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Bad Dog Or Bad Owner?

November 30, 2011 1:08 p.m.


Dan DeSousa, Lieutenant with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services

Micaela Myers, pit bull owner and volunteer at

Related Story: Pit Bull Attack Raises Questions Over Pet Regulations


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. An attack on two San Diego runners this weekend has revived questions about the safety of keeping pit bulls as pets. This incident comes just months after horrific pit bull attack on a 75-year-old woman in paradise hills. But while some San Diegans wonder if these powerful dogs should be put under tighter restrictions, others claim pit bulls are good dogs who are getting a bad rap. I'd like to welcome my gets. Dan DeSousa is lieutenant with the San Diego County department of animal services. Welcome to the show.

DESOUSA: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: And Micaela Myers is a pit bull owner and volunteer at the website Hi Micaela.

MYERS: Hello.

CAVANAUGH: We invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you concerned about pit bulls in your neighborhood? Or do you own a pit bull? Give us a call. 1-888-895-5727. %F01 Dan, fill us in on what happened in Valley Center over the weekend.

DESOUSA: Sure, from what I've been told, and we're still trying to work with the victims and get their information, the family was out running, a pack of dogs came after them, the two brothers stood their ground and let the girls run away and be safe. And they be commended for that. They were then horrifically and savagely attacked by the dogs, something that no one should ever have to go through.

CAVANAUGH: How are you investigating this attack? I believe it was this attack happened actually on an Indian reservation?

DESOUSA: From what eve told, the attack happened within the county's jurisdiction. Not on the reservation


DESOUSA: That is why we still have the authority to investigate the case. We've been told that possibly the owner lives on the reservation. And we will be dealing with that at the conclusion of the case.

CAVANAUGH: Now, these dogs that were participated in this attack were destroyed?

DESOUSA: When we arrived on the scene on Sunday night, the owner identified the four dogs, which he surrendered to us as the most likely culprits, and he requested that they be euthanized. And we followed through with that request.

CAVANAUGH: How many dogs was this person keeping on their property?

DESOUSA: From what we were told, he had seven dogs on the property.

CAVANAUGH: All pit bulls?


CAVANAUGH: What chargers could an owner face?

DESOUSA: For a violation like this, you're looking at a minimum of a leash law violation for the dog being off leash. You can also have a violation of public protection for dogs where a dog runs loose and attacks a person or causes damage. We are also depending on the circumstances and the evidence can look at felony charges in this similar to the case with Mrs. Mendoza, when she was savagely attackeded by the dogs next door. If we can show that the owner had knowledge of his dogs' aggressive behaviors and did not take precautions to protect the public, that felony case may apply.

CAVANAUGH: What are the current regulation fist there are any regarding pit bull in San Diego County?

DESOUSA: A pit bull is a dog like a poodle is a dog in San Diego. There are no specific regulations geared toward pit bulls

CAVANAUGH: But there are certain regulations in regard to all dogs, like how many a concern can keep and so forth. What are those?

DESOUSA: Very much. A person in San Diego County, within our jurisdiction, can have a maximum of six adult dogs on their property. And an adult is anything over four months of age

CAVANAUGH: That seems like a lot.

>> It can be -- it can very easily be managed. I have had six dogs in my house at one time in a 700-square foot home and never had a problem.

CAVANAUGH: And if you have puppies, they don't count until they're four months old; is that right?

DESOUSA: That is correct.

CAVANAUGH: Let me bring Micaela Myers into the conversation. Pit bull attacks like the one in Valley Center where these two runners were really very badly -- their legs were malled. When you hear about an attack like that, are you concerned about how the community is going to respond to that?

MYERS: Yes. First of all, certainly my heart goes out to that family, and it is a tragedy. But I am concerned whenever we place the focus on the breed of dog. Whenever we're talking about what breed the dog was, we're not talking about requesting productive. Because owner responsibility, not the dog breed, is behind virtually every instance. Dog fights are historic lows, but if we want to make our community saver, we need to focus on owner responsibility, not the type of dog that was involved

CAVANAUGH: I was opening this conversation up to our listeners. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Dave is on the line from Lemon Grove. And good afternoon, Dave, thanks for calling.

