Have you ever noticed that when there’s one “pit bull” story in the media, there are always two or three more that follow? Then the news outlets start reporting on this supposed epidemic, and talk of breed bans begins, with talk radio lines lighting up. It’s the same cycle, 30 years and counting.
Dog bites happen every day. Not because dogs are inherently aggressive, but because there are a lot of them in BC, and a small percentage of them will bite. Even a very small percentage of a large population will result in several instances to note.
Of these bites, some will be by pit bulls. They are in the population, so they will be represented in bite statistics. We can’t ignore the fact that some are from less-than-stellar breeders and living with less-than-stellar owners where they aren’t set up for success. The bottom line? If you go out looking for pit bull bites, and especially if you are generous in your definition of a “pit bull”, you will find them.
We sure heard about them this week.
On Monday, a woman was severely attacked by a large dog outside a convenience store in Surrey. Breed ID of “pit bull” was made by witnesses and this was reported by many media outlets.
The dog was eventually located by Animal Control and destroyed. No further breed ID has been released publicly. CBC featured a quote from the mayor stating that the dog was “supposed to be muzzled” which may indicate that the dog had past behaviour problems.
Within days, the media had located another “pit bull attack” as breaking news. This was to a small Pomeranian puppy. The owners of the puppy were understandably distraught, but the actual damage was minimal considering the size difference between the two dogs – a $400 vet bill for an extracted tooth was noted. In the news segment, the dog appeared to have no cuts or punctures, with no bandage or even a cone. While this was traumatizing to the family and should not have happened, we would argue that this is not “breaking news”. Dog altercations of this magnitude do happen on a regular basis.
Then there was an attack in Vancouver. The media was on site a few minutes after the victim left, zooming in on a blood-splattered sidewalk. They were responsible enough not to name a breed on site, but most reporting lumped this incident with other “pit bull” attacks and certainly caused people to wonder.
These incidences have been reported ad nauseum to fuel a week-long “pit bull debate” this week. It coincided with Quebec introducing various levels of breed-specific legislation following a death by “pit bull” in the province. This is the third dog-related fatality in 2016 in Canada, but the only one involving a pit bull. In fact, it’s the only death by a pit bull since 1995. Yet this single case has inspired overnight breed bans and provided media controversy gold.
But what else happened that week? Statistically, over 100 people were bitten by dogs in BC. Maybe a couple of hundred, depending on how closely our bite rates compare with studies in the US. Twenty, thirty, maybe more required hospital treatment. But we didn’t hear about them because they were dealt with as a private matter. Animal Control may not have been notified, and the media certainly weren’t.
But let’s be fair. This month, the media DID report on some serious bites by other breeds:
A young girl was bitten on the face by an Akita mix in Central Alberta at the beginning of June. It made the news when the parents learned that the dog had a bite history, and they made their story public to advocate for stricter enforcement. Note that the breed of dog is incidental here – the focus is on his past behaviour and the context in which the bite occurred.
Then there was this story in a local community paper. On June 17, a boy was attacked by a loose German Shepherd in Maple Ridge. Again, this wasn’t reported simply because the dog attacked. It became a story when the parent had a complaint about how the reported event was handled.
Or this one, which is pretty upsetting. This bite was from back in May but was reported recently. An Olde English Bulldog badly injured two young girls in Alberta. Despite the magnitude of the injury, this did not receive the same widespread coverage at the time of the event. Once again, the breed of dog was incidental and the story is focused around the dog being a repeat offender and whether this could have been prevented through better regulation.
All three of these incidents are worthy of public discourse if we are really concerned about regulation of dangerous dogs. But when a breed not perceived as a “pit bull” was involved, we see the following;
- little to no reporting at the time the incident occurred (contrast this to cameras gathered at the Mac’s convenience store or photographing blood spatters in South Vancouver).
- the “news” item is not that a dog attack occurred, but because a failure of enforcement or regulation was perceived.
- breed is incidental to the story. It is reported as a “dog attack” with no speculation as to whether its breed was a factor in its aggression.
What if every dog attack was a “dog attack”? Could we then look at stories and see common factors like past history of aggression, quality of ownership, dogs running at large, and the vulnerability of children? That conversation doesn’t have the adrenaline-pumping, click-generating power of the “breed ban debate” but it just might lead to measures that actually keep us safer.
Note: statistics and links are the best sources available to the author at this time. If a better source is identified, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org