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The Roundtable: Can Dog Attacks Be Prevented?

Aired 6/24/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

The tragic mauling of a 75-year-old Paradise Hills woman re-ignited a local debate about dog ownership regulations. Emako Mendoza was attacked in her yard by two pit bulls over the weekend, and suffered severe injuries. Doctors had to amputate one of Mendoza's legs, and may need to amputate her other leg and an arm. We discuss what can be done to prevent dog attacks.

Nearly half of all dogs at animal shelters are pit bulls or pit bull mixed-breeds.
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Above: Nearly half of all dogs at animal shelters are pit bulls or pit bull mixed-breeds.

The tragic mauling of a 75-year-old Paradise Hills woman re-ignited a local debate about dog ownership regulations. Emako Mendoza was attacked in her yard by two pit bulls over the weekend, and suffered severe injuries. Doctors had to amputate one of Mendoza's legs, and may need to amputate her other leg and an arm. We discuss what can be done to prevent dog attacks.

Guests

Mark Sauer, KPBS Senior News Editor

JW August, managing editor of 10News

Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times

Read Transcript

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.

ST. JOHN: Thousands of families have pitbulls as pets and know them as loving creatures. Out of the blue, somebody gets horribly malled by a pit bull, and even their owners can't pull them off. That happened in San Diego last weekend when a woman was attacked in her own backyard. He lost at least one limb as a result. We all come into contact with pit pulls from time to time. Quite often, in fact. They're a common pet. Do you cross the road when you see one? Or do you have one at home who's just the apple of your family's eye? We want to know what you think, because sometimes they're banned, in some cities. We want to hear from you. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. And we're moving fast. So pick up the phone and dial us. Join the round table. So mark, tell us a lot bit. Fill us in on this latest incident here in San Diego. What marked the discussion?

SOUR: Of course it's another horrific tack here. A 75-year-old woman attacked by a pitbull, a neighbor's dog. And it raises the classic nature nurture argument here. Is this inherent in this breed and certain other breeds or is this something where these dogs are improperly trained and supervised? I would say on a personal note, my wife happens to be a veterinarian, and over the years working at our vet clinic, I'm encountered a number of these numbers, and 2 to 1, they are the sweet evaluate animals. You can play with them, they'll be as friendly with you. In fact as my friend John Wilkins noted in a story in the UT the other day, they were known as nanny dogs in England. The classic family dog. And of course now they have this reputation through people who have bred them as fighters and trained them to be aggressive toward people, towards other breeds, and we have had a number of unfortunate incidents. So it really is a debate. It's very difficult to know what to do. As with any other animal, the owner is responsible, responsible to train it, manage the dog, be in troll of the animal, and that's where it comes down to. It's really -- I don't believe inherent in the breed. It's the people who need to deal with these animals properly.

ST. JOHN: JW, this is not -- let's not gloss over what happened to this woman. She lost a leg, she may have lost an arm. This is pretty violent. And it's not the first time it's happened. Do you think enough is being done to prevent this kind of thing?

AUGUST: I do know this. There's a lobby of people out there that do love pit bulls and do care. If you do a story on pit bulls, the phones ring off the hook because they believe they can be very sweet, supportive, great with the kids. But the -- on the other hand, they're born dangerous, but they're not born vicious. And the problem is that it depends on the people that own the dogs, what their plans are for them.

ST. JOHN: But do you think more needs to be done to -- I don't know, regulate the owners? Like if you own a rifle, you have to have a license.

AUGUST: Right. And I read in Mr. Wilkins' article -- he was quoting somebody who doesn't like pit bulls, and said six municipalities in California have banned them. But I don't think bans work. It would be like -- they'd be out back growing them with the pot plants.

ST. JOHN: You're right. That might not be the effective way.

AUGUST: But for real, we were talking to one on the air where we've been down in certain areas of the city and seen -- it looked like gang bangers with the dogs with them, and they raise these dogs because it proves -- their self esteem goes up with it, and the reputation in the neighborhood.

ST. JOHN: So there's a culture where they're bred to be vicious.

AUGUST: Right.

ST. JOHN: Bill from Vista is on the line with a comment. Go ahead bill. Thanks for joinings the round table.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much. I was wondering if you could comment on the genetic aspect. We are talking about an animal for over decades who was selectively bred to be the strongest, most ferocious, most aggressive animal that could be bred. And I think the owners who have these animals in their homes are putting their heads in the sand when they think that these traits will never be expressed. I'll take my discussion off the air. And thank you very much.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Thanks bill.

SOUR: That's certainly an interesting question, referring again to Mr. Wilkins' story here. Breed supporters point out that pit bull used to be called nanny dogs in England because of how good they were with children. The little pity was in the little rascals and was a mascot for RCA. Also he quotes a fellow who's editor of a website devoted to changing the public perceptions about pit bulls who says 50†years ago, they were known as America's family pet. So it's a difficult question. I think that's a very interesting one. And it may be something that some veterinary school might want to study like UC Davis.

PERRY: Don't we have to deal with the genetics as they are now?

ST. JOHN: So bill, you're saying that perhaps the genetics have changed? They have been bred actually to be more aggressive.

NEW SPEAKER: Definitely. We keep talking about our friend John Wilkins' story, and he mentioned there, a hundred and 4 people killed in four years by pit bulls? My goodness. I know some military bases have banned the possession of pit bulls. .

ST. JOHN: No one else can get one. But by 2012, they won't allow them anymore on the base.

PERRY: Indeed and camp Lejeune, they have had some very egregious cases.

SOUR: But is that genetics or is that the military culture where you have an aggressive culture and you're training these dogs improperly? I don't know if we can answer that.

ST. JOHN: Tony, do you feel there's a different argument for keeping that breed of dog on a military base rather than somewhere else?

PERRY: I'm just making point they don't tend to be frightened easily. But they do have housing areas, a lot of children, there isn't the protective aspect of having both parents. And they move to ban them in camp Lejeune, and as you point out, Pendleton has a moratorium on them. These are foot people who scare easily, you know what I mean?

ST. JOHN: What will happen in 2012 when more than a hundred pit bulls may find themselves without a home? It's a difficult decision. Christian is on the line. Thanks for calling.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm a pit bull owner. I have two pit bulls and a five-month old baby. And our pit bulls are very protective of our baby. Our baby plays with our pit bulls. And I want to mention that one of the traits they have is to please their owners. And that's why they can become so aggressive because they're trained to be aggressive by their owners, and all they're trying to do is please their owners. Those are my comments.

ST. JOHN: Yes, okay. This is the thing, there seem to be the two sides. I don't know if anyone can see there's a pattern behind why the ones that suddenly, unexpectedly seem to engage in a vicious attack might do it. Are these the sweet pets we're hearing about?

SOUR: This can happen with many other breeds, even the wonderful golden retriever, and I had one I loved dearly. But you'll see aggressive golden retrievers who will bite. Not often. But sometimes you will. And Rottweilers, German shepherd, etc, have been bred to be working dog, guard dogs. So a lot of it comes to training.

ST. JOHN: Spencer from southeast San Diego, what's your view on this issue?

NEW SPEAKER: There shouldn't be any debate about it. I've had my finger almost chewed off by a chihuahua. It doesn't matter what breed of dog. It's how the owners treat the dog. German shepherds who have killed people, there are all other kinds of breeds who have killed people. And doing what they were trained to do or just trying to protect their owners.

ST. JOHN: So thank you Spencer. Do you think there's something that can be done though to make owners more responsible? Is that something that can be regulated?

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, it can. Just make the ownership more accountable for whatever their dogs do. Like people have -- there are people being put in jail and fined because of the way their kids act in school. If you can do that to people for their kids misbehaving, why don't you do that for people whose dogs misbehave?

ST. JOHN: Yes. Thank you. Tony?

PERRY: The solution of the pit bull is protecting their owner. The majority of the attacks are against either an owner or a member of the owner's family. So I'm not sure we can extrapolate that they're just protecting those that they love. I rise as the owner of a standard poodle 50†pounds who is terrified of our ten-pound cat. So I'm probably not a good person to psychoanalyze --

ST. JOHN: But you raise a good question, Tony. Is it really always something that's predictable?

PERRY: When we bought our -- adopted our poodle, I was surprised, my wife did the research that various strains of dogs have very predictable behavior patterns. Intelligence levels and such. The genetics is such that a dog breed is pretty predictable as opposed to a cat. You don't know what you're getting when you get a cat. An antisocial or a wonderful lap cat. But dogs are different. You never confuse a poodle, not just physically, but their way of dealing with the people around them than you would a German shepherd, than you would a collie freshman. So genetics is really.

