Oct. 9, 2000
A 6-week-old girl died Saturday night after she was mauled by the family’s dog, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department ...
As you read the first paragraph of this Los Angeles Times article, you are likely thinking, “a pit bull did it,” but you would be wrong. The article continues:
An uncle babysitting the newborn left the child on a bed unattended while he went to the kitchen to prepare a bottle for her, Solis said. When he returned, he found the family’s Pomeranian dog on the bed attacking the baby. The man freed the child from the dog and called for help. The baby died shortly after at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina ...
That’s right – a Pomeranian.
Karen Delise’s groundbreaking book, Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics,details every human death by canine in the United States over four decades (1960s through 2000s). The stories are disturbing, but there are three common denominators in nearly 100 percent of the cases: the attacking dog is an unneutered male; the dog is isolated or semi-isolated (kept in a backyard, on a chain, in a garage); and human irresponsibility either on the part of the dog’s owner or the victim (unattended children, taunting a chained dog, training dogs for fighting, or encouraging human aggression).
While Rottweilers and pit bulls (a general term covering a wide number of “pit bull type dogs”) make up the majority of fatalities, nearly 40 breeds have been involved in deadly attacks: a dachshund crawled in a crib and killed an infant; a Labrador retriever killed a 7-year-old boy at a picnic; a man went to prison for using his shepherd-mix as a “deadly weapon” to kill his pregnant girlfriend; a golden retriever playing with a 4-year-old girl in her bedroom killed her while the child’s parents were making dinner in the kitchen. Most of these cases don’t receive any media attention because “vicious dachshund attack” isn’t as sensational as “vicious pit bull attack.” (Dachshunds, by the way, are the number one biting dog in America, followed by Chihuahuas and Jack Russell terriers.)
DOGS PALE IN COMPARISON TO MEN, BEES AND PARENTS
Despite what you read in tabloid-style stories written by the uninformed, headline-hungry San Francisco media, fatal dog attacks are extremely rare. With nearly 80 million dogs in the United States there are less than 30 fatalities on average per year. By comparison the human population is four times higher than the dog population and averages 17,000 murders annually – more than 500 times the number of dog-related deaths.
As with dog fatalities, unneutered males make up the vast majority, with 90 percent of murders committed by men. Even more shocking is the fact that five children die from abuse at the hands of their biological parents every day in the United States. That’s 1,825 children killed by their parents each year – more than in the war in Afghanistan.
While humans by a wide margin rank as the number one animal that kills, number two is the bee, with more than 50 stinging deaths annually. But even animals considered placid kill – cows, for example, cause over 20 fatalities per year, usually by crushing humans with their heads.
The recent tragic case in Pacifica, where an unneutered pit bull named Gunner allegedly mauled his pregnant owner to death (early autopsy results proved conclusively that a second pit bull in the house – a spayed female – was not involved in the attack), has reignited the debate about pit bulls. In reality it should spur lawmakers to finally pass mandatory spay and neuter laws and to strengthen breeding regulations. Statistically, with the exception of breeding frenzy or pack mentality, female dogs don’t kill. Spayed female dogs, except in pack situations, are also rarely killers, as are neutered males. The fact that 98 percent of fatal dog attacks involve unneutered male dogs should be a huge red flag to lawmakers in Sacramento, some of whom I have talked to for years about this very topic. The problem is, of course, a political one – dog breeders who rake in thousands of dollars don’t want to be regulated. Our lawmakers unfortunately are mostly neutered males, afraid to take a stand against a noisy vocal minority.
The sad fact is that backyard breeders carelessly throw dogs together bought on Craig’s List with no regard for health or temperament. They sell those dogs to other idiots, who in turn produce more badly bred dogs, and the cycle continues. In Fresno County alone over 40,000 animals are put to death each year for lack of homes. Nationwide, of the eight million animals entering our shelter system annually, over four million are killed. Pit bulls – the most widely backyard-bred dog – fare the worst: over 97 percent are euthanized. These statistics alone should tell a civilized society that something needs to be done to stop the needless killing of millions of animals brought into the world by greedy, ignorant or irresponsible humans.
BREED BANS DON’T WORK
Grandstanding Sonoma Mayor Pro Tem Joanne Sanders said she’s considering proposing a pit bull ban in her North Bay city despite the fact there has never been a fatal pit bull attack there. (I reached out to Sanders for this article but my calls and e-mails went unreturned.) It’s tough talk coming from a politician playing on her citizens’ irrational fears, but unfortunately for the uneducated Sanders, statistics prove that breed bans don’t work.
