Empire Editorial: Every dog is a good dog - until it isn't

The recent attack on a Juneau woman and her dog by three pit bulls warrants a deeper conversation about the responsibilities of dog owners and their role in protecting members of the public from their four-legged friends.

The attack, which occurred Dec. 4, resulted in injuries to the woman, her dog and even the owner of the three pit bulls when he tried to intervene and break up the attack. Even though there were no fatalities this time around, the situation could have been far worse if not for the intervention of a good Samaritan, who was a doctor on his way to work who also treated the injured woman at his clinic.

Pit bulls, which include the breeds pit bull terrier, Staffordshire terrier and bull terrier, have the worst reputation of all dog breeds and with good reason. About 60 percent of the 251 dog bite fatalities in the United States between 2005 and 2012 were the result of pit bull attacks, according to dogsbite.org, a public education website run by volunteers.

Historically, pit bulls were bred to be fighters. That isn’t to say every pit bull is a bona fide killer or public nuisance. Some are genuinely sweet and gentle. Often, but not always, the problem originates with the dog’s owner. Some people believe that because a dog hasn’t attacked a person or animal it never will, and because their dog likes their children and immediate family and friends it will always treat strangers the same. That mode of thinking is naive and potentially dangerous to members of our community.

People who choose a pit bull as a pet need to understand they are taking on a greater responsibility of training and socialization than someone who owns a golden retriever, labrador or run-of-the-mill mutt. Too many people choose to own pit bulls as a status symbol, and end up collecting several as if it’s a hobby or pastime, possibly without taking the proper steps to train and care for their pet.

We won’t speculate on the training or upbringing of the three pit bulls that attacked the woman and her dog last week. There is too much information yet to come from the pending investigation, but we do believe the situation could have, and should have, been avoidable. The pit bulls were not properly confined. Period. The dogs’ owners gave their pets far too much credit, and as a result the dogs could end up being destroyed when the investigation into the attacks ends.

We applaud the dogs’ owner for intervening when he realized the attack was taking place, and for taking responsibility for his pets’ actions, but attempts to fix a mistake don’t always make up for the mistake in the first place. Had small children been present, or had the dogs’ owner and good Samaritan not stepped in, the attack could have ended in a fatality. There is no making up for a loss of human life, and most dog owners can’t put a dollar amount on the their pet’s life either.

Not only is keeping pets leashed and properly contained on personal property the law, but it’s also a common sense approach that protects others.

A dog is only as good as its owner, and some will act out despite their owners’ best efforts. Every dog is a good dog until it proves otherwise.

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