Thursday, May 10, 2012

Breed specific legislation and dog bites, fatalities

Two weeks ago it was a golden/lab mix in South Carolina. Last week it was a Jack Russell Terrier in Virginia. For me it was three years ago while walking a dog. Dog bites and fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control are on the rise.
The reasons, according to them, are varied and although several websites would like to specifically blame pitbulls and rottweilers, the CDC says the numbers lie.
Next week, the third week in May has been set aside as National Dog Bite Prevention Week. The CDC, The United States Postal Service and the  American Veterinary Medical Association are each working towards education to prevent dog bites.
The sidebar to any story about dog bites has to include fatalities and the biased information which runs rampant across headlines and internet stories.
The numbers most quoted in these headlines come from a study published by the CDC based on the years from 1979 to 1998. In this study, Rottweilers and pit bull type dogs were listed as causing the most human fatalities. The report states these numbers are probably skewed because they used newspaper headlines and information from the HSUS. If you read a little farther, the CDC says, "It does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic." It goes on to say, "Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002 percent of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."  They believe dog bites are a public health problem are are currently working with state health departments to establish dog bite prevention programs and by tracking and reporting trends on  U.S. dog bite injuries. They also believe dog bites are a largely preventable public health problem and adults and children can learn to reduce their chances of being bitten.
The last complete comprehensive report by the CDC was published in 2001. You can check out the full report at their website. This study contains graphs and charts and is about 10 pages long.
The CDC points out in these articles there are several interacting factors which will affect a dog's propensity to bite. These include heredity, sex, early experience, socialization and training, health, reproductive status, quality of ownership and supervision and victim behavior.
This report also states BSL does not work regardless of what other websites claim. Since 1975, dogs belonging to more than 30 breeds have been responsible for fatal attacks on people, including Dachshunds, a Yorkshire Terrier and a Labrador Retriever.
The report also states that in order for BSL to work, there would need to be an objective method of determining the breed of a particular dog. "Pedigree analysis combined with DNA testing is the closet to an objective standard for conclusively identifying a dog's breed. Owners of mixed breeds have no way of knowing whether their dog is one of the types identified and whether they are required to comply with breed-specific ordinances. Thus, law enforcement personnel have few means for positively determining a dog's breed and deciding whether owners are in compliance or violation of laws."
The CDC is concerned if BSL continues to be enacted, "people who want a dangerous dog will simply turn to another breed for the same qualities they sought in the original dog. Breed specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive. From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or nonfatal dog bites."
There you have it. So why don't we focus on teaching people instead of trying to kill as many dogs of a particular breed as we can?

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