In the news business, reporters often look for the “man bites dog” story: something off the beaten track.
Well, here’s a traditional dog-bites-man story with a twist.
More and more jurisdictions across Canada have either considered or have gone ahead and implemented bans on certain breeds of dogs. The most common target is the pit bull. Even Andy Wells, a notorious dog lover, endorsed the idea of breed-
specific bans when he was mayor of St. John’s.
Dog experts counter that the owners, not the dogs, are at fault when dogs bite, and that banning certain breeds is discriminatory.
However, a new study out of Manitoba has come up with a startling discovery: pit bull bans may actually work. According to the National Post, researchers affiliated with the University of Manitoba looked at two decades of data before and after dog legislation was introduced in their province. They discovered an overall drop of about 25 per cent in the number of hospitalizations from dog bites.
There were anomalies, however, and the authors emphasized that a link has not been definitively proven.
The Winnipeg Humane Society’s Aileen White is not convinced.
She told the Post that other factors could play a major role in the numbers. For one thing, there has been much more emphasis in the media lately on proper training and handling, including such wildly popular TV shows as “The Dog Whisperer.”
And again, she says owners should be the focus.
“Responsible dog owners are not going to train a dog to be vicious,” she told the Post. “Can any dog turn out to be vicious? Absolutely. … If you want a dog to be nasty, you will train it to be nasty.”
This is true, but not all dog bites are alike. You can do more damage with a semi-automatic rifle than a pellet gun, and gun laws take that fact into account.
The state of Texas has been studying the pit bull problem for years, and established what most people would take for granted: a high proportion of dog bites are inflicted by pit bulls, and they are more likely to be serious and fatal.
Way back in 1988, the journal Texas Medicine spelled out the reason for this in a review of the literature at the time:
“(Pit bulls) inflict more serious wounds than other breeds. They tend to attack the deep muscles, to hold on, to shake, and to cause ripping of tissues. Pit bull attacks were compared to shark attacks.”
The Post article notes that many Canadian politicians have joined the chorus of dog advocates who want to stamp out breed-specific bans. In Ontario, a recent private member’s bill failed to strike down that province’s six-year-old ban on pit bulls, but it had cross-party support.
More research is needed, and breed-specific bans may not be the only answer.
But one thing is certain: you won’t find many victims of a shih tzu attack hooked up to life support or lying in a morgue.