Talking about politics or religion is considered rude in civilized society — as both often elicit strong feelings in opposing positions — and perhaps the topic of pit bulls should be included.
When asked about pit bulls, Rusk County residents expressed passionate views about the animals and whether or not they’re a menace to society. Most cited their own personal experiences with the dogs — both positive and negative — but all agreed that no breed of animal is “born bad.” In an HDN online poll published from May 25-30, 75 percent of readers said pit bulls “deserved” their bad reputation and, “No matter how well-trained, they’re a threat.”
“They are a danger to public safety,” said Henderson resident Jason Tolliver. “I’m not saying they’re born that way, and I know a lot of people who’ve had pits that’d never hurt a fly […] but there’s no other breed that even comes close when it comes to the number of dog maulings.”
Published studies on the issue bear this out.
According to a special report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pit bulls contributed to 66 out of 238 fatalities between 1979 and 1998 — although it was mentioned those statistics were for specific dog breeds known. The report gleaned information from news accounts and the Humane Society of the United States and reported a total of 327 that had been killed in dog attacks during that period.
“I don’t have the numbers right in front of me, but I bet you have more bites and maulings from ‘mutts’ more than anything else,” said Rusk County resident, and pit bull owner, Rebecca Williamson. “And, of those pit bulls attacks, I’d be willing to bet most of them are either ownerless dogs or pits that come from abusive situations […] there’s more to the issue than just the breed, environment has more to do with it than anything.”
A study from DogsBite.org, a not-for-profit website that advocates public information on pit bulls, showed pit bulls were responsible for 25 of the 32 fatal dog attacks nationwide in 2013. Together, pit bulls and rottweilers — the second most lethal dog breed — accounted for 81 percent of the total recorded deaths in 2013. This same combination accounted for 74 percent of all fatal attacks from 2005-2013.
New London resident Jake Carter said his views on the dogs changed once someone he loved became a victim of a pit bull attack.
“I know how a lot people who love pit bulls feel, I grew up around pits and always loved them. I would’ve never thought a well-trained pit would turn, until my 3-year-old daughter was mauled by ours,” he said. “I still love them, but I’ll never let one in my house again, or near my children.”
In the last few years several Rusk County residents have been victims of pit bull attacks, some fatally. On March 18, 2013, Pct. 5 Justice of the Peace Joe Sorrells ordered a pit bull mix dog euthanized for biting a 9-year-old boy March 12 at a residence in rural Rusk County. While this victim survived, others were not as fortunate.
Henderson toddler Kaden Muckleroy, 2, died Nov. 10, 2010, at ETMC Henderson as a result of dog bites from a pit bull attack. The toddler’s death was one of several incidents in the past two years in which East Texas children were injured or killed by pit bulls. In June 2009 Rusk County youngster 10-year-old Justin Clinton died after an attack by a pair of pit bulls belonging to neighbors in the Leverett’s Chapel community.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association stated there have been 256 fatal dog attacks between 2000 and 2009 and that only 18 percent of cases involved a valid, identifiable breed. In addition, the report stated that in said cases, 85 percent of the incidents involved people that had no familiarity with the dogs.
Henderson Animal Shelter supervisor Ronnie Whittington said she understands both perspectives, but stresses that every breed of dog was bred for a purpose — with specific traits that were either emphasized or diminished as the breeds have evolved.
“All dogs were bred to do a job or serve a specific purpose for people, and everything goes back to responsible ownership,” she said. “Any breed of dog can grow to be safe and well-behaved if its masters train it properly.”
But at the same time, Whittington concedes that pit bulls’ powerful frame and reported ability to “lock” its jaws should give any owner pause around children, strangers, or other animals.
“It’s all about using common sense and taking the sort of basic precautions you’d take with any animal that has the potential to cause harm,” she said. “You wouldn’t let a child play in a horse pen, you wouldn’t let your pet boa constrictor roam free around the neighborhood, and you should treat your pit bull with the same care.”
Pet ownership information for 2013 shows that family dogs comprised 47 percent of all fatal attack occurrences, and 78 percent of the attacks resulting in human death occurred on the dog owner’s property.
“Dog bites from pit bulls are not the most frequent reported, but they are the ones which can and do cause the most damage,” Whittington added. “Yes, they can make good pets, but they can also cause serious injury. Part of being a responsible pet owner is knowing your dog, knowing what they’re capable of, and acting accordingly.”