In my Wednesday newspaper column, I wrote about ways to try and put an end to dog attacks (dog bites, maulings, killing other animals and humans). I was inspired to do this when a 2-year-old child died after being mauled by three pit bulls in a Concord, CA, garage on July 22 … and a 7-year-old girl who had a chunk bitten out of her cheek by a pit bull on July 24 in Oakland, CA. You can read that column here: http://www.contracostatimes.com/columns/ci_15614088
I asked if there was anyone else out there in never-never land who had any answers to ending attacks on people by aggressive dogs. Below are four of the responses I received. I am curious how you feel about what they have to say. Please feel free to add your own comments to these letters in the space provided.
READERS RESPOND: SUGGESTING WAYS TO END DOG ATTACKS
As you know, people are bitten by dogs every day…and we as a culture seem to vilify different breeds in succession.
Growing up I can remember that other breeds were feared and vilified, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers and now what we call pit bulls.
Dogs are never good or bad in and of themselves. They live well in our communities or don’t live well in our communities as a function of the humans who are responsible for them.
We as a culture are reactive and quick to make unenforceable rules when tragic events occur. The idea of ‘banning’ a breed or somehow controlling how people live with their animals is pretty unrealistic. These ‘rules’ generally impact the people who are already living responsibly with their pets in the community. These are the folks who already license their animals, vaccinate them, take them to the vet and make reasoned decisions about their animal’s reproductive lives.
These responsible dog owners are visible in the ‘system’ in ways that make them the only people impacted by such changes in legislation and by breed bans. By and large, these are NOT the people at the center of tragic animal focused stories.
With stretched budgets and lack of staff to enforce existing laws, the idea of additional regulation is unrealistic and misguided. We as communities need to provide better education about how to live with dogs … all dogs. We need to be clear about the need for ongoing socialization, daily exercise and proper handling and interaction with all dogs. Dogs are a huge responsibility and not an accessory as they seem to have become.
Columns like yours, television programs, activities and classes at the local animal shelters, these are the stuff of improved community awareness, increased education and fewer tragic incidents involving dogs of any breed.
There will always be people who keep 3 large, powerful, unsocialized animals in their garage. That is always an accident waiting to happen. I’m guessing that a breed ban would have had little impact on the course of that tragic event.
Linda in Richmond
Pit bull attacks are like plane crashes: although they are relatively few and far between, the media is sure to report on every single incident that involves a pit bull. Therefore, the media has created an image that has doubly destroyed the breed. Sadly, several people who might be the perfect responsible home for a pit bull are turned off by the breed’s reputation. On the other hand, because of its macho dog stereotype the pit bull is often the breed of choice among a population of irresponsible individuals that should not own dogs at all, and then decide to get pit bulls.
Furthermore, to solve the “pit bull problem” focus needs to be more on the owner not the breed. People who do not obey leash laws, city ordinances, licensing requirements, and practice responsible dog husbandry should be harshly targeted for all breeds. On top of requiring dogs to be sterilized I think people need to step up and report incidences with dogs, and police should take these incidences more seriously. The fines should be harsher for irresponsible dog ownership for all breeds. If a person cannot afford a fine they receive they should be allowed to go to dog training classes instead much like traffic school. If this person is still deemed unfit, the dog should be removed.
In the end, if you must blame someone for attacks blame the person or the specific dog involved, not the breed. In a world where we are taught to judge people as individuals and not by the color of their skin, religion, orientation, etc., I find it disgusting people are so quick to judge the pit bull so severely. I know several pit bull owners and well-behaved pit bulls that do not deserve the label they have received from negligent dog owners and the media. As a professional dog trainer and pit bull foster mom I would rather stick my face in the face of a pit bull I didn’t know than a Chihuahua any day.
Catherine Arcangelo, cyberspace
I am not surprised that people (most especially children) are being bitten and killed by dogs in this country. I think that in the 21st century we have a dangerous view of dogs: we expect them to act like people, or at the very least, like the dogs on TV/movies. We expect dogs to be able to distinguish, at a glance, between good people and bad; to be immediately house trained; to not bark unless someone is breaking into the house; to treat all ‘good’ humans, no matter what size, with deference. And they should do all of this with no or minimum instruction. They should be able to do this even if they are chained out in the yard or kept in the garage, away from people.
I think you bring up good points: that there should be better ways to spot potential problems, and more solutions given. Why don’t owners spay and neuter, is it cost, machismo or they want to sell the puppies? All those reasons need a different approach. Many owners don’t see the point in socializing their pet. It is a lot of work. It would probably be very helpful if people were required to take a short pet ownership course before getting a pet (how to enforce this? A whole ‘nother issue)
You did a terrible disservice when you singled out pit bulls as a cause for maulings and killings. Well, yes, you did mention Rottweilers, but kept most of your focus on pit bulls. I won’t talk about all the wrongheadedness that can go with breed banning but I will say that you tarred thousands of good pit bulls and their responsible owners (many with children). Pit bulls are not for every pet owner, but there are many, many strong large breeds that can do a tremendous amount of damage. Remember, it was a Lab/Lab mix that mauled the woman who received the first facial transplant.
Lin Look, Alameda
In your column on Wednesday, you pose the question “How can we stop attacks by pit bulls”. As the owner of a very sweet pit bull, I was a little disappointed by this headline. The problem is not of pit bulls, but of dogs in general.
Any dog is capable of biting a child. The only way to ensure the safety of any human around any dog is by proper training, supervision and boundary management of the dog. This becomes even more crucial when dealing with a “working dog”. Whether it be a pit bull or a cattle dog, any dog that was bred to do a job will become frustrated and imbalanced if they are not given a job or an outlet for their tremendous physical and mental energy.
… The horrible attack resulting in the death of a 2 year old could have been prevented in many ways, but first and foremost, by supervising the child — at ALL times. My dog is incredibly well trained, socialized, loving and trustworthy. I can take food out of her mouth when she’s eating and pull on her tail or ears without her protesting. But I would NEVER leave her alone with a two year old. My neighbor across the street has a pit bull who is nanny to the 3 children (1, 3 & 5 years old) of the house. But again, they don’t play without adult supervision. The fact is, you never know what could happen, so some situations you just avoid.
The true nature of a pit bull is to be aggressive to other dogs and incredibly loyal and responsive to it’s human handler. This is by breeding design. Fight handlers needed to be able to pull their dogs out of the ring without getting bit. If a pit bull bites a human, it is most likely because the human didn’t take the time to understand the nature of this breed and train them with consistent boundaries and expectations of behavior. It is very rare that a dog is simply born bad. In the case that it is, putting it down is the only thing to do. But usually, a dog displaying inappropriate behavior needs to be taught that it is inappropriate at the first appearance of that behavior.
The Oakland SPCA does a lot to ensure that their pit bulls are only placed with people who understand the specifics of the breed. People who are willing to give them the structure they need to be happy well behaved dogs. Perhaps the Lake County shelter should learn how Oakland’s program is structured. At the end of the day, the dog doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the breed cannot be made to solely bear the blame of this tragedy
If you want to stop dog attacks, ensure that only people willing to put the time and energy into training and supervising their dogs have dogs.
Manisha Patel, cyberspace