From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2000:

SACRAMENTO, Calif.––As fighting
dogs proliferate, what to do with any dog
of a reputed fighting breed is a growing
headache for animal shelters. Such dogs may
never attack anyone. Then again, they may be
surrendered or dumped to run at large because
they have bitten someone. Or, they may be
surrendered or dumped because they didn’t
attack on command.
If the history of a pit bull terrier,
Rottweiler, or similar dog is at all uncertain,
most shelters opt for quick dispatch to minimize
risk. Many opt for quick dispatch of any
“fighting breed” dog––if legally permitted.
Under the 1998 “Hayden Law,”
however, California shelters must hold all
impounded dogs and cats for at least five days,
if they are not suffering from painful illness or
injury, just in case an owner comes looking.

The law also directs shelters to turn
dogs and cats over to nonprofit rescue organizations
as a favored alternative to killing them.
Rallied by longtime Fund for
Animals representative Virginia Handley, a
small army of conventional animal control and
humane society directors contend that the
Hayden Law compels them to fill cages with
pit bulls and other potentially dangerous dogs
who should never be adopted, while killing
adoptable animals whose holding time is up,
in order to have space for the must-holds.

Rescue fronts?
Attacking the Hayden Law with proposed
legislative amendments, Handley et al
also argue that it forces them to surrender pit
bulls to nonprofit fronts for dogfighting rings.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has received
two anonymous telephone calls from a nervous
Hispanic-sounding individual who alleged that
a pair of Sacramento-area rescue groups have
routinely supplied pit bulls and other dogs to
associates of convicted local marijuana growers,
dogfight organizers, and dog thieves
Cesar and Mercedes Cerda, 26 and 25.
Arrested in 1998, the Cerdas and several coconspirators
are now doing prison time.
ANIMAL PEOPLE inquiries found
no immediate substantiation of the anonymous
but detailed allegations, and no confirmed
involvement of any California rescue group in
dogfighting. But similar cases have surfaced
in other states.
The Handley et al interpretation of
the Hayden Law is strongly rejected by San
Francisco SPCA department of law and advocacy
chief Nathan Winograd.
Winograd, a former criminal prosecutor,
contends that the Hayden Law affords
shelters plenty of leeway to set priorities and
reject placements of animals with rescue organizations
which do not meet their standards.
Winograd points out that the Hayden
Law merely imposes the same holding requirement
in effect since 1966 under the federal
Animal Welfare Act, which governs shelters
selling animals to federally funded research.
Winograd further contends that most
recent overcrowding in California shelters––
especially in the city of Los Angeles––is due
to “sweeps” undertaken to enforce licensing
laws, not due to complaint-driven pickups of
dogs who legitimately menace public safety.
Winograd also has much more hope
than most senior shelter personnel that ownersurrendered
and stray pit bulls, Rottweilers,
etc. can be rehabilitated and adopted.
But Winograd and Handley agree
that shelters are receiving more problematic
dogs, percentage-wise, than they once did.

Suzi & Buddy
“Our shelters had mostly surplus
dogs 20 years ago,” industrial/organizational
psychologist and longtime Malamute rescuer
Margaret Anne Cleek wrote in a November
1993 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest column, “but
our past efforts [against pet overpopulation] have created an overnight change in the evolution
of the dog. We are seeing not an acrossthe-board
reduction in the dog population, but
rather a restriction of range, skewing the distribution
toward larger, more aggressive dogs.
“Let me illustrate how this demographic
shift has come about,” Cleek continued.
“Neighborhoods once had dogs like Suzi
and Buddy––each a Heinz 57. Whatever
breeds were among their ancestry were so mingled
that no specifically developed traits were
evident. They were just plain dogs. And they
were great. But there were far too many of
them, and ever-increasing numbers of pups
were destroyed. Accordingly, people like
Suzi and Buddy’s owners, being caring and
responsible, eventually had them or their offspring
neutered. And that was the end of Suzi
and Buddy’s gene pool.
“Meanwhile, in the heart of the city
where Queenie and Spike lived, crime was
increasing and people were scared. Tough
dogs became a symbol of empowerment and a
mode of defense. It wasn’t long before they
became a mode of offense, too. Queenie and
Spike and other kick-butt dogs became the
dogs of choice. Their owners were not as easily
encouraged to neuter them. Due to high
population density and lack of fenced yards,
random breeding was frequent. Offspring
were given away and they too reproduced.
Many were marginal members of their families
and became semi-feral. Unlike Suzi and
Buddy’s pups, Queenie and Spike’s were
fruitful and multiplied.”
The outcome is that pit bull terriers,
Rottweilers, and other potentially dangerous
dog breeds turn up increasingly often in animal
control statistics.
For example, ANIMAL PEOPLE
in November 1993 tested Cleek’s hypothesis
that small-to-medium-sized dogs were no
longer entering shelters much as unwanted surplus
animals by looking at shelter admissions
breed and size. Cleek turned out to be right: of
1,234 purebred dogs entering four typical shelters
during the preceding year, which were the
only dogs the shelter records identified by size,
977 were large.
Further, most of the 277 small dogs
in the sample were victims of mass neglect,
now called “hoarding.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE w o n d e r e d
whether hoarders might have a particular proclivity
for keeping small dogs, so ran a breedspecific
tally of all dogs brought to shelters in
101 hoarding cases occuring since June 1982.
Nearly six times as many small dogs were victimized,
1,508 to 273––and only three of the
101 cases involved any pit bulls. Those
alleged hoarders had 40 pit bulls among them.
As of November 2000, however,
ANIMAL PEOPLE is aware of 10 hoarder
cases just this year, which netted 195 pit bulls.
Dogfighting and hoarder cases
between them account for just a small percentage
of pit bull intake. Through August, the
Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania SPCA alone
had received 3,000 pit bulls, according to
executive director Erik Hendriks.
Philadelphia is reputedly the pit bull
capital of the universe, but the shelters serving
Los Angeles are believed to be receiving
approximately as many, and Detroit shelters
are believed to be getting as many per capita.

