With best friends like these ...

Samantha Bonar is a Times staff writer.

ROTTWEILERS should be profiled. Same goes for pit bulls. It has nothing to do with the color of their fur and everything to do with the content of their character. These dog breeds should be regulated because they are powerful, unpredictable and dangerous.

I used to argue that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. I defended such breeds as Rottweilers and pit bulls as unfairly maligned.

I changed my mind last year after a Rottweiler attacked my gentle 10-year-old Newfoundland mix while we were hiking in the mountains. Whether by nature or lack of nurture, this was a rotten dog. The unprovoked attack has left my pet with nerve damage to his throat. His vet bills have cost me almost $4,000 so far. The saddest part is that he has had to give up hiking, an activity that never failed to make his day.


The Rottweiler’s owners told me that they had adopted the then-2-year-old dog from the Pasadena Humane Society about a year before and that this was her second attack. A spokesperson for that organization assured me that the group takes every precaution to make sure the animals it places are not dangerous. The problem is, Rottweilers are large, muscular dogs with extremely strong jaws. Males range from 95 to 135 pounds, females from 80 to 100 pounds, according to the American Rottweiler Club.

Even when owners don’t abuse these dogs, this breed, which traces its ancestry to Roman dogs of war, can be violent and unpredictable, as evidenced by last summer’s fatal attack on a 16-month-old in Glendale by her grandparents’ pet Rottweiler. One neighbor described that dog as “a goofy, gentle giant” -- that, oh by the way, had killed a small dog in the neighborhood a year earlier.

I’m sure there are many nice Rottweilers. I’ve read “Good Dog, Carl.” But I would like to see potentially dangerous breeds better controlled. Legislation by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) to restrict breeding of specific breeds is a good first step. SB 861, which the governor signed into law in October, gives local governments authority to require the spaying and neutering of specific breeds. (San Francisco almost immediately passed a measure that requires the spaying and neutering of pit bulls.) Ordinances are not allowed, however, to deem any specific dog breed potentially dangerous or vicious. This is a silly PC nicety.

Common-sense, breed-specific legislation would include requiring the muzzling of certain breeds in public, forbidding certain people (i.e. criminals) from owning certain breeds, banning certain breeds from certain places (dog parks, beaches, nature preserves) and increasing criminal penalties and civil damages if a dog of a particular breed injures a person. Let’s look at the facts:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 4.7 million dog-bite victims a year in the United States. About 800,000 of those need medical attention -- about 1,000 a day go to emergency rooms. About 15 to 20 people die annually. Most of the victims who receive medical attention are children, and more than half of those age 4 or under are bitten in the face or neck.

The CDC says pit bulls and Rottweilers kill more humans than any other breed. In the United States, pit bulls make up 3% of the overall dog population but are responsible for more than 50% of serious attacks. Rottweilers have become the nation’s deadliest dog breed, surpassing pit bulls, according to a 2000 study by the American Veterinary Medical Assn.

Using American Kennel Club registration data, the study’s authors found that “as the breed has soared in popularity, so have Rottweiler-related deaths” -- 24,195 registered from 1979 through 1982 and zero deaths; 272,273 registrations from 1983 through 1990 and six deaths; and 692,799 registrations from 1991 through 1998 and 33 deaths.

The study found that Rottweilers were responsible for about half of human dog-bite-related deaths reported from 1993 to 1998, when the breed was identifiable. Together, Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs accounted for 67% of the human dog-bite-related fatalities in the United States between 1997 and 1998.

The study’s authors concluded: “It is extremely unlikely that they [pit bulls and Rottweilers] accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.”

How do other countries handle these dogs? Laws in France and Britain make it illegal to import, breed or sell pit bulls. They also must be kept muzzled and on a lead in public and, in order to ensure that the breed dies out, they must be neutered. France also requires Rottweilers to be muzzled in public. Germany has banned the importation of pit bulls. The county of Quaregnon in Belgium has effectively banned the Rottweiler -- they must be muzzled and are not permitted in public places. Australia has long had laws restricting the ownership of pit bulls. In our country, cities in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington have banned Rottweilers and pit bulls.

Continental Airlines will not ship pit bulls or pit bull mixes older than 6 months or over 20 pounds.

With dog-bite losses exceeding $1 billion a year, with $345 million paid by insurance, according to an industry group, more and more insurance companies are refusing to offer homeowners insurance policies to people who own such dogs as pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds. The average claim for a dog bite is $16,600, according to State Farm.

Surprisingly, even the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called for banning pit bulls and euthanizing all that are taken to animal shelters. “These dogs were designed specifically to fight other animals and kill them, for sport,” Ingrid Newkirk wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in June. “An unpredictable Chihuahua is one thing, an unpredictable pit another.”

Yet some still insist, as Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) said in a Times story in August, that “the problem we have is not with our dogs but with our dog owners. There are a significant number of dog owners who abuse their dogs and condition them to fight and become vicious. Those people are the culprits.”

Such people are loathsome and should be prosecuted for animal abuse, to be sure. And abused dogs of any breed are more likely to attack. But if abusive owners pull the trigger, the dog is still the gun. And if a poodle is a .22, a pit bull or Rottweiler is an AK-47.

Whether a dog is vicious because it is naturally mean or because it has been abused is irrelevant when your beloved pet -- or child or grandfather for that matter -- has a Rottweiler’s jaws clamped around his throat.