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By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH

July 11, 2013 (San Diego) – Lee Patisson, a young Navy diver, bitten himself while trying to protect his dog, was recently forced to kill a pit bull that was attacking his pet dog.

According to a San Diego U-T story: “Pattison said he wants to make it clear that he did not shoot the dog without exhausting what he felt was every other means. He tried grabbing its collar and hitting it with his fists. The dog was undeterred. He ran inside and got his shotgun, and struck Bodi [the pit bull] with the butt of the gun five or six times. . . Pattison said Bodi was often tied up on his neighbor’s front doorstep, but the dog was known to break loose . . . He said it was the second time in about a month that the dog had attacked Bolt [Pattison’s dog]. Pattison does not face any charges. Wayne [the dog’s owner] has been cited for failure to keep the dog leashed and failure to protect the public.” (Man Who Killed Pit Bull Says He Is No Hero, July 4, 2013).

I have been an animal lover all my life. I currently own an Australian Shepherd, a rescue dog. He is my only family, my sole companion as a senior citizen. I have a well-maintained six-foot fence around my backyard, built so he cannot dig under it. The gates are all locked with a slide bolt and hang lock (my previous dog, a mini-schnauzer, somehow got out from an improperly latched gate. I spent two hours in tears looking for him when he at last came home on his own. I immediately replaced the latches and added locks. I was lucky that time and didn’t want to risk a repeat).

When I walk my dog, I put the leash, a doubled reinforced nylon leash, through the loops on both his harness and his collar. Even as a young child I learned that dogs can slip out of collars. The double reinforced nylon leash was purchased after he chewed half way through a brand new leather leash.

I would be devastated if he got out of the yard or got loose while walking him, not because he would attack another dog or person; but he could be hit by a car or lost. And although he has never shown signs of aggression (at the dog park other dog owners have complimented me on how well he plays with other dogs), even the best trained dogs are not totally predictable. Owning a dog is a serious responsibility.

Pit bulls are great dogs if neutered and socialized. People tend to forget that pit bulls were the most popular family pet during the 1950s and I have a picture of my late mother as a child with Petey, the original Little Rascal’s dog, a pit bull. My former neighbor had a pit bull and a cat; they got along well, even napping together.

However, pit bulls and certain other dog breeds if not neutered, socialized, and supervised can be dangerous. Unfortunately, some owners of large potentially aggressive dogs do not have them as family pets; but more as “macho” symbols. Chihuahas can be aggressive and are responsible for many dog bites; but even a child can fend off a Chihuahua. A grown man would be defenseless against a pit bull or certain other larger breed dogs.

It was not the young sailor who killed the dog, but his owner who, knowing the dog had previously gotten loose and attacked other dogs, did not ensure he was properly restrained. I really sympathize with the young sailor. I would have done the same to protect my dog and self and then had nightmares the rest of my life for having killed a dog.

I suggest we revise the law just as we have different levels of driver’s licenses and liability. Eighteen wheelers are not inherently dangerous, but if driven by the wrong person, if not properly maintained, they can do far more damage than a subcompact so we have more stringent licensing and liability requirements.

We should consider two categories for dog licenses. For dog breeds that can present a danger to other dogs and people, the license should cost more, they must be neutered to be licensed (except if they can prove they are a legitimate breeder), they must have liability insurance, and stricter enforcement.

For instance, if the dog is reported loose, a small fine to begin with, e.g. $100-200, and animal inspectors would have the right to require the owner(s) take necessary precautions to ensure it won’t happen again, e.g. improved fence, obtain harness and stronger leash, or face serious fines and removal of the dog. The inspectors would, of course, return to ensure requirements met. Of course, the inspectors should understand that even with the best most responsible precautions dogs sometimes get loose and they should consider this in making any determination.

We seem to only take the risk seriously if a dog hurts a person. Dogs may not be people, but they are sentient living beings. They feel pain, they feel fear, they feel pleasure, and they give lots of pleasure.

My father never cried, old generation macho; but the one time he did cry was when he took our 15-year-old dog to be euthanized. Losing a family dog is not the same as replacing a TV or washing machine. The law should recognize this so that if someone’s dog hurts or kills another dog, especially if they have already been warned, they should face criminal charges, perhaps similar to those if they directly killed a dog.

The charges brought against the dog’s owner were too lenient. Though not a lawyer, my understanding is that if a death results from a criminal activity, it can be considered murder, so since the pit bull died as a result of the owner’s negligent behavior (she knew he had gotten loose before), she should be charged with the death of the dog along with the other charges! As an aside, I’ve also heard of people who moved and left their dogs behind, even locked in a house or trapped in a backyard to die of hunger and thirst. Such actions should be seen as serious crimes!

As a senior citizen, walking my dog is good exercise and should be a pleasurable event; but, unfortunately, too often I encounter people walking dogs off-leash or see dogs in front yards behind flimsy fences, thus, always slightly afraid my dog will be attacked and I will be hurt trying to defend him. And I’ve seen off-leash dogs run out into the street. Fortunately, they weren’t hit by a car; but such a scenario would give me nightmares.

I shouldn’t have to be fearful when walking my dog. Enforcement of leash laws should be strictly carried out. Perhaps, people should be encouraged to report off-leash dogs, poorly restrained dogs, or dogs in front yards with inadequate fences followed by animal control officers patrolling the area in an unmarked vehicle and citing the dog owners.

