Friday June 15, 2012

There was a big fuss in local newspapers recently about a police shooting of a pit-bull. What constitutes identifying a pit-bull? Is it dangerous? Is the dog out of it? How come in the reported instance it is in a children's playground, off leash, with no owner around? That's a lot of questions. But here, perhaps, is the most important: Are pit-bulls actually dangerous as a breed?

I like dogs and recently there was a handsome pit-bull in our neighborhood who was well-behaved with me and my dog, and intelligent, too.

Some years ago while going to the vet I passed a pit-bull in the line of those waiting to go in -- it jumped up at me and bit my arm. I continued walking asking the vet who was performing surgery at the time to pour antiseptic over my arm and clean the area up, which she did.

Ten minutes later she asked the owner of the dog if she should put it down right away or keep the dog overnight so that her husband could consult and she would put it down in the morning. The couple, who also had a 3-year-old child, didn't do anything about the incident except e-mail me a note about their regret, hoping (I suppose) that I wouldn't sue them, and ignoring wider danger this dog exhibited, even to their own child.

At the time I protested to the vet -- maybe the dog had smelled my dog, I said, or my three cats on my clothes, which did not change the vet's opinion. There's no excuse for unprovoked attacks, she said. And if they start, they continue.

More recently a neighbor's dog was attacked on the Common by a pit-bull who would not release it's neck bite until kicked and jumped on, and the dog it attacked almost bled-out and died. My neighbor, whose dog was attacked there, said that the strangest thing of all was that the unleashed pit-bull wagged its tail the whole time. The walker of the pit-bull eventually grabbed the dog and ran away, neither of them ever to be seen again.

These can be wonderful loving animals until they snap, which is not a predictable occurrence. And after they do, they will kill. That's the real issue about pit-bull pets, for owners, for the general pubic and for the police department which has to deal with them.

If you Google "pit bull attacks" you can read this:

-- A family's pit bull attacked their 19-month-old toddler in Norco early one morning, dragging the girl in its jaws before a neighbor could pry ....

-- A Rock Hill boy was airlifted to a Charlotte hospital after a pit-bull mauled him, biting his arms and tearing off a part of his ....

In the three-year period from 2006 to 2008, pit-bull breeds killed 52 Americans and accounted for 59 percent of all fatal attacks. Combined, pit-bulls and rottweilers accounted for 73 percent of these deaths.

A pit-bull kills an American citizen every 21 days, according to dogbite.org. "In a three-year period (January 2006 to December 2008), pit-bulls killed 52 Americans. This is equivalent to a pit-bull killing an American every 21 days."

Now, a local psychologist says I am a dog whisperer, meaning I suppose that I have an unusual reception by dogs, which is true. I hope I am making clear that I like dogs and they like me.

Even so, I think it is time to examine whether people should have such dogs who are frankly universally detested, and as much a liability to owners as to others. Some states are now restricting or outright banning pit-bulls; what about us?

Local news media have not editorialized on this topic, and our town governance and its bylaws, too, are silent. I do not recommend any action without more information sharing among by all parties, and simply blaming actions of police officers in the middle of it all will not solve any root problem.

Phil Innes writes from Brattleboro.