Op-Ed: Thirty-four years tracking dog attacks

90% of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks come from one group of breeds
Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, offers an op-ed on dog attacks.

       Nearly 35 years ago,  as a young libertarian-leaning farm-and-business reporter and avid runner,  I was within a few weeks attacked while running on main-traveled roads in two separate incidents by dogs who were hell-bent on killing me. 

       The first attack came from a German shepherd who gave me many warnings,  but I had nowhere to quickly go to be anywhere except in front of his home. 

       The second attack came from a pit bull,  who struck silently,  from behind,  half a block and many doors from his home.  I had no knowledge of his existence before I was fighting for my life. 

       Between those two attacks,  I also witnessed––from too far away to help––another attack by the same German shepherd in almost the same place,  which resulted in another man’s death from heart failure.  Unable to help the man,  I caught the German shepherd and took him home.  The owner had the German shepherd euthanized.

       Both the German shepherd (both times) and the pit bull had just escaped from supposedly secure premises.  Strict enforcement of confinement and leash laws,  the conventional response to dog attacks,  could not have prevented either the injuries to me or the man’s death. 

       This challenged my libertarian values to the point that I came eventually to hold a strong belief in laws which prevent accidents,  as opposed to those which allow individuals to exercise liberties of irresponsibility and lack of foresight that result in harm to the innocent.

       But I did not change my beliefs immediately.  Instead,  I undertook what are now decades of investigative research,  logging every scrap of information I could find about fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in the U.S.,  Canada,  and eventually also the United Kingdom,  India,  and South Africa. 

       I have now logged the details of more than 10,000 dog attacks in all,  more than 7,500 of them occurring in the United States and nearly half of those occurring just in the past 10 years,  as pit bulls rose to unprecedented popularity.

       What initially piqued my interest was the difference between how the German shepherd and the pit bull attacked.  Was it a breed-specific phenomenon?

       The German shepherd twice displayed the territoriality for which German shepherds are known,  but he gave warnings first,  struck with slashing bites at extremities,  and broke off the attacks when his victims retreated.  Both attacks could have been considered exaggerated defensive behavior.

       The pit bull attack was wholly predatory,  a stealthy attempted grip-and-shake to tear flesh from bones,  occurring far outside what might have been considered the dog’s territory. 

       These proved to be repetitively predictable phenomena––but while pit bulls turned out to be responsible for about 70% of all fatal and disfiguring attacks occurring away from their homes,  pit bulls also turned out to be responsible for about 70% of the attacks occurring within their homes,  on members of their own households and on authorized visitors.

       Yet,  based on analysis of classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption,  pit bulls have never been more numerous than the 5% of the U.S. dog population they are now,  counting all of the pit mixes and variants (Staffordshire, American bully,  et al) combined.

       Fatal and disfiguring dog attacks turn out to be an extremely breed-specific problem,  with more than 90% coming from just one small constellation of related breeds (pit bull,  Rottweiler,  bull mastiff and close variants) and about 9% coming from another small constellation (German shepherds,  northern breeds,  wolf hybrids,  and other dogs sometimes passed off as wolf hybrids). 

       While 78% of the recognized dog breeds have figured in at least one disfiguring attack,  22% have not,  including some of the most popular large breeds.

       Those who argue against breed-specific laws,  including major humane societies with a vested interest in trying to adopt out the pit bulls who now occupy more than a third of animal shelter cage space nationwide,  often claim breed-specific legislation “does not work” because “any dog can bite” and pit bulls are supposedly “hard to identify,”  though one ASPCA-sponsored study recently found that shelter workers accurately identified pit bull lineage 96% of the time.

       In truth,  breed-specific legislation,  where enforced and written using the simple definitions that most of us use,  instead of the hair-splitting definitions used by show dog judges,  has proven throughout the world to be very effective in preventing fatal and disfiguring dog attacks,  whether it takes the form of outright breed bans,  as in Ontario province,  Canada,  or just adds insurance,  confinement,  and spay/neuter requirements to the conditions for keeping pit bulls and the handful of other abnormally dangerous breeds,  as in San Francisco. 

       Even where not strictly enforced,  breed-specific legislation has had a deterrent effect,  helping Denver,  for instance,  to have had conspicuously fewer serious dog attacks since it enacted a pit bull ban in 1989 than other cities of comparable size but only conventional confinement laws to protect the public.

       Those who argue to the contrary are simply disregarding the data,  more than 34 years of which may be seen at http://www.animals24-7.org/2016/01/21/links-to-more-than-100-reasons-why-breed-specific-legislation-needs-to-be-enforced-and-reinforced/


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