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A response to the guest column in today’s Sentinel: Pit bull bans not the answer

May 24, 2013
By
One of my dogs, Doc. Photo by Melissa McDaniel, melissashouse.com

One of my dogs, Doc. Photo by Melissa McDaniel, melissashouse.com

About a month ago, there was a loose dog running around behind the Orlando Weekly offices. Every day for an hour or two, this dog would be skulking up and down Woodward Street, sniffing around and barking at anyone who wandered by. As the days went on, he went from only barking at people who got too close to him to actually rushing at people who were down the street, people who were riding bikes and the neighbors who came out of the houses next door to the one he lived in. His coat was sparse, he was thin and he clearly wasn’t a dog that should have been running at large by himself. He was insecure, easily aroused and uncomfortable with people he didn’t know. Though, it was clear when his “owners” would occasionally come to retrieve him after people complained, he was fine with people he knew. He was probably, in the appropriate environment for him, a very sweet dog.

Unfortunately, as I discovered when I caught the dog one day and brought him home and told the owners I was worried that the dog might bite somebody if they didn’t contain him, they didn’t take the problem seriously. They told me they had found the dog and weren’t sure what to do with him anyway and that they were trying to find him a home or something.

A couple of days later, I saw the dog running loose again. He was still barking at people and menacing them, but now he was accompanied by another dog. So I called 311 and asked to make an Animal Control complaint. A dispatcher took my complaint, the address where the dogs were roaming and my description of what the dogs were doing (barking, menacing, scaring people). I told them that I was afraid somebody would get bitten. I was given a confirmation number and assured somebody would be out to address the situation.

Hours wore on. My office window overlooks the street. One of the dogs disappeared, but the usual suspect was still out there. Nobody from Animal Control came to address the problem. I called 311 again and gave them my confirmation number. They told me that Animal Control said that they couldn’t respond to the call because no address was given (it was) and that they’d closed the case. So I logged another complaint.

The next day, the dog was out there again. I called Animal Control again. I talked to a neighbor, who told me she had called Animal Control multiple times and nobody had responded. She said she had a Brighthouse cable guy come to her house the day before, and the dog bit him. Still, nobody had come to get the dog or talk to the owners.

The next day, after we had all called Animal Control multiple times with no result, somebody called the police. They came to the call, but by the time they arrived, the dog was in the backyard and not bothering anyone. They looked around, said they couldn’t do anything because the dog wasn’t doing anything and was now contained, and they left.

What we have here is a classic case: This is how dog attacks happen. A dog is causing problems in a neighborhood, the owners are not responsive, people try to get somebody to do something and the people who are supposed to be addressing these issues (animal control or the police) don’t respond because there is no injured party and the threat to public safety isn’t abundantly obvious until the dog has either hurt someone or is threatening to do so right before the officer’s eyes.

Today, the Sentinel ran an editorial from noted pit bull hater Colleen Lynn, who runs an organization called DogsBite.org., called “Banning pit bulls saves lives and protects the innocent.” She claims that pit bull bans will help keep communities safer because, in theory, the dogs that she thinks are doing all the biting won’t be around anymore. She cherry-picks a bunch of dubious statistics (for instance, she cites a dated CDC study that looked at dog breeds responsible for dog bites over a period of years that the CDC itself has said really didn’t prove much of anything; they’ve since stopped using breed as a way of categorizing dog bites because they say their findings weren’t really conclusive enough to draw conclusions) and some sensational information (for instance, she says pit bulls don’t let go of what they’re biting until they’re dead – which is why people sometimes say they are “dead game.” That’s a whole lot of malarkey, but also beside my point for now) and concludes that a pit bull ban would keep people from being mauled by dogs.

Here’s another theory that I’d like to float: Effective and responsible animal control in our cities and counties would keep even MORE people safe from being mauled by dogs than any breed ban put into place ever could be. In my adult life, I have lived in four cities in different areas of the country (the Northeast, the MidAtlantic and now the Southeast). They’ve been vastly different in terms of geography, demographics and economics, but they all had one thing in common: Animal control was not a priority and as a result, tended to be unresponsive and sometimes downright ineffective in dealing with complaints about nuisance animals, loose dogs and sometimes even dangerous dogs. Whenever it made news that a dog had injured someone in any of those cities, there was often a common thread to the story: People in the neighborhood saw the dog running loose/chasing people/complained about the dog. Often, they’d complained to animal control, only to be told that there was little that could be done unless the dog was lacking shelter and water or actually had hurt somebody.

