Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Worthy dog debate

Pit bull column stirs up 'firestorm' as readers attack, defend rights of banned pooches

After my column last week concerning a pit bull attack on our Jack Russell terrier, Murphy, Garry Davis, of Prince Edward County animal control, phoned my wife and said something of a "firestorm" had been created.

The Picton Gazette carried a front-page story, and pro and con elements on Ontario's ban and restrictions on pit bull-type dogs jumped both feet into the fray.

In Toronto, too, reaction was strong, and letters and e-mails flooded in, some of which I'll summarize here.

To go back, at our place near Wellington, 15 km west of Picton, a neighbour's pit bull, which we've had trouble with for a year, spotted 13-year-old Murphy and attacked, gouging a chunk off her ribs.

Owner and dog went on the lam but were caught a week later.

The owner was charged and the pit bull, named "Sniper," was put down.

My story didn't blame the dog -- bred to be a fighter with excessive courage, strength and loyalty -- but the owner who didn't keep the dog in accordance with Ontario law -- muzzled and leashed.

Here are some reactions:

- Steve Barker, a pit bull owner who says his dog bears scars from a Wheaten terrier attack, accuses me of "writing drivel simply to get a reaction (i.e. sell newspapers)." He says that "there are dog fights every day" in Toronto, but pit bulls "are more tolerant of irritations than most other breeds."

- While this may be his experience, Daniel Gordon notes that England has banned the breed because, among other things, "pit bulls have been bred to kill and in their minds it's not in their best interests to not kill; it automatically perceives whatever it is attacking as a threat to itself." He says, "For pit bull owners to suggest their dogs are no different from any other breed is completely ignorant of the ticking time bomb that's on the end of their leash."

- Mike MacKinnon, "proud American Staffordshire bull terrier owner," claims my "anecdotal evidence is hardly responsible reporting." He writes (correctly): "Any dog, poorly raised and socialized, can be a menace ... Stop picking on pit bulls. Talk about serious dog attacks by other 'friendlier' breeds before you write more nonsense."

- John Brooker cut to the chase and wrote: "The breed ban is due to the unique nature of the pit bull. Once a pit bull sets its jaw, it takes tremendous effort to release whatever it is locked on. The jaw is designed to kill, which is not a feature of any other breed. That is the reason it needs a ban."

- Kelly Caldwell, editor-in-chief of Dogs in Canada magazine, felt that "the crux of the problem lies in irresponsible pet owners." She's "fighting passionately" to end breed-specific legislation and blames owners for most dog incidents.

- Susan Macleod's letter ran in the Sun and recounted how her pit bull-type dog was twice attacked by different Jack Russell terriers. If she didn't view dogs as "individuals," she says that she "would assume that (Jack Russells) were all programmed to attack pit bulls." In this case, her pit bull didn't retaliate. (As a JR owner, I view that verging on preposterous).

- Mitchell St. Croix noted that small dogs were probably worse offenders than pit bulls when it comes to biting, but if "a Jack Russell comes after you, you are not likely to be in any real danger. A PB attacks you and it can be (and often is) devastating. A PB attacks and it laughs off fists and bats, even taking several gun shots to get its attention."

- Bryan Dale accused me "once again" of launching an unfounded attack on pit bulls, and feels, "like Dan Rather he (me) has simply become too old and feeble-minded to properly research" columns. He is asking the Ontario Press Council to take action on my "breach of ethical standards."

- Maureen Chilko is "stunned" by the response of owners whenever a dog or child is attacked by a pit bull. "Dog owners have the same response: 'I have no idea what happened, the dog has always been so gentle, we've never had problems with this dog.' " She adds: "While every pit bull is not violent, each has the potential to be violent and attack ... to seriously injure or kill ... due to the physical nature of the breed."

- Colleen Nimere expresses sorrow for Murphy (who's doing well and shows no signs of post-traumatic stress disorder) and focuses on irresponsible owners. She says if pit bulls weren't available, "I assume their next dog of choice would not be a Shih Tzu." She owns a pit bull who, "muzzle and all," is the mascot of "his human sister's soccer team." She thinks Jack Russells are "easily irritated" and not good with little children. By owning one I am putting grandchildren at risk. (My response: Murphy -- like her five predecessors -- adores kids but hides under the bed when they get rambunctious).

- Lisa LeLeu recalls that her son was attacked "by a supposedly nice family pit bull." She has started an educational website to teach dog safety.

- Eric Sparling calls my account of the attack on Murphy "shoddy journalism" and says "there isn't a dog breed on the planet that hasn't attacked at some point." Owners should be held responsible, but he "rejects ... the specious assumption that aggressiveness or a propensity to attack can be determined by a dog's appearance or breed distinction."

- Sophie Zaworski calls my column a "rant" and says the problem lies with authorities who don't police who buys a cat or dog -- which "any moron can purchase." She tells of a Yorkshire terrier that "ripped its owner's nose off," but the media don't seek to ban that breed. She owns a Staffordshire terrier and an Akita, and views small dogs as a greater menace.

- Selma Mulvey doesn't think much of me, but is more upset at "the Ontario Liberals unfounded, unresearched and ill-advised attempt to play to the gallery as a result of media-driven hysteria around the purported 'breed' of dog."

- Nancy Flint, probably speaks for all factions when she cites her car bumper sticker: "There are no bad dogs, just bad owners."

This, then, is a cross-section of views on the pit bull issue, resulting from the unprovoked attack on Murphy and our concern that it could have happened on our small grandchildren or the neighbours child, since the dog was never muzzled, and ran free.

In a future article I'll explore why pit bulls, despite their fans, are not suitable to be trained for work with the police.


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