In draconian Denver, Colo. the passage of the toughest pit bull ban in the country caused thousands of people to ship their pets out of the city, while hundreds of dogs that “looked like pit bulls” were ripped from their owners’ arms, dragged from their homes, and routinely rounded up and exterminated. However, since enacting the ban in 2005, severe dog bite injuries have actually increased in Denver – they now have the highest rate of dog bite hospitalizations in the state, outpacing other Colorado cities that don’t have breed bans. The number one culprits in Denver are now Labrador retrievers, accounting for nearly 14 percent of the hospitalizations.
The smarter city of San Francisco enacted a mandatory spaying and neutering law for pit bulls in 2006 that has proven very successful – since its passage, there hasn’t been a single major incident involving a neutered pit bull (the few attacks, all nonfatal, have involved unneutered dogs). Also because of this legislation, San Francisco Animal Care and Control impounds 21 percent fewer pit bulls, while the killing of unwanted pit bulls has dropped nearly 25 percent.
FROM ‘AMERICA’S DOG’ TO THE CHOICE OF VIOLENT THUGS
Myths about pit bulls abound, from locking jaws (untrue – the only animal with a locking jaw is the crocodile) to having the strongest bite pressure per pound (also untrue – they rank below Rottweilers, mastiffs and German shepherds). The pit bull’s reputation for random human aggression is also unfounded. They were originally bred in England as “nanny dogs” to watch the children while their parents were working. When English men, who liked the breed’s muscular, compact body and tenacious terrier personality, began training them for dogfights, any animal that showed aggression toward its owner was killed, thus breeding that trait out of the line.
According to the American Temperament Test Society, which started testing breeds in 1977 for their ability to “interact with humans, human situations and the environment,” pit bulls have a passing rate of 86 percent – slightly higher than golden retrievers, which passed 84 percent of the time, and considerably higher than Shetland sheepdogs at 68 percent, Cardigan Welsh corgis at 79 percent, and cocker spaniels at 82 percent.
For many years pit bull terriers were considered “America’s Dog.” Teddy Roosevelt had one, as did Helen Keller. Most of the dogs in old family photos sitting on front porches were pit bulls. Petey, who spent countless hours with his child co-stars, “The Little Rascals,” in the Our Gang television series and one of the most beloved TV dogs of all time, was also a pit bull. And Sergeant Stubby – America’s first and most decorated canine war hero who earned countless medals during World War I and was honored at the White House – was a pit bull, too.
Modern-day pit bulls, however, are by far the most over-bred, abused and neglected dog breed in America, yet there are remarkably few attacks, fatal or otherwise. People sometimes use the rationale that “you don’t see golden retrievers killing people.” As I pointed out earlier, golden retrievers have killed people – but more important, by and large, they live pampered lives with responsible owners. Pit bulls are rarely so lucky.
Just days after the Pacifica incident was splashed across every front page in San Francisco, another much more common pit bull scenario was quietly buried or not reported at all: a starving puppy found in a San Leandro marijuana grow house. Police discovered the dog when they were called to the address by neighbors who said the home’s two occupants were chasing another man around with guns. The pit bull was “in distress” and taken to an emergency veterinary hospital by law enforcement, but you won’t hear about this story, or the hundreds of others like it that play out every day. The fact is we always hear the sensational stories about the one in a million pit bull that attacks a human, but unless it’s high profile like the Michael Vick case, we don’t hear about the millions of mistreated pit bulls throughout America that – despite being beaten, starved, tortured, left at the end of a chain, or forced to fight other dogs – never turn on those abusive humans, or any other humans for that matter.
Vick, like many sadistic criminals, did horrific things to pit bulls who lost fights or didn’t want to fight, including hanging them from trees, drowning them in buckets, and attaching live battery cables to their ears and tossing them into the swimming pool; he and his friends laughed as the dogs scrambled to get out (they didn’t get out – they were slowly, painfully electrocuted). Yet the Vick dogs never once attacked Vick or his cohorts, and the ones that survived Vick’s house of horrors (despite being petrified of humans at first) have gone on to live productive lives as therapy dogs, search and rescue heroes, agility champions, and family pets. They have forgiven the human race for the atrocities they endured, and, in fact, craved affection, were eager to please, and learned to trust soon after their rescue.
Like the vast majority of pit bulls, none of Vick’s former dogs has ever harmed a human. Too bad we can’t say that about the thousands of humans who harm animals – including their fellow humans – each and every day.