Last updateFri, 04 Jul 2014 5pm

Pit Bull Visual Identification In Grant County, Washington

Who Is That Man Who Classified My Dog as a Pit Bull?
And What Are His Qualifications?
Part I of a Series

Science Shows Unreliability of Visual ID

BSL advocates continue to say that visual identification of Pit Bulls is accurate and reliable. This completely ignores the science of canine genetics and the study done by Victoria Voith.  In Voith's study, shelter dogs were given DNA tests, and shelter workers were then asked to assign a breed to each dog.  They were right only 25% of the time-much less than chance.

Real World Application of Pit Bull Identification
It's A Pit Bull If I Say So

How does Pit Bull Identification play out in real life?  There is no training for such a job.  The Animal Control Association does not offer a course in it.  I could not find any entity that teaches in a formal, scientific way how to properly identify a Pit Bull. Let's take a look at the deposition of the animal control officer in charge of Pit Bull identification in Grant County, Washington, to see how its done and the qualifications and experience of the person doing it.

Grant County Washington Experience 

Dymond - The "Pit Bull"

For those of you who want the full treatment, you can read the sixty page deposition here.  A short excerpted version is set out below.  The dog involved is Dymond, the dog pictured above.  DNA showed 75% Lab. The Animal Control Officer, when showed a picture of Dymond in the deposition, could not identify the dog as a pit bull. Keep in mind the the Grant County ordinance defined a pit bull as any dog that had an element of the breed and they agreed to repeal BSL rather than fight this lawsuit.

Experience, Training and Qualifications In Visual ID 

Q: So before you signed up with MLPD, what type of work did you do?

A:  I was a potato processing plant worked as a laborer, I would call it.

Q:  And education?

A:  High School

Q:  Any classes in genetics?

A:  Genetics? No.

Q: --But do you recall actually a specfic class or seminar that dealt just with identifying breeds?

A: I don't recall, no.

Q:  Have you ever bred dogs?

A:  Bred dogs? No.

Basis of visual ID Howell Book of Dogs and the "Internet"

Q:  So you were going through an explanation of how you would train me.....How would I become familiar with these particular breeds?

A:  We have this book, the Howell book.

Q:  So for the record, you're referring to -- you're pointing to the Howell Book of Dogs, the definitive reference to 300 breeds and varieties by Liz Palika.

A:  Yes. The Internet has a lot of information out there about breeds.....

Q:  So is there something that's within the police department that is a standard operating procedure manual protocol, anything that directs an officer to that book, the Howell Book of Dog or any of the other breed identification resources that you've just described?

A:  I don't recall.  I don't know.

Q:  Is that the one that you carry with you?

A:  Yes, that's in our vehicle.

Q:  (T)he AKC breed standard, is that a standard by which you enforce this part of the code to identify breed?

A:  It is part of it, yes.

Q:  And the CKC?

A:  I don't know what that is.

Q:  Canadian Kennel Club.

A:  Could be.

Q:  Well, you tell me, tell me which -- so you've identified this book and the Internet, so fill in some gaps. What other standards do you refer to in order to identify a breed?

A:  The breeds itself and on the Internet. The description of the type of dogs.

Q:  But where on the Internet? I mean, like what resource or reference do you go by in order to identify the dogs by breed?

A:  Google Pitbull or Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit. In general.

Q:  So how do you authenticate what you see on the Internet? I mean, you know everything on the Internet is true?

A:  That's correct. I have resources, I talk to Carmen, which is the Grant County Animal Control Outreach manager....Sometimes I ask her, hey what do you think this dog is? Her opinion.

Q:  But she is not a formal part of the process of --

A:  No, shes not.

Reaching An Opinion on Breed

Q:  What about mixed breeds, did she (Carmen) ....agree with you that the dog had an element of a particular breed at the same level that you believe the dog had an element?

A:  I've asked her...

Q:  (D)id she say that dog is this percentage of this much qualitatively?....

A:  It varies.  It depends. Normally she says, yeah, it could have elements, an element of the breed in there, Never a percentage. Because I would know what a percentage would be, you know, high percentage, low percentage....Because it doesn't state in the chapter what percentage. It just says "any element of that breed."

Q:  So I'm out in the field and I see a dog and I think the dog looks Pit but it's probably a mix, so how do I know whether to delcare the dog hazardous based on the language "contains an element of...." How would I do it?.....

A:  I would tell him to contact the owner, ask what type of the dog that is and go from there.

Q:  But how do I know that the owner's telling me the truth?

A:  You don't.

Q:  So what if I either don't believe the owner -- then what...?

A:  I would ask them if they had any documentation and maybe get another reference person to come in, could be a veterinarian, maybe the --Carmen from the Humane Society....

Q:  (I)f the owner confesses his or her belief that the dog is a particular breed, that doesn't necessarily mean, does it, that the dog is identifiable to you as part of that breed, right?  (I)sn't this based on visual ID?

A:  Probably both.  A lot of it has to do with visual, being visual, seeing what type -- what are the characteristics of the dog, the description of the dog. 

Q:  (W)hat is an element....How do you enforce that?

A:  If I look at the characteristics of the that dog, if it appears, in my opinion, that it could have an element of said breed, then I would let them know that, you know,  in my opinion I think that it possibly could have a Pitbull, hazardous dog type breed in it.

Q:  (H)alf of the dog is Pit, a fourth of the percent of the dog?  I mean how much is enough?

A:  Of the characteristics that I see, just visually, because I am not a vet, obviously, an that dog appears to me, in my opinion, it could have any of those breeds, then I will make that assessment and/or if it's --if they're real adamant about it, I might ask somebody else to come in and ask for their opinion, somebody that's more knowledgable than I am, possibly a vet.

Q:  So what if .... the DNA says the dog is only 25% percent AmStaff, but the rest is Shepherd, is that enough?

A:  In my opinion, the way I read the city ordinance there, yes, that's enough, any element of that breed.

Q: 10 percent?

A:  Same thing.

Q: One percent?  

A:  The percentages for me, because I don't know what the percentages are or anything like that, and there's no way of telling, is the appearance of the dog.

Q:  Who told you to enforce it that way?

A:   That's my impression.....I've had questions and I have talked to my supervisor and that what we came up with; any element of that breed....I don't know if we've talked about specific 10 percent, 20 percent, what element means.


I don't blame the Animal Control Officer for doing his job.  He's doing what he's been told to do.  It's Grant County putting him out there to do a job that is not based on any science and for which he has no qualifications.

Next we will take a look at the visual identification of Dymond, the specific dog involved in the case.  Stay tuned.

And check us out on the new PBLN Internet radio station Tuesday, April 10th at 8:00 pm. We will be broadcasting for 1 hour every Tuesday at 8:00 discussing the latest in BSL, and legal developments. 


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