Thursday, March 24, 2011

Strange news item from out of state

I received this news article without comment from my old friend Joe - it was just too... surreal not to share 

March 24 2011 - In Lynnwood yesterday a 4 year old girl was killed by an alligator owned by next door neighbor Kelvin Godwin, 51. The alligator broke through a side door and attacked the girl as she was playing in the living room. The owner was fined $50 for failure to provide proof of vaccination, and the alligator was taken by animal control officers to a holding facility where it will be tested for rabies and observed for signs of aggressive behavior. 

If the alligator is deemed dangerous, the owner will have to agree to keep it properly restrained in the future. Godwin, owner of the alligator, said "I don't know what happened. I had him tied up just like I was supposed to. I always keep him tied up. I guess he must have gotten loose somehow." Several neighbors, however, anonymously complained that the alligator had often been seen running loose, and is believed to be responsible for the killing of several neighborhood pets. 

Adrian Phillips, director of the local animal shelter, offered condolences, saying "This is an unfortunate accident, but keep in mind that alligators are no more likely to bite than any other reptile. Alligators can in fact make very good pets". 

Dr June Berkeley, renowned animal behavior expert, added "The important thing here is to keep things in perspective. The worst thing we could do is to start running around saying that alligators are dangerous. The fact is that all reptiles can bite, and alligator bites are relatively rare. On the other hand I've seen a lot of children bitten by geckos, and in my mind that is the real danger."

After reading the above, my first thought was "who are these pod people? where did they come from? has the whole friggen world gone crazy?" and my second thought was "this can't be real". Joe also sent me the reader comments on the article and there are some real head scratchers...

Dr Jim said:
This guy's alligator kills a kid, and these talking heads babble about what great pets they are? Alligators should be banned from inhabited areas. what the hell is wrong with these people?
Rage said:
You can't ban alligators, that's racist! Why not just ban all black people while you're at it? Species specific laws just don't work, that's already been proven.
Gator Dude said: 
Something doesn't add up here. It's just not making any sense. Alligators don't just suddenly attack for no reason. What's the real story here?
Concerned Citizen said:
Why the hell are we tolerating dangerous creatures like this? This has got to be criminal negligence. The alligator should be dead and the guy should be in jail! and what the hell is up with these gator nuts? Don't they realize a little girl was killed?
 LuvMyGator said:
You all are so quick to judge, aren't you? For all we know the girl provoked the attack. Where were the girl's parents by the way, and why was she left unsupervised?
Timmys Mom said:
It's all in how you raise them, "concerned citizen". I've had an alligator for 4 years and he's never hurt a fly, Timmy is the most gentle creature you ever seen. You should come over and meet Timmy and spend some time with him and I guarantee he'll change your mind about alligators.
A child burned said:
After I saw what the alligators did to my cousins cows at the river, I don't think they should be allowed anywhere near populated areas. Timmy's Mom, I think you're nuts, and I hope to God you don't have any kids.
Gatorz4ever said:
Why do you people always have to be hating on these misunderstood creatures. Don't you have anything better to do? I'm sick of all this hating. The alligator was probably just hungry, you can't blame him! It's not the alligator's fault, the owner should of kept him in his yard!
The expert said:
LOL @ The haters! Latest studies prove that chameleons are much more likely to bite than alligators. Did you know that alligators score higher on the RTTS than frogs? Not so smug now, are you?

The expert said: 
Oh here's another news flash: alligators DON'T HAVE LOCKING JAWS. That's a complete myth. I'll Bet I just rocked your world. So tell me, why don't you focus on the real problems and quit sticking your nose where it doesn't belong?

After reading all of this I began to suspect that old Joe must be playing a practical joke on me. In fact I'm sure of it now. I mean, the whole thing is just so bizarre - it reminds me of what happens whenever a news site reports on a pit bull attack!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The problem with pit bulls, part 2

An often repeated myth about pit bulls states that they are "just like any other dog". I think it can be clearly shown that these animals differ from normal dogs in significant ways.

Canine DNA is a wondrous thing; it has facilitated the creation of diverse breeds, each with own it's own unique set of distinguishing characteristics, from the original hunter/scavenger species which was related to the wolf. A remarkable diversity of breeds has been produced through selection for specific characteristics, emphasizing specific desired facets of the original hunting behaviors and de-selecting for others. 

For instance, in the border collie, the stalk/chase portions of the hunting behavior were emphasized and are now an evident trait of the breed. In the pointer, the scent/track/orient portions of the hunting behavior were emphasized. Retrievers were carefully bred for the characteristics that allow them to retrieve and gently carry a downed bird to the hunter.

Those benighted souls who produced the fighting dog breeds wanted dogs which would tirelessly tear apart a de-clawed bear or a de-horned bull, or tear each other apart in a pit. The grip-and-hold, the killing bite, and the shearing bite were emphasized. The creatures resulting from these merciless practices were the very first pit bull type dogs, the English Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Terrier. 

For over 170 years, dog fighters and breeders have been unable to produce a more savage killer, pound for pound, than the pit bull. The modern pit bull breeds include names like the American Staffordshire Terrier, AmStaff, StaffyBull, American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), American Bulldog, and others - different names for what are at most minor variations of the same dog.

Retrievers were bred to retrieve, Pointers were bred to point, Border Collies and Shepherds were bred to herd sheep, and pit bulls were bred to fight and kill other creatures. Full stop. Pit bulls, due to their specific breeding for the hair trigger attack, killing bite and associated behaviors and characteristics desired in fighting canids, don't avoid aggression like other dogs, lack impulse control and ignore the normal canine social conventions and interactions.

And don't kid yourself by the way, dog fighting is still a thriving business in the US and around the world. Fighting pit bulls are highly prized for their killing ability, and the owner of a pit bull who has killed other animals in fights can count on studding income. Dog fighters and breeders are most definitely selecting not only for killing prowess, but a temperament geared to sudden, violent and all-out attack. The "duds" - i.e. those lacking either the powerful killing bite, or the willingness - nay eagerness - to use it, are routinely destroyed.

Although the dog fighting industry and their allies perpetuate the myth that "man biters" have always been immediately culled, and that pit bulls are aggressive only towards animals and not people, grave injuries and death have been the lot of many who've tried to stop a pit bull attack. A pit bull in the "red zone" will often redirect its attacks to the person who is trying to protect the victim, and many pit bull owners have found themselves suddenly fighting for their lives with a pit bull who they had always "known" to be harmless, right up until the moment of the attack.

Unfortunately it's not just pit bull owners who are at risk. Pit bulls are relentless escape artists. They often break out of their enclosures and go looking for victims. Loose pit bulls are a public safety issue, often entering other people's yards or houses to attack people and/or pets. The result is a massacre, and a lingering, horrific memory for those involved.

RIP 1/26/2011 - 5 year old Makayla Woodard killed by neighbor's loose pit bulls

Many in the pit bull community insist that pit bulls are not violent or dangerous by nature, that the breed is misunderstood, that "it's all in how you raise them" and any pit bulls who have attacked simply must have been mistreated, or taught to be cruel by "bad owners".

I beg to differ. The careful selection of fighting dog characteristics which produced their genetic makeup not only predisposes them to certain behavior, but hard wires them for it. For example, Border Collies have an inborn drive to herd. Even though a typical domestic border collie may have never even seen a herd of sheep, and has never been trained to herd, the behavior is latent in the breed, and given a chance they will express that behaviour at some point, herding children for instance. The genetic influence is undeniable. The dog is happiest when expressing his innate behavior.

While not every single pit bull has been or will be observed to attack another animal or person, sudden, unpredictable and violent aggression is a general characteristic of the breed, and can be considered latent within each pit bull, whether or not a particular dog has displayed the behavior yet. Pit bulls are well known for suddenly killing other pets with whom they have lived peacefully for years.

RIP 03/07/2011 Mikey - gentle 10 year old pet killed by neighbor's loose pit bulls

Numerous witnesses to pit bull attacks have commented on the absence of any of the normal warning signals of canine aggression. This is a natural consequence of breeding for a no-nonsense fight to the death. A pit bull will saunter over, looking friendly and submissive, tail wagging - and suddenly clamp his jaws onto the victim. Thus the nightmare begins.

This video illustrates how pit bulls ignore the normal canine social conventions; the pit bull approaches and repeatedly attacks a sweet, docile lab who kept trying to walk away. Finally the poor injured lab lay down, paws up, in the universal canine gesture of submission, but the pit bull completely ignored the submission gesture and continued his cruel and leisurely attack, tail wagging. At one point someone, apparently the owner, managed to pull the pit bull away. The traumatized and injured lab managed to drag himself under a vehicle to hide. His whole world had just been destroyed, and if he survived the attack, which is not clear, he will be fearful for the rest of his life.

