It has become apparent to us that the American Pit Bull Terrier’s future in South Africa is in deep trouble. Irresponsible breeding practices, fraudulent registration papers and irresponsible owners have lead to the breed’s downward spiral.
Dog bites, animal cruelty cases, and dog fighting have all lead to a breakdown in the breed’s image in society. The PBFSA has taken this to heart and has put together a 5-year plan to clean up the breed and safeguard its future in South Africa.
We have taken a holistic approach to our plans because the breed does not exist in one sphere, namely the show and breeding world. Therefore each element of this goal plan is closely linked to the others. While we know we cannot implement immediate and drastic changes all at once, the aim is to introduce new changes on a yearly basis, so that by 2021 the changes made will not only reduce the number of American Pit bulls being bred, but the breed will be preserved and its image in society changed.
- The American Pit Bull in South African society and challenges facing the breed in South Africa.
- The PBFSA’s obligations to the breed as a breed specific organization.
- Show and breed registration ethics.
- Breed education in South Africa (community as well as owner/breeder education)
- Preservation of the original American Pit Bull Terrier (this includes measures to be implemented over a period of 5 years)
The American Pit Bull Terrier in South Africa and challenges facing the breed in South Africa.
The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) has become a popular breed in South Africa, and a breed that seems to be wanted by not only responsible dog owners but unfortunately by those who should not own this breed.
Over breeding has lead to a boom in backyard breeding, with many unregistered pit bull puppies being bred out of registered parents. This cycle of breeding has lead to an explosion of unwanted pit bulls in shelters, as well as the American Pit Bull landing in the hands of those who abuse, neglect or fight with them.
The perception that most people have of the breed is that of a mean, aggressive people eating, dog fighting machine. This warped perception has lead to ill informed owners creating aggressive dogs. This often goes wrong, and has lead to many children and innocent adults being attacked by pit bulls. Owners who are not aware of the breed’s short comings and limitations often end up in situations where their dogs escape and kill or maim other animals.
Another problem facing the breed in South Africa is well meaning owners who don’t take their pit bulls for training, from puppyhood. Or they take them to trainers who use aversive based training. Both situations lead to the dogs developing behavioral issues that escalate over time. When the owners cannot cope anymore the dogs are either given away for free to unsuspecting owners who often cannot cope with the dogs, or they are surrendered to shelters.
Dog fighting and abuse of pit bulls has recently received a lot of spotlight and attention. The NSPCAs tireless efforts have resulted in the successful prosecution of those who cruelly exploit the breed.
All of these issues more often than not make front-page news, and paint both the breed and all American pit bull owners in a bad light. The perception this has created is one of either a breed to be pitied and banned for the sake of the dogs, or an image of a killer dog who has no place in civilized society.
The PBFSA proposes to implement various strategies, projects and steps to ensure the future of the breed. We aim to work in collaboration with various organisations and professionals to ensure that we cover all bases.
The PBFSA’s obligations as a show organisation.
As a show organisation as well as a breed specific organisation the PBFSA’s focus is not only on the preservation of the breed but also on all areas affecting the American Pit Bull terrier in South Africa. We view ourselves as custodians of the breed and therefore we have a duty to ensure that we steer the breed in a positive direction in South Africa.
This is a mammoth task and we are not arrogant as to think that we can do it alone. The PBFSA therefore recognizes the skills, knowledge and expertise of various professionals as integral to our mission to promote the breed and protect its image.
Therefore we have approached the National Council of SPCA’s as well as the Animal Behaviour consultants of South Africa to assist us in creating a goal plan that will benefit the American Pit Bull Terrier
Show and Breeder Ethics.
Towards the end of 2014 the National Councils of SPCAs (NSPCA) brought to our attention the blatant cruelty that was happing at pit bull shows or as a direct result of Pit Bull Shows. The PBFSA made the decision to implement immediate changes to address these issues. Since then we have aimed to improve on the improvements we made so as to ensure that the welfare of each and every show pit bull is always the very first priority.
Our changes up until 2016 can be summarised as follows.
On 12 March 2016 the PBFSA and UPA held a meeting with the registration bodies who are registering American Pit Bull Terriers in South Africa, during this meeting we brought to everyone’s attention the number of fraudulent pedigrees being circulated or issued by the breed registration bodies. The fraudulent registration of dogs is detrimental to the breed, often the dogs that are used in the breeding are unregistered, or they are other breeds. The PBFSA executive committee took the decision to implement minimum requirements for the acceptance of a registration body’s papers.
Over the next 5 years we will build on these requirements so that by 2021 we have set such a high standard, for breeders, that the average person cannot afford to breed and those who are breeding, are not only financially limited in how much they breed but more importantly the quality of puppies being bred will be high and true to original form and type.
