A sheriff in Holmes County, Mississippi is calling for the county supervisors to ban “pit bulls” in the wake of a fatal mauling earlier this week. Sheriff Willie March reports that 3-year-old Christopher Malone was playing behind a mobile home on Monday near a pen where dogs he identified as “pit bulls” were kept. The sheriff advised that the dogs broke out of their pen and attacked the child.
According to WAPT News, Christopher’s mother found her child’s body late Monday afternoon. No one was supervising the toddler while he was outside, and no one witnessed the attack. Accordingly, no one knows what happened immediately before to the attack or what the contributing factors were. What we do know is that a young life full of promise and hope was cut short, and regardless of the circumstances, its a horrible nightmare that the Malone family will likely never wake up from.
First and foremost, I’m not here to point fingers – make no mistake, what happened in Thornton is a tragedy – a heartbreaking and preventable tragedy.
I can’t stress enough, however, that much like parenting, dog ownership is a responsibility, and it is evident a lack of both contributed to Christopher’s tragic death.
Sheriff March advises that his department gets complaints about pit bulls, but since there is no ordinance against them, there is little the department can do. Quite frankly, this is as it should be. Dogs should be deemed dangerous based on their behavior, not their breed.
Let’s also keep in mind that the police investigation hasn’t even been completed, and it has yet to be determined if any criminal charges will be forthcoming in relation to Christopher’s death.
One has to question, though, in light of Sheriff March’s knee-jerk response to target ALL pit bulls in the county, how would an ordinance regulating pit bulls (or any breed of dog for that matter) prevent an attack on a toddler left alone with dogs owned by his family and on his own property?
The answer is simple… it wouldn’t.
In all the years that I’ve been following and arguing against breed specific legislation, I’ve found that most people on both sides of the issue are interested in (1) strengthening the bond between humans and dogs in an effort to help them better understand dog behavior, thus reducing the likelihood of dog attacks and (2) encouraging the development of educational programs to ensure dog owners know the basic rules and what’s expected of them.
While being a responsible dog owner seems like a rather simple concept to most of us, to some, that’s just not the case. And I know this will come as a huge shock to breed ban proponents, but irresponsible dog owners are not limited to one breed or type of dog. In fact, the likelihood of your dog being involved in a negative incident depends more on the type of owner you are, as opposed to the breed of dog you own.
Regulating dogs by their breed (or appearance) rather than their behavior (a) stigmatizes both dogs and owners (b) results in unsocialized dogs of targeted breeds as owners hide them out of fear for their loved companions; and (c) causes overflow in animal shelters and increased euthanasia rates resulting in the death of highly adoptable dogs simply due to lack of space.
More importantly, breed specific laws give a community a false sense of security because they fail to address the actions of irresponsible dog owners and ignore the truly dangerous dogs that don’t meet the definition or appearance standards of “dangerous” as designated by a discriminatory law.
Let me be clear, I am not, nor have I ever been unsympathetic or downplayed dog attacks – no one should ever be afraid to be in their own yard, walk down the street, or be in any public area because of irresponsible dog owners. PERIOD. When a dog causes injury or death, the owner of that dog, regardless of its breed, should be held to the highest accountability.
But I also want to be clear on this: I am tired of defending my dog, one of hundreds of thousands of similar dogs like him in the United States, due to a small number of isolated incidents – incidents in which statistics reflect share very specific criteria, sometimes referred to as a “perfect storm” of circumstances, that precede a dog attack, the majority of which can be controlled.
I am tired of my breed of choice being used as a scapegoat because an irresponsible person, whether 1,000 miles away or right next door, allowed their dog to become a problem in their community and/or created an environment in which they lost control of their individual dog. Enacting regulations for everyone who meets a certain criteria in lieu of punishing the individual responsible is a discriminatory act, and an excuse designed to shirk responsibility and avoid pointing fingers in order to be “politically correct.” We elect officials to make the hard decisions, not simply cast sweeping blanket laws that punish and penalize all members of a particular group – the innocent and responsible, as well as the guilty and reckless – in an effort to not single out or place blame on specific individuals responsible for any given problem.
