I know I haven’t written in a while, but something happened last night in my home province of Ontario that I can not let go without addressing. You see last evening a Hamilton man was attacked and killed by a dog. Of course this morning’s early news reports had the dog identified as a pit bull (no surprise there really, the media has demonized the pit bull for years.) however the dog who killed this man was not a pit bull, it was a Sharpei cross. All early accounts of this tragedy have the dog attacking randomly with no provocation, a fact that has never been true in a single bite case I have reviewed in my 26 year career in animal rescue and rehabilitation. Dogs do not attack without a reason, but most people are completely unaware of the behaviors that may trigger a dog bite, therefore when it does happen they are clueless as to cause, and we get reports that the dog just “attacked for no reason”.
Due to the fact that people are so clueless in their handling of what we call “bully breed” dogs, these attacks are labeled as random, and the dog is labeled aggressive. In some cases, the label fits, as in the case of the Hamilton man killed last night. Clearly this was an aggressive Sharpei mix with a hair trigger, so to speak. However, how did this dog get so aggressive?
Dogs are not born aggressive, it is trained into them, sometimes purposely and other times completely accidentally. While a dog’s instinct may cause it to strike out to protect itself, for the most part dogs are passive loving creatures when properly cared for. Sure there have been the OCCASIONAL cases where a dog has a brain imbalance and strikes out for no reason, but this is not the norm.
I’m tired of dogs being demonized for their breed. People keep expecting to find “SAFE” breeds of dogs to bring into their home, and therein lies the problem. There is no such thing as a “safe” breed of dog. All dogs no matter what their breed or size are capable of attack if so provoked. The media would have you believe that only “certain” breeds of dog are aggressive. They demonize pit bulls so that every time someone is bitten the first question that gets asked is “it was a pit bull wasn’t it?” In many cases pit bulls are blamed before the media is even told what the breed of the dog in question was.
Demonization of bully breed dogs and BSL legislation lead people to falsely believe that the only dog they should be afraid of is a pit bull, and that ANY other breed of dog is safe. This just simply is not true! ALL dogs have the CAPABILITY to bite and cause damage. The answer does not lie in banning breeds but in teaching people HOW to handle a dog properly, and in holding OWNERS responsible for the actions of their dogs. We need to see a more serious attitude from those who bring dogs into their homes.
“That’s a good philosophy” you say, “but an aggressive dog is an aggressive dog and if a dog bites once it should be labeled as aggressive forever!” Should it? I don’t see it that way, but then again I do live with a 120lb. former bite dog, who since coming to me has never shown any aggression towards anyone or anything. Of course Phoenix didn’t kill anyone, he was mishandled during initial rescue and bit out of fear, although according to the AC worker he bit the bite came out of nowhere. Of course if anyone had lifted me off the ground by the neck using a six foot catch pole I probably would have bitten them too! So the excuse that the bite came out of nowhere is just that, an excuse for bad human behavior which triggered aggression in a frightened animal.
My point here is simply this, breed bans do not work simply because there is no way to isolate dogs that “might” bite by breed. We need dangerous dog laws that hold dog owners responsible for the actions of their dogs, and we need people to understand that dog ownership is a privilege not a right. If you are going to own a dog especially a large powerful dog, then you need to do your homework and learn about the breed and how to properly handle it before diving in head first. Many bite tragedies happen simply because a dog’s owner is not paying attention to the signs from their dog that tell them the dog is uncomfortable with a situation and might strike out.
My condolences go out to the family of the man killed last evening. We may never know what caused this dog to strike out and kill, but I assure you there WAS a reason, someone just wasn’t paying attention to the dog’s body language, and because of that someone is dead.
Ontario’s BSL legislation did NOTHING to prevent this tragedy, the dog that killed this man wasn’t a banned breed. They will more than likely euthanize the dog for it’s actions, but what is to stop the owner of the dog from going out and getting another dog of powerful breed mix? What will stop this person from causing another fatal dog bite incident in the future? BSL certainly won’t.