SOUR: Dogs are pack animals. They understand the need to be trained by their owner what role and what place they have in the family. And there will be some behaviors, especially as they're young, they're figuring that out. My wife years ago had a Rottweiler who she advised the clients to not do the surgery, it was a long recovery time, and she realized within that family, the Rottweiler was the boss, they couldn't get near it, and it turned out it wasn't a good situation as they proceeded with the surgery. So the animals have to be trained and shown. And too many owners don't understand that. They don't take the problem, they don't go to classes or learn about it.

ST. JOHN: Steve from Mission Beach is on the line. Go ahead. Upon.

NEW SPEAKER: I was walking down an alley toward Mission Boulevard, on the opposite side of the alley was a very young pit bull on the leash who suddenly charged across the alley, bit me in the side, then his owner finally managed to tug him back but he was still vicious. He was young. He wasn't trained. He couldn't have been trained in that short period of time in his life. I know that other places like Ontario Canada have banned pit bulls, and the reason is because they are vicious and they kill people. Can there be any question about whether we should ban them? Thank you.

ST. JOHN: Steve, thank, that's another perspective. Apparently insurance companies will not insure renter ares, or property for renters with large dogs. And we just read that some homeowners insurance, if they knew you had dogs of these certain breeds would cancel your homeowner's insurance.

AUGUST: They've got though actuary --

ST. JOHN: Do you feel like there's -- who in fact would be the ones to take action if there was any kind of change in the way that ownership was regulated? Because however loving they are, these situations keep coming up.

AUGUST: Don't you think the somebody should come out of there and propose something for the city. This attacking the woman was -- should have never happened. It he came through the fence or something.

ST. JOHN: Right. Presumably -- he would know the smell of this woman for weeks probably or months, years, we don't want. And still attacked here.

AUGUST: Right.

ST. JOHN: We have a call from Michelle in north county. Are you someone who deals with animals professionally?

NEW SPEAKER: I used to. My husband is a veterinarian. The first caller, I think he was the first caller, had mentioned the issue of genetics, and people putting their heads in the sand. I completely 100†percent agree with him. I have owned all manner of dog, been involved with training. Some of them pit bulls, had a bull terrier here who lived with us, a rescue. Was the most wonderful, wonderful dog in the world. However we could never insight her to play because she didn't know the difference between rough play and kind play. What we have is an issue here where -- and it is indeed an issue of genetics. 100†years ago in England, the Staffordshire terriers were being bred. They came to the U.S., and peaty, the Staffordshire terrier that everyone loved, from that we've got how many years later where all kinds of dogs have been bred, right? You look thea the ads in the papers and you see all the dogs that are being bred, and some of the dogs that have been really ruined like the German shepherd with the hip dysplasia issues and so forth. When you have a breed of dog that is purposefully bred by individuals for the purpose of fighting, it is impossible to extrapolate those genetics from a dog that may be so many generations past have not bred --

ST. JOHN: Michelle, I think you've made a very effective point here. And it's one that our producer, Hank, was making before the show. In some ways it's kind of tragic for the dogs themselves that human beings have bred them in some cases to be more vicious. And now we're turning around and seeing perhaps we may have to consider -- some areas already have banned them from being kept as pets. We've come to the end of our time. So I think we need to leave this. . But it certainly does raise some pretty interesting issues. As I said in 2012 we're gonna get the deadline from Camp Pendleton, are they gonna move off base? Leave the military? Because they can't keep a dog like this on base. So good discussion. Thank you. We'll move onto a different topic in the next segment.

Comments

Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | June 24, 2011 at 12:31 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Pit bulls can be confused with other breeds...what people call pit bulls are often something else. I'm surprised none of your guests mentioned that. Breed is no guarantee of temperament. One of the meanest dog I have heard reported from a friend was a standard poodle that regularly attacked its owners (not lethal, obviously, but with vigor) and could not be trusted with guests. They knew the dog was unreliable but they felt sorry for it, and the dog absolutely cannot be trusted nor have they had success getting it trained. The people who own a dog that they know has a vicious streak is taking a chance with family, friends and strangers. Over and over again I hear stories about a family who have a dearly loved pet, allows the animal to play unsupervised with a small child, and then proceeds have something happen where the child is bitten and even killed because children can hurt an animal without realizing it (or maybe they do nothing but scream and that scares the dog into a fear reaction that turns into a tragedy). It is absolutely an issue with people breeding animals to be vicious, whether for dog fighting or because of the human's need for aggressiveness. Unfortunately it is often an innocent that is injured by such cruelty (and raising an anti-social dog doomed to be destroyed is animal cruelty). The dog will pay with its life...the people will go on to adopt other animals and create another dangerous situation unless they learn that it is their behavior and their poor choices that is the real problem.