(The requirements for 2016 and 2017 have been attached to this document. )
However in 2018-2021 we propose to bring in the following before any dog or bitch can be bred the following tests and screening has to be done on top of the requirements for 2016 and 2017.
- Compulsory hip and elbow dysplasia screening. Every dog and bitch will have to have his or her hips and elbows scored. Should the dogs’ hips and elbows fail, they may not be bred.
- Heart sonars to screen for genetic heart defects.
- MANADATORY breeding restrictions placed on every puppy by the breed registration bodies, which can only be lifted once every requirement has been met and can only be lifted after the dog turns 2 years old. This restriction is independent of any breeding ban or restriction placed on the puppy by the breeder.
- Every dog and bitch will need to be DNA profiled to exclude the presence of other breeds.
- Behavioural evaluation over a period of time- we are of the opinion that breeding dogs have to have sound temperaments, temperament is largely inherited, and therefore it is vital that litters are only bred out of dogs with stable sound temperaments.
- Mandatory kennel inspections.
- By the end of 2019 it will be compulsory for breeders to attend a breeders seminar before they are able to register as a breeder or kennel.
The PBFSA has also taken the decision to have a veterinary nurse present at every show, and recently we have invited the Animal Behavior Consultants of South Africa to be present at our shows, we welcome the idea of accredited behaviorists bringing along those who are studying to become behaviorists and trainers. By having these people at our shows means that dogs who have behavior issues can be identified, and their owners informed of this.
One of the temperament traits of the American Pit Bull Terrier is the lack of human aggression. Human aggression is a serious fault and dogs who are human aggressive should never be bred, and in a show setting should be disqualified. By having a behaviorist at the shows we can identify these dogs. Owners of these dogs will then have the option of working with a behaviorist to rectify the problem or at the very least manage the dog, therefore preventing the breeding of potential biters.
Breed Education in South Africa.
One of the biggest challenges facing the American Pit Bull Terrier in South Africa is the lack of knowledge and understanding of the breed. The PBFSA has a duty towards the breed to educate the South African public on all matters relating to the breed. We will also be implementing various seminars and workshops for owners and breeders, with the aim of improving the quality of life for all pit bulls.
The PBFSA plans to run workshops and programs on the following platforms by enlisting the help of various organisations with expertise in the various areas:
- Schools: Running bite prevention education for children of all ages as well as equipping teachers with a program to implement in the schools.
- Working with community leaders (teachers, priests/ministers and ward councilors to create programs and projects for young adults, in order to teach them how to care for their dogs, with the aims of steering them away from dog fighting, and lessening cruelty.
- Hosting fun shows and events in townships and lower income areas, with the aim of giving the members of these communities opportunity to learn about these dogs, as well as giving them something to do with their dogs other than to backyard breed and fight.
- Sterilization programs. The PBFSA aims to get a proper sterilization project off the ground. We are aware of the fact that many owners just do not have the funding to sterilize their dogs. We have been in talks with a few vets who are keen to come on board. The program wont offer free sterilization, instead we will ask a token payment from the dogs owners, therefore making them responsible for the dog.
- Making use of the media machine to our advantage. By getting local newspapers on board to publish breed specific articles, advertise workshops and also to do articles on the different projects, we can reach more people within the communities.
Owner and breeder Education.
It has become apparent to us that often the American Pit Bull Terriers own worst enemy is the people who own them. Owners often have unrealistic expectations of the breed and of their own dogs. Many people buy or adopt pit bulls for the wrong reasons, or they buy these dogs with an ill informed view of the breed in mind. When the pit bull does not live up to these expectations or the owners have created the proverbial monster the breed and the individual dog pays the price.
Many breeders have acquired dogs, shown them for a year or two and are of the opinion that they are experienced enough to breed their dogs. Little or no attention is paid to important things like bloodlines, genetics, temperament, adherence to breed standard, and the correct placing of puppies in homes. Many believe that because their dogs perform well at shows, or that they make great family pets, that they are sound breeding dogs.
This way of thinking has not only lead to “ inferior “ specimens of dog being bred, but it has lead to an explosion in the popularity of the breed often for the wrong reasons. Shelters across South Africa are facing an epidemic of unwanted pit bulls as a result of this.
The PBFSA recognizes a need within the community and within the realm of the pit bull world for breed education. Not only for those who are looking to potentially own a pit bull but for those who already own the breed.
Our planned projects now include.
- Breed seminars for new owners or those who are looking to own the American pit bull terrier. This will take place on a Saturday to make it accessible for those who work. A minimal cost will be charged, with funds going back into the PBFSA for use on various projects.
