Editorials

A Dangerous Dogs Act of 2015?

Four-year-old Kevin Vicente is shown in February after he was mauled by a pit bull in Arizona. Doctors said then that the attack had left the boy unable to swallow properly or open one eye. They said Kevin faced months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery.
Four-year-old Kevin Vicente is shown in February after he was mauled by a pit bull in Arizona. Doctors said then that the attack had left the boy unable to swallow properly or open one eye. They said Kevin faced months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery. AP

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom wasted no time responding when a 6-year-old girl was brutally mauled by a pit bull terrier in London in 1991 after a series of other attacks.

The result was the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which severely restricts pit bull ownership, and other named “dangerous” dogs, and requires they they be muzzled in public at all times. No dithering, no hem-hawing, no dickering over whether dogs ought to be blamed for what could be a result of poor training.

Of course, that is also a nation where handgun ownership is rare, health care is nationalized and there’s an actual queen in an actual castle.

That’s not the way we roll in America. We are the land of the free. The home of the brave. We protect our individual rights.

And we love – love – our dogs, maybe more than we love our guns, even the most American dog of them all, the pugnacious pit bull.

But our tolerance gets weaker every time another person is killed by a dangerous dog, such as the gruesome attack in Modesto last month. A 54-year-old man was killed and his 77-year-old mother gravely injured by their neighbor’s three pit bulls after they broke through the shared fence.

Stories like these are not uncommon. Take a look at the interactive map at dogsbite.org to find story after story about some hapless kid or older person just minding their own business before being jumped and killed by someone’s ostensible pet. You’ll read about Colton Smith of Delhi, a 17-month-old toddler killed by a pit bull mix in 2009; 2-year-old Jacob Brisbee of Concord, who was killed by a family member’s three pit bulls in 2011; and Esteban Alavez, a 34-year-old Selma man mauled to death by a pack of neighborhood pit bulls in 2012.

You’ll notice a trend in that anecdotal sample. There may be other breeds just as aggressive as pit bulls and pit bull mixes, but few as common or with the same unique physical attribute of powerful, deadly jaws. Good luck to a Chihuahua, or even a pack of them, trying to sink its teeth into anyone’s neck.

The website dogsbite.org tracks fatal dog attacks and documented 32 fatalities in 2013. Of those, 78 percent were attributed to pit bulls. Statistics from California health authorities confirm that pit bulls are the breed most likely to bite people in California.

Despite this, there’s little California cities can do to shut out dog breeds that become a public menace.

State law prohibits cities and counties from banning specific breeds of dogs, even so-called fighting breeds that are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the nation’s and state’s fatal dog attacks.

Even after the terrible mauling death of Diane Whipple in 2001 by two presa Canarios, the outcry only resulted in a new law allowing local jurisdictions to put some restrictions on specific breeds, but specifically excluded bans. Since then, some cities have adopted rules requiring the mandatory neutering of pit bulls and other dangerous breeds of dogs, but clearly it hasn’t stopped the killings.

The next legislative step is a law to allow individual cities and counties to adopt tougher restrictions on specific dog breeds, up to and including outright bans. Who will be brave enough to propose it?

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, told the editorial board Wednesday that she would consider supporting such a bill but wasn’t planning on proposing one herself. Maybe Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Democrat who also represents portions of Modesto, is courageous enough to take the lead.

It took just one injured kid to propel the U.K. into action. It should take not even one more dead Californian to move the Legislature on this.

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