Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pit bull attack gets a reaction

This is Madison Park, a great walking neighborhood. A place, in fact, where residents and visitors expect to be able to stroll on a lovely summer’s day without fear or concern. So when an incident occurs that shows us our tranquil little community is not always as safe and comfortable as we’ve complacently believed, it’s a bit shocking. And it’s definitely a story.

The recent report of multiple attacks by a neighborhood pit bull on unsuspecting passersby presents us with a jarring case in point. While the attacks themselves are certainly alarming, their possible cause and what’s happened (and what hasn’t happened) in their aftermath are proving to be additional sources of concern for victims, neighbors, and dog lovers alike.

The registered owner of Honey, the Pit Bull in question, has not provided us with any insights into his own thinking. Though his wife requested that we delay posting our story for 24 hours so she could provide us with a written statement, she did not do so. The owner’s son, however, has responded; and what he’s had to say about the case, as quoted in our original story and in comments he later posted to the blog, is controversial at best.

First, the issue of responsibility. The son, who was the caretaker for the dog while his parents were away on vacation, admits that both Honey and a companion dog were left on their own at the Washington Park house for at least a week, with only daily visits by him to check on their condition. He told us that Honey had been well secured but had dug a “seven feet by four feet” hole in order to escape from the fenced back yard.

One of Honey’s victims (we’ll call her Jane) has a problem with the owner’s assumption that a Pit Bull left on its own for an extended period would not pose a potential threat. “Dogs get out,” she told me, “and a Pit Bull is a risky type of animal.” Jane noted that Pit Bulls have been bred to fight. “It’s in their DNA to attack,” and an attack is a particular risk when the animal is frightened, she said. Given the dog’s history, “she was probably always scared in situations where she was uncontrolled. She seemed frightened, and she attacked.”

In spite of having been injured, Jane is somewhat sympathetic to the dog’s owner, who she believes certainly didn’t want this outcome. But she’s particularly sympathetic to the dog: “Her situation was created by a human who abused her in the first place and then by an owner who allowed her to get out and become frightened,” she said. “The dog is a victim here too.” She believes that Pit Bull owners have a responsibility to protect the public and says the City should impose special requirements for people who want to keep Pit Bulls.

The most seriously injured victim of the attacks, whom we are calling Carol, totally agrees with that last point. She thinks Honey’s owner acted irresponsibility and that the City compounded the problem by what happened after the attacks. "They should never have let that dog out," she told me. As we reported, the City returned Honey to the owner’s son ten days after having impounded her. According Seattle Animal Shelter supervisor Ann Graves, the City had to do so because there is no law allowing for a dog to be held while the Shelter’s “dangerous animal” assessment is underway. A ten-day quarantine period is required under the law in order to check for rabies, but that’s it.

In this case, the “dangerous animal” investigation was only completed last week, the recommendation that Honey be declared dangerous is still under review by the director of the Animal Shelter, and due process for the dog’s owner may take several more weeks to play out, according to Graves. In the meantime, Honey is somewhere in West Seattle and under no special restrictions resulting from the attacks. Carol’s response to all this: “I think the City screwed up. If that’s the law, the law needs to be changed.” She said she’s talked to people living near Honey’s house and they told her that the dog was loose on other occasions. Neighbors confirmed this when we asked, but noted it was unusual for Honey to be out unsupervised. What was usual, they said, was for Honey to be off leash whenever she was out with her family. One neighbor told us that “it was terrorizing” when it happened, so she and her kids avoided being in proximity to the dog.

The owner’s son, who says he now has the dog in his care fulltime, questioned why this is a story for the Madison Park Blogger, given that the dog is currently living with him in West Seattle and is no longer a danger to anyone in our neighborhood. From Carol’s perspective, that question totally misses the point. The issue now is whether people in West Seattle are safe, she says.

Ultimately, the City’s process will result in a decision in Honey’s case, likely one that will force her owner to either euthanize the dog or place her in a secure facility. “Owning a dangerous animal in the City is against the law,” says the Animal Shelter’s Graves, so once such a determination is made—assuming it is upheld if appealed—the dog can’t remain inside Seattle’s boundaries. Criminal charges are also a possibility, she noted.

