When the dog bites

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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.

Organizations: National Post, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg Humane Society

Geographic location: Canada, Manitoba, Texas Ontario

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Recent comments

  • SocialMange
    July 10, 2012 - 20:19

    David, please check Canadian statistics. You're so very wrong. Dogs are animals; so are humans. What's your point? Where do you get your information? How many "pit bulls", Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherd dogs have you personally met?

    • David
      July 12, 2012 - 08:48

      Yup, I was wrong. Check this link for the correct answer: www.dangerousdogs.net Or: www.blog.thecozypet.com/2012/01/top-ten-10-most-dangerous-dog-breeds But no doubt you will respond that Canadian dogs are simply different....becasue hyour head is so far up your Rse, you don't see the difference between people and dogs. So I'm wasting my time on a bag of rocks like you, right?

    • David
      July 12, 2012 - 09:33

      And just in case you missed this gem at the top in the first link provided: "Pit bull type dogs were responsible for 67% of fatalities, the next closest breed was the rottweiler at 12%." FYI, that's 79% ---I figure you're not a "math" or "data" type.

  • SocialMange
    July 10, 2012 - 20:16

    For those who say dogs are animals, not humans - humans are animals as well, and the most violent, murderous species on the planet. This study is based on a fallacy. There is no such thing as a "pit bull". That is slang for a dog with a certain appearance that can be one of dozens of purebred dogs, one of thousands of crossbred dogs and one of hundreds of thousands of mixed breed dogs. The Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. discredited its own dog bite study by declaring that "breed" could never be confirmed, that many dog bite studies depend on media reports (and we know the media is infalliable, right?) and that cataloguing dog bites by "breed" was (in essence) a waste of time. There are also gaps in the history and other issues with the study, analyzed by more learned persons than myself. The usual frothing suspects who carry their flaming torches across the ice hunting for "pit bulls" will no doubt appear; please tell them they're late for their rabies shots. As for the last line of this editorial, a pomeranian killed a child in California. The injuries sustained are usually dog size/victim size related. Several paramedics have named other popular "breeds" as creating the greatest injury due to the shapes of their muzzles and their movement during attack. "Breed" bans make law-abiding people into second-class citizens and kill dogs that have done no wrong solely because of their shape. Jurisdictions worldwide are repealing their "breed" bans because they are unfounded, unjust, ineffective and fiscally irresponsible. We can only hope that Canadian jurisdictions with "breed" specific legislation develop some common sense at some point and enacts effective, enforceable legislation that focuses on the behaviour of the dog and its owner. Not the dog's shape.

  • Petertwo
    July 09, 2012 - 07:08

    Dog bites, all dogs bite, it is their way of expressing themselves in the dog pack, keeping dominance and orderly leadership for the good of the pack. A human family is the dog's pack, where it figures in the hierarchy depends on its upbringing, the dog does not know and needs to be helped, that is trained, to where and what its place is in the family. People do not have the tough skin of a dog, and the dog needs to learn and understand this. Dogs are intelligent creatures, but they have dog intelligence, limited compared with people, though sometimes one has to wonder. It's amazing how well dogs actually do fit in to the human family, often only just the one alone, and yet they do, very well, it says a lot for the specie. Maybe those coyotes we hear about are only looking for human company? Who knows, the species and humans had to get together somehow in the beginning of the relationship?

  • Tara Murphy
    July 09, 2012 - 01:01

    David, you are the one who embodies "selective stupidity." Where does your opinion on this matter come from? It's not based on facts, because none of the research I've read backs up your statement or that of the editorialist. And since I was in Ontario when their ban came down and the life of my dog depended on my being informed, I've done a hell of a lot of research. Here's what I have concluded: Politicians ban breeds because it is easy for them to do so, and it makes them look like they have done something. The reality is Ontario already had dangerous dog legislation, but it was very unclear on who was responsible for enforcing it. So instead of tightening existing legislation up, which takes time and effort and would involve having lots of meetings with the police and the SPCA and the Humane Society, etc., the government came up with the breed ban. This passed the buck to the animal welfare groups, but they didn't get any extra funding. So now good owners and dogs are suffering, and there is not enough manpower to deal with bad owners and dogs of non-banned breeds. So, politicians are lazy and good dogs die. People believe they are safer with a ban in place but bite incidences actually increased (too busy killing puppies to follow up on that aggressive poodle report). And the dude who came up with the ban, Michael Bryant? Got into a fight with a bike courier, dragged him with his car, slamming him into light poles and mailboxes until he was dead. And he got off scott-free. So the guy who started the pit bull ban has killed more people in Ontario than pit bulls have! How ironic. The government in Ontario had made up its mind before they had their farcical public hearings. Experts from all over overwhelmingly condemned the proposed ban at the hearings, but the government went ahead anyway. Are you concerned about public safety? Then enforce dangerous dog legislation like they have in Calgary. Hate pitbulls and want them all dead? Then move to Ontario or Denver or Spain, but get the hell out of my province and away from my dog. And please note that most places that put breed bans in place eventually scrap them, because they clearly do not work. Even suggesting them shows you have done no research. And why are we even talking about this? The pit bull population in this province is miniscule! Is there even a history of dog fighting here? I see a lot of animal neglect and cruelty, but not a lot of dog on human aggression. What we really need to do is strengthen up the laws that PROTECT animals.

