It seems not a month goes by without a story about an attack by a pit bull.
In February, a pit bull mauled a 5-year-old girl in Terry, Miss., leaving her lifeless body in a ditch. Ten days later in Georgia, a 5-day-old baby girl was killed by the family pit bull in Rockdale County. The infant's body was found in its bassinet.
In April, a pit bull named Sidon killed a newborn in a home in New Port Richey, Fla., while the baby's 16-year-old mother slept. The non-neutered male dog, which escaped and attacked another dog tied-up outside, was euthanized, as was a 75-pound pit bull-Labrador mix seven years after it mauled a toddler in Toronto.
The dog in the 2003 attack in Canada reportedly bit a boy when the child tried to kiss it. Last year, 29 children were admitted to one Atlanta hospital for injuries caused by dogs; dozens were treated for bites in emergency rooms.
Incidents like these have prompted calls to ban all bully breeds, especially pit bull terriers. The category includes the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Miniature Bull Terrier and the American Bull Dog, but there is an American Pit Bull Terrier not recognized by the American Kennel Club, commonly called a pit bull. All six breeds are interwoven and share common ancestors, mastiff and terrier.
The Warwick, R.I., City Council voted unanimously last month to require mandatory neutering and spaying of pit bulls and related breeds, except dogs owned by licensed breeders or people who show animals at dog shows.
"We're trying to stop the backyard breeders and the people who want these dogs for all the wrong reasons," Ann Corvin, director of the Warwick Animal Shelter, told The Providence Journal.
Pit bull-related breeds have such a bad reputation many of the dogs languish in shelters for months and end up euthanized. While fans admit the muscular, athletic breeds are a lot to handle, most say of behavior problems: It's not the dog, it's the owner.
Pit bulls were bred to be strong and aggressive, but they also are friendly and don't have to be any more dangerous than other dog breeds. It's all the responsibility of the owner.
My two 23-pound terriers like to pal around in the park with a neighbor's two pet pit bulls three times their size. The pit bulls' owner keeps his dogs on leashes at all times and doesn't let them run free, but he still gets angry looks.
One day another pit bull roaming freely came over and the dogs began barking.
"A woman called the police and told them we were dogfighting," my neighbor said. "The dogs were just playing."
When he adopted a second rescue pit bull, a female, I told him he was going to scare a lot of people.
"They're already scared," he said, adding some people were scared of him, too.
It's understandable, but not rational, that all pit bulls get categorized in a derogatory manner. There are some criminals out there who should not have these powerful dogs -- or any dog. Allowing a drug dealer to have a mean dog in a spiked collar is like giving a gang member a gun.
Tennessee lawmakers passed a law that would bar felons convicted of violent or drug-related crimes from keeping "potentially vicious" dogs for 10 years after release from prison or probation, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal reported. Illinois passed a similar law in 2006.
"This bill will help police cripple gangs that not only use vicious dogs to commit crime, but also own these animals as part of a violent culture that promotes drug activity and animal abuse," state Sen. Reginald Tate, co-sponsor of the measure, said in a statement.
Like people, every dog has its own personality and temperament, a result of socialization and genetics. My scrappy little terriers are more aggressive than some pit bulls.
"Pit bulls thrive on human companionship. They are friendly, silly, happy dogs and typically never meet a stranger," a writer for Bless the Bully, Pit Bull Rescue & Relief, said.
"Petey," the white pit bull with the ring around one eye featured in the "Our Gang" and "Little Rascals" films of the '20s and '30s was one of the most famous and beloved pit bulls.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is among defenders of the breed. PETA went after Facebook recently when game developer Zynga said it was adding the pit bull as a fighting tool in its popular Internet crime game "Mafia Wars." Zynga later backed off making snarling dogs fighting machines in the online game.
It's ironic one of most exploited and abused breeds of dogs suffers from such bad public relations.
"We're for 'em," PETA said in a posting on its Web site. "By 'for 'em,' I mean that we are for pit bull protection, for their happiness, and for treating them like dogs instead of like cheap burglar alarms, punching bags or gladiators in perverted death matches."
PETA said it favors spaying and neutering for all breeds as long as millions of dogs die in animal shelters or on streets for lack of homes.
About 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and nearly half of all U.S. children will have a run-in with a dog before they finish high school, The American Academy of Pediatrics' Illinois chapter said.
As for avoiding dog bites, the U.S. Postal Service, experts in dealing with aggressive dogs, offers this advice: Never run past a dog; if threatened, don't scream, avoid eye contact, remain motionless until the dog leaves or slowly back away from the dog; don't approach a tethered or confined dog; and if a dog is about to attack, try to get something like a backpack or bicycle, between you and the dog.