In the meantime, we understand that some of the victims have approached the City to discuss changing current law. It’s possible, we’re told, that at least one member of the City Council may get involved in this case. Since the Pit Bull story broke, we’ve noticed a fair number of hits to our website coming from the “Seattle.gov” server, so someone in the City is apparently paying attention. “These attacks do raise a question for the community,” said Jane, Honey’s second victim. “This was a more frightening experience than I ever would have expected it to be,” she told us. “I feared for my life, and it affected me for days.”

[Editorial aside: We promised we would be discussing both “breedism” and Pit Bull attack statistics in this posting. However, the son’s owner, in the “Comments” section of our last posting, seems to have retracted his earlier statement that the “fuss” over the attacks was because of the dog being a Pit Bull and not because of the severity of the attacks. So we’ll leave a discussion of “breedism” aside.

With regard to attack statistics, it appears that DogsBite.org has the most authoritative information available on the internet, although its information is based on media reports. The site states that in 2009 there were 32 fatal dog attacks in the U.S., with 44% of these being by Pit Bulls. The site notes that over 500 cities and other jurisdictions in the country ban Pit Bulls. “Unlike other dog breeds, Pit Bulls frequently fail to communicate intention prior to an attack. They possess a lethal bite style (hold and shake) and a ruinous manner of attack.” For the first six months of 2009, apparently the most recent statistics available, there were 318 Pit Bull attacks reported in the media, involving 388 victims. Of these, 64% suffered severe injuries, 4% having one or more body parts severed, and 2% being killed outright. Children under the age of 5 suffered 84% of the most severe injuries.

This is a quote from Farber Law Group, a local firm specializing in personal-injury work: “The data also show that 68% of the Pit Bulls that attacked were not on their owner’s property [and that] Pit Bulls escape their owner's property and bite people at a higher rate than other dog breeds.”]

Photos of the friendly and not-so-friendly Pit Bulls, above, are culled from the internet. The friendly-dog photo is courtesty of Missouri Pit Bull Rescue.

12 comments:

  1. The dog is just doing what man bred the dog to do. Should it be killed for that? Doesn't really seem right, does it?

    So, I think we have to regulate human behavior in this situation. Make the fines for pitbull-related offenses huge (like five figures-huge). Throw in some jail time. Make the license fees and non-compliance penalties huge (like four figures-huge). Only allow "fixed" dogs in the City limits. Can't deal with the costs/rules? Own a different kind of dog.

    Doing it this way will let the market set the demand for the breed. Only those with the $trong desire to own a pitbull will own one and probably for the right reasons. They will therefore be more inclined to take care of it in the correct way. The demand will lessen, breeders will cut back production and the population will diminish naturally.

    This seems fair to dog lovers, potential victims and everyone in between.

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  2. BIg picture, taking the stick approach to pitbull attacks still leaves a victim. Someone emotionally and physically scared by an attack.

    Lets look at the statistics, if one breed so overwhelmingly dominates the bites, as a society we need to clear that from the books. If we are going to address this problem, and yes it is a problem, then to be able to identify one vector of that problem that represents such a large portion of helps correcting. If this was a car, and one model of the car was responsible for a large number of accidents, the problem would be in front of congress. Why? Who is to blame? How can we fix this?

    So this is not a car. This is one particular breed of dog with a very questionable linage. it is still identifiable. Anyone who sees one of these dogs recognizes it for a pitbull. So it is easy to fix. Look, there is a pit, inapt the agreed upon measures, homeowners/renters insurance, back ground check of owner, large secured fences, neighbor notification. All of these are used in other cities for pits, or other dangerous predatory animals, and people (yeah, i just said it, we have neighbor notification when a sex offender, another dangerous predator, why not a dog that though has not offended has the likelihood of offending? again, look at the stats). Why hasn't Seattle? that might be the real question that needs to be answered. Why is Seattle behaving like this?

    t personally think that every city that does not address this head on is culpable for the personal injuries caused by them running the streets.

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  3. That dog needs to be destroyed.

    This is also a good lesson to never walk, anywhere in the community, without some self defense like mace / pepper spray. It is increasingly clear the SPD will do nothing to protect the citizens of this city (though one wonders what the response would have been had the dog attacked a bike rider).

