Time to own up for attacks
Experts say people to blame for majority of dog bites
By NADIA MOHARIB, Calgary Sun
September 3, 2010
They are stocky, muscular, strong and often labelled public enemy No. 1.
But identifying a pit bull depends on who you ask.
The Canadian Kennel Club says it is not a recognized breed.
“It’s a term commonly used to collectively describe a type of randomly bred mixed breed dog of unknown parentage or origin,” CKC’s Sonny Allinson says from Toronto.
Indeed, many in the canine realm agree in principle — saying the pit bull term refers to a range of crossbreeds.
When asked about pit bulls, the Calgary Humane Society says a number of canines with similar characteristics and traits fall under so-called bully breeds while other Alberta shelters have no rigid definition but use the label when it seems appropriate.
Jurisdictions which ban the so-called breed often lump several dog varieties together, requiring a vet’s examination of traits and physical characteristics to determine whether the pit-bull moniker fits.
Bill Bruce, head of Calgary’s animal bylaw services, concedes an absolute pit-bull definition is elusive at best.
“Basically, we don’t have a definition,” he says.
“It’s not an exact science.”
Alberta-based Pit Bulls for Life says it rescues “unwanted and abandoned pit bulls and pit bull type breeds.”
The bulk “are not papered,” but have the “big box head, the shorter stocky body,” and traits which put them in the ‘pitty’ category, says president Tia Lenz.
The CKC recognizes two purebreds: The American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire terrier.
Stressing they are not pit bulls nor bred to be overly aggressive and “the CKC position on dangerous dogs includes the notion dangerous dogs are a product of irresponsible breeding and/or ownership and come in any size, shape or form (which) may or may not be purebred.”
• • •
Petey was an endearing Staffordshire terrier made popular by The Little Rascals.
The TV-show pooch harkens to a time when pit bull-type dogs were not saddled with the label.
They were a decorated hero dog during the First World War, Helen Keller owned one, and renowned dog expert, Cesar Millan defied stereotypes with his sweet pit bull,
Once touted as the perfect family dog, they are now maligned in public perception as nothing more than a toothy, ticking time-bomb, indisputably, with the power to launch devastating attacks.
“In the early 1900s the bloodhound was the devil dog, in the ’60s it was the German shepherd, in the ’70s it was the Doberman pincer, then it was the Rotweiller and then it was the era of pit bulls,” Bruce says.
“Now it’s the Cane Corso and the Presario Canary.”
Kirsty Pearson, Calgary Humane Society animal behaviour co-ordinator, says pit-bull type dogs can’t seem to shake a reputation they have hardly garnered.
Last year in Calgary, the Bichon Shih-Tzu was the top culprit for human bites while Bruce says huskies are behind the bulk of human fatalities caused by dogs in Canada.
“It wasn’t many years ago, the top biting dog was an American cocker spaniel,” Pearson says.
“People are looking at the stereotype and have the assumption all bully breeds are aggressive. These dogs can make very nice pets but people need to understand them and give them what they need.”
• • •
The so-called pit bull is often a must-have accessory for the stereotypical macho owner — the muscled man with the tattoos and the don’t-mess-with-me attitude.
With that, all too often, comes the intentional corruption of what, in the right hands could be a mild-mannered mutt, but in the wrong hands potentially dangerous.
Basically, deprive a dog of a responsible owner and any breed can become a problem.
“In general, the wrong people are attracted to these dogs,” says Brad Nichols, a Calgary Humane Society animal protection officer.
“If there is not much socialization and they are chained in the yard and not trained they are probably more likely to be more aggressive than the golden retriever down the road living with a family, it’s so-called pack.”
Assuming pit-bull types have cornered the market on aggression is dangerous.
“I would be cautious around any dog. I’ve been bitten twice on the job and neither time was it a pit bull,” Nichols says.
“I don’t discriminate. I would be as concerned with an aggressive shepherd, labrador or retriever — an aggressive dog is an aggressive dog and a big dog of any sort can do some damage.”
• • •
The pit bull attacked, likely in a bid to offer protection, when its owner began throwing punches at his girlfriend.
And sinking its teeth into human flesh sealed its fate.
His owner told city officials to euthanize it.
It was a done deal but heartbreaking, says Bruce, given the darling pooch passed behaviour assessments with flying colours.
“Her only offence was being a pit bull,” Bruce says of the case several years ago in Calgary where two people were bitten by their own dog.
Similar themes are present in other pit-bull type attacks.
Several have been left to run at large and often attacks happen in their own home.
“Regardless of the reason, the animal ends up paying the price,” Nichols says.
“The person gets dinged by the bylaw but I would say the dog gets the worst of it.”
Cochrane Humane Society’s Cheryl Wallach says dog aggression isn’t related to breed as much as to owners shirking responsibility.
“A large breed can do more damage, so anyone who has a large dog of any breed has a responsibility to train and socialize the dog,” she says.
“Unfortunately, some people choose to raise dogs to be aggressive. One of their dogs of choice is the pit bull.”
Bruce says biting cases are spawned by unintentional and intentional scenarios.
Some train dogs to be aggressive while others are simply guilty of ignorance on how to handle bigger breeds.
Either way, it’s “sad” when one gets into trouble, he says.
In August, an American Staffordshire terrier was seized after biting several people brawling in his home.
Officials chose to give Alphie a second chance in a new home where there are assurances he will get proper training and care.
Several years ago, animal services changed its policy to not adopt out pit bulls — those proving pet worthy up for adoption like any other dog. Of about 700 canines adopted annually, up to 50 are pit bull types, many from Winnipeg or Ontario where bans are in place.
• • •
When a big dog bites it can do more damage than even the most frenzied smaller one.
And pit bulls were bred to scrap, with muscular physiques perfectly designed to back an attack.
In 19th century England, bulldogs and terriers were mixed to create the pit bull which was then trained into a fighting machine.
“Although these dogs were originally bred and trained to display aggression against other dogs, aggression against humans was not encouraged because, even while fighting, the dogs had to be handled by their trainers,” the Encyclopedia Britannica states.
The bottom line, says Bruce, is all dogs can bite.
“The worst bite I saw was by a 15-lb chihuahua cross which took a (chunk) almost as big as a tennis ball out of a person’s leg,” he says.
• • •
Many say it’s hard to prove any pit bull-type is good when its bad reputation follows wherever they go.
At city dog parks on any given day as one approaches, with its characteristic big grin and notoriety, crowds part like the Red Sea — something Staffordshire bull terrier owner, Cathy Cubberley, has seen.
“We go out for walks and people pick up their kids and their dogs,” she says. “My dog is fine, but I understand.”
As a responsible dog owner, she doesn’t take Maggie to off-leash parks.
“If she does get into a fight, she can do a lot of damage,” she explains, stressing she doubts it would ever happen.
“I don’t want to put her in that situation.”
When Calgary radio personality Charlee Morgan rescued Brandy from a shelter, the gentle red-nosed brindle pit bull proved perfectly matched to the home she shared with a dog and two cats.
“At first I was a little intimidated because of what I heard about them, just their viciousness,” she says.
“But she blended right in — she was actually frightened of the cats.”
Morgan says misconceptions spawning expectations Brandy was bloodthirsty — what she calls “pit-bull prejudice” — forced her to segregate her from the dog park world and muzzle her when they went for walks.
“I was extra responsible because of peoples’ perceptions — they assumed my dog was a menace,” she says.
“Any dog in the right situation can get into a fight and if a nip at the park happens with my dog I felt it would be a pit bull witch-hunt.
“I had her for 13 years and she never had an incident where she bit a cat, a dog or a person.”
• • •
Recently, critics of the Ontario ban claimed it has not lowered attacks and blame it for unwarranted deaths of hundreds of dogs caught in the shake-down where it’s illegal to own an American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier “or any dog that resembles these breeds.”
“Bites are worst than ever in Ontario since the legislation,” Bruce says. “If you do not train it, do not control it and it is left unattended with children or running at large, all large dogs can and will bite,” he says.
“It’s not about the breed but the owner who failed it.”
This is a great write up from the Calgary Sun. Several excellent points are made but this one is the most important and something everyone should remember before they make up their mind about pit bull type dogs:
“Deprive a dog of a responsible owner and any breed can become a problem.”