Animal-control departments tend to be understaffed, underbudgeted and overworked. As a result, they have to prioritize calls – the situations that pose the most danger to human beings or other animals are tended to first, while the nuisance problems (the dogs who are causing low-level problems that have yet to reach a crisis level, for instance) fall to the bottom of the list. If that weren’t the case, perhaps we’d head off some dog-bite situations before they ever occur. And most of the time – the vast majority of the time, in fact – a dog bite does not happen as an isolated incident. There’s almost always some indication that a dog is a risk way before the bit ever happens.

And while we’re on the subject, if your animal-control department is the one applying the law, and your animal-control doesn’t have the resources to effectively apply the laws that exist, how is it going to be able to apply a breed ban? Breed bans are notoriously expensive, difficult to enforce and are often blatantly ignored by the people most likely to break the law – you know, the ones who probably own the dogs that are going to cause your community problems in the first place. Your responsible pit bull owners – the ones who obey the law, keep their dogs as beloved family members and whose dogs probably aren’t being allowed to run at large and hurt people – are going to be the ones most likely to obey the law. Why punish them when you should be putting the pressure on the people who are known to be putting our community at risk?

One more thought, then I’m done: What’s more dangerous – a well-trained, properly contained elderly 40-pound pit bull with no teeth who’s never threatened or bitten a soul in her life, or a 65 pound fearful mixed breed dog with no socialization who frequently escapes from his backyard and menaces people from the house he thinks he needs to guard? Obviously, the latter. However, if you pass a breed ban that’s specific to pit bulls, you’re not protecting your community from the dangerous dog – your only passing a placebo that’ll give people the illusion of being safer. Meanwhile, that second dog? His neighbors are probably still waiting for animal control to show up and do something.

We all deserve to be safe from dangerous dogs. Of all breeds.

Check out our accompanying photo gallery of 80 pit bulls who want you to know that they are family.

 

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  • Michael

    A well made point by an obviously intelligent person. Pit Bulls are not the problem, the owners are sometimes. They are sweet loving animals when they are treated with love, like any animal, human or canine.

  • Rationalist

    Your points are well articulated, and I completely agree that we all deserve to be safe from dangerous dogs. Of all breeds.

    However, you seem to dismiss studies and statistics a bit nonchalantly in your article. If the ones you sited are not accurate, is there more reliable data? Should we not look into certain breeds if statistically there are higher incident ratios? Such action would not have to be exclusionary to promoting safe animal handling.

    My 2 cents …

  • http://www.facebook.com/Chef.David.TeamPitaFull Chef David Edelstein M

    Well defined Erin. Personally, I live in Denver, CO… where wide spread Breed Specific Laws began over 25 years ago. From doing nothing but researching the ban here, its origins, the rational behind its continued enforcement, etc…. MANY TIMES pit bull bans have nothing to do with dogs or public safety at all, rather political agenda and city council members stroking their own egos.

    Mathematically, banning a breed of dog is illogical. If it were sound policy to ban that which is dangerous to humans; guns, alcohol, cars, swimming pools, negligent parents, cigarettes, modern day pharmaceuticals, etc would all be banned as they kill or harm more humans 1000 fold per day than all dog breeds combined in a given year.

    If we as a culture are genuine in our pursuit of safety, banning politicians and media is where we need to begin.

  • Karen Batchelor

    Well done Erin Sullivan.
    How any publication can sully it’s credibility giving Colleen Lynn and her hate-fest any space is beyond me. She and her ‘statistics’ have been thoroughly exposed time and again.
    You’re obviously well versed in the failures of animal control and the horrible consequences of their inaction. This is notable the world over and covering it up with breed bans fools no-one but the brain dead.
    You could kill every last Pit Bull and Pit Bull mix on the planet but before rigor mortis sets in on the last one of them, bad owners will be badly owning some other hapless breed, drug dealers will be man training some other muscle breed, puppy millers will be creating ‘designer’ bred replacements in their millions.
    What has been achieved? A body mountain of innocent dogs who did nothing wrong other than to have a particular look about them and nothing else. That is what BSL and the likes of Colleen Lynn are doing today and people are still getting bitten for all the usual reasons by all breeds.

    Breed Specific Legislation is being repealed the world over as legislators are called on it and have no justification for it. It’s proponents are being exposed along with their agendas.
    The Pit Bull will never disappear, but nor will the shame for those who killed the countless
    innocents, by their own hands or by proxy, because of an unjustifiable policy born of ignorance, incompetence and in the worst cases hate.

