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LA Times, March 06, 1999 Saturday
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Community Debate
Pit Bulls: Pets or Killer Dogs?

This week's fatal attack by a pit bull on an unattended 14-month-old child in South Los Angeles put the popular breed in the spotlight as an aggressive and dangerous animal. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, pit bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermans lead the list of dogs most frequently involved in fatal attacks. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with a Northridge woman about the problems with pit bulls in her neighborhood and with a pit bull advocate.
     PATRICIA E. BAKER
     Caterer, Northridge
     Until recently you could walk your dog without any problems in my middle-class neighborhood. But two weeks ago, I was out walking my dog--an Irish setter mix--when we came to a property surrounded by a wrought iron fence. All of a sudden, two dogs--one a pit bull--charged at the fence. The pit bull kept putting its face between the spokes of the fence. I noticed it had been digging a hole under the fence where it could extend its legs and its muzzle.
     This was not a warning bark; this dog was in attack mode. It was clearly trying to get at us. The owners never came out even when they heard the commotion outside. I also noticed the dog did not have a dog tag. This dog has gotten loose before and people were terrified of it. After finally getting past that house, we went around the block only to find another pit bull hanging over a fence, its head, shoulders and legs, scrambling to get over the fence. You wonder what will happen when this dog finally, after getting worked up enough, manages to escape its holding cell.
     I contacted animal control and was told that if the dog did not get over the fence and onto the sidewalk, there was nothing they could do. I asked if they could do something after it attacked me and, of course, only then could they. There is an elementary school near by, and I have seen children walk past this house and run across the street when these dogs come to the fence. They can't even walk on the sidewalk without the fear of being attacked by one of these dogs.
     The breed has a potential for violence. These dogs are bred to destroy. If they panic, they will snap. We are not obligated to treat all dogs as equals; they are not people. Common sense and a concern for the safety of our communities tell us we must take a few simple steps to get this problem under control.
     The City Council must enact strong nuisance laws to prohibit the storing of threatening, barking dogs in front yards. It is a public nuisance.
     To hear about that poor child mauled to death is heartbreaking. It just furthers the argument that these dogs are loaded guns. That dog was a family pet. It seemed benign and there was no warning. No one could have predicted it. I'd like the city to strike while the iron is hot.

Community Debate
'It's More About Owner Than Dog'
By DAWN CAPP, Director, the Chako Rescue Assn. for the American Pit Bull Terrier, San Diego

As far as I'm concerned, there is no dog with a better temperament than the American pit bull terrier. I have been around these dogs for 20 years. I have taken them in, have worked closely with them and can say I have never been bitten, attacked, or in any way felt threatened by one.
     These dogs are very good with people because they have been bred, historically, to be extremely people-stable. Before dogfighting was illegal, they were trained to fight dogs only. Dogs that bit humans out of pain or fear were culled.
     This breed has been honed over generations to be a powerful fighting dog and it is one of the strongest dogs of any breed. Today, many of the people who fight these dogs also use them to guard illegal drugs. When they are used for illegal purposes, people have a vested interest in making the dogs aggressive.
     All dog experts will tell you that it is the responsibility of the owner to train his or her pet, for any breed. For pit bull owners, it's about how they socialize them and how they train them. If the owners keep their dogs away from people while they are puppies, the dogs become stranger-wary. Dogs learn what they are taught. Puppies learn most about the world within the first five months; this is a critical socialization period for any dog.
     Pit bulls were never meant to be protection dogs. If you have a well-bred and responsibly raised American pit bull terrier, it will often not be good protection against theft, though the breed does tend to be quite protective of the family. The classic pit bull is people-stable, enjoys attention, and thrives around children.
     It's all about the owner. Alaska's first certified hearing dog was an American pit bull terrier. Helen Keller owned one. America's first war dog, Stubby, who served in World War I was a pit bull. Stubby was invited to the White House by two presidents and inspired the creation of the U.S. K-9 Corps.
     Unfortunately, if an owner wants an aggressive dog, he or she will produce one. In the the right hands, however, these dogs can be incredible pets. In the wrong hands, they can be dangerous.
 

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