    • David
      July 09, 2012 - 11:51

      Dogs aren't people. They are animals. Write that down somewhere, and refer to it several times a day, as necessary.

  • Tara Murphy
    July 08, 2012 - 11:37

    This is just a pile of irresponsible, uninformed nonsense. Calgary has legislation that punishes owners of dangerous dogs, regardless of breed, and it works. Ontario has slaughtered thousands of dogs that look like what they think a pit bull is (including labs and Rhodesian Ridgebacks), murdered friendly family pets, newborn puppies, and therapy dogs, and nothing has changed. Breed specific legislation not only does not fix the problem of dog bites (education and responsible dog ownership laws do that), but they usually get totally out of hand. Check this site: http://www.dogpolitics.com/my_weblog/2007/05/list_of_banned_.html for info on how 75 breeds of dogs are banned in various places in the US, including the Golden Retriever (the number one biter, btw, despite David's gut-feelings on the matter). I'm all in favour of responsible dog ownership. If a dog is aggressive, the owner should be required to train it better. If a dog proves to be dangerous and untrustworthy, it needs to be put down. If an owner refuses to control an aggressive dog, they should never be allowed to own one again. Breed has nothing to do with it. Breed bans punish good people and dogs and tie up resources better used to deal with _actual_ dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners. And if you get your stats from organizations like PETA, be aware that their goal is the extermination of ALL domestic animals, so they see breed bans as a good first step. I moved away from Toronto to save my dog from the ban. The reality of that legislation is horrible and senseless. I saw first hand how the very real media bias (http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/advocacy-center/animal-laws-about-the-issues/pit-bull-bias-in-the-media.aspx) affected people. They assumed my dog ate babies for breakfast and ignored the evidence of their own eyes - that he was well-trained, friendly, and frankly, a bit of a coward. When I came home I had a very different response. People would yell out from their cars that he was beautiful, they would stop me on a walk to tell me how sweet he was. Last week I was told he was "perfect." The media is to blame for the hatred directed at these dogs, and I am deeply disappointed to see The Telegram encouraging this. In my experience, pit-bull haters never let little things like "facts" get in the way of their beliefs. I adopted my dog from a shelter to save him from the ban, and for 6 years now he's been my best friend and constant companion. I love the breed because my experience with them has always been positive. Unless someone uses cruel methods to make them mean, they are the perfect family dog. Before you advocate breed bans, look at the story of Lennox in Ireland (http://www.savelennox.co.uk/), or all the dogs saved from Michael Vick and given new homes. These dogs are not monsters. They're just dogs, for heaven's sake. Look at the implications before you support something so drastic and ineffective.

  • Ann
    July 08, 2012 - 10:42

    I am a volunteer dog walker for a local pound somewhere in Eastern Canada. Whenever I walked big dogs such as American Staff, I never had a problem, but it was the small dogs such as the maltese and shitzu that I was always warned about.....these are the ones that would snap and bite 'just because'. You never see these stories in the news.....

    • David
      July 08, 2012 - 19:01

      You are exactly the same person as the smoker who claims that he once heard of a guy who smoked 3 packs a day and lived to be 105. Pure selective stupidity.

  • Tara Murphy
    July 08, 2012 - 10:16

    What an irresponsible crock of nonsense. You know what breed tops the bite list? Golden retrievers. The media bias about pit bulls is well known and documented. People think they are dangerous because the media tells them they are. The statistics do NOT support the claims made in this editorial. Quite the opposite, in fact. If someone gets bitten by a lab, it is reported on once, in the back of the paper in small text. If someone gets bitten by one of the "dangerous" breeds it is front page news, repeatedly. This does not even take into account how often a dog is misidentified as a pit bill. And despite what the editorialist believes (based on feelings, not facts), small dogs _have_ put children in the hospital and the morgue. I moved away from Toronto to keep my dog safe, and coming home I found that people here haven't been indoctrinated to hate and fear my sweet dog. They take him as he presents himself - friendly, gentle, and meek. I will not sit quietly by and allow an ill-informed idiot of an editorialist demonize him. Do more research. Look at Calgary's success with their dog legislation. Look at how Ontario's ban has improved nothing, and has led to the death of thousands of dogs and puppies. Look at the story of Lennox, a friendly family pet about to be slaughtered because of Ireland's ban. Think before you speak. Lives depend on it.

  • David
    July 07, 2012 - 09:48

    Five breeds cause virtually all the problems ---- pit bulls, rotweilers, mastiffs, dobermans and german shepherds. That there is a debate or controversy about something so blatantly, objectively, factually obvious is an indictment of human intelligence...ban them outright, or require special permits with commensurate, additional liabilities. Then if some one still wants one, they might put 5 minutes of thought into it first.

    • Laura
      July 09, 2012 - 20:19

      I grew up with German Shepherds and they were the best behaved dogs I knew. Likewise I have met many dobermans and rottweilers with excellent temperaments. It's true that there are certain types of people who are more attracted to owning large, powerful breeds, and I think it would be great if everyone had to have a permit for owning any type of dog. This would certainly cut down on strays and puppy mills. Unfortunately that is unlikely to ever happen and I don't think that certain breeds should be banned because of a few bad pet owners.