I am tired of the media cranking out headlines quicker than the ink can dry on police reports if a “pit bull” is alleged to be involved in an incident. The stories hit the airwaves or the internet, they generate fear, further stigmatizing certain breeds, when all the while, reporters haven’t bothered to confirm the so-called facts, or even run a spellcheck for that matter. Why such sloppy “reporting”? Because its a race to see who can get the headlines involving pit bulls out faster since those in the media know “pit bull” stories sell…so who cares about “facts” as long as the headline boosts ratings, right?
Even more distressing, however, are the opportunities missed by the media to EDUCATE THE PUBLIC on how to prevent dog attacks when these heartbreaking, yet preventable incidents happen. As someone who has closely followed “dog news” for the last decade, these incidents all share remarkable similarities which the media is failing to alert people to or stress the importance of.
The media has an obligation to the public to educate and inform, and while most don’t live up to that standard, the Editorial Board of the Arizona Republic published a piece earlier this week regarding the two-legged culpability where dog attacks are concerned. Rather than cherry-pick, I’m simply going to post the entire piece:
PEOPLE, NOT DOGS, OFTEN TO BLAME FOR VICIOUS BITES
The reputed viciousness of pit bulls has become an easy explanation for dog attacks. But the true villain walks on two legs.
There is a problem, and it goes beyond some tragic and high-profile recent dog attacks.
A study released by the Arizona Department of Health Services shows a 139 percent increase in the number of severe dog-bite injuries from 2008 to 2012. Almost one-third of the victims were children younger than 14.
A whopping 70 percent occurred in homes, where adults are supposed to supervise both children and pets. This is everybody’s business because about one-third of medical costs were paid by Medicaid.
This is also anybody’s dog because attacks involved two dozen breeds.
Dogs may do bad things, but the reason often comes back to how they are treated. Those who choose to own dogs need to take responsibility to assure they are trained and socialized.
Parents and other adults need to remember that any dog can pose a danger to a child. “Just like you wouldn’t leave your kids around water unsupervised, you shouldn’t leave your kids around a dog unsupervised,” said Dr. Jeffrey Salomone, trauma medical director at Maricopa Medical Center.
That’s two-legged culpability. Adult responsibility.
Quite simply, you can ban pit bulls or you can ban poodles… pick a breed, it doesn’t matter because the bottom line remains the same. Breed bans fail because they don’t address the correct animal – the one with two legs.
Until dog owners acknowledge and accept the need to understand their individual dog’s behavior, a practice which allows dog owners to “read” their dog, thus enabling them to avoid or eliminate specific situations and circumstances that could potentially contribute to dog attacks, we will never learn from the heartbreaking experiences of others.
I’m not saying everyone who owns a dog needs to be an “expert” on dog behavior. What I am saying, however, is that every dog owner should be an expert on THEIR dog’s behavior.
Its not rocket science – its responsibility.
In a perfect world, dog owners would be responsible with their dogs, and when they aren’t, individual dog owners should pay the price for their irresponsibility. Unfortunately, in the real world, quite often its an innocent person who pays the price. This is simply unacceptable, and its well past time for change.
Responsibility DOES matter!
We cannot hold dogs accountable for their actions, but their owners most certainly can and should be accountable. Sadly, in a society where personal accountability is becoming a rarity, this deadly scenario will continue to play out…over and over again, as long as we continue to focus on dog breeds instead of dog owners.
Today its pit bulls – in the past, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds and others were targeted. The breed of dog changes because it’s nothing more than a convenient excuse, an excuse that changes as certain breeds increase or decrease in popularity.
Regardless of the type of dog in the crosshairs, breed is the “fall guy” for a problem that no one seems to want to address – a problem that stems from and, more often than not, is directly related to the actions (or inactions) of two-legged animals rather than the four-legged.