Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dog attack report by breed - Aug 2014

We've been busy lately with some other "big picture" activities, but with the summer of 2014 beginning to wind down, it's about time to publish a current version of the statistics on serious and fatal dog attacks. 

Since the previous summer report in June of last year, 39 people have been mauled to death by pit bulls; an additional 737 have been maimed or disfigured. Attacks from all other breeds combined are but a small fraction of that number.

One of the lucky ones - pit bull attack survivor Lorrie George
In reaction to these reports, there are invariably accusations, denials, and questions from pit bull advocates who are angered by the identification of breed in the attack data, and who charge that the media reports are all based on hearsay, that nobody can identify a pit bull, etc. So it's helpful to share an excerpt from the report here:
Compiled by the editor of ANIMALS 24-7 from press accounts since 1982, this table covers only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry, as designated by animal control officers or others with evident expertise, who have been kept as pets. All accounts are cross-checked by date, location, and identity of the victim.  Attacks by police dogs, guard dogs, and dogs trained specifically to fight are also excluded. 
What does this mean, in practical terms? Well, first of all, it means that the breed identification is fairly reliable. It also means that the attacks counted in this report did not come from fighting dogs or guard dogs, but were, for the most part, committed by family pets. The only anomaly in that regard affects Huskies, as many of the Huskies involved in the recorded attacks were actually semi-feral sled dogs, raising the numbers above what would normally be expected.

Here is a graphical summary from the report, listing the 5 breeds most involved in serious attacks on humans. As you can see, pit bulls remain the top offenders, and all other breeds combined don't come close to their level of violence.

You may access the full report here

A tale of two breeds

Since this article was originally published 4 years ago, there have been scores of people killed and thousands maimed or disfigured in the US by "family pit bulls", and yet the myth persists that pit bulls are harmless, misunderstood dogs. Pit bull advocates like to try to deflect the negative attention away from pit bulls, to other types of dogs, such as Akitas - which they claim are much more dangerous than pit bulls, but interestingly enough, Akitas have been responsible for a grand total of zero human fatalities in the US during the same period. I've taken the liberty of updating the facts and figures from the original article to reflect current reality.

Naturally, we all know that dogs can be dangerous, and some types are certainly more dangerous than others. We rely on the dogs sanity and good temperament to inhibit them from attacking us, our families and our animal companions. Some breeds have caused more concern then others, some due to their unpredictable behavior, others due simply to their size and strength. Many communities have reacted to horrific attacks by enacting Breed Specific Legislation, a subject that seems to drive some folks completely over the edge. It's not my intent to make the definitive statement about Breed Specific Legislation here, but perhaps we shall look deeper into that contentious subject in a later article.

What with all the reports of pit bull violence in the news lately, I find it interesting to compare the "marketing" of pit bulls with that of another breed which is also considered dangerous - the Akita. Both breeds are physically capable of causing a lot of trouble, and both breeds have their fans, rescuers and advocates. But the marketing of the two breeds is very different, as are their respective records of violence.

Let's take a look at how Akita advocates characterize the breed, for those seeking information:

Akitas are inherently aggressive towards other animals and for this reason, they should not be allowed to run free or roam at will.

Akitas like to take charge--an inherited trait from their wolf ancestry and may at some time, challenge you for the dominant position.

Akitas may respond with aggression if treated harshly.

Akitas do not like to be teased and can respond by biting.

Akitas consider eye contact a challenge and can react aggressively. 

That sort of advice provides some serious food for thought, making it clear that these dogs can be dangerous. While responsible Akita owners generally have good, well-behaved dogs, it's clear that Akita ownership is not for everybody. That particular advice came from the site, but the same advice has been available for some time from most Akita organizations.

It's interesting to how compare this to how pit bulls are described by their advocates - the following points were taken from a representative pit bull information site, and any of them, if googled, will provide pointers to a number of other web sites where you can read these and similar claims:

The bull breeds are nicknamed the "nanny dog" - they are great with kids.

Pit Bulls are not human aggressive. They are gentle and loving dogs.

In actuality, pits are bred to be affectionate toward people

Pit Bulls are no more vicious than Golden Retrievers, Beagles or other popular dogs!

Very interesting. In contrast to the dangerous Akita, the pit bull seems rather harmless - it's all blue skies, rainbows and butterflies, if the pit bull advocates are to be believed. Apparently pit bulls are ideal family pets.

Just to make sure though, let's see if we can confirm this marketing info with empirical evidence. There have been a number of 3rd party studies on dog attacks that we can reference. Here are a few of them:

U.S. Dog Bite Fatalities January 2006 to December 2008
Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to June 25, 2010
Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs
Are "Pit Bulls" Different? An Analysis of the Pit Bull Terrier Controversy

Even a casual glance through studies referenced above destroys the assertion of the advocates that pit bulls are harmless and gentle with people.

Some highlights of the studies: Pit bulls, estimated to be around 6% of the dog population, were responsible for more maimings and deaths than all other breeds combined during the 28 year study period. Rottweilers are a distant second, while Labs, German Shepherds and Dobermans were far below the leaders. Akitas were further down in the rankings, with around the same number of deaths as Boxers, Chows, and Dobermans. There have been 8 deaths attributed to Akitas, most of which apparently occurred in guard dog scenarios. In contrast, there have been a total of 86 deaths by Rottweiler and 301 deaths by pit bull. The pit bull death toll is aside from the astounding number of pit bull attacks in which the victim survived, but with permanent disability and/or disfigurement.

The study by the Emergency Room doctors (Bini et al) made the following conclusion: "Attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs."

So to recap, Akita advocates warn that Akitas must be treated with respect and caution and can be dangerous. There have been some injuries and even a death from an Akita bite. On the other hand, pit bull advocates claim that pit bulls are just misunderstood people-pleasers who have been unfairly demonized by a vast media conspiracy. But what do we see in the cold hard reality of the real world? While referred to as "nanny dogs", and touted as "great with children", the "family pit bull" is statistically the most dangerous type of dog one could possibly own. Pit bulls are known to have killed far more children in the USA than all other types of dogs combined. 

The contrast between the Akita and pit bull communities can be as striking as the difference between the respective records of violence of the two breeds. While the Akita community can be generally characterized as cautious, frank and responsible, the pit bull community appears to live in denial and has a credibility problem.

The disconnect with reality is unbelievable. But what is even more is concerning are the increasing pressure to increase the magnitude of that disconnect. There have been renewed efforts from top pit bull advocacy groups to "rehabilitate the image" of the pit bull and counter it's "bad rap" by ramping up the "education" campaigns.

Let me get this right - instead of working to reduce the number of pit bulls dumped into the system by breeders, or holding pit bull owners accountable for attacks committed by their animals, we are just going to turn up the volume on the pit bull hype machine instead.

Instead of help for victims of pit bull violence, or better yet, preventative measures, we'll instead have to make do with fabricated pit bull hero stories, and feel-good articles about how wonderful they are. More pit bulls will be pushed onto an unsuspecting public, and the pit bull death toll will continue to rise, even while the propaganda machine blares forth the message, ever louder and more frantically, that pit bulls are wonderful. War is peace. Black is white. Love is hate. It's 1984 all over again.

One can only hope that, as pit bulls and their owners continue to over reach, and to make new enemies every single day, with each new atrocity, each new beloved animal companion mauled to death, each new toddler torn apart by the "family pit bull", 
a tipping point will be reached, and a critical mass of people will rise up and say "enough!"