But when pit bulls maul other animals, usually it isn’t news
When man bites dog, that’s news. When pit bulls kill or disfigure other animals, increasingly often it isn’t, because such mayhem is more and more just what is expected of pit bulls, seen by many reporters and editors as no more remarkable than roadkills, no matter how many petkeepers are left to grieve and pay for the havoc.
The approximately 3.5 million pit bulls in the U.S. appear to have killed more than 24,000 other dogs in 2015, up from about 15,500 each in 2013 and 2014; nearly 13,000 cats; perhaps 9,000 hooved animals; and between 30,000 and 45,000 small mammals and poultry.
The numbers of pit bull victims, totaling 76,000 to 91,000, are approximate, projected from media reports. The numbers for 2015 include the presumption that a verifiable steep increase in pit bull attacks on dogs and cats was mirrored in violence toward other species, though attacks on other species appear to have been under-reported even more than attacks on dogs and cats, which are themselves reported only a fraction as often as they occur.
ANIMALS 24-7 has since 2013 tried not only to collect information about dog attacks on other animals in a thorough and consistent manner, as we have done with information about dog attacks on humans since 1982, but also to evaluate it in a context compensating for under-reporting by using known parameters from which to project what would otherwise be unknown.
Few attacks get media notice
We have known from the outset that far more dog attacks on other animals go unreported by news media than receive any coverage. Indeed, almost every dog attack on another animal reported by news media also involves a person being injured, police shooting a dog, and/or the loss of livestock legally valued at more than $1,000.
But even when one or more of those elements are involved, only a very small percentage of dog attacks on other animals get any media mention.
This means that to derive national estimates of the numbers of dog attacks on other animals, and the numbers of animal victims, a great deal must be projected from relatively little. Using a small data set to project a large number is not necessarily a problem, if the input data is representative and reliable, but ensuring that a relatively small amount of input data is an adequate basis for projection tends to require many times more work than would be necessary with a bigger data set.
The goal throughout, in any such exercise, is finding intersections where data projected by a variety of methods tends to converge on numbers within a fairly narrow range.
Criteria for reportage
Most dog attacks on other animals meet some of the usual criteria for news reportage, including timeliness, proximity to news audience, prominence of persons involved, severity of consequence, human interest, and conflict. Yet few dog attacks on other animals meet more of those criteria than many other events occurring in the same communities on the same days, even if a person is injured, police shoot a dog, and significant economic damages result from the dog attack.
Part of the probable extent of under-reporting can be estimated through simple logic.
What isn’t reported
First, people tend not to report attacks by their own dogs on other animals belonging to their own households.
Second, people also tend not to report attacks by other people’s dogs on animals whose cost of replacement with a similar animal would be less than the deductible on a typical homeowner’s insurance policy.
For each dog attack on another animal that meets the usual criteria for reportage, there is probably at least one in each category that would usually not be reported by the owners of the victim animals.
This means that the number of reported attacks probably can be safely multiplied by at least three, independent of all factors involving media criteria for newsworthiness.
Police shooting dogs
Perhaps the best way to estimate under-reporting due to attacks failing to media criteria for reportage on any given day is to compare the numbers of cases in which dogs have been shot by police, according to public records, with the numbers of dog shootings by police which have received media coverage.
In communities of fewer than 10,000 people, served by news media covering only those communities, almost every dog shooting by police is mentioned. In communities of more than a million people, however, only 2.5% to 3.4% of the dog shootings listed in police department annual reports have received media coverage, as discussed in greater detail in the ANIMALS 24-7 summaries of the 2013 and 2014 data pertaining to dog attacks on animals.
Taking all accessible data into account, ANIMALS 24-7 multiplies reported dog attacks on other animals in communities of under 10,000 people by a compensation factor of three; multiplies reported dog attacks on other animals in communities of 10,000 to 100,000 people by a compensation factor of 10; and multiplies reported dog attacks on other animals in communities of more than 100,000 by a compensation factor of 147.
The ANIMALS 24-7 input data for 2013 included attacks on other animals by 424 dogs, 396 of them pit bulls. The pit bulls killed 92 dogs, injuring 164; killed 17 cats, injuring five; and killed 289 hooved animals, injuring 22.
The ANIMALS 24-7 input data for 2014 included attacks on other animals by 409 dogs, 337 of them pit bulls. The pit bulls killed 86 dogs, injuring 139; killed 26 cats, injuring four; and killed 77 hooved animals, injuring 24.
The ANIMALS 24-7 input data for 2015 included attacks on other animals by 338 dogs, 296 of them pit bulls. The pit bulls killed 101 dogs, injuring 86; killed 37 cats, injuring three; and killed 45 hooved animals, injuring 23.
More attacks but fewer reports
A casual observer will note that the total numbers of reported dog attacks and pit bull attacks on other animals have been declining.
Yet this scarcely means that the actual numbers of dog attacks and pit bull attacks on other animals are declining.
Over the same three years, the numbers of reported fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks on humans have increased from what were already record numbers by 10%, an average of 3.3% per year.
For that reason alone, it would be unlikely for pit bull attacks on other animals to be falling.
Media criteria rising
What the input data also shows, when closely examined, is that instead of the total numbers of pit bull attacks on other animals declining, the media criteria for reporting attacks has markedly risen.
For example, in 2013 only 22% of the reported pit bull attacks on other animals involved a dog fatality; only 4% involved a cat fatality.
In 2014, 23% of the reported pit bull attacks on other animals involved a dog fatality; 7% involved a cat fatality.
In 2015, 30% of the reported pit bull attacks on other animals involved a dog fatality; 12% involved a cat fatality.
Fewer survivors reported
Simultaneously, of the dogs attacked by pit bulls in 2013, 64% survived. In 2014, 62% survived. In 2015, only 28% survived.
A similar trend appears in the cat data: 23% of the cats involved in reported pit bull attacks survived in 2013, but only 13% in 2014, and 7.5% in 2015.
Simply put, another dog or cat surviving a pit bull attack is no longer newsworthy, because so many pit bull attacks on other animals are now occurring. Even attacks resulting in death are proportionately less often reported.
Hooved animal deaths are less often noted
And reported attacks on hooved animals have fallen from 289 to 77 to 45 not because fewer are occurring, as USDA Wildlife Services data lumping all dog attacks together shows, but rather because the criteria for a pit bull attack on hooved animals to become newsworthy appear to have markedly risen.
No longer is one pit bull dismembering one sheep, goat, pony, or miniature horse likely to make headlines. In 2015 a pit bull attack on hooved animals tended to make news only if the hooved animals belonged to a zoo or were exceptionally valuable breeding stock.
Pits kill more than one dog per community
The most consistent number from year to year has been that 93% of the reported dog attacks on other animals in 2013 were by pit bulls; 82% in 2014; and 88% in 2015.
Cumulatively, pit bulls have since 2013 accounted for 87% of the reported dog attacks on other animals, including 96% of the fatal attacks on other dogs.
Of note is that 2015 appears to have been the first year when the number of fatal pit bull attacks on other dogs exceeded the number of cities and towns in the U.S.: 24,000 attacks vs. 19,354 incorporated communities.