Sunday, December 20, 2009

GUEST VIEWPOINT: With pit bulls, it’s time to blame the breed, not just the deed

Appeared in print: Thursday, Dec 17, 2009

On Monday, Nov. 23, I buried my beautiful, trusting, blue-eyed cat. He lived a wonderful, if brief, life. But he died a hideous death. He was savaged by a pair of marauding pit bulls that terrorized my neighborhood and killed two other pets. The cats didn’t stand a chance.

Since that terrible day, I have searched the Internet for everything I could find on pit bulls. What I found is frightening.

For example, I learned that I myself might have been mauled, if not killed. When I saw the pit bull standing over my cat’s body, I ran to them. The pit bull did not back off, but stood there staring at me. I was in shock, heartsick and furious. I was not thinking clearly. Had I tried to save my cat from him, I almost certainly would have been attacked.

Pit bulls whose attacks on pets or small children are interrupted by an owner or a parent attempting a rescue can create a classic scenario of redirected attack.

Such was the recent case in Woodburn — a woman walking her small dog was seriously mauled when she tried to save her pet from a pit bull. In Eugene, a blind woman walking her guide dog was rescued by a passer-by before she could suffer a similar fate. Her guide dog was mauled by the pit bull and will probably be useless in the future as a guide dog.

An incident near Portland illustrates this breed’s ferocity, sheer power and tenacity, as well as its high tolerance for pain. A father heard his little girl screaming in their back yard. He managed to save his child from the pit bull, but was brutally attacked himself. He and two other men, one with a baseball bat, were still struggling to subdue the dog when the ambulance arrived.

Redirected attacks are only a part of the story. The pit bull has a well-documented history of attacking human beings without provocation or warning. This includes turning on family members, often children, as well as strangers.

One study reported that more than 13 percent of pit bulls attacked their owners, compared to 2 percent of other breeds.

Many jurisdictions, including a new ordinance in Malheur County, have implemented restrictions or out-and-out bans on the pit bull. This is called breed-specific legislation, and it is hotly contested by vocal and well-organized groups comprised mainly of pit bull owners and breeders. Their motto is “blame the deed, not the breed.”

But this snappy-sounding slogan is basically meaningless. Yes, we want irresponsible owners held accountable, but without genuine measures to prevent future attacks, the problems will only increase as the population grows.

In 2009, state Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, proposed legislation that would have put a higher standard of responsibility on the pit bull owner, but after receiving a petition bearing 4,152 signatures opposed to any restriction on this breed, the bill was dropped. Of the 4,152 signatures, only 1,072 were from Oregonians!

Pit bull owners say their dogs love people and if raised right, this breed is no more dangerous than any other. Any dog, after all, can bite. (However, if a beagle is angry, you may get bitten. If a pit bull attacks, you get mauled.) They claim the pit is getting a bad rep due to the media sensationalizing the attacks. They also call the community “ignorant” and tell us to become better educated about the pit bull. I, too, believe we should educate ourselves about the nature of this potentially lethal animal that lives among us.

The history of the pit bull goes back hundreds of years to England, where their predecessors (butcher dogs) were used in bear and bull baiting. When bear and bull baiting was outlawed in the 1830s, breeders crossed this dog with English terriers for a smaller, more agile animal created specifically for dog fighting. They were bred as a weapon.

According to Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, “These dogs were designed specifically to fight other animals and kill them for sport. Hence the barrel chest, the thick hammer-like head, the strong jaws, their perseverance and stamina.” This is their sad history.

That these dogs are dangerous is unquestionable (see www Pit bulls account for nearly 50 percent of all human dog-related fatalities in the United States!

I therefore do not believe that pit bulls are like other dogs. Their breeding, their unpredictability, their physical strength and their strong prey drive set them apart.

Living near intimidating, dangerous dogs, and the fear they instill in residents, can destroy a neighborhood. My neighbors and I plan to address these issues before the Eugene City Council.

Oregon, so far, has been relatively lucky. But with the population growing and more pits being brought into the state, problems will only increase. I hope we can learn from the recent local incident and from what other states have done. Let’s not wait for a truly horrific attack before we act.

Betty Kang lives in Eugene with her husband and a surviving cat.


flicka said...

Pit bull attacks create strong public safety advocates like Mrs. Kang. These advocates use their shock, anger, and grief to forge new laws regulating the proven danger of pit bulls. Pit bull owners use the same tired tactics to diffuse the building trend toward regulation. We hear the mindless "it's all in how you raise them", "no one can identify a pit bull", "nanny dog", "Petey was a pit bull", "canine racism" arguments. The worst excuse of the lot is "any dog will bite". This particular excuse attempts to change the relationship between Americans and their dogs. In their hurry to spread blame, pit bull lovers also attempt to change the image of dogs in our society and blur the distinction between a bite and a mauling. When ordinary people begin to accept this as true, we can look for regulation like none of us have ever even considered. Beagles and Poodles do not roam the streets in packs, mauling children and the elderly, killing pets and livestock.

TiffanyH said...

I let my pet mice play in the streets and GASP, my neighbors cat viciously mauled them to death. I'm amazed it didn't turn on me next. Sound ridiculous? So does this story.

Loose cats kill small prey in mass numbers because they are predators, as are dogs. Prey drive is hardly a new thing when it comes to animals. In this case both owners are to blame, why was either running loose? Outside cats are frequently killed by dogs, cars, other cats and wild animals, it's the owners job to keep them safe.

When I was a child my family had outside cats, one never came back, the other was attacked by a dog (not a pit bull, btw). Both situations were OUR fault and we learned from them. Place blame where it belongs.

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

classic victim blaming pit nutter response. no where in betty's editorial does it state that her cat was roaming the neighborhood.

given the writer's use of the word MARAUDING (to roam in search of things to steal or attack) to describe the pit bulls, i will go out on a limb here and say that her cat was in her yard and so were the pit bulls, like so many pit bull attacks.

Dog Nerd said...

My dog (not a Pit Bull) would readily attack and probably kill any cat or other prey animal it might come accross if he was loose and I was not there to call him off (being a responsible owner, this would never happen.)
I'm tired of owners of prey animals (cats) letting their animals loose outside to fend for themselves and then crying foul when another animal behaves like it should by killing prey. The dog should not have been loose and neither should the cat. This has nothing to do with the breed of dog. Do you really think a GSD or a lab or a mutt would react any differently to an exciting chase and kill?