News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's the pits

I am the 76-year-old person who was mentioned in today's paper as being one of 7 people and one dog in town who had an encounter with a pit bull last year.  I ended up in the emergency room to have my lip repaired with 12 stitches.

The newspaper story was occasioned by the animal control officer of the police department proposing an ordnance that would ban pit bulls in Aberdeen.  About 75 people showed up at the city council meeting to voice objections to the proposal.  I am not necessarily for such an ordnance, but neither am I against attempts to establish rules that enhance public safety.  In that regard, I think dog regulation is a bit absurd considering the number of human idiots who run around unleashed with firearms.  I have had only one encounter with a pit bull.  In my life as an outdoors person and a naturalist at state recreation areas, I have dealt with many, more serious threats to public safety than that posed by a dog hard-wired for aggression.  I say turn the errant pit bulls loose in Custer State Park and let the mountain kitties regulate them.

I like dogs.  I like nearly all animals, with some exceptions like bed bugs, which I have never encountered and hope I am never afforded the opportunity.   I am a bit bigoted about animals that might feed on my blood.  However, I like most animals in their natural settings, but I also recognize how hugely important it is for people to have pets as role models for humans, which keeps the predatory nature of humanity somewhat in check.

Ingrid and me in an aggressive moment. 
We have a dog, who is a retired athlete.  She is a greyhound named Ingrid.  Her racing name was Damadge's Connie, and she went around Colorado tracks 85 times in full competition.  She won or placed in 34.  We got her from the Denver greyhound rescue organization.  She figures into the pit bull story. 

 Greyhounds were bred in Egypt as lion hunters.  Some people in the U.S. who hunt mountain lions and coyotes still use greyhounds in hunting  because they are tracking hounds and they are fast.  However, they are, for the most part, unusually gentle animals.  They like to play with other dogs.

That is how I had the encounter with a pit bull.  A friend of my son's obtained this pit bull from the local animal shelter recently.  When he went on a business trip, he had to have some friends take care of the dog.  However, my son's friend got stuck out-of-town past the time he said he would return and the people who were looking after his dog  had to leave town, also.  My son was recruited to look after the animal.  He thought it needed some outdoor exercise, so he brought it to our house to play with Ingrid.  The dogs played.  Ingrid got a chance to show off her speed and agility, and the dogs had a nice play date.

I entered the picture when I stepped outside to see how the dogs were getting along.  As I opened the door from our screened in  patio, the pit bull came rushing up, barking somewhat menacingly. However, I let him sniff me, and I petted it, and it seemed like it wanted to get back to romping with Ingrid.  As I turned to go back into the house and opened the screen door, it jumped up into my face.  I don't know if it intended to bite or just give me a "head butt" but my son informed me that blood was pouring from my lip.  Whatever the dog's intentions, its nose smashed my upper lip against my teeth and opened a gash that left a trail across the kitchen floor into downstairs bathroom, where I went to inspect the damages.

I called my doctor's office and said I thought my lip needed some expert medical attention, and the nurse told me to get my ass along with my lip over to the emergency room.  I did.  The ER doctor looked at it and said he was calling in a surgeon who would have to do the needed work.  So, I was sitting on the table waiting when a police officer showed up.  He explained that the hospital was required by law to report such incidents and he said he needed to file a report and take the dog into custody for observation and safety reasons.  I told him what happened and got him in touch with my son to turn the dog over to the police.  I received 12 stitches and a prescription for anti-biotics, which prevented me from taking the self-medication I had looked forward to in the emergency room.  Single malt tends to nullify the efficacy of anti-biotics.  By the way, that little visit cost more than $1,500, which could probably keep me supplied with self-medication for the rest of my life.

My understanding is that pit bull was confiscated from its owner because he is not in a position to provide the kind of care and monitoring a pit bull needs.  The plan was to turn the dog over to a pit bull adoption agency, but the dog lacked the training to be given to another family and had this history of aggressive and unruly behavior.  So, I hear, it was  put down.

The problem with pit bulls and other aggressive dogs is not with their doggy nature.  It's with their human nature.  Some dog breeds have been selectively bred to make the aggressive and vicious aspects of their natures a defining characteristic.  The American pit bull has been bred to fight other dogs.  That part of its physical characteristics and its temperament involved in the history of lethal attacks by pit bulls is a matter of the dogs doing what they were created to do.  They were created to be lethal by humans.  And when their genetic programming is in control of the dogs, they pay little attention to human cease and desist orders.

While in the service, I bought a beautiful and intelligent German shepherd puppy from a German who guarded our base by contract with his dogs.  His dogs were obedient, but they could be very aggressive and effective when ordered.  On one occasion when I was not present, some men teased the puppy.  He never forgot, and went into attack mode whenever he encountered those men.  If I was not present, the dog was near uncontrollable.  And not being in a position to have the dog with me at all times, I had to give him back to his breeder.  When he matured, he would be a menace to others if an experienced handler was not with him.

Breeds like German Shepherds were created to look after sheep and cattle and to herd them, but also to protect their charges from predators.  In the cases of guard and attack dogs, that protective nature has been developed into an aggressive nature.  When dogs pack up and go on a killing spree (I once covered 80 sheep killed by a pack of otherwise peaceable farm dogs), they are said to be going feral.  They aren't.  They are going human. 

The old saying goes, never give a baby or an idiot a gun.  It should be updated to state, never give a baby or an idiot a gun or a pit bull.  Animals bred for their ferocity are like carrying a loaded gun.  Their lethal nature is easily triggered, and some people are just not equipped to have them. Police and control officers are not happy to get a call to take a ferocious dog into custody.  The danger stems not from the dogs, but what humankind has made of them.

The solution might be the one used by people in Mississippi Valley during the 1840s when a criminal gang called the Banditti of the Prairie held them in terror.  Everybody carried a gun and people shot other people as a pre-emptive measure.  Soon, people were begging for laws about when guns could be carried and used.  They ended up terrorizing each other more than the Banditti did.  History may have to repeat itself.  People may fire away at suspicious acting people and dogs.  History does seem to repeat itself, despite our contention that we learn from history.

I side with the mountain kitties.  Let them have an open season on their tormentors, too.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States