NEW SPEAKER: I have a pit bull, and he's the sweetest dog in the world. But she does have that pack mentality F. She gets around other dogs, she gets very excited. This was four dogs that attacked these two. So individually, each one of those dogs are probably going to be fine around people. But you get four -- not every breed, but you get four of these aggressive breeds like pit bulls and Rottweilers, people need to be aware that they are going to be more prone to compete with each other within the pack and compete by attacking and being protective and being more pit bull than the other pit bull. So owners have to be prepared for that. My dog is sweet, but I get her around -- I have a Rottweiler, those two together, and they do nothing but compete all day long.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. Let's go straight to Eloise, also calling from San Diego. Welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I agree with any dog in a group is going to have the competitive mentality. But the reason I'm calling is that at the time, my golden retriever and I were walking, normally I'd be walking with two dogs. That day I was just with my golden retriever on a leash. And I live in Escondido. And two pit bulls were loose, no tags, and the way it was sort of an out of body experience, but the way they tackled my golden retriever and systematically were pulling at his stomach, it was almost like -- I don't know, they're just -- my goal is, I think that they should have special licensing to own more than one or just stricter regulations

CAVANAUGH: How's your dog? Did your dog survive?

NEW SPEAKER: Oh, yeah. He did and I had to investigate where the owners lived, and basically the dog and I -- we had our medical bills paid for by the owner. But boy, did it take work to find out who those dogs belonged to. Of

CAVANAUGH: Thanks very much. Mikale AI want to go back to you. I've heard two different ideas of pit bulls. And it seems almost as if some people have a feeling that there's something special about the aggressiveness of pit bulls, whether they're -- especially if they're in a pack that is dangerous. What do you say when people come to you with that idea?

MYERS: Well, I certainly disagree that they're -- they're just dogs. It's also a term rather than a specific breed. It's a term for a type of dog. There are no aggressive breeds. So that's a misnomer. And the way the caller mentioned special licenses, but she mentioned that the dogs that attacked her dogs were loose and unlicensed. There are already laws on the books. Dogs that are loose and unlicensed are already breaking the law. We have laws on the books to address these things. Soap putting new laws into place for people who are not Owaying the laws is not really logical. We need to enforce the laws already on the books but in both those types of instances that we're talking about, those are issues of owner responsibility. They were letting their dogs run loose, unlicensed, and that's against the law. And if you -- we have a dangerous dog check list.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to ask you about that in a minute. I want to get Dan DeSouza back into the conversation with the county of San Diego department of animal services. And Dan, aren't most attacks in San Diego County bites against humans? Aren't they by pit bulls?

DESOUSA: We average about 2,600 dog bites a year. Of those, it turns out to be 16% are described to be a pit bull. We don't know how many pit bulls are actually out in the community. So don't know if they're biting a disproportionate amount or not

CAVANAUGH: I've heard a lot of the percentage of the dogs in county animal shelters are pit bulls as well.

>> We have about 26% in our shelters that are pit bulls

CAVANAUGH: Why would that be? Perhaps because the dogs are acting up and they get put in the shelters?

DESOUSA: Hard to say. They can't tell us their stories. But if it's a healthy, friendly pet, we will keep it at our shelters till it gets adopted. There is a fear of these dogs out there. They're reluctant to come in and adopt a pit bull, unless they've done their research. People that have done their research know how to work with this animal, and they don't have a problem adopting it. Then you run into landlords and insurance companies that won't allow them to the property as well

CAVANAUGH: Let me talk to you about the idea of dog versus owner. How are these owners of pit bulls failing in their duty?

MYERS: Owners of any breed can fail in their duty. And any dog has the potential to be aggressive. And our dangerous dog check list kind of talks about the factors that go into a dog potentially becoming dangerous regardless of its breed. Family dogs, the dogs like my dogs, that are well cared for, spayed or neutered, licensed, those are not the dogs that are involved in attacks. When you have an incident like this one in Valley Center, there is issues of the owner responsibility, some of the dogs were chained, some of those were allowed to run loose. Both of those are illegal. Dogs are living in a pack and used for breeding, you're going to have heightened issue with that because they may feel protective, there may be hormones and all that. So dogs that are not cared for or socialized properly or that have been obtained for guarding or other negative uses, you mix those factors together, and you have the potential for a problem. And the vast majority of dogs in those situations still will do nothing wrong. But when 1 or 2 do, there's always owner responsibility at play.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both a question. Let me start with you, Dan, isn't there actually something about the pit bull dogs and the size of their jaws, and the strength of their lock jaws that make their bite especially onerous?

