The Dog Bite Epidemic
Dog bites are a significant problem throughout the world. In the USA, about 5 million people are bitten each year, almost 900,000 seriously enough to require medical attention. The losses have been estimated as high as $2 billion annually. For a person who is disfigured or disabled, or who loses a loved one, there is an unmeasurable loss of the quality of life. The Insurance Information Institute tells us that only 16,000 or so victims are compensated by liability insurance companies in any one year, so more than 99% of these losses are borne by the victims, their own health insurance companies, and taxpayers. This is obviously inequitable. Something must be done about it.
Dog Bites and the “Pit Bull Problem”
Having done nothing other than represent dog bite victims since the 1990’s, I can tell you with certainty which dogs bite, what their owners are like, why dog attacks happen, and how to prevent them. One or more of the following four elements were present in many of the dog bite cases I have seen:
- A medium or large dog. Some are fond of saying that chihuahuas and other small dogs bite people, but the serious bites (the ones requiring significant medical attention and causing the most damage) are not generally produced by the small dogs. Of the three factors mentioned herein, this is the only one that I can pretty much bet on when I first speak to someone about a dog bite.
- Chained or tethered. Chaining, tethering or tying a dog to a stationary object is inhumane and causes a dog to act viciously toward people. See Chaining, Being Male, and Other Causes of Dog Bites.
- Running loose. A dog at large is dangerous to itself and others. Even the one-bite states hold a dog owner legally liable for injuries caused by dogs at large, whether or not there was a prior bite or incident.
- A child. About 75% of the victims whom I see I children. Statistically it is they and the senior citizens who comprise the largest groups of victims.
- An owner who misled the victim (“my dog is friendly”) or did not intervene to stop the mauling.
Pit Bulls and BSL – “Breed Specific Laws”
The spotlight shines brightest on the pit bull as the most dangerous of dogs. This is the breed responsible for the vast majority of fatal maulings of human beings, and the worst injuries. Pit bull attacks are usually unprovoked, random and inexplicable. Consider:
- A pit bull being walked by a dog walker suddenly turned on her and mauled her as well as the two police officers who tried to save her from the animal. (ABC News, Pit Bull Viciously Attacks Its Dog Walker, Feb 23, 2020.)
The best reference works concerning the pit bull problem are:
- Safety Before Pit Bulldogs
- The writings of Merritt Clifton at Animal People, such as The Shelter Killing of Pit Bulls, and currently at Animals 24-7.
- Pit Bulls – Facts and Figures, by me, Kenneth M. Phillips
I favor the outright ban of pit bulls because of the injuries and deaths they inflict, the problematic people who choose to own them, the abuse they suffer from their owners, the refusal to volunatarily breed the violence out of them, the misinformation spread about them, and the immoral purpose for which they are bred and used.
In every 10-year period since 1844, pit bulls accounted for half or more of all fatal dog attacks on humans. From 2007, the year that the Best Friends Animal Society, American SPCA, and the Humane Society of the U.S. ramped up pit bull advocacy, there has been a 773% rise in fatal and disfiguring dog attacks. The number of pit bulls involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks has risen since 2007 from 78 to 603. The number of human deaths soared from the record high of 37 in 2012 to the new record of 42 in 2014. Of those 42, pit bulls killed 32. At this point, we have seen enough to conclude that pit bulls should not be allowed to exist in civilized society. Indeed, we have seen enough to conclude that for the purpose of applying the laws pertaining to civil and criminal liability, a pit bull should not be regarded legally as a dog, but rather as a wild animal.
I have come to believe that the modern pit bull should not be thought of as a dog at all. A dog is man’s best friend, but the pit bull is an animal that will kill the man, his wife, his children, his parents and the guests in his home. Clearly this is not man’s best friend; clearly it is not a “dog” in the sense that we think of a dog. Charles Manson was anatomically a man, sociologically a neighbor, and legally a citizen, but he is spending his life behind bars because he was a deranged individual who orchestrated mayhem and murder. Just because pit bulls look like dogs, they do not have to be thought of like golden retrievers and Yorkshire terriers.
In almost all homicides carried out by pit bulls, the owners and neighbors express shock and disbelief because the animal never gave a sign that it wanted to kill anyone. But to me, this is like a drunk driver expressing shock and disbelief that his car could kill. In both types of cases, a person made a choice to do something incredibly reckless, by either getting drunk or getting the animal that makes headlines because of the frequency and brutality of its killing. We need to stop people from doing these reckless things.