  • Snhawna

    I agree, I have 3 dogs and as an owner it is important to be responsible with them. From their training and care to socialization. All our dogs are rescues and one is a pit bull ( the sweetest girl ever). Banning breeds is never the answer, maybe requiring potential pet owners to take a class on care and training is a better move. Thank you for this article, knowledge is so much better that preying on fears.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Richardson/100003360961583 John Richardson

    Excellent article. It seems so ludicrously obvious: Effective animal control laws for ALL dogs, regardless of breed, will affect those Pit Bulls that ARE problems as well as thiose dogs of other breeds and mixes that are problems, but leave all the innocent alone. Why do so many people find this difficult to understand?

  • OWeditor

    Unfortunately, the data that exists is primarily advocacy-based. Of the body of scientific studies that do exist, though, most are inconclusive in terms of blaming breeds. AVMA, CDC, National Animal Control Association and other orgs have made statements that the info that exists does not point to specific breeds as dangerous and that all aggressive/vicious dogs should be addressed regardless of breed to keep the community safe: https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Backgrounders/Pages/The-Role-of-Breed-in-Dog-Bite-Risk-and-Prevention.aspx

  • Immir

    Pit bulls are nothing but problems, it’s been well documented that they are a danger to the public. The owners are always trying to justify their existence. The big question is why do you want to own a dog with this reputation?

  • Trina

    Bravo!

  • Kristy Graham

    Fantastic post. Thank you so much for addressing the real issue. Irresponsible owners and lousy Animal Control.

  • DogLover

    BSL is not the answer. Not allowing irresponsible dog owners to have dogs is the answer! I have three rescues…a pit bull mix (sweetest baby girl ever and my shadow) and two male Siberian huskies – both breeds considered to be on the “dangerous dog breed” lists. Give me a break. They are the sweetest dogs ever, and the biggest babies too. None have ever bitten anyone, all are friendly with our cat (and many people say Sibes aren’t cat friendly), and they are basically like my husband and mine’s “kids.” They live in the house (have the run of the house in reality) and can be trusted with small children. My pit mix has very strong jaws (I can attest to that from playing tug of war with her), however I can take a piece of steak out of her mouth with one finger and no issues at all! It’s how they were raised, not their breed. I would put my three “dangerous” dogs up against my neighbors beagle any day of the week. Their poor dog lives outside 24/7 in the back yard, is not socialized or a part of their family, and barks non-stop (we have even had to call the police when it gets too bad…who always say there is nothing they can do). I feel absolutely terrible for the poor thing. And, when I take my dogs out for a walk, their dog goes absolutely nuts and acts like he wants to attack them — remember this is a BEAGLE (and no I don’t think all beagle’s are bad…his owners are), while my three just stand there and stare at him like he is crazy (without ever barking back at him). So my pit bull needs to be banned. Really? Really? That makes no sense at all to me.

  • http://twitter.com/volalupi volalupi

    That’s easy Immir. Because MY dogs are not a problem. NOTHING has documented that they are and because I love them pretty much more than any other living creature. Is owning a pit bull difficult? Yes, but not because of the dog, because of people who choose ignorance and fear over knowledge and accountability. It’s the people that are the problem even from that standpoint..not the dog.

  • Laura

    Bravo!!! Finally a person with a brain! Thanks because people are being misinformed, dogs are not the problem, the problems are their owners!

  • Cindy

    Your article was balanced & well written. Thank you. The fact of the matter is poor owners equal poorly kept dogs. Could the people in the article who are affected contact local rescues to get the dog out of there? They owners will do nothing until it is done for them. Sadly, as you have stated that will mean the dog is dead & most likely someone is hurt.

  • LarryC2

    I agree with everything in the article. Even a good faith belief in the benefits of BSL against ‘pit bulls’ ignores several key problems
    -what’s a ‘pit bull’?
    -how are such laws to be enforced against the dogs which actually cause the problems in view of many communities’ lack of effective animal control enforcement for very simple to define and detect breeches of existing law, like a dog running loose (it’s very simple to define which dogs are running loose, whereas to fairly enforce a ‘pit bull’ ban you have to deal with every dog owner whose dog anyone might think is a ‘pit bull’)
    -the lack of any scientific evidence whatsoever that ‘pit bulls’, no matter how defined, are inherently more likely to be human aggressive than other similarly strong dogs, if managed the same way
    And the obviousness of these problems leads to justified suspicion that some of the BSL advocates aren’t acting in good faith, because they repeatedly ignore these problems. Colleen Lynn’s column was a typical example, just repeating questionable statistics and characterizations, failing 100% to address the veterinary science community’s virtual total rejection of BSL.
    And then is gets worse if you read the comments of a lot of ‘grass roots’ pro-BSL people on the internet. Sadly it’s obvious that they are motivated by racial and social animus against non-white and/or poor people they perceive as the ‘typical owners’ of ‘pit bulls’. Some are honest enough to admit this which while sad in this day and age is less sickening IMO than those who pretend it’s all about ‘statistics’. A lot of pro-BSL sentiment is about racism, *human* racism, and not really about dogs at all.

