Some years ago, I visited the local Boys Club early one morning. There had been a break-in. Two young brothers had gotten caught making off with pool balls and cues. They weren’t going to be arrested, merely suspended. Police phoned their mother. It must have taken 10 minutes to persuade her to come get them. She kept insisting it was a case of mistaken identity. Her sons were at home with her the whole time.
The cop kept saying, “Ma’am, I keep trying to tell you we’ve got them right here.” They finally had to put one of her sons on the line to make her quit fabricating alibis.
I kept thinking of that incident during recent encounters with what it’s tempting to call the Pit Bull Cult. You see, I’d written a column about an unprovoked attack on my two dogs by an unleashed pit on city park playground. Because my dogs are 120-pound Great Pyrenees who spent nine years guarding livestock (and cats) on our farm, they were never in danger.
Rather, the danger was that they would maim or kill the pit in front of a bunch of little kids. Thanks to the brave intervention of two young fathers, that didn’t happen. One big, strong fellow reached into the melee and lifted the pit off the ground by his collar. Later, I talked to a Little Rock cop, but his attitude was no harm, no foul.
I should have pressed harder, because the pit was seriously crazy. It was the canine equivalent of a welterweight jumping Vladimir and Vitali Klitschko, the Ukrainian heavyweight boxing champions. Also, sane male dogs don’t attack bitches.
I ended the column asking rhetorically what might have happened if I’d been walking a cocker spaniel. “Possibly this breed has a place in today’s world, although I can’t think what it is … It wouldn’t trouble me if it were illegal.”
Of course in many places, it already is.
Besides, this is only partly a dog column. It’s also about several things that have gone wrong in American political dialogue: dogmatism, disdain for facts, black-and-white thinking, name-calling and generalized hatred of rival tribes.
Also, the bad effects of social media. People just don’t abuse each other in person the way they do on social media. It’s a coward’s idea of tough.
Here’s what I think has happened: Animal shelters from sea to shining sea are filled to bursting with pit bulls and pit mixes either confiscated from or surrendered by people who never should have owned them. Compassionate dog lovers who volunteer at those shelters have persuaded themselves that these wonderful animals — as many of them surely are — need to be protected from mean-spirited people who’ve noticed the breed’s propensity for unprovoked and deadly attacks on animals and people.
But it’s not “racist” to generalize. Biologically, race and breed are near opposites. Dog breeds are among the oldest forms of human engineering: Pit bulls were engineered to fight.
Nor is it just bad owners. Some are cruel and stupid, others merely naive. But sometimes it’s just the dog.
Aggression could be bred out of pits with strong laws and consistent effort, but not by people who deny reality.
Reality being that pit bulls are responsible for the vast majority of fatal human attacks in the U.S. It doesn’t matter if I’m an old man who will die soon, as several pit cultists told me, whether I have “masculinity issues,” a tendency toward pedophilia, remind them of Donald Trump, nor even if “Cydni” kicks my teeth in, as she vowed.
The website DogsBite.org “recorded 31 fatal dog attacks in 2016. Pit bulls contributed to 71 percent (22) of these deaths, just over 7 times more than the next closest dog breed.”
The cult has two objections: Pits are not an AKC-recognized breed. Hence in a pinch, it can be argued that they don’t really exist — perfectly circular reasoning, but who’s keeping score?
Also, DogsBite.org is not a “scientific, peer-reviewed” site. Run by Coleen Lynn, who survived a 2007 pit attack, it doesn’t pretend to be. Lynn compiles and tabulates media reports of fatal and near-fatal dog attacks, provides links to the original news stories, and tracks court cases.
So take the DogsBite challenge: Google “fatal pit bull attacks” for any city or state you choose.
In Atlanta: Three kids attacked at a school bus stop.
In New York: “A pair of pit bulls left Francesco Bove so badly mutilated that a priest read him his last rites outside a New York church.”
Pit attacks appear to be a regular feature of Chicago life. Even down home in nearby and neighborly Greenbrier, Arkansas. But hey, the victim in that case was 75. One foot in the grave, although he could end up losing it.
All isolated incidents and “fake news,” pit lovers insist.
Now where have we heard that before?
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.