Burton on the Bay

Vol. 9, No. 3
Jan. 18-24, 2001
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Old Saws Don't Always Cut True

His bark is worse than his bite.
-George Herbert, 1593-1633

eorgie, those words penned nearly 400 years are repeated not infrequently to this very day. They're spoken in reference to men, nations and athletes - especially boxers of the human kind - as often as they are when assuring a visitor that a family watchdog won't bite.

Maybe they didn't have pit bull problems in Wales, your country of my ancestry, back then, but allow me to inform you that today we have both too many pit bulls hereabouts. And, might I add, too many thoughtless and delinquent owners of these potentially dangerous canines.
It Ain't Necessarily True

Through the years, George, you have been oft quoted, though with words not infrequently re-arranged or modernized, and I agree with much of what you said. Things like "Wouldst thou both eat the cake and have it?" Or "The offender never pardons," "A dwarf on a giant's shoulders sees the farther of the two." Or "Help thyself, and God will help thee."

What owner of a cat or two, whose house is invaded by a mouse or more as winter approaches, can argue with these words of yours: "The mouse that hath but one hole is quickly taken."

You wrote another one-liner that's applicable indeed to the problem we have in these times both with pit bulls and their owners.

In defense of their ownership of pit bulls, we have those very same owners refer to your aphorism, "The lion is not so fierce as they paint him." I don't know much about lions, but I'm not about to go along with those who try to convince me your words are an adequate defense for pit bulls - or for their owners.

Danger on the Loose

Just ask seven-year-old Southwest Baltimorean Kasey Eyring. As I write, she lies in critical but stable condition at University of Maryland Medical Center with severe bites to her face, all inflicted by one of two pit bulls that escaped through a hole in the fence of a nearby house to attack her as she visited her grandparents.

This was no isolated incident. In recent years, there have been more than a few serious pit bull attacks in Maryland, and many others elsewhere. Intimidation complaints, injuries to humans and loss of cats, dogs and other pets all fill police blotters. Georgie, perhaps you should have reworded that line with a qualifier: "The lion, though not the pit bull, is not so fierce as they paint him."

The way I see it, an appropriate line would be "Beware of households that harbor pit bulls, also owners who walk their pit bulls on the street." For perhaps all the problems involving these dogs cannot be blamed on the breed. Not infrequently the owners are not only negligent but train their dogs to be aggressive fighters.

Some do this for their own protection. Others, such as those involved in drugs, do so as a means of intimidation as they ply their trade. Still others because they want fighting canines for the dogfight pit, a 'sport' that we hear is pursued with more frequency these days on the streets and in makeshift rings within abandoned houses of poor sections of cities.

Certainly, we realize that all pit bulls are not as ferocious as others. Pit bulls were among dogs that I have adopted, and I know that, treated well, they can make good, maybe even loving pets. However, too often they are bred and trained otherwise.

Maybe most - though I have some reservations about this - are harmless under the care and guidance of good and prudent masters.

But there don't seem to be nearly as many good masters as there are pit bulls. In the needless and tragic incident involving Kasey Eyring, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson was quoted in The Sun as saying the owner had previously been served 10 citations for violations of animal ordinances, including not having the dog vaccinated against rabies and not keeping it on a leash.

Too Little, Too Late

Hey, 10 citations and the dog was still running around? Does this not indicate there might be another to also share the blame? Say the city's dog control program, one that has just 17 animal control officers.

That hole in the fence the pit bull escaped through to bite Kasey repeatedly - until frenzied neighbors beat it off with rocks and sticks - had remained unrepaired since last summer. Neighbors said they called Animal Control repeatedly to complain that the owner was allowing his two pit bulls to run free in the neighborhood.

Obviously, too little was done about it. Seventeen is not enough animal cops for a whole city in which pit bulls of aggressive nature outnumber officers more than a thousand to one. In addition to pit bulls, the officers have other policing duties involving other breeds of dogs as well as problem cats, snakes, raccoons, possums or any other critters either wild or domesticated.

Two days after the attack on Kasey, Baltimore Health Commissioner Beilenson proposed tough controls for pit bulls, among them requiring owners to have permits and the dogs to be spayed or neutered. Animal control officers would have the authority to destroy any pit bull whose owners didn't have permits.

Before the ink was dry on the Monday edition of The Sun that carried Dr. Beilenson's proposal, the outcry began - from both pit bull owners and libertarians. Complaints like discrimination against the breed and their owners, interference with a citizen's right to choose the breed of dog desired - and all the usual hogwash that we've heard as the pit bull menace has increased significantly the past decade or more.

Baltimore is not alone within Maryland for hosting pit bull problems. We have them in Baltimore County, also in Anne Arundel County, especially in the Annapolis area. County Health Officer Fran Phillips conceded there have been some incidents well beyond nuisance complaints involving the breed, but county animal control hereabouts comes under the jurisdiction of the Police Department.

In Anne Arundel County, a pit bull or any other breed associated with a violent complaint goes before a parole board, which decides its fate: anything from not guilty to implementation of strict controls or even euthanization. The owner can defend the pet and can appeal to the chief of police, who will make the final determination.

One wonders whether our policy is to lock the barn after the horse is stolen. Are we reluctant to take on an issue to ensure the safety of citizens? Or are we foolish enough to believe that the masters of all pit bulls are responsible citizens who will adequately control their pets?

Neither reason is adequate. As pit bulls become more numerous, so do owners lax in their responsibilities, either intentionally or unintentionally. The longer we wait to implement strict and enforced laws or ordinances to avoid a repeat of the shameful Kasey Eyring incident here, the closer we come to experiencing one. Enough said.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly