It’s a local story. I can’t ignore it.
Yesterday a pregnant woman in Pacifica, California (about 15 miles from my home in San Francisco) apparently was attacked and killed by her 125-pound Pit Bull. [Edit on 8/15/11: reliable sources indicate that the Chronicle mis-reported the dog’s size. He was 85 pounds.] According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the woman’s husband came home on his lunch break and found the dog standing over his wife’s body. He called 911 and put the dog in the back yard. The dog promptly escaped from the back yard and was shot dead by police officers arriving at the scene. The dog was not neutered.
The comments on the Chronicle’s website (which, by the way, made me quite proud of how generally civil Vet Blog commenters are) immediately lit up with a negative take against Pit Bulls. Today, the Chronicle published a follow-up article entitled “Pacifica Tragedy Renews Pit-Bull Debate”. Here’s the first paragraph:
As authorities in San Mateo County tried to determine why a pregnant Pacifica woman’s pit bull would maul her to death, the gruesome incident reignited a decades-long debate: Are the dogs too dangerous to live with humans?
The story takes a predictable course. It pits the vocal opponents of the breed against those who say that there is nothing inherently dangerous about Pit Bulls. The former state that pit bulls, no matter how well cared for, cannot be trusted — and they cite this tragic incident as an example. The latter claim that irresponsible ownership is the cause of Pit Bull (and all dog) attacks, and they point out that other breeds (such as Chihuahuas) are much more likely to bite — but they can’t kill a human.
Over my career I have met many hundreds (or more likely thousands) of Pit Bulls. My experience places me squarely in the second camp. When I realize that my next patient will be a Pit Bull, I don’t worry at all. The average Pit Bull has a temperament that is similar, in my experience, to an average Labrador Retriever. In my entire career, only one Pit Bull has tried to bite me (Labs have gone for me more often than that). It was scary, to be sure, but not as scary as the proportionally much larger numbers of Rottweilers, Chow Chows and German Shepherds who have wanted pieces of me. I can’t even begin to count the Chihuahuas that have lunged at me.
So what is it about Pit Bulls? First, they are strong. When a Pit Bull decides to attack, it will be much more serious than when a Chihuahua attacks. If Chihuahuas could kill, morgues would be overflowing and dog attack deaths would not be news.
Second, although the overwhelming majority of Pit Bull owners are upstanding citizens, the breed is attractive to irresponsible people. When you see a meth-addled punk with a dog, you can bet that three times out of four the dog will be a Pit Bull (and 99 times out of 100, to the dismay of the punk, the Pit Bull will be a harmless sweetheart). If these people had a predisposition towards Labs, then Labs would be the ones with the bad rep (and I say that as a Lab owner). I reiterate: most people who own Pit Bulls are responsible pet owners. Sadly, however, a disproportionate number of irresponsible pet owners choose to own Pit Bulls. This makes the entire breed look bad in the eyes of the Pit Bull haters.
And what about this tragedy, in which a supposedly well-cared-for Pit Bull killed an innocent victim? Two questions have haunted me since I first read of the incident.
Why was the dog not neutered? People, in my experience, don’t neuter their dogs for one of four reasons. Some people decide, after thoroughly investigating the matter, that neutering isn’t in their dog’s best interest. Others want to breed their dog. A larger number, however, intend to neuter their dog but just never get around to it. And some people don’t neuter their dogs because they want a tough dog to make up for certain anatomical shortcomings of their own. To which of these groups did the owner of the dog in question belong?
Also, how did the dog get out of the back yard so easily? If you have a 125 pound dog, why would you not have a reliably fenced back yard? Was this really a well-cared-for dog?
The incident is tragic. But I can’t bring myself to blame the breed.
Photo: doesn’t look vicious to me.