The city, county, and media should begin a campaign focusing on the responsibilities of dog ownership, emphasizing that ANY dog can run into the street, be hit by a car, and/or attack another dog or person. The campaign should emphasize that the law takes such events seriously!

I considered purchasing a taser baton. The baton could be used to fend off a dog as a club, even the sound could frighten off some dogs, and as a last resort as a taser that would not permanently harm an animal, but would stop any attack. Unfortunately, I discovered it is illegal to carry short clubs in the city and I could be fined. Perhaps, special permits could be issued to dog owners after passing a background check.

To conclude, though not trained in the law, my impression is that currently we seem to have two categories of laws, one for property and one for people. Perhaps we should have a third in-between category for household pets.

This category should both see dogs as valued family members, as sentient beings, and, though rare, as potential dangers with appropriate punishments and enforcement. Finally, I feel bad for the young sailor having to live with having killed a dog regardless of its necessity and sorrow at the dog losing his life. He may well have been a good companion to his owner and affectionate pet, but the owner was responsible for what happened!

Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a retired epidemiologist.  The views in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact


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Responding to "Pit Bulls do too much damage"

It would be nice if people actually carefully read something prior to commenting!

As I wrote, pit bulls were the most popular family dogs during the 1950s, long before unscrupulous people decided to use them for illegal dog fights and to breed them accordingly. And, as I wrote, I have a photo of my late mother with Petey, the original Little Rascal's dog, who was a pit bull. The photo is from around 1930. It is unfortunate that dogs, regardless of breed, are being bred and used for fighting. And, as with other laws related to dogs, the penalties are unfortunately minimal. Pit Bulls currently do top the list of dog bites in the U.S., followed by breeds such as German Shepherds. Should we outlaw German Shepherds, used as seeing eye dogs, service dogs, etc.? If one estimates the total number of pit bulls in the U.S., the percentage of biting is higher than other breeds; but still low. In other words, the vast majority of pit bulls do not pose a problem.

An episode from the National Geographic Channel series "DogTown" (Season 2, Sept 19, 2008, "Saving the Michael Vick Dogs"); profiled the rehabilitation of four pit bulls trained to fight. These poor dogs had been brutalized as puppies to get them to kill; yet after between one year and 1 1/2 years of training they could be placed with families with small children. Obviously, if dogs brutalized from the gitgo can be trained to be family pets then my OpEd's suggestion that the law require them to be neutered and strict enforcement of laws that they be supervised, the chances/risk of danger would be reduced significantly to close to nil

As I wrote, I too am afraid when I walk my dog, not just of pit bulls; but any "large" dogs off leash, behind flimsy fences, or inadequately restrained  The other day someone told me he has had to pay out over a $1,000 for injuries to other dogs caused by his neutered female Border Collie. Apparently she is great around his kids so he doesn't take her to dog parks any longer. Should we outlaw Border Collies? At least he took responsibility and paid the other dogs' vet bills. As I wrote, no dog is perfectly predictable and owners should take responsibility in the same way one would supervise a three-year-old child.

As for the horrible statistics on the number of dogs euthanized every year in the U.S., there are far too many dogs in the U.S. The city of San Diego just joined over 30 other cities in passing an ordinance that strikes at puppy farms. Shelters and rescue groups have dogs of every size, shape, and temperment waiting to be adopted. In fact, many of the rescue groups first place the dogs with a foster family where they can be evaluated, e.g. temperament, get along with cats, good with kids, etc. so one can find a dog that fits his/her needs and situation.

Though I didn't include it in my OpEd, if someone doesn't want to neuter one of the potentially dangerous/powerful breeds, the law should require a breeder's license with a fee that would cover cost of interviewing the potential breeder and inspecting their home/property to ensure fences, etc. are appropriate. The 2nd Amendment allows us to keep a firearm in our home for self protection; but an unneutered, improperly restrained dog has the potential to be just as deadly, with the difference that the firearm doesn't take off on its own.


Event for VICTIMS  An event to spread awareness and support victims.   Free family activities, police security onsite, food, bounce tent for kids, speakers including FORMER pitbull owners that saw their dog attack unprovoked and as usual, the dog wouldnot let go. Come on out.. Candle light vigil to memorialize victims at dusk & more. Come support victims, spread awareness,  and have fun.  Print off a flier, Like us on Facebook, ask your church to sponsor a victim's trip to the event, or organize a sister event!

Pitbulls do too much damage to humans and pets

Before when dog fighting was legal, no one promoted or bred pitbulls as pets, After the government made dog fighting illegal, the wealthy sadistic dog fighters spent millions popularizing the breed so they can hide their sadistic sport without any fear of being caught.  Now we euthanize one million pitbulls a year in the USA. That is sick.  Look at this year's  victims and do the math. Listening to sources paid for by dog fighters will not get you facts.  Remember celebs were paid millions to peddle cigerettes on t.v. for decades long after it was known that cigerettes were dangerous ..   It's all about MONEY.  2013 Dog attack victims so far.. except the five year old that died in S Carolina recently has   not been added yet ….17 deaths by pitbulls and their derivates ..Only one death by a nonpitbull dog.