Monday, May 20, 2013

Into the Wormhole

Recent pit-bull episodes have reminded people of just how aggressive the breed is, how brutal its bite can be and how much strengthening most existing animal-control ordinances need in order to give the public better protection.
(LA Times, 1987)
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Reading Biting Back at Pit Bulls (Los Angeles Times, Aug 25, 1987) is a Back To The Future experience. It is an unsigned editorial and appears to represent the official opinion of the editorial board.

The sense of urgency seems prophetic, in light of what has happened in the intervening quarter century. In 1987 pit bulls & close pit bull mixes were under 2% of the dog population, but were already 5% of the dogs admitted to shelters and 10% of the dogs killed in shelters. Human fatalities from dog attacks averaged under two a year in the US, with pit bulls accounting for one of those. No dog adopted from a shelter (or rescue) was known to have ever killed anyone.

If we enter the wormhole to come back to 2013, pit bulls and their mixes are now 4.8% of the dog population, and comprise about 30% of the dogs admitted to shelters and 60% of the dogs killed in shelters. Human fatalities from dog attacks now average more than 30 per year, two-thirds of which are committed by pit bulls. Dogs adopted by families from shelters (pit bulls, Rottweilers, and one husky) have killed 11 people since 2010. (See below for data.)

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How did this happen, when the warning signs were clear a quarter century ago? A comment under a recent news account* offers an explanation:
Dog fighters moved to popularize this breed after the feds criminalized dog fighting. Over population of pit bulls and pit bulls in family homes makes it impossible to spot dog fighters. We put down ONE million unwanted pit bulls a year. Stop listening to the propaganda put out by very wealthy and cruel dog fighters who don't care about pit bulls or people. Stop helping them. Do not take in pit bulls as pets. Don't be a pawn.
Pit bulls moved out of the fighting pits and into our homes, beginning about thirty years ago; the animal welfare movement has been a willing accomplice in bringing fighting breeds into our homes. HSUS has pumped vast resources in advocating for pit bulls, as have the ASPCA, the AVMA, Best Friends Animal Society, Animal Farm Foundation, and hundreds of local pit bull advocacy groups. To what end have they done this? There is no greater danger to the animal welfare movement than its own advocacy of pit bulls. **

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Pamela Maria Devitt was killed by pit bulls 65 miles northeast of Los Angeles earlier this month. The day after the May 9th attack an editor at the Los Angeles Times wrote a personal opinion piece which claimed that pit bulls are not dangerous. The Times has published dog-friendly articles on the 10th, 11th, the 16th (two articles), the 17th, and the 19th, but has not offered a recent opinion on pit bulls.

For an official opinion from the LA Times we must enter the wormhole and go back to 1987. The editorial, perhaps from a more courageous, forthright editorial board, ends with the following call for Breed Specific Legislation:
To be effective, animal-control ordinances must do precisely what their name implies: Control animals and remove those that threaten public safety before they attack, not after. With pit bulls, the traditional concept that an animal is entitled to one bite is just too dangerous.
The editorial has not been repudiated; it has simply been buried in the archives. Now is the time to reaffirm this enlightened position.

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Related posts:
Timeline of California pit bull attacks
Index of California posts
The Natural History of Fighting Breeds

Statistics are from the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here. This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

Recent LA Times Articles:
Where my dog's at
   LA Times, May 19, 2013
Hey haters, people love dogs
   LA Times, May 17, 2013
LA County's Dilemma
   LA Times, May 16, 2013
The Gift of a great dog
   LA Times, May 16, 2013
Pit bulls in trouble again
    LA Times, May 10, 2013

By Steve Lopez:
The tale of a rescue dog has a tail-wagging ending
   LA Times, May 11, 2013
The fast-moving tale of a rescue dog named Ginger
   LA Times, May 4, 2013

Biting back at pit bulls
   LA Times, August 25, 1987

Other Sources Quoted:
Three year old attacked by pit bull
   Fayettville Observer, May 18, 2013
** Attributed to Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, on numerous occasions.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks