds used to hunt or the stubbornness of bulldogs. While the individual dog may have more or less of a tendency compared to others in the breed, those breeds will always have certain traits comparatively to other breeds. If you take generations of time to breed a dog that us good with family, learns quickly, and is obedient, you end up with Retrievers. If you breed one that is large, unfettered by weather, is mellow, and lives to be challenged with work then you get a Burmese Mountain dog. If you breed one to be aggressive, athletic, quick tempered, lock jawed, protective, and pain tolerant then you get a Pit. Do some Retrievers snap or bite? Yup. Do some Pits make good pets with the right owners? Yup. But you are always going against what generations have bred in and bred out.

    No one questions it if someone says bulldogs are typically lazy and stubborn. Or that poodles are smart but often high strung. We acknowledge breed tendencies and generalities. So why are we denying that some breeds bred to fight and inflict damage need to be treated differently as they are prone to be aggressive and can inflict terrible damage?

    1. Thank you for being courteous in your disagreement. There are a few things to consider:

      There are no national statistics as far as how many dog bites occur in a year. The only requirement is that if you go to the hospital, you are supposed to report the bite. That being said, the statistics aren't accurate because not every hospital reports, and not every owner can identify the dog that bit them.

      Lock jaw is a myth. If Pits had jaws that lock, eating would be a chore! They do have a massive muscle that allows for them to hold on with strength for long periods of time, but it is not a "lock jaw".

      You mention that you have friends that have had to pull back from dog play groups, and don't bring their dog to pick kids up at school. I think that is very responsible of your friends. I recommend that for ANY dog that is showing unpredictable behavior, not just the Pit Bull Type Dogs.

      We do acknowledge breed tendencies and generalities, but it's not fair to muzzle dogs that don't need muzzles on a case-by-case basis, and leave other dogs that can/do bite muzzle-less. If I had 10 dogs, 9 of which were pet therapy Pits and the 10th an aggressive Irish Setter, muzzling the 9 Pits would do nothing to decrease the statistical likelihood the one known biter has of another bite. What would decrease the likelihood of another bite would be to muzzle the Irish Setter.

      The degree of bite, though considerable, shouldn't matter when it comes to muzzling dogs. From the perspective of someone who has been attacked, it hurts if you are big in the face, leg or arm of any dog. Any dog can hold on and not let go (I saw it with my Border Collie), and German Shepherds are trained to do so by our military/police force every day.

      If you had your leg bit by a Basset Hound, your arm ripped open by a Husky, or needed surgery on your face because of a Corgi, then I bet muzzling Pit Bull Type Dogs will do nothing to remove the scars that you wear, and it does nothing to make you feel better.


    2. What CAN be done:
      -Ban backyard breeders/Puppy Mills. Many of these dogs come from stock that aren't tested for personality, which is hereditary. Have good breeders that are breeding for pet dogs in a registry that are easy to locate and find.
      -Set up legislation that if ANY dog bites a human, that dog is required to get help based on the circumstances of the bite: whether training, muzzle, drugs, etc. Heavy fines and jail time for repeat offenders.
      -Kids need to be educated about how to approach dogs. I can't tell you how many times small children race up to my dogs, squeeling, arms out stretched. Fortunately, my dogs are socialized to kids, but not all dogs are. Kids, when bit, tend to get bit in the face from their unpredictable behavior. If we can get into schools and institute a program (like DARE?) to educate kids on HOW to approach a dog, or how to tell if a dog needs space, we can significantly decrease the number of children bit each year.
      - Educate the public on the dangers of choke chains and prong collars, especially in the city. Ill timed "corrections" with these aversive training tools from well intending handlers(or not well-intending handler) can create severe aggression in any dog. That being said, you don't see a lot of Chihuahuas with prong collars....
      -A low-cost option for dog training in lower income areas to make sure everyone can get the basics: sit, down, stay, impulse control learning, drop it, and socialization.
      -Incentives to get a canine good citizen or other certification on a dog (lower cost of dog license?)

      I do find it interesting that you bring up the Bulldog being "lazy and stubborn" immediately after saying "but you are going against what generations have bred in and out". I often use the Bulldog as an example of breeding for personality. They were bred for centuries to attack and bring down Bulls. They were once looked at with the same fear and menace that the other Bully Breeds are looked at today. Breeders started breeding for gentle personality (and other things, like a giant head) in order to prevent the breed from being banned outright. The result is the Old English Bulldog that has a history of violent behavior, but is now not generally a dog people are rising up against with pitchforks.

      In some locales, the "lazy" Bulldog is still banned because of the logic you presented. Which is a shame - they are fantastic dogs.

      I'll still take my chances 1 on 1 with an individual dog and evaluate its behavior any day instead of assuming I'm going to need a dog to be muzzled because of its breed. To go into someones home ill prepared with my guard down because a dog, any dog, isn't muzzled is stupid and dangerous. I'd have been bit (by poodles, bulldogs, mixes and terriers alike) more often if I did.

    3. The comment about genetics (and how breed characteristics can change over time) is an interesting one, which to me provides another example of how BSL is an ineffective tool in the long run - even assuming it's effective in the now.

      To the extent that intentional breeding for aggressive temperment contributes to Pit Bulls* being more dangerous than other breeds, remember that the same type of selection can be done with other breed/breed types. If being the dog of choice for idiots has resulted in less-desirable traits in Pitties (and that's an "if" I'm accepting for the sake of argument) what happens when you ban Pits? Idiots simply pick another breed. In fact, if you look at historical data on dog bites, the breeds you find mentioned aren't Pitties, they're the breeds that were popular, and popular as "guard" dogs at the time. (I've seen a couple of studies referenced, and I'll try to find more links, but this is the only reference I could dig up on short notice http://www.gsdhelp.info/legalissues/fataldogattacks.html )

  3. Keep up the good work. Thank you, Dorothy's mom.

  4. Love your answers Melissa, very informative without being inflammatory! I own and foster pitbulls, have small children and adore the breed. I have to tell you though, I admire how you handle the replies and comments, normally I just have to walk away, lol