National Post Barbara Kay: Dog bites man — again and again

National Post - Thursday August 22nd, 2013

Pit bulls cannot be trained not to hurt people, any more than greyhounds can be trained to run like sled dogs.

Thanks to (literally) thick skin, a Calgary-resident beagle named Arlo will recover from a recentunprovoked attack by two neighbouring pit bulls. The vet bill for stitching up Arlo’s neck and shoulder — $3600 — tells us that what will be officially recorded as “bites” were in fact the mauling typically associated with pit-bull-type dogs.

If Arlo had been the family’s thin-skinned child, one shudders to think of the likely outcome. Here is yet another reminder that the vaunted “Calgary model” for containing dangerous-dog harm isn’t working.

Because of the disproportionate damage they cause to other animals and humans, especially children, some 600 communities across North America have chosen breed selective legislation to ban pit-bull-type dogs. But Calgary opted for “responsible pet ownership”: strict licencing, public education and owner accountability.

So the (unlicenced) pit bulls’ owner is paying the vet bill. Which is no solace to Arlo and his owners, or other neighbours, now understandably fearful in their instantly-devalued homes.

Arlo’s assailants should be euthanized. Instead they will be “assessed,” after which they may get a second chance, as juvenile first (human) offenders usually do. Trouble is, dogs are not humans. The purpose-bred fighting breed cluster pit bulls represent, genetically programmed for impulsive aggression, cannot be trained into reliable sociability, any more than greyhounds can be trained to adopt the running gait of a sled dog.

If this strikes you as mere common sense, reader, you are out of the canine-correctness loop. Most dog-industry spokespeople — veterinarians, humane shelters, animal charities — have bought into the sentimental, but anti-scientific tropes promoted by pit bull advocates. Ignoring hard evidence, they piously invoke common mantras like “all dogs bite” and “it’s bad owners, not bad dogs.”

Both statements are misleading. Unlike pit-bull-type dogs, non-fighting dogs usually only bite defensively. When they do, they grab and release; they don’t maul in the grip-and-rend style of fighting dogs. Explosive, unpredictable aggression can emerge in pit bulls as young as four months. Bad owners may exacerbate pit bulls’ inherited traits, but even ideal owners cannot eliminate or reliably control them.

In his continually updated “Clifton Report,” available online, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton publishes tallied of serious human damage — maulings, maimings and fatalities by dogs — tallied by breed. (He has been tracking such data since the early 1980s.) According to these numbers, derived from Centers for Disease Control and police reports, amongst other sources, pit-bull-type dogs represent 3000% of the actuarial risk of more typical breeds. Rottweilers represent 2000%, and — to show the disproportion — German Shepherds, the third highest-risk breed, represent only 300% average risk.

Since 1982, pit bulls have killed 259 of the 511 North American victims of fatal dog attacks

In fact, Farmers Group Insurance in California recently stopped liability coverage for pit bulls and Rottweilers (and wolf hybrids). Tellingly, the number of attacks and the amount of payout has doubled in those jurisdictions that — like Calgary — refuse to enact breed selective legislation.

Before the late 20th century proliferation of pit bulls into the dog population, no other breed had ever killed or maimed humans in numbers that come even remotely close to those killed by pit bull type dogs. (Dobermans, widely maligned in their fashionable day as dangerous, have killed four people in the U.S. since 1982.)

The exponential growth of pit bull love — they currently represent the second most popular breed after retrievers in sales — is a worrying cultural phenomenon. Now 6% of the dog population, since 1982, pit bulls have killed 259 of the 511 North American victims of fatal dog attacks, according to Clifton.

Bans work. They eliminate the loathsome crime of dog fighting and ancillary criminal activity, notably drug dealing, that dog fighting attracts. They stop the co-optation of public spaces by intimidating youths parading canine weaponry. Overcrowded humane shelters empty out, as dumped pit bulls represent much of their intake.

Most important: Bans spare animals and people horrible suffering. San Francisco saw an 81% decline in fatal or disfiguring pit bull attacks in the eight years following its ban; Toronto dog bites have decreased by 32% — from 486 to 329 — since the 2006 Ontario ban on pit bulls. The Calgary model is failing. Despite its record licencing rate of 90% — four times higher than the average in other cities — Calgary area pit bull attacks have more than tripled: from 58 in 2009 to 201 in 2012.

Facts are facts. What part of “public safety hazard” does Calgary not understand?

National Post