Equality and Justice for All Victims? Not with BSL.
Breed Bans: Serving Only a Few
Question: What do these dog attacks have in common?
- July 2004 A 7-year-old girl sustains injuries to the head, neck, and body and is hospitalized after being attacked by a mixed breed dog. (TheDenverChannel.com, “Young Girl Seriously Injured In Dog Attack,” July 13, 2004)
- March 2006 A “frail” grandmother loses part of a finger and sustains “massive trauma” to one leg after being attacked by two Boxer mixes. (TheDenverChannel.com, “Grandmother Recovering After Dog Attack,” March 28, 2006)
- August 2006 A 7-year-old girl undergoes facial reconstruction to repair damage inflicted by an alleged German Shepherd mix. (Rocky Mountain News, “Girl healing from attack,” August 4, 2006)
Answer: All these severe dog attacks occurred in Denver, Colorado—where a ban on “pit bull type” dogs has been in place for decades. The ban clearly did nothing to prevent these people from becoming dog attack victims, nor has it helped any of between 400 and 500 annual Denver dog bite victims that are attacked by non-“pit bull type” dogs.
Be Sure You Get Attacked By the “Right” Kind of Dog
Consider, too, the aftermath of three extremely similar fatal dog attacks.
May 7, 2005, Waterford Township, Michigan—A 2-year-old girl named Samantha is killed by the family’s two female Siberian Huskies after being left unsupervised with them. The dogs had shown no prior signs of aggression. (The Oakland Press, “Family dogs maul toddler,” May 7, 2005)
May 9, 2005, Fruita, Colorado—A 7-year-old girl named Kate-Lynn Logel is killed by the family’s recently acquired male Alaskan Malamute after being left unsupervised with a male-female pair. Neither dog had shown prior signs of aggression (the family had only had them for three weeks but claimed that the previous owner said the dogs had no history of aggression). (Rocky Mountain News, “Fruita girl, 7, dies in dog attack,” May 9, 2005)
June 3, 2005, San Francisco, California—A 12-year-old boy named Nicholas Faibish is killed by the family’s intact breeding pair of pit bulls after being left unsupervised with them. One of the dogs had bitten Nicholas earlier in the day, but his mother nevertheless left him home alone with the dogs. (Extensive coverage of this case; one article can be found at SignOnSanDiego.com, “Mother charged with child endangerment in fatal dog mauling case,” June 23, 2005)
In the cases of both Samantha and Kate-Lynn…
- local papers carried the initial story on the first day, and perhaps a followup story the next day
But when Nicholas Faibish was killed by pit bulls…
- the story hit the front page of most California newspapers, in some cases for days on end;
- the story was picked up by national news channels;
- journalists eagerly followed and reported on every development in the case;
- legal charges were filed against Nicholas’s mother;
- the ensuing legal charges and court case were reported on thoroughly;
- news media churned out related links to other attacks by pit bulls;
- politicians and the public started calling for breed-specific legislation and a ban on pit bulls;
- breed-specific legislation was proposed and passed at a state level
All of these children died. Their deaths were all preventable. Their deaths all occurred similarly. What was it about Nicholas Faibish’s death that made it more tragic; more deserving of attention; and more deserving of social, legal, and political action than the deaths of Kate-Lynn or Samantha?
- Was it because Nicholas was a boy?
- Was it because San Francisco is a big city?
- Or was it because Nicholas was killed by scary, evil pit bulls—not less-than-thrilling Alaskan Malamutes or Siberian Huskies?
What Do We Learn About Dogs?
Even worse than the injustice of the sheer inequality here is the fact that such uneven concern and coverage means that most people will never learn what really causes death by dog.
For instance, the common thread with all three of these attacks: children should not be left unsupervised with dogs. How many people walked away with that critical lesson learned by the end of June 2005? And how many people walked away thinking that only pit bulls are the problem?
As Karen Delise points out
“To address fatal attacks as a Pit bull-specific problem invalidates the hundreds of deaths caused by other dogs. This approach renders any lessons we may have learned from all non-Pit bull attacks useless or of no intrinsic value in the understanding of canine aggression.” (Pit Bull Placebo, 2007)
The Dangerous Effects and the Vicious Circle
Unfortunately, people who have been threatened or attacked by a dog of a socially-stereotyped “friendly” breed will chalk the incident up to a fluke, a singular incident, “nobody’s fault.” They do not speak out; they often do not seek retribution from the dog owner; they do not ask for stronger dog laws because they do not think that a law is necessary to deal with a fluke. People may sympathize with the victim, but they do not see the incident as something deserving special attention or action. It was “an accident.”
However, when someone is threatened or bitten by a socially-stereotyped “dangerous” breed, it is a much more emotional issue. The victim does not see it as a fluke, but as par for the course with this “dangerous” breed; the victim becomes angry that such dogs are allowed to exist and hurt people; the victim seeks retribution from the dog owner; the victim pushes for legislation to make people safer. Additionally, other people not only sympathize with the victim, but their own fears are magnified, and consequently, they, too, push for legislation.
This feeds a circle, or perhaps a spiral, wherein dog bites committed by stereotypically “friendly” breeds are generally disregarded or ignored by the general public, while dog bites committed by stereotypically “dangerous” breeds receive dramatic (and usually excessive) calls for some sort of political action.
Thus public safety is jeopardized by the passage of breed-specific legislation, which “saves” a minority of potential dog bite victims at the expense of the majority, and wrongly teaches people that only some types of dogs are dangerous.
What’s more, after the passage of breed-specific legislation, most jurisdictions simply move on to other issues; the dangerous dog problem is never revisited or reassessed.
Denver pats itself on the back because pit bull bites went down 77 percent (from 39 total to 9 total) over a three-year period from 2005 to 2007. To get this “success,” Denver killed 1,776 pit bulls, many of them pets. Meanwhile, non-pit bull bites went down only 10 percent (from 465 to 420)—and the decrease seems to be merely reflecting local trends in dog bite numbers, not any concerted public safety actions on Denver’s part.
Why isn’t Denver interested in protecting the vast majority of dog bite victims (400+ victims per year)? Because almost every dangerous dog conversation the city has ever held revolves around pit bulls and how the city is dealing with pit bulls. Nothing is being done about all those other victims, all those other preventable injuries, all those other mishandled dogs.
The Real Victims
In the end, who suffers when breed-specific legislation passes?
- People who live next to non-targeted breeds that are being dangerously mismanaged by irresponsible owners
- People who have been bitten or attacked by non-targeted breeds
- People who don’t realize that any dog can inflict serious injury or kill
- Children, parents, the elderly, adults, and dog owners of all breeds
- In other words, everyone