Dangerous dogs continue to spark debate


Breed-specific legislation under attack

In the wake of a highly publicized pit bull attack on a young girl in Indianapolis recently, many politicians have vowed to enact stricter laws regarding pit bull ownership and some have proposed banning or restricting the breed of dogs, specifically pit bulls, Indianapolis residents would be able to own. But animal rights advocates continue their efforts to educate both the general public and public officials about the inaccuracy and ineffectiveness of breed specific legislation (BSL).

Identification of dog breeds is commonly cited as one of the biggest problems with BSL, particularly since the breed of dog involved in an attack is often left up to the owner, victim or police officer and may be inaccurate. This type of problem prompted an Ohio appeals court to recently overturn BSL they deemed unconstitutional.

“We are troubled by the lack of an exact statutory definition of pit bull,” the court wrote in its ruling, “the evidence presented that more than 10 non-pit bull breeds look very much like pit bulls and the highly subjective nature of the identification process. Particularly troublesome is the fact that, depending on zealousness and bias of the local agency, criminal charges have likely been brought based on purely individual and speculative decisions on whether the jaw of a dog is ‘massive’ enough or the chest is muscular enough or the brow is broad enough to be designated as a pit bull, rather than some other breed, such as a bull dog, boxer or bull-mastiff.”

Opponents of BSL in Indiana are urging lawmakers to instead consider “dangerous dog legislation,” identifying behavior and not breed as the potential danger to communities. Dangerous dog legislation, according to its supporters, is cheaper and more effective than breed specific legislation. By identifying and specifying behaviors of the dogs, and holding irresponsible pet owners responsible for the actions of their animals, DDL proponents believe the unwarranted bias against pit bulls will put the focus on the behavior rather than the breed.

Any dog that has aggressively bitten, attacked, endangered or has inflicted serious injury on a person on public or private property is the primary definition of a “dangerous dog.”

Additionally, any dog that has more than once severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property or has knowingly been used primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting or is a dog trained for dog fighting could be deemed “dangerous” in the new type of legislation.

Less than 2 percent of all dogs properly identified in dog attacks have been found to be pit bulls. However, in 90 percent of the cases the attacking dog was found to be not neutered (or spayed) and/or the dog was found to be mistreated by its owners. For these reasons, animal advocates believe holding owners accountable for the humane treatment, containment and control of their dogs is the only effective method to reduce the incidences of canine aggression.

10 deaths, 13 breeds

In the past 40 years, there have been 10 fatal dog attacks in Indiana by 13 different breeds of dogs, only one of which might have possibly been a pit bull.

1964, Shelbyville

Five German shepherd dogs, kenneled in a backyard and used for breeding, escaped and attacked and killed a 2-year-old playing in the yard.

1972, Bluffton

A 12-year-old boy was killed by a loose St. Bernard at a rest park. He suffered a broken neck, severe bites, loss of blood and shock before dying.

1974, Indianapolis

A 4-year-old boy was playing in a friend’s yard, when a male St. Bernard broke down the wooden gate of his pen and attacked the child.

1982, Paoli

While riding her bicycle on a country road, a 10-year-old girl was killed and partially eaten by a pack of mixed breed dogs whose owner had previously been cited for not restraining what were described as “aggressive” dogs before the attack.

1994, Indianapolis

An 18-day-old infant was killed by her grandmother’s Siberian husky when left alone with the dog for less than 15 minutes.

1988, Nappanee

A 7-year-old boy was killed by a Doberman pinscher. The unneutered male dog belonged to a friend of the family and was usually kept in a cage or locked room.

1991, Fort Wayne

A 2-year-old boy was found dead inside a backyard kennel where a pit bull and wolf-dog were kept. The boy had climbed the chain-link fence and then fell inside, triggering the attack. It is unknown if one or both of the dogs participated in the attack. The boy bled to death at the scene.

2000, Nashville

A 71-year-old census worker entered onto rural property where a large pack of mixed breed dogs resided. She was attacked by an unknown number of the dogs and bled to death as a result of her injuries.

2005, Marion

An 87-year-old woman was attacked by her daughter’s dogs, a small labrador mix and a dachshund.

2005, Camby

An 83-year-old man was killed in his backyard by four loose dogs belonging to a neighbor — a mastiff, Johnson bulldog, American bulldog and border collie. DNA testing proved that all four of the dogs, none of which had been spayed or neutered, participated in the attack.