Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Times-Pic reads my mind....

....Apparently the New Orleans Times-Picayune (our local paper) read my blog post from yesterday and figured they should run a little "data file" about fatal dog bites in the US from 2008. In that article, it suggests going to to read more about House Bill 155, which will crack down on the owners of dogs who kill or injure someone. You can read that here.

I wasn't a fan of the "data file" -- first of all, its source was That's about the least neutral source of information out there. The site, as far as I can tell, is run by fanatics who would be happy if every dog that weighed more than 20 pounds was euthanized. Because they realize they won't succeed at that, they focus on making pit bulls and Rottweilers completely illegal -- period. You really have to put these things in perspective. In recent years, the US has averaged approximately 20-25 dog bite related fatalities. This is up from previous decades (please see my post from yesterday), but so is dog ownership. Pet ownership has increased by 8% nationally since 1998, and there are now an estimated 77.5 million dogs owned in the US. Consider, then, that with 77.5 million dogs in the country, there are around 25 (on the high end) dog related deaths. That's roughly 1 dog related death per year per 3.1 million dogs. Even if you're concerned not just with fatalities, but with dog bites in general (which you should be), with about 4.5 million dog bites last year (see yesterday's post), that's about one bite per year per 7 million dogs. Now, as I explained yesterday, these statistics are likely flawed -- but you're still talking about a very, very low bite rate. And that includes many very minor bites as well as serious "maulings."

Consider, then: In 2006 (most recent year that data was available for), 43,664 Americans were killed in car accidents, according to the Center for Disease Control's morality report. Instead of banning dogs of any sort, it would make much more sense to ban bad drivers!

So, yes, is a site run by fanatics who clearly don't understand statistics and likelihoods of things. Shame on the Times-Pic for using them as a "source."

Now, that said, I suspect the data was more or less accurate. What I really took issue with is that the article profiles the most recent three deaths fatal dog bites in Louisiana, two in 2008 and one in 2009. The two in 2008 specified that groups of pit bulls mauled people to death; the 2009 death didn't specify dog breed. I discovered on that those dogs were boxers. Naturally, though, it wasn't mentioned because they were non-pit bulls. These sorts of omissions just help increase folks' ideas that the only dogs who kill and maul are pit bulls, and that's just plain incorrect.

House Bill 155 hopes to make it possible to charge owners of dogs that kill with negligent homicide, and owners of dogs that injure with negligent injury. Although in general I seldom support increasing jail time for crimes (I think that jail time rarely does anyone any good, but that's a story for another day, time, and place), I support the fact that the bill is penalizing bad owners, not their dogs. Dogs are not ethical creatures -- they're animals, and they know what they're told to do and not do, not what is "right" and "wrong." Their owners, on the other hand, (hopefully) do know right from wrong, and punishing them for negligent dog ownership is a step in the right direction. Singling out breeds because of media hysteria is not.

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