A closer look at bite numbers

DrakeStatistics are invaluable in attempting to understand social problems. But as we all know, they can also be manipulated to suit one’s existing worldview. Check out our Statistics and Soundbites page for some background on interpreting studies in general, and dog bite studies in particular.

On June 22, Mia Johnson spoke to CKNW in support of restrictions on specific breeds of dogs. She claimed that 44 of the 184 dog bites in the city of Vancouver were from pit bull breeds, which to her indicates that the breed is a problem.

The source material backing this claim was included online, which almost never happens and this makes us very happy! We encourage people to do their own research and not blindly accept soundbites from people heavily invested in making an argument. We have yet to verify that it is the full data set from the City but will do so and provide an update.

Even a quick glance through the data points to a problem in its interpretation. Ms. Johnson included the following breeds in her analysis (spellings and categories are from the source data):

American bulldog/pitbull – 1
Bull Terrier – 3
Pitbull – 31
Pitbull X – 4
Staffordshire Bull Terrier – 5

Total: 44

Including Bull Terriers in the category is questionable, because it’s very rare for this breed to be included in BSL. But it’s not unheard of.

There’s also the issue of breed identification and whether the breed ID was the initial impression of the animal control officer/victim/witness or whether it was added after further investigation. We suspect it was the former, due to the fact that there are very few purebred American Pit Bull Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the city of Vancouver, yet any number of mixes. There is also a lot of discrepancy in how dogs are recorded (Black lab/shepherd, shepherd/lab, and shepherd X are all used for example). This is another area for further research and update.

But here’s what popped out immediately. Shepherds. If we are going to use “pit bull” as an umbrella term, let’s do the same with shepherd breeds:

German Shepherd – 22
Black lab/shepherd – 1
Lab/shepherd – 1
Shepherd – 6
Shepherd/Chihuahua – 1
Shepherd/lab – 1
Shepherd X – 6
Sher-pei/Shepherd – 2

Total: 40

Australian shepherds are on the list as well, with 3 bites. So if we were to include them in the total (in the spirit of Bull Terriers being pit bulls) we’re at 43.

44 pit bull bites and 43 shepherd bites.

Ms. Johnson used 2014 stats for this analysis. A CTV news report cited 2015 stats: 178 bites, 29 of them by pit bulls. This may be due to a less generous definition of “pit bull” on the part of whoever did the analysis, or it may be that 2014 was an anomalous year where there were a higher number of pit bulls bites (or reporting of pit bull bites).

These numbers could also be used to spark another line of inquiry. 184 reported dog bites in a year means that someone is being bitten every two days in the City of Vancouver. And since dog bites tend to be under-reported, especially when it occurs among family and friends, it’s probably safe to say that a dog bite happens somewhere in the City limits every day.

Add in the surrounding municipalities, assuming a similar population-to-bite ratio, and we should be hearing about a couple dozen dog attacks a week. From pit bulls, sure, but from shepherds and mixed breeds and labs and the other dogs in our community. Why don’t we?