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 firstname.lastname@example.org.