'American' Pit Bulls: Off With Their Heads

Pit bull terriers are not exactly cuddly. All of them look mean; some really are, and one on a snarling rampage can make the Tasmanian devil look like a French poodle. But the British government suddenly decreed last week that all members of the breed should be dealt with like an American werewolf in London and, yes, killed. That's right: 10,000 dogs on death row.

The decision was provoked by horrific press accounts of two incidents in which young children were mauled by the beasts. "Such dogs," declared Prime Minister John Major, "have no place in our homes." But the outcry soon took on odd chauvinistic overtones. The canines in question are called, in Britain, "American" pit bull terriers (as distinguished from the ever-so-patriotic British bulldog). Class, too, came into play. The terrible terriers are popular mainly among lower-income urbanites. John MacDougall, chairman of the upper-crust London Kennel Club, sniffed that his organization, certainly, "has never recognized this breed and can see no merit in it." So? Bring out the death warrants.

But a reprieve may be on the way. A top official of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said his staff would not be used as "state executioners," while animal lovers expressed worries that this notion of canine muzzling might get out of control. After all, a few weeks ago the queen herself was bitten by one of her Welsh corgis ...