The "red zone" is a distinguishing characteristic of pit bulls, often reported by witnesses, and well documented with video footage. A pit bull in attack mode is completely focused on the victim, losing all situational awareness, gripping the prey with powerful jaws, hanging on and shaking the head with strong neck muscles, occasionally letting go only to clamp down again in a different spot.

Pit bulls are unique in their desire to attack and kill not only domestic pets but also horses, mules, cows and other livestock. This video shows a pit bull attacking a mule. A dog of any other breed, after being kicked and stomped by a defending mule, would call it a day and leave, but not the pit bull. This one seemed absolutely driven to keep attacking until it was finally killed by the mule. Unfortunately most equine victims of pit bull attacks do not fare so well.

Witnesses and victims of attacks have reported that attacking pit bulls show no reaction to punches, kicks, or blows to the head with hammer, shovel, or baseball bat. Mace is shrugged off, and tasers have little or no effect. However, shotguns and high caliber handguns have proved effective, and knives have also been shown to effectively stop pit bull attacks when used correctly.

There are doubtless Pit bull owners who are ready to swear that their pit bull has never hurt a fly and would never hurt a fly. I don't deny that they believe what they are saying, but the only problem with that sort of statement is that it has been made before by many pit bull owners, prior to a horrendous attack. I'd say that's a pretty good illustration of the word "unpredictable".  

For more information on the pit bull problem, there are good online resources and references to comprehensive studies conducted by neutral 3rd parties which provide education on the danger to the public. According to the most recent credible studies, pit bulls are the most likely breed by far to maim or kill another animal or a human being, and by far the most likely breed to be involved when a child is treated for serious injuries from a dog attack.

References -

Studies -
"Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to June 25, 2010", 
     Merritt Clifton
"Heritability of Behavior in the Abnormally Aggressive Dog", 
     A. Semyonova
"Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-Year Review of the Experience at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia",
    Kaye, Alison E. M.D.; Belz, Jessica M. M.D.; Kirschner, Richard E. M.D. 

Books -
"The 100 silliest things people say about dogs", A. Semyonova

URLs -

Monday, March 7, 2011

A lost puppy saved from the wilderness

In October of 2009, a tiny chihuahua puppy was separated from her mother and siblings, and ended up abandoned in a rural area outside Lake Elsinore. We may never know where she came from, or how she ended up beside a road far from any dwellings or businesses, but I can tell you what I know of her story.

Not a good place for a tiny puppy to be stranded

Not too long after she landed in the middle of nowhere, some good Samaritans happened to be driving through, and spotted the tiny puppy struggling to climb up out of the ditch beside the road. When they stopped the car to investigate, they found a black and brown female Chihuahua puppy the size of a rat, with filthy, matted fur, and the smell of death about her. They brought the poor little dog home, not sure if she would survive, but after they cleaned her up and fed her they discovered that she was essentially intact.

The photo sent to the chihuahua rescue list

Since they already had big dogs at home, they sent a message to the yahoo chihuahua rescue group, along with the picture above, to inquire about finding her a home. We saw the message and the picture, and contacted her rescuers to arrange to see her, and on Sunday, Oct 11th, we made the trip down to Lake Elsinore to meet her. When the puppy greeted us by licking our face, they were surprised, saying she hadn't previously licked anyone. After some discussion we arrived at a mutual agreement that we were a good match, and so we drove home with our new little puppy, naming her Bella.

Bella in her new home after a long day

Max, our 10 year old min pin, seemed a tad resentful at the newcomer but grew accustomed to her. On the other hand, Baby Girl, just one year old at the time, was very gentle and affectionate with Bella from the beginning, treating her like a long lost daughter. They became playmates and friends, and many who have seen them at play together have assumed that Baby is Bella's mother.

Bella with her new friend and big sister

We were concerned about Bella's small size, and tried to protect her, keeping her inside at all times unless we could directly supervise her, since we didn't want her to be carried away by some bird of prey when we weren't looking. In the months since her adoption, Bella has grown to a weight of about 10 lbs, and for the most part has been quite healthy and energetic.

