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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Children killed

by Mike Masterson | October 16, 2022 at 1:53 a.m.


Many of you likely caught the story out of Millington, Tenn., about a mother whose 2-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son were mauled and killed by two family pit bulls that also badly injured her.

In her attempt to save both children from the dogs' attack, she wound up hospitalized in critical condition, which was later elevated to stable.

While these dogs were part of her family, it was yet another story of larger dogs suddenly turning vicious.

This incident bought to mind the attack not long ago by an unrestrained pit bull mix that bounded from its owner's yard and nearly killed our little dog Benji while injuring my wife, Jeanetta, as they walked along a public street in Harrison.

Any time dogs kill or savage people, especially those who care for them, we all have a serious problem, particularly so when a species with a track record of unpredictable violent behavior is not effectively restrained from the public.

If these pit bulls, which were euthanized, would do this to two children and their owner, what would they have potentially done to others and their pets if left to roam?

Ask Lavonne Spotlightener of Harrison, who was badly injured and her eight cats killed by two roaming pit bulls that came into her yard and onto her porch to attack, or the badly injured older man in Maumelle whose little dog was killed on his property by two unrestrained pit bulls.

The debate over keeping pit bulls as pets has raged across communities for years. Some cities have banned them while many owners often try to convince non-owners they are not inherently violent. But long-term statistics tell a far different story that can no longer be overlooked.

Those who favor this breed and their mixes basically say that if they are violent and vicious, it's because they've been taught to be that way by humans.

While I have no doubt there are those who breed them for fighting, I seriously doubt this grieving mother trained hers to fight, just like I don't believe the majority who choose to keep this breed "teach" them to have a ruthless streak.

That leaves the plausible explanation that they have an inherited side to them that can generate spontaneous viciousness even against small children, or a woman walking her little dog along a street, or a man walking his dog in his own yard.

Data collected over the years tell a story.

According to DogsBite.org, from 2005 to 2017, pit bulls accounted for 284 dog bite-related fatalities. This represents a staggering 65 percent of deaths due to dog-bite injuries, especially considering that there were 433 total of dog bite victim fatalities.

It also means there are other larger breeds capable of such vicious and fatal attacks. But 65 percent for me is an eye-popping number.

The law firm of Fuicelli and Lee in Denver has compiled its own statistics:

"Pit bulls and Rottweilers make up 77 percent of all fatal dog bites, despite making up only 6 percent of the U.S. dog population. ... Pit bulls are responsible for 60 percent of all injuries. ... Pit bull terriers are 48 percent more likely to attack without provocation than other breeds. Pit bull attacks have higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than attacks by other breeds."

"During 2005-2017, pit bulls killed one citizen every 16.7 days, totaling up to 284 Americans. ... Rottweiler and pit bull attacks contributed to 76 percent of dog bite deaths. When comparing 2005-2010 to 2011-2017, pit bull attack deaths have increased from 58 percent to 71 percent. Alternatively, Rottweiler deaths decreased from 14 percent to 7 percent."

Returning to the latest pit bull attack in Tennessee, I awoke this morning feeling deep sorrow for this 30-year-old mother who fought to save her children as they were being slaughtered by the two dogs.

When this mother recovers from her injuries, the agony of those moments watching her children being savaged and being unable to stop it, plus the knowledge that of many possible choices, she chose to bring this breed of dog into their home, will haunt her forever.

While I don't know the circumstances, it sounds as if these dogs did all right in the family for some time, giving the impression all was fine.

And that's the most insidious part of this tragedy. Things obviously were never fine. All it took was one unknown trigger event from small children to set the dogs into their murderous rampage.

Such stories appear regularly nationwide. The Daily Mail carried a story the other day of an elderly North Carolina couple out for a peaceful stroll who were attacked by an unrestrained pit bull. As a result, she lost a foot and he was critically injured. The dog, the Mail reported, was euthanized after the attack.

The latest deaths and similar horror stories we learn about should provide strong impetus for conscientious city and state lawmakers to pass laws that hold those who own large dogs legally (even criminally) accountable if they aren't effectively restrained.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]


Print Headline: Children killed

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