My last column about Rosie the Boston Terrier who was savaged by a Pit Bull in Palmer park generated quite a bit of passionate response from readers, so I want to take a little time to address some of the points they made. Many people wrote to say that they too have had negative experiences with unleashed dogs that range from nuisances to dangerous. More than one owner expressed complete willingness to use a handgun to end a fight between dogs, and although I can understand the sentiment, the only instance in which I know that method was employed the owners dog was the one who ended up taking the bullet, and reconstructing his face cost thousands of dollars.
One question that came up frequently was “So what exactly are the leash laws anyway?” The rules are pretty simple. If your dog is not on your private property that dog is required to be on a leash. That includes hiking trails and parks. The only exception is designated dog parks, which are public areas set aside for off-leash dog activity where everyone knows the rules and accepts the risks involved.
Several people also wrote to disagree with my position that banning Pit Bulls is an inappropriate response to dangerous dog issues. The main argument is that this particular breed, more than any other, has had aggressiveness selected for as a desirable trait, and therefore they are in fact inherently dangerous in a way that other breeds are not.
I agree that aggressiveness, especially toward other dogs, is a trait that has been intentionally magnified in Pit Bulls, and they do possess the capacity to do great harm. I also agree that those traits make them attractive to people who get a charge out of owning a dangerous dog and are too stupid to recognize the inevitable train wreck that comes with setting a dangerous dog loose on the public (or your family, as was recently demonstrated up north.) I guess that as a veterinarian I see lots and lots of dogs, and I hear lots and lots of stories, and although Pit Bulls seem to grab the glamorous headlines the problems with unrestrained dogs cross all breeds from Pit Bulls to Cocker Spaniels. Eliminating one breed won’t do much to alleviate the need for owner responsibility with other dogs. It also seems inherently unfair to penalize a family by taking its pet away when that pet has never been a problem. Even if Pit Bulls suddenly disappeared from the planet, the macho lunkheads that like dangerous dogs are quite capable of ruining dogs of just about any breed.
It is a little unfair to imply that any problems that result from bad dog behavior are strictly the result of owner negligence. Dogs are sentient beings after all, and they have their own ideas and motivations. The dog that has always been friendly to strangers may decide she doesn’t like the looks of that the guy with the hat coming through the front door and she needs to defend her family with whatever force is needed. Sometimes housemates that have gotten along well will have a disagreement that erupts into fight complete with puncture wounds and lacerations. Surprises and accidents happen sometimes, and they are not always preventable, but taking basic precautions like keeping your dog leashed in public and making sure you don’t go unprepared into situations where your dog has had difficulty being a good citizen in the past will go a long way towards keeping you from earning your fifteen minutes of fame because your dog was allowed the opportunity to cause newsworthy problems.