A family pet bites an eight-year-old boy on the face on Christmas Eve in Portland; a three-year-old is savaged by a neighbour's dog; a child is attacked by a dog in a park in England; a child is horribly maimed by a dog.
Sound familiar? These stories are shocking and strike a nerve among parents and pet owners alike. Yes sir, something must be done. Let's ban Labrador retrievers before another child gets hurt. That's right, the perpetrators of all of those stories were the gentle, shoe-fetching, handicappedassisting, faithful and lovable companion dogs known as Labs.
Or consider this: A sevenyear-old girl in Maryland is hospitalized after being mauled by a dog; another child's groin is savaged in a dog attack; a Chihuahua is killed by another canine in a park. Once again, sad and disturbing events.
Since they are responsible for the aforementioned mayhem, maybe we should do something about poodles, too.
Newsflash, folks: all dogs have the capacity to bite, usually when they're provoked, but sometimes it's for no clear reason. Poodles bite; labs bite; little rat dogs wearing sweaters bite.
Whenever it happens, the usual response is surprise and betrayal felt by both the owner and the victim.
There is, however, a breed out there that evokes neither of those responses. For every poodle, terrier or purse-rat biting story, pit bull attacks will account for several pages of news clippings.
Statistically, that would make the poodle, spaniel and collared-squirrel bites isolated incidents, while the pit bill attacks fit into a category that hints strongly at a trend.
In previous centuries, dogs were bred to perform specific jobs. Australian shepherds, German shepherds - no mystery what these breeds specialized in.
Rat terriers, fox terriers, setters and coon hounds were used for hunting while large breeds such as rottweilers, St. Bernards and Pyrenean mountain dogs were adapted for everything from pulling carts to pulling guard duty.
These dogs are not needed for such tasks in our modern world but those traits live on. Ever watch a border collie trying to herd geese and ducks on a golf course? Or incessant digging by a terrier? How about trying to distract a beagle when it has caught a scent? And then there are mastiffs that will awake in the middle of the night and make a "patrol" of their home and property.
Nobody trained them to exhibit such behaviour; it's just carried in their genes. It's what they do.
Which brings us to pit bulls. Where aggressiveness was bred out of breeds like the bulldog and mastiff, that same trait was prized among the breeders looking for an animal that would excel in the nasty world of pit fighting. Simply put, this "sport" entails putting two snarling dogs into a ring (or pit) where they fight to the death as onlookers bet on the outcome. (Need more details? Google Michael Vick).
These dogs were bred to have trip-wire aggressive tendencies and those traits do not go away. A loving family home and days spent romping in the yard with the kids cannot overcome the ticking time bomb that lurks within.
These dogs are wired for combat and for some of them, that wiring has less insulation than others. When the wires touch - for whatever reason, real or imagined - the bomb goes off with horrific consequences.
It's in their genes and it's what they do.
Most pit bulls have responsible owners who are mindful of what the dogs can do and take steps to ensure their pets are under control at all times.
Unfortunately, the breed's bad publicity also attracts owners who revel in the nasty image the animals hold in the public's eye. (I'm no expert but I've never heard of a grow-op or chop shop protected by a brace of Shih Tzus chained up in the yard.)
Whenever one of these beasties gets loose and savages a child or pet, the attack inevitably results in renewed calls for the breed to be banned. This, of course, is far too simplistic. The vast majority of pit bulls live healthy lives without incident. You can't ban a breed for what it might do just as you can't ban seniors from driving because there's a chance grandpa might mistake the front door of a bank for a Tim Hortons' drive-thru.
The sad truth is, the genie is out of the bottle and no bylaw or legislation can force it back in. Common sense and public will is not going to overcome Mother Nature and genetics.
Even if pit bulls are banned, the problem is the genes are still among us. City council might as well be banning dandelions.
Anyone who thinks a ban on pit bulls will solve the problem, consider this: What is the mystery ingredient in the cute little black Lab/sneakyneighbour's-dog cross puppy a family might be contemplating as their next pet?
Tick, tick, tick.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com