There have been so many heartbreaking (or heartwarming, depending on your perspective) accounts in recent months of dogs’ loyalty to an injured — or even deceased — companion, I almost didn’t click on this one. Seeing “Pit Bulls” in the headline, however, I succumbed.
The tragic report from Phoenix, Arizona: A female Pit was struck by a car and lay fatally wounded on the side of the road. Her male traveling mate refused to leave her side. For 14 hours he lay there and nuzzled her, until Animal Control finally arrived at the scene. A concerned onlooker even set food and water near the grief-stricken dog, but it’s unclear as to whether he touched any of it. (He’s now in a stray hold with Animal Control and will likely be eligible for adoption in 3 days.)
Earlier this month, our NPR affiliate here in New Mexico aired a call-in show — the topic: “Are Pit Bulls the Problem?” I listened (and called in!) thinking I could predict the arguments on both sides. But I was shocked by one of the facts that came to light. It turns out that the numbers from an oft-quoted CDC report, the one that chronicles twenty years of fatal dog bites, were largely based on media coverage. Media coverage! I’m not a scientist, but are you kidding?
The ASPCA is also baffled, reporting that the majority of news outlets aren’t interested in non-Pit Bull related dog bite incidents. A study from the National Canine Research Council confirms this. From their findings:
“August 18, 2007—A Labrador mix attacked a 70-year-old man, sending him to the hospital in critical condition. Police officers arrived at the scene and the dog was shot after charging the officers.
This incident was reported in one article in the local paper.
August 21, 2007—A 59-year-old woman was attacked in her home by two pit bulls and was hospitalized with severe, but not fatal, injuries.
This attack was reported in over 230 articles in national and international newspapers, as well as major television news networks including CNN, MSNBC and FOX.”
I hate resorting to making other breeds the bad guy to prove a point. Calling attention to a fierce Lab or citing Chihuahua bites might help show that unwanted behavior is a dog problem rather than a breed problem, but it doesn’t address the root of the issue: Dogs are social animals who require individual attention, companionship, socialization, and exercise. It is unacceptable to provide less than that, especially knowing that the majority of problem behavior stems from a lack of proper care.
And even with the mistreatment so many dogs endure, fatal bites are an infinitesimally rare occurrence. In the years looked at in the CDC “study,” the average number of people annually who were fatally bitten by dogs was about 26. Compare that with the average number of people fatally struck by lightning: 40. Or the approximately 170 people who drown in a swimming pool. Or the 42,000 killed in car accidents.
We don’t ban swimming pools or fast cars or football players or anything else that for the vast majority of the time is reliably wonderful, but in extremely rare cases is not. Instead we say, this is a gift. There’s so much joy and fulfillment this gift can bring, let’s treat it with the respect it deserves. Be it a Porsche, a child, a thunderstorm, or a hot tub. Or a Pit Bull.