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MailTribune.com
  • A canine conundrum

    City Council bites off a tough issue in trying to regulate dangerous dogs
  • The Medford City Council has waded into one of the most divisive issues a city can face: Whether to regulate dog breeds commonly called pit bulls and, if so, how. If there is anything more tenacious than a muscular dog sometimes bred to fight other dogs, it is the owner of one of those dogs who insists the animals are harmless and misunderstood.
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  • The Medford City Council has waded into one of the most divisive issues a city can face: Whether to regulate dog breeds commonly called pit bulls and, if so, how. If there is anything more tenacious than a muscular dog sometimes bred to fight other dogs, it is the owner of one of those dogs who insists the animals are harmless and misunderstood.
    The council has asked a police advisory committee to study the issue and report back with recommendations. That study needs to be thorough and painstaking, and focus on verifiable facts, not myths.
    Medford police say they want to see a city ordinance that gives them the clout to rein in dangerous animals they encounter in the course of their work and help them protect the public. Department statistics bear out the need to do something: In the past three years, 89 reported cases have involved dogs biting humans or other dogs in Medford. Police say pit bull-type dogs were involved in half the cases, and were responsible for eight of 11 cases in which dogs were killed by other dogs.
    We say "pit bull-type" dogs because there is no recognized breed known as a pit bull. The dogs may be American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers or other breeds or mixtures of breeds with similar characteristics: a wide skull, powerful jaws and a muscular, stocky body, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
    Defenders of the pit bull will argue that they are no more likely to bite than any other breed, and that they are actually less dangerous to people than many other breeds.
    However, even the ASPCA, which opposes breed-specific laws aimed at pit bulls, notes on its website that the animals were selectively bred to fight other dogs, and for this reason can easily be encouraged to do so. The site notes that pit bulls have been bred to behave differently in a fight than other dogs — specifically, that they may not give warning before becoming aggressive, may be less likely to back down and more likely to cause injury because they do not inhibit their bites. "Pit bulls are not for everyone," the site warns.
    It is not true that pit bulls have jaws that "lock." They may, however, bite and hold more frequently than other dogs when fighting, and their bites can cause more damage as a result.
    Clearly, how such dogs are trained and treated by their owners has a huge influence on how they behave. Police say pit bulls are favorites with drug dealers they encounter when serving search warrants.
    The biggest obstacle to an outright ban on "pit bulls" is the difficulty in defining what a pit bull is and proving that one dog violates the ban while another does not. Adopting a list of recognized breeds to be outlawed and then conducting DNA tests would be cumbersome and expensive.
    Any ordinance drafted to deal with aggressive dogs should carry real consequences for dog owners who fail to control their animals. Police should be given the discretion to decide when a dog poses a threat to people or to other dogs and to seize dogs when necessary to prevent injury or worse.
    The advisory committee has its work cut out for it.
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