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  4. In a study of 122 breeds by the American Temperament Testing Society (atts.org), Pit Bulls achieved an above-average passing rate of 86% – higher than Beagles, Golden Retrievers and other popular breeds. Sites like dogsbite.org may cherry-pick stats to promot a specific agenda, but more authoritative sites – including the American Kennel Club, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Center for Disease Control – oppose breed-specific legislation, and have good reasons for doing so.

    There are over 4.5 million Pit Bulls registered in the United States. Statistics that say Pit Bulls were responsible for "44% of fatal dog attacks in the U.S. in 2009" sound scary, but we're talking about 18 dogs out of 4.5 million – and we're not told whether Pit Bulls are over- or under-represented relative to their popularity and size. (In fact, the CDC stopped publishing statistics on dog bites by breed years ago, because the stats were being abused to make these kinds of unsupported claims.) There are also over 20 breeds of dog routinely misidentified as "pit bulls" in the media: Any short-haired, muscular dog that causes injury is classified as a "pit bull" in press reports, regardless of the actual breed involved.

    Currently the Pit Bull wears the crown as America's bad-reputation dog: Owners who want a "dangerous" animal get one, and then abuse it, neglect it, or train it to be aggressive. Thirty years ago the Doberman Pinscher was the bad-reputation breed, and attracted the most irresponsible owners; thirty years from now it'll be the Presa Canario, the Argentine Dogo or whatever the most intimidating breed that isn't banned happens to be. The breed of dog varies from decade to decade – the constant is that some dog owners are abusive or negligent, train dogs to be aggressive toward humans, or fail to properly supervise and socialize their pets.

    All that said, if Seattle city ordinances don't allow for charging this dog owner with negligence and reckless endangerment, and for removing the dogs from their custody until qualified personnel have evaluated them, then I fully support a change to those laws – and we can protect people from dangerous dogs (and, more to the point, their irresponsible owners) without buying into hype about killer breeds and "lethal bite styles" and ninja dogs that attack without warning. Banning a breed won't fix the problems that led to these attacks.

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  5. If the city/police won't protect you, you have to protect yourself. Carry a defensive weapon for dog attacks like this.

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  6. I don't care if the dog is a poodle, lab, pitbull, great dane, mutt or otherwise- I don't want to be bitten, and clearly "Honey" is a vicious biter. Human safety should trump quality of life for a dog. Google dog attack victims, and god forbid children of dog attack victims and then tell me whom you would sympathize with if "Honey" does this again... And for those of you who still side with "Honey", I don't see you sending your children or grandchild next to his house.

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    1. I agree with you 100 percent! I was almost attacked by 2 pitbull terriers after dropping my daughter off to wait for the school bus. They had just been calmly wandering around the yard before they came after me. Luckily, I was able to duck into another yard and call 9-1-1. I always wonder, though..what if my daughter had been with me? What if I hadn't made it to the other yard?

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  7. The owner of this dog should face serious retribution and consequences in caring for the victims. The dog, however, needs to be rehabilitated. It's not hard to do. Pitbulls are not inherently mean dogs. Like any other dog who is mean, they are raised that way (through improper socialization and/or neglect). It just so happens that a pitbull's bite is much worse.

    And, no, mace won't help. Dogs can attack faster than humans can respond.

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  8. Oh, I actually thought this might have been from a semi-educated person, but since I read the words dogsbite and that you give them an ounce of credibility then I won't waste my time. Obviously, if you profess to be a pseudo journalist then you might want to do some real research about dog bites and canine behavior, and leave the sensational hype for sources like Komo.

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  9. U know it's. Media like this that make a very loyal and very intelligent breed look bad. Its irresponsible owners is the cause and if a pittbull when a puppy is raised with love and affection and trained right and not left unattended or off the leash when outside situations like this wouldnt happen u should punish the deed not the breed.I think what y'all should or what should be done is the general public should be educated on the breed and how to and how not to approach a pitbull that they don't own as well as the owners be educated on responsible pitbull ownership.

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  10. the dog prolly had a reason or felt harmed i think it is the way the dog is raised you should not fuckin judge someone by a race so why judge a dog by his

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  11. I think you must be loving person to own a pit bull or any animal ..people that have a pit bull must be very responsible and make sure that their pit is safe in any given situation,and take necessary precautions to ensure safety for all. This discrimination on pit bulls is unreal and we need to change this and the laws.

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