Abuse cases
Anecdotally, pit bulls are often said
to be not only the most dangerous breed, but
also the breed most often shot by police,
dragged by vehicles, and otherwise violently
injured––with Rottweilers right behind.
Much of the violent abuse, and
some of the hoarding behavior, is rationalized
as “discipline,” i.e. “showing the dog who’s
boss,” sometimes in retaliation for attacks on
the owner or the owner’s family.
Police, according to the A N I M A L
PEOPLE files, do seem to shoot pit bulls and
Rottweilers as often as all other breeds combined––mostly
while conducting drug raids
and investigations of domestic violence, in situations
where the officers have only seconds
to decide whether a charging dog is dangerous
and whether it is safe to turn away from possibly
armed and hostile adults to deal with the
dog. When the dog is easily capable of killing
them, they understandably don’t take chances.
But exclusive of dogfighting, pit
bulls and Rottweilers seem to be only slightly
more likely to be abused than other breeds.
Among 143 dogs subjected to sadistic
abuse in accounts reaching A N I M A L
P E O P L E this year were 11 pit bulls and six
Rottweilers: 12% combined.
Among 50 dogs dragged to death
since 1992, three were pit bulls and seven
were Rottweilers: 20% combined.
Among 210 puppies involved in cruelty-to-litter
cases, none were pit bulls, five
were pit bull mixes and 12 were Rottweilers:
8% combined.
Among the total of 403 dogs abused
in the three tallies of cases, which do not overlap,
19 were pit bulls (5%) and 25 were
Rottweilers (6%), for a total rate of abuse
which may be roughly proportional to their
overall representation in the dog population.
Full-blooded pit bulls and Rottweilers
may be less likely to be involved in cruel
litter disposals simply because they still can be
sold. The breed types most often involved in
such cases were German shepherd mixes and
black Labrador mixes, known to shelter workers
as the hardest of all dogs to rehome.

Attacks surge
Pit bulls and Rottweilers are most
notorious for killing and maiming people.
Data kept by ANIMAL PEOPLE since 1982
showed by 1993 that pit bulls and Rottweilers
together accounted for 78% of all the lifethreatening
dog attacks known to us, including
69% of the deaths and maimings of children,
and 96% of the deaths and maimings of adults.
Separating out maimings, however,
pit bulls and Rottweilers accounted for only
59% of the deaths––because of the disproportionately
large number of deaths caused by a
third breed, wolf hybrids, whose attacks
appear to be almost always predatory dispatches
of small children. (The only adult killed by
a wolf hybrid was a very small woman who
was defending two children.)
Since 1993, the number of lifethreatening
pit bull attacks has increased by
352% ; maimings by pit bulls are up 589%;
and killings are up “only” 150%.
Life-threatening Rottweiler attacks
are meanwhile up 1,111%, including a
1,538% rise in maimings and a 1,450% rise in
The surge in Rottweiler incidents has
been so strong as to boost total life-threatening
dog attacks by 533%, maimings by 894%,
and killings by 291%––all of which if read out
of context could be taken as suggesting that pit
bulls are not keeping pace with the growing
ferocity of dogs in general.
Akitas and chows are also now
showing up prominently in the statistics, after
barely registering in 1993, and some exotic
large breeds who were not even on the list
then, such as the Sharpei and cane corso, have
begun to make the list with occasional killings
and maimings.
Still, pit bulls account by themselves
for 47% of the life-threatening attacks,
including 64% of the attacks on adults.

