Owners whose dogs do grievous bodily harm or kill will face stiff prison terms under upcoming legislation being considered by governments in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Indeed, animal-loving British citizens face life sentences under proposals being considered by the government. The current maximum is two years in all three countries, but would change so that an owner whose dog injures or kills faces up to 10 years in prison.
Atypically, this ever-hysterical ‘news’ issue arose last week when a 71-year-old Cincinnati woman’s face was bitten off by a pit bull owned by a family member. The dog was destroyed and the pieces of face were retrieved from its stomach for reattachment.
Worse, in an attack in Manchester, England, 14-year-old Jade Anderson was savaged by two bullmastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers – as she was visiting the home of a friend. Thus, England’s grandstanding Animal Welfare minister Lord de Mauley said: “Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control.
Never satisfied in his relentless search for attention in the House of Lords, Lord De Mauley, if he had his way, would “ban all pit bulls.’ Shameless politicians aside banning pit bulls based on high-profile stories concerning anyone being bitten is absolutely a fool’s errand. It’s not the dogs we should worry about. It’s about modifying the behavior of the owners.
Everywhere there are keening cries for a pit bull ban. A dose of common sense, however, tells us that violent behavior in such dogs is due to their training, or lack thereof. The pit bull is not even a breed. The American Staffordshire terrier, the dog most commonly called a pit bull is just one of a number of breeds lumped into the pit bull category. Consequently, classification of such animals is almost impossible. Even more futile is the fact that owners can train literally any powerful dog to be ferocious and thousands of options. Ask anyone in the know in any big city and you can find betting odds, bookies and hundreds of paying fans for dogfights between breeds as common as mastiffs or as esoteric as African Boerboels.
The ugly truth is that vicious dog attacks are rarely prosecuted. Public prosecutions involving dog bites are rare. More often, dog attacks become a civil matter between the bite victim and the dog’s owner simply because our jails are full and civil authorities already have a full plate. Little that can be done about the unwillingness of most dog-bite victims to seek civil or criminal penalties against the owner of a dog. Why? Well, court appearances mean taking valuable time away from work, and, more often than not, they are relatives of the owner and so are reluctant to take legal action.
Can this problem be solved in a common sense way? If a community is forced to send emergency personnel to the scene of any dog attack it should result in an investigation which determines culpability and who should be responsible for expenses incurred by the city or town. Some communities like one in Evanston, Illinois already work under such rules, collecting through the owner’s property insurance. As owners often starve their dogs to make them more aggressive, investigations of dog-bite incidents should also focus on whether there are grounds to charge the owner with animal cruelty.
No matter what action is taken in response to these attacks, it should focus on owners, not breeds.