Of the many breeds that have injured my clients, pit bulls are prominent because they cause the greatest amount of damage; in other words, the pit bull attacks are the worst. My experience with such cases has been confirmed by the studies conducted by trauma physicians, who concluded that “patients attacked by pit bulls had more severe injuries, higher hospital charges and a higher risk of death.” See their article in My SA.
I believe that the “pit bull problem” is, like other issues involving dogs, caused by irresponsible breeders and owners. Sadistic people created this breed to be entertained by the dogs maiming and killing each other. Their musculature, “gameness” and hence capacity for violence is maintained by breeders; if pit bulls are not mated with other pit bulls, their unnatural qualities disappear in a half-dozen generations. So the problem begins with the breeders.
After that, it is the irresponsible owners who are to blame. This is the most abused dog on the planet, and the most unwanted. In the USA, one-third to one-half of the entire pit bull population is euthanized every year. Yet the spay-and-neuter rate for pit bulls is about 25% while for other breeds it is 70%. The proportion of pit bulls in cases of animal abuse, torture and long-term neglect is many times higher than other breeds of dog. Pit bulls are frequently the weapons used in robberies and violent crimes.
The problem is exacerbated by the unwillingness of lawmakers to require measures that would shift the burden of pit bull attacks off the shoulders of the victims and onto the owners of this breed. When a person is killed or injured by a pit bull, the owner usually does not have homeowners or renters insurance; therefore all of the costs and losses are borne by the victim and his family. I do not want the costs and losses to be underwritten by the victim’s health insurance companies (if he indeed has any), or the taxpayers (through Medicaid and other governmental programs). This hurts all of us one way or another.
Lawmakers have to stop listening to the nonsense about breed specific laws which is spouted by the owners of bully dogs like pit bulls. Since 2006 there have been 3 psychological studies which focused on the personality and behavioral traits of the owners of pit bulls and other high-risk breeds of dog. A study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence showed a link between ownership of high-risk dog breeds and deviant behaviors, crimes against children and domestic violence. Another study concluded that “vicious dog ownership may be a simple marker of broader social deviance.” A third study established that the owners of high-risk breeds of dog displayed more antisocial thinking styles, have an arrest history significantly higher than owners of other dogs, and engage in fighting to a significantly greater degree than other dog owners. They also had higher levels of overall criminal thinking patterns to go with the actual criminal behavior. (See Personality and Behavioral Characteristics of Owners of Vicious Breeds of Dog.) These people, who are fixated on the animals that kill, maim and terrorize, are not the people that a lawmaker needs in his camp. Reasonable people want fair laws that provide a solution to the obvious problems caused by pit bulls.
We need both BSL and PSL – “People Specific Laws”
“PSL” is my term that refers to “People Specific Laws.” We need both BSL and PSL. The legal system must put the responsibility, cost and punishment for dog attacks and the over-abundance of pit bulls firmly on the shoulders of their owners and breeders. But the movement to take the bite out of the dog bite epidemic has to address more than just this one breed; it has to address all breeds and the owners of all dogs. Thus, “PSL” applies to not just pit bulls and their owners but to all dogs and all owners. Here are the 10 features of my “People Specific Laws” to reduce dog bites:
- Ban the breeding or possession of pit bulls.
- Keep pit bulls (if not banned entirely) and all big, powerful dogs out of the possession of ex-felons. They are not allowed to possess guns so they arm themselves with the most vicious dogs available. That must stop.
- Require landlords, property owners and the owners of pit bulls (if not banned entirely) and big, powerful dogs to keep them out of places and situations in which they present unacceptable risks (such as daycares and apartment complexes not fully dedicated to dog owners).
- Require owners of pit bulls (if not banned entirely) and big, powerful dogs to muzzle them on city streets and when other people’s children are present.
- Require microchipping all dogs and insuring all dog owners, and enact strict liability dog bite statutes so the harm caused by dogs will be paid for by the dog owners and their insurers rather than the victims and taxpayers.
- Sterilize all dogs except those licensed for breeding purposes.
- Confiscate dogs of any type from the owners who abuse or neglect them, and from repeat violators of our animal control laws.
- Require dog safety education in schools. Kids normally don’t receive even one minute of instruction in this despite the fact that getting bitten by a dog is one of the top causes of injuries to children.
- Give adoptors specific information about breeds. Too many dogs can’t find a stable home because the adoptors had no idea what they were getting into, and soon give away the dog or dump it. This has been especially a problem for pit bulls; adoptions follow adoptions, increasing a dog’s anxiety and therefore the risks it presents.
- Enact “dangerous dog laws,” leash laws and dog-trespass laws. The dogs that actually do the damage need to be identified, and their owners need direction supported by the force of law.
- Criminalize the failure to stop a dog attack. A dog owner must not stand by and watch as a person is mauled.