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Avatar for user 'terrieR51'

terrieR51 | June 24, 2011 at 12:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

I don't believe Pit Bulls should be banned from San Diego County because of random attacks by some. First of all, other dogs may do the same thing -- it is not a breed-specific occurrence. Although some dogs of any breed or mix have some genetic disposition to being aggressive, most do not, and if they are raised properly and given rules and boundaries and treated with gentleness, they do not tend to attack people. Even the Vicktory dogs, taken from the dog fighting ring, have been rehabilitated at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, and have found new forever homes with no problems.

We have had dogs for 43 years and, although we do not have a pit bull, we have met MANY at our dog park and Coronado dog beach, as well as some that belong to friends, and have never had any problem whatsoever with any of them. Most of them are very sweet. The only issue we have ever encountered is that they sometimes do not know their own strength or weight and can knock people or other dogs down -- but we've seen that with LOTS of big, strong dogs.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | June 25, 2011 at 2:07 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

The crime falls on the shoulders of those who owned the dog(s). I hope they pay the full price to the extent of the law. With all the information available about the dangers of breeding dogs in a residential neighborhood, what the hell were they thinking?

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Avatar for user 'jijifer'

jijifer | June 25, 2011 at 11:05 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

the problem is that SD laws/ordinances about this are weak and SD Dept of Animal Services has exactly ONE officer dedicated to "declared dogs". San Diego declares dogs dangerous if they are known to attack people and declared a public nuisance if they are known to be aggressive towards people or animals.

add to that the ordinances and laws we do have are rarely enforced.

Voice command- can only be used on one's private property and in designated dog parks. Fido off leash anywhere else? Illegal. And fido must be confined to your yard one way or another even if you chose to exercise VC on your property.

Riding your bike/skateboard with a leashed dog - illegal

I've been attacked by the same pitbull 3x in 7 months and despite citation after citation the owner fails to restrain the animal. In the last attack, the pitbull jumped on me, took my chihuahua from arms and tore my elderly dog apart in seconds. All while the dog's owner stood right there, too afraid to try to restrain his own dog or get between his lunging, snapping, growling animal and me. The owner lives (illegally - another law rarely enforced- you can't sleep in an rv on city streets here in Carlsbad) in an RV he parks in the alley behind my house. In court he plead guilty and indigent so the $4300 it cost to save my dog's life after that attack is mine burden to bare along side the fear and terror that remains with me.

Since we don't have the manpower/resources to enforce the laws we have on a daily basis, make the fee to own the breed astronomical - say 1k/annually. Then require owners prove proof of liability insurance for 100K upon registration each year. If they fail to maintain that insurance, attach jail time to ANY attack on animals or people. That's the ONLY way owners will get responsible.

In my case, this owner spent 2 nights in jail when he failed to show up in court. He has 60 days of jail time over his head should this dog be a problem again. He's supposed to pay me $50/month (7.5 years) - I wish I could have paid vet $50 with no interest for nearly a decade. Now, he tells the police he's moving to mexico. Good riddance but yeah, I'm out $4300 because of negligent owner.

No one should ever be subjected to horror I have been subjected to. No one should be ripped from limb to limb in her back yard. DAS told me of another SD case where 2 pits followed a couple home, chewed through the doggie door, came into the house and killed the family dog. While that "nanny dogs" blog will suggest chihuahuas are more bitey than pits, no chihuahua has ripped the limb off ANYONE let alone stalked to kill. Pits need really good owners and unfortunately there are a lot of really bad owners attracted to these animals. Make it cost prohibitive to own this breed and only truly dedicated people will own them. We can't have toothless laws, no means to enforce than AND have just anyone able to own these dogs. Something must change.

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Avatar for user 'BCE753'

BCE753 | July 6, 2011 at 4:20 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

I hate pit bulls. Get a license, buy a gun, and the next time that animal approaches you and so much as grunts, shoot it!

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Avatar for user 'nicolebrown'

nicolebrown | February 10, 2012 at 7:07 p.m. ― 2 years, 7 months ago

If you don't know how to handle Pit bull then you are in for an accident. Latest news that an anchorwoman was bitten by a Mastiff! He tried to kiss the Mastiff but the dog don't know her so the dog defended by biting the woman.Now her personal injury lawyer in Miami in the face is a reminder never kiss a dog you dont own.

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