"Man mauled by Pit Bull still critical" read the headline. I visualized someone in his hospital bed, telling the nurse "Hey, you need a shave. And look at the cobwebs in the corner. You call this a hospital?"
Of course, the headline referred to a much more tragic situation: a man who had been savagely mauled by his own dog. There were no witnesses to the attack. There was no previous history of the dog showing aggression. The family understandably had the dog destroyed. Was there some unknown provocation? We don’t know, and probably never will. Even if there were some provocation, it’s hard to imagine a justification for such an attack. It seems to be a genuine case of the "dog that turns on his master".
Every breed has certain general tendencies with respect to being dominant or subordinate. Golden Retrievers are natural followers, while many Rottweilers are natural "leader of the pack" types. The only breed that seems to me to have a disproportionate number of bad actors would be the Chow Chow. The Pit Bull dogs that I have seen have been generally even-tempered and easy to get along with. I have certainly had some difficult patients in the breed, but not a large percentage at all. Admittedly, the dogs that I see are family pets, not the ones belonging to drug dealers and dog-fighting enthusiasts.
Which brings us to the reason why I don’t feel that breed-banning ordinances are particularly helpful. My colleague Dr. Jim Parks once remarked, "I can’t necessarily tell by looking at a dog if he will bite you. I can come more near to telling whether the dog will bite by looking at his owner." Years before I ever even heard of a Pit Bull, I worked in an animal shelter. Never a week went by without some unsavory character asking if we had any "Bad German Shepherds" or "Bad Dobermans". There is a certain group of people who have the perverse idea that the ownership of a "bad dog" will somehow enhance their personal mojo. Any large dog has the strength to be dangerous if mistreated. Take Pit Bulls away from these folks, and they will get a Presa Canario, or a Rottweiler, or a big mutt, or a weenie dog with a bad attitude.
I feel that it is much more effective to have a "vicious dog" ordinance that puts substantial penalties where they belong: on the irresponsible owner. Breed-banning ordinances have little effect in this regard, and penalize responsible owners and their dogs.
Note to readers of our daily paper: we are concerned here with VICIOUS DOGS. In two different articles, our hometown paper has had headlines and numerous references to VISCOUS DOGS. Possibly spell-check is letting them down. On the other hand, I like to envision these high-viscosity, gelatinous dogs oozing slowly over the streets and terrorizing the populace. No viscous dogs for me — give me a thin, soupy, runny dog any day.