What's the truth about pit bulls?
It's a topic stirring some heated debate among 9 On Your Side viewers: What's the truth about pit bulls?
Reporter: Tammy Vo
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It very well may be one of the most heavily debated stories 9 On Your Side has recently covered. Are pit bulls really dangerous? Do they get a bad rap? KGUN 9 wants to hear your opinion after viewing this story.
There have been several recent pit bull attacks in Tucson. The most recent was on October 27th in east Tucson, when a loose Pit Bull injured a woman and killed her Beagle.
Also in east Tucson in early October, an elderly man named Jim Skevington and his lab were suddenly attacked by two pit bulls on the loose.
"It was by all descriptions a very aggressive attack" said Sgt. Matt Ronstadt of the Tucson Police Department who described the dogs as relentless. An officer was forced to shoot and kill both dogs.
Meanwhile, the Cook family in west Tucson is still mourning the loss of Michael Cook and his dog Butch, a beloved family pet. Butch had just been neutered and was recovering at the family's home when he suddenly attacked his owner in early August. Butch was a Pit Bull-Labrador mix.
Cook's niece, Angela de Soto said, "It was really hard to look at a body in such bad condition and think... this isn't a cancer eating his body, not a heart attack, not someone who drank himself into liver failure. It was a dog. Every day I would tell myself, a dog did this?"
Cook's family felt it had no choice but to put Butch to sleep.
"I loved my pit bull, he was a big baby. He just happened to flip at the wrong time, you know? There's no way I'm going to love this dog again," said Nicholas Cook, the victim's son.
9 On Your Side met the Andrade family in Glendale. Sally and Richard Andrade are still mourning the loss of their poodle, Fabian. In 2009, Sally and Fabian had come home from a walk when a neighborhood pit bull attacked in their driveway.
"According to emergency vets, it punctured his lungs and he had no chance of surviving" said Sally. Richard went on to say, "I cannot describe the emotions I was going through. He was my buddy, he was my friend".
Although the tragic attack brought the Andrade's closer, two years later they still have different opinions on this issue: Is there anything specific about the Pit Bull breed that makes them more aggressive or do they get a bad rap?
"To be quite honest, I think pit bulls get a bad rap. All dogs attack, all dogs bite. What makes the Pit bull worse is their bite" said Richard. Sally responded by saying, "I'm going to be honest, my view is different and I say that because I personally experienced it. You hear of it more than other breeds and hear that it happens to someone in the family" she said. This past summer, the Andrades convinced the Arizona Legislature to pass Fabians Law. Now, if a dog attacks a person it's a felony.
"If you're going to drink and drive, you're going to be held liable. If you're going to own a weapon, you're going to be held liable. If you're going to own a dog, you need to be held liable" said Sally.
In Nogales at the Santa Cruz County Animal Control, officers say that the Pit population has definitely gone up. Lt. Jose Peña Jr. said, "Pit bull fighting has increased and these kids get them because they think they're tough and want a tough dog and start breeding and selling them." He explained that like many cities across the country, they no longer adopt out Pit Bulls forcing them to euthanize about six a month, on average. "It's a liability issue that cities and counties look at" said Peña. Many cities across the nation have enacted Pit Bull bans.
Then KGUN 9 met with Rica Powell of Smiling Dog Rescue. She began rescuing animals in 2007, including nearly 1,000 Pit Bulls, many of them from Santa Cruz County Animal control. Powell analyzes the dogs to determine whether they should be placed in a home. "The rap that they get is misunderstood. I have never felt any aggression or any threat from any of those Pit Bulls" said Powell.
"Then, why are some people so scared of them?" asked reporter Tammy Vo. Powell points to a 1987 Sports Illustrated Cover, depicting the Pit Bull as a vicious dog. She calls it "sensationalism" which changed the fate of the breed.
Online, the anti-Pit movement is strong. Colleen Lynn created dogsbite.org after she was attacked by a Pit Bull four years ago. After paying for a total of $25,000 in medical bills, doctors were able to save Lynn's arm. She uses her website to support pit bull bans and sterilization laws as well as to send this message:
"The truth about Pit bulls is that they're dangerous. They're born with a dangerous toolset. They were selectively bred for dog fighting and because of that, they have a very unique bite style... a lock and hold and shake. That is was causes extreme damage to victims."
It's clear, there are a lot of opinions on the issue but what are the facts? Statistics from Pima County Animal Control over the last four years show these dog breeds as the top five that bit the most, causing medical attention:
Pit bulls: 848 bites
German Shepards: 633 bites
Labs: 496 bites
Chihuahuas: 361 bites
Chows: 231 bites
Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior V.P. of Forensic Science for the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty of Animals). He has studied dog fighting and behavior for many years. He tells KGUN 9 that there is no clear cut evidence that physiologial traits exist among different dog breeds which would contribute to aggression, but does say that Pit Bulls are considered "fighting breeds" which are known to have a higher tolerance of pain, based on Veterinarian reports. He believes that how owners train their dogs is a big factor in how the dogs behave.
Some of the people KGUN 9 spoke with support laws requiring Pit Bull owners to carry liability insurance should their dog attack. But Pit supporters maintain, it's all about how the dog is raised and socialized.
What's your opinion? Follow the heated discussion on KGUN 9's Facebook page, or you can discuss the story with Reporter Tammy Vo on her Facebook page.