Politics / Other
“Detroit Man Suffers Catastrophic Injuries in Pit Bull Attacks.” shrieked the Detroit Free Press headline.
For those of us who love dogs (and, I suppose, for those who fear them), the headline was typical of the sort of overblown rhetoric the mainstream press uses to attract new readers and keep old ones coming back. After all, nothing except sex sells as well as blood and butchery in today’s media-saturated world.
Granted, it was a horrific attack. More than a dozen pit bulls, eight of which were adult, attacked Steve Constantine, 50, after he had offered to help feed them. The owner, Derrick Felton, 61, accepted Constantine’s help but reportedly ran away after the attack started. Both Felton and his mother, the owner of the home, are named in Constantine’s lawsuit.
The dogs, some of whom were puppies, were not pets. They were, judging by the article, raised like factory-farmed animals, struck or deprived of food for barking and/or growling, and with little or no contact with humans other than Felton. The sad part is that Felton likely did not realize what he was doing. After police began corralling the dogs which had not been shot preparatory to having them euthanized, Felton asked why he couldn’t keep them.
Ferocity – which has been cultivated in various breeds from pit bulls to Rottweilers, Cane Corsos, and Presa Canarios – is desirable in guard dogs, whether they are guarding property or convicts. It’s not clear if, or why, Felton might have wanted (or needed) guard dogs, but in some areas of Detroit (and across the country) these kinds of dogs are used to guard premises in very rundown neighborhoods, or locations where gangs and/or drug lords hang out. Elsewhere, they are bred for dog fighting – a spectator sport even more cruel than cockfighting.
Ferocity is not the pit bull’s normal behavior. Raised in human families, and cared for as family pets, pit bulls exhibit a high degree of that urge to protect something which is the canine’s unique behavior.
“That protective instinct, in fact, is the origin of the family unit,” say animal behaviorists, who point to the thousands of years during which canines have stood guard on human families.
In fact, pit bulls are increasingly the favorites among a large part of the animal-loving public which considers dogs, not guns, as the first line of home defense. These individuals, who are as horrified as the rest of us by such attacks, are nonetheless able to separate the “doer from the deed,” so to speak, and share an almost scientific certainty that vicious pit bulls are created, like Frankenstein’s monster, and not inherently evil.
Funny thing is, up until about the 1980s, there were few, if any, pit bull reports of biting or mauling humans or other animals. In fact, in Victorian England, pit bulls were considered family guardians, and were entrusted with the care of babies and small children – an attitude that prevailed for more than a century.
Even stranger, there is no actual “pit bull” breed. The dogs most people recognize as such are American Pit bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, or Staffordshire Bull Terriers. These three breeds, affectionately known as “Pitties,” have the wide jaw and well developed temporalis muscles which create the pit bull’s characteristic cheek bulge.
When it comes to native aggression, 728 out of 839 American Pit bull Terriers scored below the average on a test run by the American Temperament Test Society, Inc., or ATTS.
By comparison, the bearded collie scored an amazingly high 54.3 percent, and even the tiny, fluffy Bichon Frise scored 76.7 percent – scores which don’t surprise pit bull owners, who are constant witness to the affectionate, sometimes silly, but always conscientious guard-dog attitude of their “pitties” (as pit bulls are affectionately known).
The ATTS test, which rates various characteristics like aggression, friendliness, protectiveness (towards owners or handlers), shyness, stability, and the extent to which a dog will go to protect itself, is the benchmark standard for canine domesticity.
Compare this to recent statistics – where the number of dog bites (as well as their severity) has risen dramatically since the 1980s – and you have a scenario which clearly points to both training and the lack of it as a significant factor in canine behavior. To this reader, at least, the statistic suggests that a great many large and instinctually protective dogs are being abused into viciousness, or trained into it.
Another factor – and one which can only be corrected by professional training – is the pit bull’s protective instinct. The fact is, the majority of dog bites occur among children aged 1 to 10 years old. The cause is simple; that is, a pit bull guardian misinterpreted the behavior of a child’s friend. It might have been something as simple as a friend’s hand grasping a child’s arm, but the result in inevitable, tragic for the child bitten, and sad for the owner who must put down a valued family member.
If you plan to get a dog to protect your family, start with a puppy and train it properly. If you don’t think you can, hire a professional trainer. If even that doesn’t reassure you, and an incident happens, you may want to choose pets which have no instinctual tendency to protect. Cats don’t qualify, nor do large and intelligent birds like parrots or ravens, but rabbits, ducks, turtles and lizards seldom bite, and the bite is almost never catastrophic.