PRO: Banning pit bulls would eliminate breed responsible for most dog-bite fatalities
March 27, 2011 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 27, 2011 at 10:28 p.m.
With more than 4.5 million dog bites reported each year, the issue of what is called breed-specific legislation seems to always be in the forefront.
And because most studies report pit bulls are the breed most responsible for attacks, they're the ones mostly likely to be considered for banning.
A dog notorious for being bred to fight is the same breed some hail as the perfect family pet.
Should a sweeping ban be placed on pit bulls, then?
A year ago, Jeff Lyon said he had just finished reading an Advocate article about a woman being attacked by a pit bull when the story's protagonist became real to him.
He was backing out of his driveway when he saw two pit bulls in his front yard, standing over his 8-year-old granddaughter's five-pound, deaf cat.
Lyon said he got out of his car but retreated when the dogs' aggressive attention turned to him.
"I could see the cat laying in the yard and was pretty sure she was dead," Lyon remembered. "If my granddaughter had been playing with the cat, what would have happened?"
The dogs were collared, Lyon said, but he was unable to track down their owners.
As far as human fatalities go, pit bulls accounted for 59 percent of 88 dog-bite deaths in the United States from 2006 to 2008, according to a review of media reports done by dogsbite.org.
Another study by the Centers for Disease Control found that pit bulls accounted for 32 percent of all dog-bite deaths from 1979 to 1998, more than any other breed.
Immediately after the attack, and especially after having to explain the loss to his granddaughter, Lyon said he was convinced the breed should be banned from Victoria.
"If it's an aggressive dog, and one that's known for its aggression, there needs to be some responsibility by owners," he said. "I think if there's a rise in aggression, it's something the city council should look at."
Lyon has since softened his position on banning the breed, saying it's a near impossibility.
"How would you do it? How would you police it? And what about the cross-breeding?"
But he does have ideas for better regulation.
"No matter what kind of dog it is, if it's an aggressive breed, they should be fenced," he said. "I don't believe in chaining a dog at all."
Indeed, a chained or tethered dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than one that isn't chained, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Neither the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center or Victoria Adopt-A-Pet currently hold pit bulls. Both organizations said the breed is banned, not necessarily by choice, but by necessity.
"It's not a breed that we allow at a shelter, simply because it's so hard to find good quality homes," said Adopt-A-Pet's Shelter director Renee Wheeler. "Also, the fact that they have to play in groups. No matter how sweet they are, sometimes it becomes a problem."
Wheeler said the pit bull is the only breed for which the shelter provides free spaying and neutering. The service is partly offered because of a recent increase in hereditary skin diseases in the breed, but also because research shows some 70 percent of dog bite cases involve un-neutered dogs.
"We want to encourage people that (pit bulls) can make a wonderful family pet, but the majority of the time, it's those who are spayed or neutered who make wonderful family pets," Wheeler said.
If pit bull owners took advantage of such opportunities to be responsible with their animals, Lyon said he thinks the problem could be solved without legislation.
"A pit bull is genetically bred to fight, to be aggressive. And an owner can either work to calm that aggression, or they can encourage it," he said.