CDCP findings
The ANIMAL PEOPLE data mostly
parallels the findings of former Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention dogbite specialist
Jeffrey J. Sacks, M.D., and four collaborators,
as reported in the September 15 edition
of the Journal of the American Veterinary
Medical Association.
S a c k s et al, however, assembled
much of their data retrospectively, from online
news libraries and the files of the Humane
Society of the U.S.; they went back three
years farther, to 1979; and they counted only
U.S. cases. Of 304 total fatalities, they found
that 238 were inflicted by specific breeds, of
which 66 (28%) were inflicted by pit bulls, 10
(4%) were inflicted by pit bull mixes, and 39
(16%) were inflicted by Rottweilers, for a
combined total of 48%.
Sacks et al differed from the A N IMAL
PEOPLE findings most notably in finding
nearly twice as many deaths, and a very
steady rate of dog-related fatalities: never
fewer than 22 in any two-year interval since
1983-1984, but more than 27 only in 1989-
1990, when they recorded 34.
Earlier, Sacks discovered a 30%
increase in the number of dog bites in the U.S.
requiring medical treatment, from 585,000 in
1986 to 830,000 in 1994.
Sacks estimated that 60% of all dog
bites and 72% of fatalities involve children,
that dogs bite about 4.7 million Americans per
year, and that half of all children are bitten at
least once by age 12.
Sacks put the medical cost of dog
bites at a minimum of $254 million per year,
including $165 million for direct medical care.
Sacks’ data confirmed a survey of
1992-1994 statistics from U.S. hospital emergency
rooms, done by University of
Pittsburgh and Alleghany University of the
Health Sciences researchers Harold Weiss,
Deborah Friedman, and Jeffrey Cohen.
Weiss, Friedman, and Cohen found
reports of an average of 4.5 million dog bites
resulting in 334,000 hospital visits and 17
fatalities per year.

Attacks on animals
Tracking reports of dogs apprehended
for attacking other animals since mid-1998,
ANIMAL PEOPLE discovered a similar pattern:
of 129 dogs identified by breed, 39
(30%) were Rottweilers or Rott mixes; 25
(20%) were northern breeds such as huskies,
Malamutes, Akitas, or their mixes; 19 (15%)
were pit bulls or pit bull mixes; 16 (13%)
were Labrador or Lab mixes; and 10 (8%)
were German shepherds.
Labs and German shepherds clearly
made the list as a reflection of their great numbers:
according to American Kennel Club registry
data, they have been among the five most
popular dog breeds for more than 20 years.
Rottweilers, pit bulls, the northern
breeds, and their mixes were equally clearly
disproportionately often involved, together
accounting for 65% of all the incidents––about
10 times as many as might be expected from
their numbers.

Bite frequency
The likelihood that a particular breed
of dog may kill or maim someone is not necessarily
related to bite frequency. Nervous small
dogs may bite often, for instance, without
ever doing much harm. German shepherds are
notorious for quick, shallow, reactive
bites––the “guiding nip”––which tell a sheep,
another dog, or sometimes a person to behave,

but are not meant to injure.
Tallies of which dogs bite the most,
without distinguishing types of bite by severity,
tend to rank German shepherds and nervous
small dogs near the top of the list. Other
popular breeds also tend to account for many
not-so-serious bites simply because there are
lots of those breeds around.
Over time, however, as the more
dangerous breeds proliferate and fewer smaller
dogs are running at large, the all-bite tallies
are moving in the same direction as the tallies
of fatalities and maimings.
For instance, bite counts released in
1993 by Minneapolis Animal Control, in 1997
by the animal control department in Palm
Beach County, Florida, and earlier this year
by the department of environmental services in
Allentown, Pennsylvania, show that pit bulls
accounted for only 4% of the bites recorded
from 1977 to 1992, but leaped to 9% in 1996
and 21% in 1999. Rottweiler bites over the
same years went from 1% through 1992, to
9% in 1996, and 12% in 1999.
Retired Chico State University
physics professor L. Robert Plumb in January
1999 made one of the most credible efforts to
date to put all available statistics together to
determine the relative risk of being severely
bitten by dogs of some of the breeds most
often involved. He expressed his findings in
terms of estimated numbers of dogs per bite
serious enough to result in hospital treatment:
Pit bull 16
German shepherd 156
Spaniel (all types) 174
Doberman 296
Terriers (small) 433
Plumb did not calculate the ratios for
Rottweilers and the northern breeds.

