Breed bans: Where do you stand?

Breed bans: Where do you stand?

Sep 06, 2006

I've been hearing a lot about breed-specific legislation lately. Following an attack that left a man severely mauled and another that resulted in a woman's death, calls to ban pit bulls--and the pleas of the opposition--have been spotlighted in the greater Kansas City area. That's where I live. In fact, I live right next door to a pit bull.

She's tied up day in and day out. I know she's a female because last summer my neighbors failed to notice she was pregnant. They were shocked when she went into labor, they tell me as we talk over the chain-link fence. I'm shocked they have a pet. But she always has shelter, food, and water--the basic requirements.

I was sitting outside last night, making sure she had food and water. I'm passive-aggressively waiting for the chance to make a stink about the lack of attention her owners give her. She stares back with her warm, sad eyes. She doesn't bark. She wags her tail as I move closer, half-heartedly picking up some sticks shaken down by the previous night's storm. And I think, "Could she really maul a child's face?" I've seen the pictures on TV. But her?

Interestingly, as I was writing this column, I received an e-mail from a veterinarian who's Aussie attacked her 8-year-old daughter. "Our daughter is OK," she writes, "and amazingly understands that her companion had a 'bad brain' and meant her no harm." I understand, too. As a child, I owned a Shih Tzu that had a biting problem. But with his tiny jaws and predictable temper, we could prevent any serious damage. Not so with the Aussie. "She bit my daughter severely in the face playing a ball game they had played thousands of times. My daughter is the last person she would ever have hurt if she could have helped herself. She gave no warning. She was a joyful, obedient, healthy, beautiful dog ... not aggressive, not a biter, but with some anxiety issues."

So biting clearly isn't a one-breed thing. Yet some animals have more aggressive tendencies than others. And their size and the size of their jaws make a difference when it comes to the damage a bite can cause. And as I stare into the sweet eyes of the pit bull next door, I can't help wondering whether she sees the flicker of fear that crosses my face as I think of my 7-year-old, 54-pound nephew who lives across the street.

So what are people to do? Some angry citizens would do away with pit bulls, rottweilers, and German shepherds. I've known loyal, kind companions of all three breeds. And I've heard stories about times when each breed snapped.

I'm happy with Kansas City, Mo.'s current approach: The city council adopted an ordinance requiring owners to spay or neuter their pit bulls unless they obtain a breeder's permit. The license will cost $100 and require an inspection by animal control officers. I'm all for anything that helps control overpopulation. But why just this breed? What happens next summer when a dog of a different breed bites a child?

Like many citizens, I think, I feel split on the issue of breed-specific legislation. And it doesn't seem like the news stories I hear or read are tapping veterinarians for information. Yet you're exposed to all types of breeds. And you know about animal behavior. Should some breeds with aggressive tendencies be singled out?