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Editorials Modesto Bee
Pit bulls can be deadly; hold owners accountable
If the law makes it difficult to bring charges, then we must change the law
A full-grown pit bull weighs around 75 pounds. With four of them you
get 300 pounds of muscle, jaws and teeth perfect for tearing into flesh.
Against 300 pounds of pit bull, the two people attacked in their own
yard on Oct. 14 – an elderly woman and her middle-aged son – never had a
chance. That the woman survived was miraculous. Her son wasn’t so
A tragedy. Sad. Awful.
But was it criminal? We
think it was, and we believe charges should be brought against the
animals’ owners. Though it’s legal to own four dogs, anyone who owns
four potential killers must know the constant threat.
“Four pit bulls equal danger,” said attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the leading California attorney in dog-bite cases. “When you have a dangerous condition, you have to take steps to correct it.”
More than two weeks after the attack, no criminal charges have been brought.
Though outraged, Sheriff Adam Christianson says he’s not sure the
owners can be successfully prosecuted. Unless the homeowner was
negligent in letting the dogs escape; unless the dogs were documented
nuisances or dangerous; unless they were intentionally made vicious,
Christianson says it will be hard to bring charges.
There was no previous contact between animal control and the dogs.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager’s office is bound by the same laws.
That two citizens of this county can be killed in their own yard by a
neighbor’s uncontrolled animals is an outrage. A rolling car, an
exploding gas can, a random gunshot all would likely result in charges.
Why not death by dogs?
Where is the justice if a death is
insufficient for charging the owner of four pit bulls – a breed known
for its violent attacks on humans and other animals?
Ah, there we go, picking on pit bulls.
Fanciers of the breed will be outraged. And they’ll be at least partially right when they say it’s not the dogs’ fault.
We agree; it’s purely genetics.
Humans have been altering canine characteristics since before the dawn
of history. We breed dogs to have long hair, big eyes, to fit into
teacups. Some we have bred to be ferocious. So these pit bulls did
exactly what eons of breeding required them to do. They became vicious.
It’s true that any breed can deliver a fatal bite. A Centers for
Disease Control study in 2000 documented two fatal attacks from
dachshunds over a 20-year period. But the overwhelming majority of fatal
attacks in the study came from much larger animals – German shepherds,
Dobermans, Rhodesian ridgebacks. All paled in comparison to pit bulls
and Rottweilers. Those breeds caused 67 percent of human fatalities.
The website dogsbite.org tracks death by dog, documenting 32 fatalities
in 2013. Of those, 25 (78 percent) were attributed to pit bulls.
Five were in California, and three resulted in criminal charges. The
owner of a Stockton dog that killed has been charged with involuntary
manslaughter. When four pit bulls in Littlerock killed a 63-year-old
woman, their owner was charged with second-degree murder. He was
sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.
But juries don’t always convict. Phillips said that if the owner shows sufficient remorse, juries often sympathize.
So why bother? Because to protect our neighborhoods and our children, examples must be made.
Large, aggressive dogs are more prevalent in poor neighborhoods. Some
people, unable to own a gun, get a pit bull. You can watch them on the
TV show “Pit Bulls and Parolees” on Animal Planet.
“It’s amazing what the entertainment industry will produce,” said Sheriff Christianson.
Said Phillips, “You’ve got this whole bunch of people not allowed to
carry weapons so they arm themselves with pit bulls and somehow this has
turned into a TV series to glorify them.”
politicians protect them. In 2004, a bill from Tom Hayden banned “breed
specific laws,” meaning you can’t have separate rules for aggressive
breeds. If a county allows a person to own four dogs, they can be four
poodles or four pit bulls.
If there are no laws under which the
owners of deadly animals can be charged, and if wrongheaded laws equate
targeting dangerous breeds with doggie discrimination, how is law
enforcement supposed to keep such vicious attacks from happening?
They can’t, unless the laws change.
If law enforcement cannot charge, then our lawmakers must step up and fix these laws.
Why not require anyone with an aggressive dog to alarm their fencing,
just as gates in fences around swimming pools are alarmed? Why not
require owners of aggressive breeds to double fence their property? Why
not require people who own such dogs to carry significant liability
coverage? Since these breeds are responsible for so much carnage, make
certain that anyone who owns one can cover the cost. No insurance, no
license; no license, no dog.
Phillips suggested following
PETA’s suggestion to destroy the breed by requiring all pit bulls to be
neutered – even Hayden’s wrongheaded law wouldn’t stop that.
All of these suggestions will bring howls of indignation from pit-bull
devotees. They believe nurture supersedes nature and a lovingly raised
pit bull is no more likely to attack than any other dog. Their big,
sweet dogs would never bite, unless … Unless what? Unless provoked?
Unless sensing danger? Unless someone invades their space? Unless they
get the chance?
Until pit-bull advocates are willing to offer
suggestions that go beyond simply loving away the ferocity of these
aggressive breeds, we’re not willing to listen.
Instead, hold owners accountable for the actions of these killers.