Most animal shelters don’t adopt out
pit bulls, because of the whopping liability
risk if one should happen to kill or severely
injure someone. Many shelters have also quit
adopting out Rott-weilers.
The few care-for-life sanctuaries
with the facilities and staff to keep pit bulls
and Rottweilers took in all they can handle
many years ago.
The liability issue isn’t just hypothetical.
The Panhandle Humane Society of
Fort Walton Beach, Florida, for instance,
closed in 1991 after paying $425,000 to the
family of a four-year-old boy who was killed
by a wolf hybrid three years earlier, two hours
after the shelter sent the dog to his fourth home
in under four months.
The Boca Raton Animal Shelter,
also in Florida, is much more careful, and had
gone 13 years without an accident as of
September 15, but still got a major scare
when a volunteer dog-walker tried to lead a
supposedly docile eight-month-old pit bull past
Jarred Paurowski, 6, who was holding a
puppy. Paurowski was bitten four times on the
leg. All 70 volunteers serving the shelter were
kept out of the kennels for the next 12 days
while the shelter management revamped procedures
to avoid any more such incidents.

Adoption risk
Despite the recent influx of pit bulls,
Rottweilers, and other big bad dogs, most
shelters now receive fewer dogs overall each
year than the last. This makes more staff time
and budget available to help dogs who arrive
with illnesses, injuries, or behavioral problems
which used to doom them.
Rescuers of large and often problematic
breeds are accordingly pressuring shelters
to release more dogs in the “maybe” behavioral
category to them: dogs who might
behave for an expert handler in a perfect home,
but could be high risk with anyone else.
But Margaret Anne Cleek, for one,
informed by her experience as a Malamute rescuer,
as well as her background as a psychologist,
believes that attempting to save
behaviorally risky dogs is unwise.
“Ironically, as the shelter numbers
go down, more ‘thumbs downs’ might
need to be given to the ‘maybe’ dogs,”
“Although the scarcity of dogs available
for adoption might give them a
chance of being adopted, shelters
have an ethical obligation not to adopt
out dogs that the average pet-keeping family
can’t handle. Not taking chances is absolutely
right—especially now that many people want
to train a dog with only positive reinforcement,
which may give a really dominant dog the
message that his people are wimps he can take
advantage of.”

St. Francis terriers
The San Francisco SPCA is among
the few major shelters which attempt to adopt
out pit bulls––very carefully, following the
rather spectacular failure circa 1996 of an
attempt to rehabilitate their image by renaming
them “St. Francis terriers.”
The SF/SPCA thinking, at the time,
was that pit bulls might be dangerous chiefly
in response to human expectations. Changing
the name, the thinking went, might change
the expectations––and the dogs’ behavior.
About 60 “St. Francis terriers” were
placed, after extensive screening and training,
but then-SF/SPCA president Richard
Avanzino reluctantly suspended the program
after several of the re-dubbed dogs killed cats.
The pit bulls involved had not
seemed especially aggressive. Like most pit
bulls other than those trained to fight, they
appeared to be of rather sweet and gentle disposition.
But––as pit bulls are notorious for
doing––they proved to be explosively reactive,
going from calm to all-out attack without giving
the series of warning signals that most
dogs do, and responding to stimuli below the
threshhold of human perception.
Like the majority of pit bulls whose
attacks on humans make the ANIMAL PEOPLE
log, the St. Francis terriers’ first known
attacks were lethal. And no one knew they
would attack before they did.
“Within the last year we have begun
placing pit bulls again,” SF/SPCA dog behaviorist
Jean Donaldson told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“They are considered special care adoptions,
which entails a more blistering interview,
record check, home visit, and references
from the adopter. We are extremely
aware of the elevated incidence of dog-to-dog
aggression among pit bulls, and even when
the dogs check out, we thoroughly brief owners
of this potential––which sometimes
emerges in young adulthood after perfect exhibition
of social skills.
“We evaluate the dogs pretty carefully,”
Donaldson continued, “and openly
acknowledge that the bar is higher for pit bulls.
If the sterling individuals of this breed have
any hope of a future, it will be partly due to a
steady stream of ‘ambassadors,’ as well as
getting correct information to media and the

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