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Don’t Ban Pit Bulls, but Why Own One?

Eighteen months ago I wrote a column with a simple thesis: Why would anyone in their right mind own a pit bull?

That column reacted to a story about an 18-month-old girl in Santa Ana left in serious condition after the family pet attacked her. Nice doggy.

Three weeks after the column ran, a 91-year-old woman in Orange lost both arms after her great-grandson’s pit bull attacked her.

The column made a lot of readers growl. I didn’t realize pit bulls had so many defenders. Some of them made reasoned arguments that I took to heart; others sounded so angry that, to coin a phrase, they wanted to bite my head off.

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Ever since, I’ve been looking for a way to win back the pit bull crowd.

Here it is: Pit bulls shouldn’t be banned.

I’d prefer never to see another one, but it goes way beyond a city council’s authority, it seems to me, to ban a breed. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

The Times ran a story this week about Denver’s ban on pit bulls. Cincinnati and Miami also outlaw the dogs.

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I’ve racked my brain to come up with a rationale for voting to ban a specific breed. But, even as much as these dogs give me the creeps, I can’t come up with one.

Denver has decided the dogs pose too much of a threat. Obviously, all pit bulls don’t attack humans -- only a small percentage do -- but they are particularly vicious when they do. I’ve been nearby when an aging Afghan nipped a child’s cheek for some perceived indiscretion; I hate to think what an irritated pit bull might have done under the same circumstance.

That’s as close as I could get to voting for a ban, but it’s not nearly close enough.

In California, nearly as hip as Denver, it’s illegal to have “breed-specific” rules. However, Bay Area state Sen. Jackie Speier’s SB 861 would amend the law to allow cities to require that certain breeds -- with potentially vicious dogs like pit bulls in mind -- be spayed or neutered, and that breeders be licensed and monitored. The latter provision is meant to guard against “backyard breeders” who breed specifically to produce and market especially aggressive offspring.

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Richard Steffen, Speier’s staff director, said the senator realizes the political reality that there’s no popular movement to ban pit bulls in California. Speier sees her bill as a halfway measure that would leave control in local hands but at least make a nod to the potential dangers of certain breeds.

In short, Steffen says, the bill would decree, “You can still have the dog, but you have to get it fixed, because studies show that when it’s altered, its aggressive tendencies diminish.”

Steffen did not blast away at pit bulls during our conversation and even noted that at least three of the dogs had been brought to his office and “just sat and kind of dozed off and have been real gentle.”

I sense he’s just being politic. In recent weeks, a 12-year-old San Francisco boy died after a pit bull attack. Around the same time, an 8-year-old in Santa Rosa was badly disfigured by a pit bull. Earlier this year, a pit bull mauled a San Fernando Valley woman. Pit bull defenders say the dog’s attack impulse generally is caused by poor training or some provocative act by the victim. Properly raised, they say, the dogs are wonderful companions and pets.

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What do I know about pit bulls? According to a number of readers who saw my first column, the answer is, “Very little.”

All I know is what I read in the papers. But if we have to depend on every pit bull owner being the most conscientious dog owner there is, keep me away from all pit bulls.

But I don’t want to argue with pit bull owners anymore. I’m not convinced it’s fair to make owners of a specific breed spay or neuter their dog.

Would I like them to? You bet.

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But, as I asked long ago, why would anyone want one of these things in the first place?

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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