The Bully PulPit will be a new feature on our blog dedicated to providing information and updates on breed specific legislation and advocacy opportunities, triumphs, and tribulations. The primary focus will be within Texas, as Love-A-Bull in located in Austin and where we stand to make the most immediate impact. However, we will also cover significant stories around the nation. These will be a mixture of learning opportunities for improvement and victories for celebration, to provide not only hope for the good reputation of pit bull type dogs, but also as reminders of the importance of responsible ownership of these truly wonderful dogs.
Last month, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association published a peer-reviewed, scientific study of a decade’s worth of dog bite-related fatalities (DBRF) with an eye toward identifying the occurrence of potentially preventable factors. The paper opens by identifying that dog-bite related injuries are a preventable public health problem, and it stands to reason that DBRF are just as preventable. While perhaps not providing new conclusions, the researchers assert that this study is based on more sound evidence than used in previously published articles on the matter. Where often media reports are cited, the researchers here chose to pull data exclusively from reports written by animal control specialists, police respondents, and interviews with eye witnesses and other closely connected parties. Media articles were used to identify incidents to investigate, but then cross-referenced with, and often found to be inaccurate by, the other documents.
The researchers evaluated 256 incidents for 23 factors, ranging from the victim’s age and gender, to the general nature of the dog’s relationship with its owner, to the physical characteristics of the dog itself. The study found that more than 80% of DBRF involve four or more factors. Conversely, only 2.7% involved only one factor. In other words, this study shows that legislation that only takes one factor, e.g. breed, into consideration can be predicted to be ~3% as effective as policies that address multiple factors, e.g. animal management and caretaking. But, hey, if not effective, at least those one-factor policies can offer astronomical costs, right?
It’s important to discuss that breed was not a factor in this study. It’s not clear if breed was precluded at the onset, but multiple reasons arose over the course of the research to discount breed: the large proportion of the dogs in the study did not have documented pedigree, parentage, or DNA analysis, and the scientific, medical, and animal welfare communities roundly refute the validity of visual identification of breeds. A second (and perhaps more salacious, for me, anyway) reason is the incidence of discrepancies between reported breed for the same dog in the same incident—as much as 40% (let that scandal sink in).
It’s also important to discuss few factors that stuck out as too common not to be a coincidence. In over three quarters of the cases, the dog involved was what the researchers termed a “resident dog,” one that spent most of its time away from its owner or owners and regular, positive human interaction (less than 8% of the dogs involved live in the home). 84% of cases involved a dog that was sexually intact. In addition, an overwhelming number involved a dog left alone with a child or adult not capable of interacting appropriately with the dogs. It’s very sobering to realize that humans have the ability to prevent all three of these factors.
This study is important for the Bully Pulpit because, by its own admission, it was neither designed nor intended to provide new behavioral understandings of dogs, but to put the already commonly accepted tenets into a form that could inform better public policy decisions. This study also struck home because it not only aligned with Love-A-Bull’s recommendations for responsible ownership (responsible guardianship pledge), it echoed the theme of LAB’s Pit Bull Awareness Day Celebration: “All Dogs are Created Equal.” By focusing on the preventable and thereby almost exclusively human-contributed factors, the researchers assumed the premise that all dogs born with the same potential to be a great companion animal, regardless of breed. If you’re interested, you can read the study here, and review the AVMA’s guidelines for responsible pet ownership here.