My own fair city is back in the spotlight dealing with the aftermath of yet another tragic dog attack. In this case, a 75 year old woman was critically injured in her backyard by two pit bulls that got through a gap in their fence. My thoughts and prayers are with the victim and her family during this terrible time.
Now let me be clear on this: despite what you might read, the city is not considering a pit bull ban (quote from City Hall to that effect at the bottom of the article), and I am glad for that. The local newspaper has a poll up, not as a reflection of an action the city council is considering, but because they felt like asking it and thought it would be a good way to get traffic to the site, I guess.
Considering the panicked response on the web, I’d say that ploy worked, but please, don’t fret on the phone trying to get through a busy signal to vote on a meaningless poll. Our city has its share of knee jerk responders just like everywhere, but the general reaction I get here is: Oh, no, what have those owners allowed their dogs to do. As opposed to, say, “Eliminate all the pitties! Starting with Coupe!”
Just one year ago in our city, a two year old child was killed by the family German Shepherd in front of his three siblings while his mother slept in another room. This did not inspire polls or frantic Facebook campaigns about BSL, because of the one simple fact that the dog was a shepherd. I imagine had he been a pit bull, it would have been a different story. No less horrific, of course. And while German shepherds are one of the 75 breeds most commonly listed on BSL bans in the US, none seems to be as much of a lightning rod as the pit bull.
If I genuinely thought banning certain breeds would help prevent the death of a child, if I honestly and truly believed it in my heart, it is something I would consider. I would. I am a mother as well as a pet lover, after all. But the truth of the matter is that it won’t, the data has shown this time and time again, and it’s a useless waste of money to write and enforce this legislation at the expense of thousands of innocent pets’ lives when there are so many other things we should be focusing on other than DNA that would better help prevent animal attacks on people.
There are many more in-depth sources of information about the fallacy of breed specific legislation on the web, but to summarize the important points:
- BSL relies on the judgment of the animal control officer to determine whether a pet is a “dangerous” breed or not, with no reliable way to differentiate breeds. And what if you had a lab/pit mix? What percentage of pittie DNA, exactly, does one need to determine a dog is worthy of banishment?
- People forced to choose between their “dangerous” breed dogs and their apartment lease dump them at shelters, where they are overlooked by people frightened by the stories in the media. I don’t know how it is in your neck of the woods, but in our area I’m guessing at least 50% of the dogs are pit bull or pit bull mixes.
- Cities that have enacted breed bans have not seen a decrease in the number of animal bites. This is the most important thing, isn’t it? It doesn’t work.
Instead of trying to address the root causes of dog aggression, people just keep on adding breed after breed to the “bad dog” list hoping something will stick. One source lists over 150 breeds banned at various locations worldwide. The honest truth is that any dog can be dangerous, so should we just ban them all? Anyone feel safer?
That doesn’t mean we give up on looking for solutions. We should have something we can use to prosecute those who are responsible for such attacks. I fully support breed-neutral dangerous dog laws as defined by the ASPCA. I especially like the broad approach that looks for risk factors ahead of time based on behavior, not breed.
Rather than wasting money hounding people walking their perfectly well-mannered pittie down the street, we need to be focusing that time and energy on people and pets who, regardless of breed, are at risk for being a danger to others. From the ASPCA website:
The best, most effective breed-neutral dangerous dog laws include the following elements:
- Spay/neuter programs
- License law enforcement
- At-large/leash laws
- Anti-tethering measures
- Anti-cruelty and animal fighting law enforcement
- Progressive/tiered levels of violations and enforcement of laws
- Responsible ownership programs & dog bite prevention training
- Owners held civilly/criminally liable
- Mandatory microchipping
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read a news story on a dog attack and some neighbor is quoted as saying the dogs were always getting out, growling at them, giving off red flags left and right. Let’s go back to the recent San Diego incident for a minute. The critical information, buried in one of the many stories on the subject under “Pit Bull Attack” headlines, is this:
DeSousa said that officers have been called to the property at least twice [...] On Dec. 25, officers were again called to the home where a neighbor reported that one of the dogs involved in the Saturday incident had bit his poodle, DeSousa said. The man also suffered a minor bite to his leg while trying to break the dogs apart.
Officers came to the home where no one was home and found the dog on the front porch. It was taken to a shelter where it was reclaimed in January, DeSousa said. The man who reported the dog attack declined to press charges.
This did not happen out of nowhere, unfortunately. If we had ordinances in place to pre-emptively deal with these red-flag situations, there is a chance this terrible incident could have been avoided. Instead we have one critically injured innocent woman and 12 dead dogs (the dog in question and 11 puppies, euthanized at the owners’ request.)
When Toledo, Ohio actually looked at the data surrounding their pit bull ban, they realized that a breed ban did not reduce the number of dog bites. So in October, they got rid of it. Cleveland followed suit this week, leading the way for the state of Ohio to consider the removal of pit bull language from state law. In all cases, breed specific laws would be replaced by laws that define a dangerous dog by the behavior of the individual dog. As it should be. Bravo to Ohio and Illinois for working on similar measures.
So yes, San Diego, by all means, open the debate. But I propose if you’re going to go through all the effort to start the discussion, please, instead of just lazily rehashing the age old “ban pit bulls or not”, can we discuss implementing something that might actually do some good?