Thursday, July 22, 2010

Concord tragedy - The phones are ringing

The media is reporting that a toddler was killed by three dogs in Concord, CA today. While a grieving family is obviously in the middle of shock, the reporters - who flock to tragedy especially when it involves a dog - are hot to push headlines out there faster than their evening competition. That leaves little to no time for gathering facts.

As you can imagine, our phones are lighting up. A breathy reporter just left a message on my voice mail; she needs a quote from "the pit bull people" FAST because she's on a deadline. Some reporters expect us to defend the dogs, or apologize for them when a dog that looks like our pets hurts a child. We tend to disappoint reporters a lot.

It's not reasonable or wise to comment on dog-related cases while investigators are still trying to decipher who/what/why. Some things we do know: The media is not a reliable source of information on dog breeds or the circumstances surrounding dog attacks. And since stories change constantly, what seems apparent today will have shifted ten times by next week.

We do know that any large dog that acts scary is considered a pit bull by many, especially those in the media. We do know the media has a bevy of snarly toothed graphics in their image files (that may or may not be pit bulls) that they attach to their stories, as if to confirm our worst predator phobias. The media will try very hard to sharpen our fear with this story. We do know that those of us who own dogs that look like pit bulls will be pressed to explain this situation to people who do not support you for owning a pit bull.

My advice: Don't.

The dogs in this situation may or may not be pit bulls or pit bull type dogs. But in the end - the breed type is irrelevant. A little boy is dead today because something went terribly wrong in his home, probably, a number of things went wrong all at once. We may never know all the details, but we do know that tens of thousands of families in the SF bay area love and enjoy dogs, including pit bulls, as cherished family members without incident ... Which is why it's especially shocking when we hear about a tragedy.

We challenge the SF bay area reporters and others to think, to question what can be learned from this incident rather than who or what we can blame.

No doubt this will play out for days or weeks as pertinent info and analysis come streaming in. Take a breath. Say a prayer.


Critical Thinkers

The National Canine Research Council has been teaching all of us how to ask better questions when dog related incidents come into view.
Some questions we'll be asking as this case unfolds... Were the Concord dogs family dogs or resident dogs. And what's the difference?

Thank you NCRC. We have a lot to learn from your good presence of mind.

EDIT: News sources are reporting that the dogs' owner was arrested today and charged on suspicion of felony child endangerment and possession of mischievous animals that result in death. We commend the authorities for the quick action that lead to this arrest. The name of the victim has also been released. Rest in peace, Jacob Bisbee.


Carole Daniel said...

Read the article just before seeing your post and thought, oh crap here we go again. Thanks for reminding us we have no need to defend or explain and most importantly, breathe.....

Anonymous said...

Indeed a heartwrenching tragedy. Well said Donna. Good advise! Many times our diligent efforts to "defend our pit bull dogs" actually fuel the fire and escalate emotions before the facts are in. Even if pit bull dogs are ultimately involved, its been repeatedly proven that an effective position is to present how a community can enhance public safety around dogs and help educate its members on responsible ownership practices rather than defending a breed or one's personal pit bull. Its so important that everyone stay level headed.

Lynn in N. Cal

Debi said...

So tragic and so preventable. Donna and BADRAP Crew, thank you for being a voice of reason and educating the community.

Amanda said...

=( Irresponsible ownership is what is dangerous, and when a pit bull is involved, the effects go so far beyond that household, as we're seeing now and have seen time and again for years now. Devastating that a child paid the ultimate price in this case. Distinguishing between resident dogs and family dogs is critical (right on NCRC)--dogs who are alone and loose in a garage while family members are home in the house are NOT family dogs.

Alas, you are right. Defense is a futile position in these situations, and one that has caused the term "pit bull apologists" to be splashed everywhere. I cringe when I read it in the comments now, almost as much as when I read things like "the only good pit bull is a dead pit bull," and the like.

Prayers for all those who cared for this little boy. Prayers for all the good dogs with good families who will be called monsters because of tragedies like this. Prayers that education will continue to turn the tide and help make such tragedies more and more rare.

Martine said...

Thank you for posting this

Clare said...

I love all dogs, and this is a horrible tragedy. However, I object to one line in your statement."The breed of the dog does not matter". Yes it does. What the pit bull/rottwieler/mastiff/ bully breed loving community must address is that the dogs they love ARE stronger, have more pressure per square inch in their bite, and thus, have more potential for harm. Don't take my word for it. Do you own research. In order to be credible, this fact must be faced and the public should be educated accordingly. All dogs deserve love and kindness, and their physical attributes should be considered and respected.

Donna said...

I have to quibble with this Clare. The mythology that pit bulls have massive biting power measuring in 1,000s of pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI) has been debunked by Dr. Brady Barr after a study completed for National Geographic. He said:

"On average, dogs bite with 320 lbs of pressure per square inch. The bite pressure of a German Shepherd, an American Pit Bull Ter- rier and a Rottweiler were tested. The American Pit Bull Terrier had the least amount of bite pressure of the three dogs tested."

But breed is still irrelevant with small, vulnerable children. A two year old is no match to any medium to large size dog - no matter the breed.

Remember the story of the 12 week old labrador retriever puppy who killed the infant in Tulsa OK? If not, look it up. Freak incident, but the baby suffered enough injury to die. Tiny dog, tiny person .. bite pressure be damned. I hate that we have to roll out these stories because they're just so awful. But it seems necessary when the public is willing to condemn only specific breeds for deeds that all dogs can and do commit when the perfect storm of mismanagement collides with horrible circumstance.

Clare said...

