Who is Responsible for Pit Bull Attacks and Ownership? Question Faces Forest City

The Forest City Council may accept a recommendation by its Safety Committee on the ownership of the pit bull variety of dogs tonight at its meeting in City Hall beginning at 7pm.  The issue has generated a number of discussions at local coffee shops, online on KIOW’s Facebook page, and on the Discussion and Comment pages of the kiow.com website.

The discussion that matters however, will be in City Hall beginning at 6pm as the Forest City Council Safety Committee will take up the issue before it goes to the full council. Councilman, Safety Committee member, and former Forest City Police Chief Dan Davis explains where the committee will start from.

The problem arises in the definition of a pit bull. According to Sybil Soukup, Director of the Humane Society in Mason City, it’s not an American Kennel Club or AKC officially recognized breed of dog.

The pit bull type of dog actually was bred from both the bulldogs and the terriers. They were bred as fighting dogs, but over time became catch dogs, canines whose job was to catch or corner large animals or livestock. The dog would use both its teeth and weight to immobilize the livestock for capture. In time, they became family dogs, but are sometimes used by law enforcement.

Over time, there have been a number of mixed breeds which have been misidentified as a pit bull variety. These include the Canine Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux, and the Dogo Argentino  which have the same square shaped head and bulky body. However, various kennels across the country will classify a bulldog breed or large terrier breed as a pit bull type.

Dogs that are considered as pit bulls are tenaciously defensive of their family or owner, but it is not accurately defined as to what generally would get them to attack according to Soukup.

Pit bull varieties are very territorial. They protect family, house, and yard. This trait is not uncommon among other breeds as well.

A selection of pit bull type dogs. Clockwise from top left: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Courtesy Wikipedia

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Responsible ownership prevents dog bites. Breed does not predict behavior.” They and the U. S. Centers for Disease Control cite that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs out of which 800,000 receive medical care. They acknowledge that “dog bites pose a significant health risk to our communities and society.” Both organizations oppose breed specific legislation. They believe that breed specific legislation is ineffective and Soukup agrees.

It is impossible to determine “provocation” leading to the dog biting. A large portion of the 4.5 million bitten are youth. A child could accidentally or on purpose, provoke the dog to attack. The attacks may not be limited to provocation according to both the CDC and the AVMA, but they cannot rule it out either. Good training and awareness of the dog by its handler are vital to reducing the risk say both groups. Soukup adds that Forest City could take additional steps.

As for Forest City, the council will wait on the recommendations of the Safety Committee before examining the issue themselves. The issue is on tonight’s council agenda and public comment is welcome. According to Davis, this issue strikes at the heart of many on both sides.