DESOUSA: No. First and foremost, they do not have locking jaws. That's been a myth for a very long period of time. They do have a very tremendous strength in their jaws. As does a Rottweiler. It all depends on the dog. The hunting breeds are geared to be a soft mouth, which means they can go up and pick up a bird of pray that was shot and bring it back. Pit bulls have been bred to be fought in a pit. That means they would be more dog aggressive. A pit bull that went after a person in those cases was destroyed. So there's no locking jaws, they do have a tremendous amount of power. But any dog, a big dog, can cause serious injures.

CAVANAUGH: So that is part of the myth of this animal then Micaela? There must be a lot of them out there

MYERS: There are, there are a lot of myths about pit bulls. One is like you said the locking jaw, one is that they feel no pain or like to fight to the death or that they suddenly snap. These are all very erroneous. If you do an autopsy on a pit bull, their jaw is no different mechanically than any other large breed. Those are all Smith, and that's part of the problem that has led to the prejudice out there against them. Are these myths that are commonly believed.

CAVANAUGH: And yet from statistics that we got from an agency called, 65% of fatal attacks this year were by pit bulls. There are 26 deaths around the country, and 65%, 26 deaths from pit bull bites. So there seems to be this contradiction in the idea thatnies are not particularly dangerous dogs and yet sometimes the numbers don't play that out.

MYERS: Well, my answer to that would be as Dan noted, we don't know how many pit bulls are out there. There's no accurate statistics. If pit bulls are making up 25% like they are in the shelters, then there's a lot of pit bulls out there or dogs being called pit bulls. Then there's a ton of misidentification out there. My dogs were both labeled as pit bulls in the shelter, and neither of them DNA tested to be pit bulls at all. There's a lot of misidentification as well. Then you have the whole vicious cycle, where if these dogs get this reputation that they have, then there are certain elements of society that want them for the wrong reasons, that want to use them for dog fighting or negative purpose, and they're going to manage, raise, and train that dog for those purposes. And that all can factor in. And the dogs that are responsibly for the most fatalities changes over time. So it could be in the past German shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Great Danes. In the 1800s, bloodhounds were the bad dog of the time. We have to look at that historically.

CAVANAUGH: Let me take a call. Chris is calling from Chula Vista. Hi Chris, and welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, Hi, Maureen. Thanks.

CAVANAUGH: What's your comment, Chris?

NEW SPEAKER: The comment is we go to parks a lot where there are a lot of kids playing. We have small kids. And it's really absurd to say that these dogs are like all other dogs. We've seen playing with the chihuahuas, and their poodles, and these other dogs, then we see people who get there with these large, boxers, pit bulls, Rottweilers, and they let them off, and they play around with them around the kids, and we pick up our kids and we leave. These are not the same kinds of dogs. Whether they should be outlawed or restricted just because they're pit bulls maybe it should be based on weight of the dog or certain classifications of dog. But it really is not like another dog.

CAVANAUGH: It's not the same as far as you're concerned.

NEW SPEAKER: No, these are dangerous and they shouldn't be around small kids, and they should be in some way restricted, and people should be protected from them.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. Let me go to Rebecca quickly in Carlsbad. What about the regulations in Carlsbad?

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. In Carlsbad, we have a three dog limit in our household. Three adult dogs. And also there's regulations for renters that they may not have pit bulls. And I agree with the last caller. I have a 6-year-old daughter, I pick her up any type a pit bull is out or around. I deal with the neighbors that try to rescue pit bulls and have no idea where these dogs come from, and she leaves them in her house, and it has had in excess of nine dogs in this house. I'm opposed to someone saying they're misunderstood.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. I'm wonder, there's always an outcry when there's a terrible attack like this. And no wonder, really, Dan.

DESOUSA: We look at that dog as a dog. We do not stereotype a breed based on one dog's actions. The most recent fatality we had in San Diego County was a young boy that was killed by the family's German Sheppard. We're not going to go out and ban German shepherds because of that incident. It very much fall back on the owner. One bad dog does not make a bad breed, period.

CAVANAUGH: We have to end it there because I am out of time. I want to thank my guests very much.