So are you saying that the lab/poodle/springer spaniel/ border collie bite has less psi in thier bite? No, I don't think so. They are stronger, as a breed and we all know that. (However, dogs like Akitas, to name one, are even higher in the strength department, but they don't bear the rap that the pit bull does.)
The point here, again, is to go back to educating perspective owners and the community about the specific needs of this breed. That is where we can all do the most good.

J.M. said...

I also have to quibble with Clare on this myth of super bite strength.

From Toledo vs Tellings

"Dr. Brisbin, as well as the other experts, testified that pit bulls do not have
locking jaws. Based on actual dog dissections and measurement of their skulls, the
evidence demonstrated that pit bull jaw muscles and bone structure are the same as other
similarly sized dogs. No evidence was presented to demonstrate that a pit bull's bite is
any stronger than other dogs of its size and build"

It`s unfortunate that this myth keeps getting repeated especially when the facts are so readily available if people would do a little Research.

Donna said...

We disagree Clare. If we felt that pit bulls were different in their ability to cause harm, we would not be adopting them out to the public. But we DO adopt them out, because our experience has shown us that well socialized, well managed dogs make trustworthy pets -- no matter what breed they are. This isn't a "pit bull issue" .. even though some people will want to make it one.

Jennie Bailey said...

I am so glad that they are holding the owner accountable. Poor little Jacob. I can't imagine how terrifying that was for him. When the people who are supposed to be watching over you and protecting you don't do it...I wish the police would stop saying that these dogs were family dogs. The neighbors are saying they were frequently tied up and roaming. My family dogs are never tied up and they don't roam. Let's start differentiating between the two please.

Clare, everyone has shared links that back up the FACT that their bite pressure is not more than other dogs their size. Studies done by people much more intelligent than we all are have been conducted and proven this. If you also have studies that show differently, please share. Educate us. We can only use the studies we have done by professionals which say different than you claim. If you have other professionally conducted scientific studies that prove otherwise, we would love to see them and would change our stance.

I doubt this girl would argue about the bite pressure of a lab. 100 stitches. She's 12 years old. Had she been much younger, it could have been much, much worse for her.

Maureen said...

Thank you for this Donna. I, in fact, refused to watch the news tonight for exactly the reasons you mention: reporters and editors looking for the salacious crumbs with which to feed the shock and awe machine. There can be no concrete answers tonight and maybe not even tomorrow or the next day. I want clear facts, not speculation and frenzy, before I form an opinion on the events. Nothing is going to change the fact that a child has died and 3 dogs will most likely follow shortly. Nothing.

Donna said...

You've got words of wisdom and a voice of sanity, Maureen.

Dianne said...

Thanks for you sane handing. I read the front page article on and it seems pretty clear these were not family dogs, but dogs tied up in the yard or kept in the garage. What the f* was a two year old doing unsupervised opening the garage door? I'm pleased there was an arrest and guns confiscated. Ironically, I had to take Metro in to town yesterday and just missed a near tragedy here. A four year old girl's hand was mauled - by getting caught in the escalator. Fortunately they were able to get to her in time -- we have lost a couple of kids and at least one adult when they were allowed to sit on the escalator and got clothing caught in the moving stairs. My point is that we must be diligent in protecting our children from all potential harm. My heart goes out to the family.

Darrell said...

Clare argues breed does matter. Yes, it does. There is a difference between an akita and a yorkie.

Joel said...

I agree that we should wait until the full story comes out before drawing conclusions. In the constant information/zero knowledge age, everybody wants sound bites two minutes after an incident occurs. Just look at this Shirley Sherrod mess to see the end result of such knee-jerk reactions.

One thing to remember is that BAD RAP's acronym contains the term RESPONSIBLE. I don't know of a single legitimate animal welfare organization that promotes irresponsible ownership. We will see what other details come out about this specific case, but incidents such as these typically involve irresponsible ownership. There is nothing for legitimate organizations to apologize for. Rather, these cases usually highlight the need for more people to engage with legitimate organizations. In most cases, had the owners followed recommended guidelines, the incident may not have occurred.

Joel said...

And for a measure of how much journalistic integrity we can expect, check out the SF Chronicle story on this incident that describes the dog owner's truck:

"On the back window of the truck were numerous stickers, including one with a pair of eyes saying, "Back off," another showing a howling wolf and one showing a skull surrounded by flames."

What in the world does that have to do with anything? I swear, these stories are being written with the simple goal of getting people to stereotype and fingerpoint.

Anonymous said...

I am heartbroken as a mom for that baby boy. I am heartbroken that that horrid grandfather kept his dogs tied up, roaming, and who knows what else, and they were all 3 put down. This is sad all the way around. Thank you for all of the hard work that you do. Don't give up!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Donna and Badrap for once again putting forth common sense in a volatile, sensationalistic situation.

I think if real research is done into all these media stories about "pit bull attacks," the breeds would be vindicated more often than not - for instance, the recent story in which it was found that the owner had fed his dog cocaine:

Yet how do you regulate human ignorance, fear, hatred and foolish/dangerous behavior? Easier to blame and murder the "evil dogs," isn't it...and who's next, after we kill all "pit bulls" and realize absolutely nothing has been resolved?

Susan Cava Ruimy said...

Rest in happiness dear little Jacob.

Regarding the dogs - I'm sad for them too - it's abnormal for a dog to want to attack a child so I am sad they had such a misguided upbringing.

The whole thing SUCKS.

Sarah Meyer said...

bite "strength" is a function of a dog's SIZE and its WILL. Breed has nothing to do with it.