  • OJOHN28

    “it’s been well documented that they are a danger to the public.”

    No such thing has been documented, which is why virtually the entire animal science community rejects anti-’pit bull’ BSL as a public policy. So this statement is flatly false.

    “The big question is why do you want to own a dog with this reputation?”

    Here your premise is less purely false, since many ill informed people erroneously believe there is something inherently wrong with or dangerous about dogs in the vague category ‘pit bull’. But the big question for you would be: why should I care what ill informed people think about my dog?

    And, anti ‘pit bull’ feeling has a lot to do with race and class (like a lot of things). Almost all real ‘pit’ haters seem to be marginal lower middle/working class whites. Their feelings about ‘pit bulls’ seem to be part of their general hostility toward poor and particularly non-white people who live in areas near their own marginal neighborhoods, and who they perceive as the typical ‘pit bull’ owners. In an upper middle/rich neighborhood like mine, I’ve never heard a negative comment about our ‘pit bull’, and lots of compliments (she’s a really stunning dog).

  • val2012

    The problem is that there is very limited data. Hospitals don’t really track the type of breed involved in incidents and even if they do mis-identification is common. Google ‘Find the Pit Bull’ and try to pick the right dog. I got it wrong and my pupster is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier – which is not a pittie but was shall we say designed to similar specifications just a lot lower to the ground. Also the number of deaths caused by dogs is vastly over reported compared to the number that occur nationally each year. However, he is making the point that the ORIGINAL writer used statistics in a misleading way – the CDC who provided them basically said it was below the confidence level to draw conclusions. The first thing you learn in stats class is that the sample has to match the population and to be robust it needs to be of sufficient size. With less than 30 deaths per year caused by dog bites the sample is too small to be statistically significant. I would have been failed if I had presented that in a paper!

  • Shell

    Good point about Animal Control having limited resources. And yet, they were in our neighborhood last fall, day after day, setting and retrieving traps for a few (<5) neighborhood cats because one neighbor complained. Methinks they may be a little apprehensive about controlling dangerous animals; it's a lot easier to pick up road kill or set a few little wire traps…

  • alien99

    @Immir….Have you EVER OWNED one? I doubt it. Pit Bulls are not the problem. Ignorant people like you are the problem. Stupid owners who don’t understand how to take care of an animal are the problems. They should be fined heavily, end of story. I own a Pit Bull and she is the sweetest dog I have ever owned, not to mention extremely well behaved, smart, and beautiful. This is all media conditioning at work in your small little mind.

  • Mary Pruitt-Moore

    Where has it been documented? I’m interested in seeing those documents. Can you include a link in your hate filled post? I am a rescuer of what most call “pit bulls”. I currently have 5 “pit bulls” in my home, them along with my small mixed breed dog (she is the one who sets the rules). I have no fighting, no food aggression, nothing. They’ve all been taught manners once they come to my house. The research I have seen proves that no breed is any more vicious than another. I own a dog and rescue others with this reputation in order to show people that the reputation is like much of what is seen in the media-hype.

  • Erika Birk

    Well said, and you are absolutely correct. When authorities do not have the manpower and resources to properly enforce laws that already exist, adding more laws which have been proven many times to be difficult to enforce……does not help people. Breed Specific Legislation would not have prevented the vicious mauling that took place last month in Chesterfield, Virginia. The dog involved, a Golden Retriever, had a previous attack on record and the owner readily admitted the dog was “mean”. Proper enforcement and action by authorities would have prevented the second attack from ever happening. And that is too often the case, as the article discusses.

  • Erika Birk

    Val2012, you’re absolutely correct. I asked my mother about standard policy and practice when a patient comes in suffering from a dog bite. She’s a nurse specializing in Trauma and Critical Care, and has worked plenty of emergency rooms during her 30 years in the profession. And she noted that unless someone tells them unprompted about the type of dog, medical staff do not concern themselves over the breed involved. It is completely irrelevant towards patient care, and so not something they bother to ask.

  • Judy Nguyen

    Someone needs to do a peer-reviewed study on racism and breedism. There’s probably a very strong correlation from your hypothesis. Let’s prove it so we’re better equipped to deal with ignorance.

  • luka ilic

    Why pick on pittbulls I have too female in a same pin together they sisters I don’t have any problem at all lol