Family of pit bull attack victim opposes ban
POCATELLO — Despite a vicious attack that left 4-year-old Ricky Hamann with 1,000 stitches in his face, the child’s family doesn’t think pit bulls should be banned in Pocatello.
Though this most recent attack is the fifth to occur in the Pocatello area in the past two years, Ricky’s stepmom, Nichole Hamann, said you can’t blame the dog, the responsibility falls on the owner.
“We don’t believe there should be a ban at all,” Nichole Hamann said. “We want to raise awareness specific to this situation because we own a pit bull as well. It has to deal with the owner and their negligence, failing to train and love their dogs.”
According to research spanning 11 years from a nonprofit public education website about dangerous dog breeds, DogsBite.org, pit bull terriers and Rottweilers accounted for 76 percent of the total recorded fatal human attacks in the U.S.
Additional research by Animals 24-7, a nonprofit online newspaper and information service covering the humane community worldwide, analyzed U.S. and Canadian media reports on attacks between 1982 and 2014. It found that pit bull and Rottweiler mixes contributed to 67 percent of the attacks resulting in human death.
It is commonly accepted, however, that the term “pit bull” does not serve as a breed definition, but more so as a loosely defined and general category. The definition of a pit bull varies across the source of information, and can often lead to dogs that aren’t pit bulls being mislabeled, according to Pocatello Animal Services Director Richard Stewart.
“A lot of dogs in shelters are mislabeled as pit bulls just because they have similar features,” Stewart said. “Sometimes boxers are confused as pit bulls. This is what causes those statistics to increase because of the animals who are mislabeled.”
Pit bull critics argue the animals are inherently dangerous because of selective breeding for dog fighting, coupled with the animal’s lethal bite style, which is to lock the jaws and shake.
“Obviously they do have a bad reputation,” Nichole Hamann said. “And it is in their genetics to have a more aggressive approach towards people or other dogs. But on the same side if you put in the time and effort they are the most loving, caring and loyal animals, even to kids.”
Stewart said that Pocatello doesn’t have a large population of pit bulls. The shelter he left in Richmond, Virginia, had close to an 80 percent pit bull population.
“Here we get pit bulls but we also get a lot of cattle dogs, German shepherds, hounds and labs,” Stewart said. “If you get any large breed dog that isn’t trained properly, it’s going to be able to do damage.”
The problem with misidentifying pit bulls, in Stewart’s estimation, is the idea of basing the breed definition off the physical appearance of the dog. He added, that if you target a specific breed and ban them from the city, the issue could quickly spiral out of control.
“How do you regulate straight off of looks?” Stewart said. “A lot of animals could get bunched into the category of a pit bull because it has a wide face, or a muscular chest and say you banned them everywhere, another breed would come up and be the next issue.”
People need to train their dogs to be obedient and they need to train their dogs to be social, be it a pit bull, German shepherd, or a Schnauzer, said Jo Lynn Anderson, founder of Portneuf Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
Pocatello does have city ordinances to protect citizens from dangerous dogs, however, and recently strengthened the laws this year, according to Stewart.
“Any dog that has been deemed dangerous by a court of law has several restrictions that we place on them,” he said. “This year we added a dangerous animal registry.”
The registry requires all dogs deemed dangerous to have annual registration with Pocatello Animal Services, accompanied with listing fees.
“If we don’t hear from people we will send officers out to find out exactly where these dangerous dogs are,” Stewart said. “We will visit these properties to make sure they are posting beware of dog signs, they have the dog in a locked pen that he can’t dig out of and if he’s being walked he has to be muzzled. And it’s not just pit bulls that are on this dangerous dog list.”