Opinion

A Dangerous Dog Act of 2016?

Four-year-old Kevin Vicente is shown in February after he was mauled by a pit bull in Arizona. Doctors said then that the attack had left the boy unable to swallow properly or open one eye. They said Kevin faced months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery.
Four-year-old Kevin Vicente is shown in February after he was mauled by a pit bull in Arizona. Doctors said then that the attack had left the boy unable to swallow properly or open one eye. They said Kevin faced months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery. AP

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom wasted no time responding when a 6-year-old girl was brutally mauled by a pit bull terrier in London in 1991 after a series of other attacks.

The result was the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which severely restricts pit bull ownership, and other named “dangerous” dogs, and requires they they be muzzled in public at all times. No dithering, no hem-hawing, no dickering over whether dogs ought to be blamed for what could be a result of poor training.

That’s not the way we roll in America. If you want to start an argument, pick on someone’s dog. Especially if that dog’s a pit bull. Here in California, we even have a law – sponsored by the famously liberal Tom Hayden – that says you can’t create local “breed-specific” bans of dogs. That can’t be tolerated.

But we will tolerate the deaths of our neighbors. Consider the gruesome attack in Modesto last month. A 54-year-old man was killed and his 77-year-old mother gravely injured by their neighbor’s four pit bulls after they burrowed under a shared fence. No charges have yet been filed in the case.

It’s not an uncommon story. Go to dogsbite.org and look at the interactive map. You’ll find story after story about some hapless kid or older person minding their own business before being jumped and killed by a so-called pet. You’ll read about Colton Smith of Delhi, a 17-month-old toddler killed by a pit bull mix in 2009; 2-year-old Jacob Brisbee of Concord, killed by a family member’s three pit bulls in 2011; and Esteban Alavez, a 34-year-old Selma man mauled to death by a pack of pit bulls in 2012.

Notice the trend in that anecdotal sample? There might be other breeds just as aggressive as pit bulls and pit-bull mixes, but few with the same unique physical attributes of powerful, deadly jaws and tolerance of pain.

Dogsbite.org documented 32 fatalities in 2013. Of those, 78 percent were attributed to pit bulls. Statistics from California health authorities confirm that pit bulls are the breed most likely to bite people in California.

But there’s little California communities can do to ban breeds that become a public menace – thanks to that prohibition on banning specific breeds, even so-called fighting breeds.

Even after the mauling death of Diane Whipple in 2001 in San Francisco by two presa Canarios, the outcry resulted only in a law allowing local jurisdictions to put some restrictions on specific breeds, but no bans. Since then, some cities have adopted rules requiring mandatory neutering of pit bulls and other dangerous breeds, but clearly it hasn’t stopped the killings.

We want a law that will allow cities and counties to adopt tougher restrictions on specific dog breeds, up to and including bans. They won’t have to, but they can.

Who will be brave enough to propose it?

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said she would consider supporting such a bill – but won’t propose one herself, despite two deaths in two years in her district. Maybe Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Democrat who also represents portions of Modesto, is courageous enough to take the lead.

It took just one injured kid to propel the U.K. into action. It should take not even one more dead Californian to move the Legislature on this.

  Comments