- Breeder seminars. These will be more in-depth and will become compulsory before the end of 2019. During these seminars, breeders and those interested in breeding will need to attend talks by animal behaviorists, veterinary specialists, the PBFSA and will require potential breeders to have a minimum of 24 working hours in an animal shelter. Our aim with these seminars is to equip kennel owners and breeders with basic knowledge on kennel management, the animals’ protection act, canine behavior and an understanding on this topic, the pit bull terrier breed standard and breeding of correct traits and breeding away from fault. The working hours at a shelter we believe is vital for breeders as it is a reality check for them to see the results of irresponsible breeding.
- The PBFSA has taken the decisions to approach the Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa, to run workshops, and talks for pit bull owners. A large problem within the breed is the fact that many owners do not train their dogs correctly, or they make use of outdated cruel training methods when working with their pit bulls. This leads to behavior problems developing and when it becomes too much the dogs are surrendered to shelters. By running workshops and educating owners, they are more likely to become responsible owners whos dogs are positive members of society.
- Bringing in obedience training and alternatives to the show sports.
Approaching the local municipalities to enforce by laws.
Backyard breeding and breeding of unregistered dogs has caused an overpopulation problem in South Africa, and has made the American Pit Bull Terrier too widely available. Many backyard breeders make use of petshops, online trading and social media sites to sell their puppies. The PBFSA is of the belief that this is not only damaging to the breed but also dangerous, as almost no breeding standards are applied to the breeding of these puppies. In most cases there is very little consideration for the health of the bitch, the dog or the puppies. Many backyard breeders use their dogs to supplement their incomes.
Unfortunately, the consequence of this type of breeding are far reaching and often scars the moral fiber of society. Children who witness the lack of compassion towards the family dog grow up thinking that this is ok, and will continue the cycle of neglect and abuse. The dogs are viewed as a means to an end, as well as objects. Puppies are seen as income or commodities.
This type of breeding often supplies the backyard or street fighting culture. More and more youngsters are being pulled into the dark underworld of dog fighting, and having such easy access to the American Pit Bull Terrier has complicated this, leading to more and more pit bulls falling victim to horrific abuse.
The increase in popularity of this breed has also seen an increase in dog bites. In most cases where the American Pit Bull has mauled someone badly, the dog is unregistered. Backyard breeders do not understand the concept of breeding dogs with correct temperaments. Often they are people who believe that their aggressive dog is how a pit bull should be and they promote their puppies as great watchdogs. Owners of the puppies then further create or raise aggressive dogs. There are just too many dog bites happening around South Africa, and most times the victims are either children or domestic workers.
The PBFSA feels that in order for this breed to survive in South Africa, backyard breeding needs to end or at the very least be curbed. By working in collaboration with legitimate animal welfare organisations, vets, behaviorists, and with the guidance of the NSPCA we plan to approach the various municipalities to enforce municipal by laws as is being done down in Port Elizabeth, George and other areas. By cutting down the number of backyard breeders, we will not only be lessening the burden on the animal welfare system and preserving the breed, we will also be preventing dog bites and reducing the suffering of many pit bulls.
Preservation of the Original American Pit Bull Terrier in a modern day setting.
Pit Bull shows and the show sports (weight pull, long hang, and high jump) have seen the breed mutating from a lean, athletic dog to a bulky, reactive and often human aggressive machine. Show breeders have bred bigger, bulkier dogs, which are unnaturally reactive (they call it driven), with no regard for what the APBT really is. The modern show dogs we see today bear no resemblance to the original APBT. Unfortunately breeding for extremes and for shows has been to the breeds’ detriment. Uninformed people have been roped into buying a dog that is not at all sound, and they then struggle with the dog, as it gets older. Most breeders believe that their responsibility ends the day the puppy leaves their care, leaving the new owners to figure it out for themselves.
The APBT was never bred to be a pulling, hanging or jumping dog so how do we preserve the old original type, helping the breed to evolve and function positively in a modern day setting
Firstly the PBFSA plans to go back to basics. Conformation will now become the main focus of our shows. Dogs will be judged against the breed standard. The PBFSA plans to change our show rules, and judges will now be given the option to withhold placing dogs. Dogs who do not conform to breed standard will no longer place at shows because they dominate in numbers. As per the original breed standard human aggressive dogs will be disqualified, and dogs with serious fault will be disqualified. Aggression issues will have to be evaluated and remedied before the dog may show again, and only if the behaviorist feels that it is in the dog’s best interests to continue showing.
With regards to working drive, the PBFSA has approached the Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa, and with the help of their organisation we now plan to bring in legitimate, dog friendly sports and events that test the APBTs ability to work, to think and will maintain the athletic side of the dog without causing harm. We feel that by doing this we can also remove the macho, gangster image that often gets attached to these dogs, when they are used to pull massive loads, hang or jump.
By going back to basics we hope to move back to the original type and while doing this, provide owners with a positive way to showcase their dogs.
The PBFSA understands that we have our work cut out for us, and that it will take a lot of perseverance and hard work. But we also feel that with the right people on board to help us we can take the American Pit Bull forward in modern society.