A grown up Bella in the back yard

It's still a mystery to me how that little puppy ended up out there, how long she was there, and how she survived. Was she taken from someone who loved her? Was she was tossed out of a car window and left for dead? Did she have siblings?

In any case I'm writing this blog entry on the off chance that someone near Lake Elsinore, Ca, who was heartbroken over the loss of their tiny chihuahua puppy in Oct 2009, might someday stumble onto this page and know that she was saved, and is now a happy and healthy, if spoiled, little dog who loves her home and her adoptive family.

Spoiled puppy under the covers

It's a shot in the dark, but what the heck. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The problem with pit bulls, part I

Every few days there is another new headline about a pit bull attack, and in the wake of each of the reports, I can't help but notice the ongoing debate about "the pit bull problem" which tends to polarize people according to their views on the subject.

The most extreme pit bull advocates will variously demand proof that the attacking animal was actually a pit bull, claim that there is no such thing as a pit bull, or assert that it's impossible tell what kind of dog was involved in the attack. If it's clearly shown to be a pit bull, they have a tendency to blame the victim, claiming that the attack must have been provoked, or insist that the pit bull must have been abused and/or trained to be vicious.

As a dog lover, I'm interested in canine behavior and the various theories about what makes them tick. I've observed dogs at work and at play, at home and in public, in dog parks and on the street. I think there is a problem with pit bulls - part of the problem is is with irresponsible owners, and part of the problem is the genetic makeup of the pit bull type dog.

One could argue, and some do, that the sole problem with pit bulls is the owners. In some abstract sense I can see the logic in that. After all, public zoos contain all manner of dangerous creatures which are daily viewed by thousands of people, with few if any fatalities. If pit bulls were similarly managed and restrained, the hundreds of dead, the thousands of maimed, and the numerous pets and other domestic animals killed by loose pit bulls would be alive and well.

The problem is that a lot of pit bull owners don't treat pit bulls as dangerous and unpredictable animals, but act as though they are just like any other dog. Not every pit bull is aggressive all the time, and years can pass with no hint of violence. But these fighting dogs are a uniquely unpredictable breed, and all too often, the traits they were bred for suddenly and unexpectedly manifest themselves, with horrific results.

Invariably in the aftermath of these tragic maulings the owner expresses shock and dismay, saying that the pit in question had been always docile and loving, having been lovingly raised from a puppy, and had never shown aggression before. At the risk of belaboring a rather obvious point, that is in fact a perfect illustration of the meaning of  the word "unpredictable"

There are intelligent and responsible pit bull owners. These folks are realistic, they will tell you that pit bulls are not for everyone, that they must be properly managed and contained, and that pits are dangerous, but they still love the breed. They are realistic, and I can respect that.

If all pit bull owners were competent and responsible, the pit bull problem would be practically nonexistent. The problem is that we can't count on pit bull owners to be competent or responsible. The responsible pit bull owners are outnumbered by naive fur moms, backyard breeders, dog fighters, gang bangers and other sociopaths. Compounding the problem is the fact that many animal rescue facilities are populated mostly with pit bulls, and dangerous pit bulls are being pushed on unsuspecting families, their records wiped clean.

Pit bull activists lament the thousands of bulls put down in shelters every year, but seem to miss the obvious conclusion that those are thousands of pit bulls too many being bred.

Could we pass laws that require pit bull owners to be competent? It's highly unlikely. The one thing that seems to be highly effective in stopping pit bull mauling is BSL - breed specific legislation, which is a controversial topic; some extreme pit bull advocates actually call it "racism". (I don't agree) Localities and organizations which have cracked down on dangerous dogs with pit bull legislation have seen a dramatic drop in mauling and deaths.

Again, the extreme pit bull advocates will argue that the number of reported dog bites has increased in jurisdictions which have enacted BSL, and therefore BSL "doesn't work". This is illogical for several reasons, but even if, for some bizarre reason small dogs began nipping more frequently, to fill the vacuum left by the sudden lack of serious pit bull attacks, I'd take a nip from an ankle biter any day, rather than be mauled by a pit bull.

A bigger problem than a pit bull attack?

But there is no reason, no plausible mechanism to account for the alleged results from banning pit bulls. The more likely explanation is that the localities where BSL is enacted then begin collecting dog bite statistics, and so, voila! a huge spike in reported bites - but a dramatic reduction or complete elimination of mauling and fatal attacks nonetheless. I'd call that a win.

Images courtesy of: