2016-07-29 / Editorials

Responsible pet ownership includes ensuring safety


About 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States, of which roughly 365,000 are serious enough to warrant emergency medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moreover, DogsBite.org reports that 34 Americans died from dog bite-related injuries in 2015. And pit bulls were to blame in 28 of those cases, according to data compiled by the nonprofit, which aims to advocate for bite victims and educate the public about “dangerous dog breeds.”

Earlier this month, Ventura County Animal Services impounded a male pit bull named Tango after it bit Simi Valley resident Ken Vergini and mauled his small mixed terrier, Pickles, near a neighborhood park. (See Page 2 for related story.)

Vergini’s other dog— a German shepherd named Luther— was attacked by the same pit bull in 2014. That incident, as well as several reported attacks involving other residents in the same central Simi Valley neighborhood, resulted in Tango’s being declared a nuisance in 2015. The ruling, handed down by VCAS, required owner Andrea Estes to strictly confine and control her dog and stipulated that Tango could be taken away if he causes any other harm. Hence his removal July 18.

News of pit bull attacks such as this one fuel the widespread debate about whether the “bully breed” is actually inherently dangerous. (As a side note, “bully breed” is an umbrella term for several breeds of dogs including bulldogs, boxers, Boston terriers and the American pit bull terrier.)

Numerous studies and news reports confirm that pit bulls are responsible for the majority of dog attacks and bite-related deaths, despite making up only about 6 percent of the total U.S. dog population.

On one hand, these reports give the public a lot of reason to fear the breed. But on the other hand, many advocates argue the breed is unjustly demonized, partly due to its history of being used in dog fights, and that pit pulls are actually highly misunderstood animals.

In 2013 the American Temperament Testing Society found that of the 870 pit bulls it tested for stability, aggressiveness, friendliness and other traits, 86.8 percent were deemed temperamentally sound. In comparison, 85.2 percent of the the 785 golden retrievers the ATTS tested had that outcome.

Bryan Bray, VCAS supervising officer, told the Simi Valley Acorn this week that “the breed has nothing to do with behavior.”

“We have encountered pit bull-type dogs with fantastic personalities, (and) most behavior is influenced by the upbringing.,” he said. “Socialization and training early on help reduce negative behavior.”

Like people, dogs— regardless of breed— are a product of both nature and nurture. And the overarching message here is that all pet owners, whether they have a pit bull or a pomeranian, should be ever-vigilant in ensuring the safety of their pets as well as the people and other animals around them.

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