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Tragedy in Pacifica

Leslie Smith Editor in Chief of DogTime.com
by Leslie Smith, Editor in Chief
Wednesday August 17th, 2011

Max_200_darla.greg.napora
Darla and Greg Napora

Friday, walking to work in San Francisco, the front page of both local papers stopped me in my tracks. A Pacifica woman had been mauled to death, the headlines screamed Pit Bull. Few details were given, other than that there were two dogs at the scene, the larger of whom police shot and killed. Victim Darla Napora had been pregnant; she was discovered by her husband Greg Napora.

For nearly a week, this story has haunted me. I kept hoping details would emerge to explain or clarify or clear the dog of any blame. In the meantime, some have questioned whether the unneutered male, Gunner, was a Pit Bull at all. (One hundred and twenty-five pounds — Gunner’s reported weight — is significantly larger than even Pits at the heaviest end of the spectrum.)

Bottom line is, it doesn’t matter. As study after study has shown, treatment, not breed, is the most predictive indicator of a dog’s behavior. There are a million stories to support this, none of which make the headlines. Last year, a friend of mine was bit in the face by his friend’s Labrador. The injuries were so severe, reconstructive surgery was required. What does that say about Labs as a whole? The same thing it says about other breeds involved in isolated incidents: squat.

And yet here's the rub: Gunner, like the Lab I just mentioned, was reportedly treated well — a family member in the truest sense. How, then, do we make sense of any of this?

Maybe we don’t.

Sometimes the worst happens. “Fail-proof” technology fails us. Humans we’ve known all our lives betray us. And in extremely rare cases, companion animals mortally wound those that care for them. Usually not — fewer than 30 fatalities a year involve dogs — an infinitesimal amount considering the number of people who have them. (To give a little perspective, more people are struck and killed by lightning in the U.S. each year.) Still, the reports leave us shocked and baffled.

I do know that exploring the circumstances around such a tragedy does not include demonizing a particular breed. We find such generalizations abhorrent when applied to humans — dogs are equally as individual. And so I continue to contemplate.

Yesterday, the news was a lot better, but it didn’t make the front page. Tazi, the Naporas' other dog (a Pit Bull) was released from custody at the Peninsula Humane Society and reunited with Greg Napora at his request. Finally, something that made sense: A man loses two members of his family, and desperately needed the comfort of a surviving member, the comfort of something familiar. Tazi could provide that and was welcomed back with joy by the couple's nieces and nephews. (Forensic studies concluded the six-year-old female wasn’t involved in the incident and experts concurred that the dog is not dangerous.)

And today, reading BADRAP’s blog, I learned the best news of all. “Darla Napora will be buried on Wednesday with Gunner's ashes.” The family is mourning the loss of both members. Not excusing or explaining or blaming. Simply mourning. And respecting dog and human for who they were and the bond they shared.

The blog post goes on to say, “Greg Napora and his family have asked that people please avoid implicating a breed type in this incident.”

Dogs are our companions, but they are not our slaves. We require them to adjust to our world, to behave in ways counterintuitive to their nature and infinitely inexplicable to their canine brains. We owe to them the pursuit of a better understanding — and unfailing kindness. That the Napora family recognizes this gives humans a good name.

PS. If you haven’t read the BADRAP blog post, I encourage you to do so. The comments, for the most part, are sensitive and supportive. DubV, however says this:

“I ask you all, can you think of any type of evidence (a set of statistics, an individual circumstance concerning you or others, etc) that would change your mind about this breed? …I'm curious because you would think that having your wife and unborn child killed by your dog would at least change your mind about that individual animal and possibly cause someone to change their position on the breed.”

I can’t speak for BADRAP, only for myself: No one is saying that something didn’t go terribly wrong with Gunner. (Testing is still under way to determine whether a tumor or some other medical condition could've been a factor.) But as DubV pointed out, this dog was an individual, and the behavior was unexpected and out of character. That doesn’t discount or excuse it, but it does put it in perspective. How many people came home that day to a dog (Pit Bulls included) who offered affection, hope, and comfort? Millions.

In the meantime, I’m happy to look at the statistics. The vast — and I mean incredibly vast — majority of companion animals do not harm their people. A human is infinitely more likely to be killed by another human than by a dog of any breed. Does that mean ban humans? Not the worst idea I've heard, but there's probably a better answer.

I’ve said before that I’d rather take my chances locked in a room with a dog (any breed) selected at random than with a professional football player. It’s time to expand that from football players to humans of any profession or subgroup. Discrimination at any level can be dangerous.

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