Docket Management Facility
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, DC 20590-0001
In response to:
RIN No. 2105–AE63
Traveling by Air with Service Animals
AGENCY: Office of the Secretary (OST), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).
Merritt & Beth Clifton, editors
Greenbank, WA 98253
SUBJECT OF COMMENT
Our comment specifically addresses the portion of the Department of Transportation rulemaking proposal beginning on page 27, continuing on page 28, from the statement “The Department is proposing that airlines should continue to be prohibited from restricting service animals based solely on the breed or generalized type of dog” to the passage reading:
“The Department also understands that there may be concerns that certain dogs may be dangerous because of their muscular bodies, large and powerful jaws and neck muscles, and ferocity when provoked to attack. The Department seeks comment on whether these concerns are valid.
“In particular, the Department seeks comment on whether, notwithstanding the DOJ rules under the ADA, the unique environment of a crowded airplane cabin in flight justifies permitting airlines to prohibit pit bulls and any other particular breeds or types of dogs from traveling on their flights under the ACAA even when those dogs have been individually trained to perform as service animals to assist a passenger with a disability.
“The Department will consider this question in light of the full rulemaking record when finalizing this rule. The Department also seeks comment on whether its proposal to allow airlines to conduct an individualized assessment of a service animal’s behavior to determine whether the service animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others is an adequate measure to ensure that aggressive animals are not transported on aircraft, rather than banning an entire breed or type of service animal.”
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
Our organization, ANIMALS 24-7, maintains by far the oldest and most comprehensive running breed-specific log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in the U.S. and Canada, begun by editor Merritt Clifton in September 1982 upon becoming aware that no other agency or individual in either nation was comparably tracking the data. A copy of this log as it stood through December 31, 2019 is appended, or may be downloaded from https://www.animals24-7.org/2020/01/05/dog-attack-deaths-maimings-u-s-canada-1982-2019-log/.
The log at the end of 2019 showed that of 10,051 dogs attacking humans in incidents in which at least one person was killed or disfigured since 1982, 6,992 (70%) were pit bulls, who inflicted 479 deaths and 4,806 disfiguring injuries.
Only Rottweilers and similar “bully” breeds such as bull mastiffs, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, and Fila Brasilieros were comparably dangerous relative to their numbers; but all of these breeds are extremely rare relative to pit bulls in all of the common pit bull variants (including so-called American bullies.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control began a similar log to ours in 1979, but continued it only until 1988, and did not make the data accessible to news media, other researchers, and the public until the findings were formally published several years later.
ANIMALS 24-7 also maintains several other data compilations of relevance to DOT-OST-2018-0068. One such log documents the breed-specific composition of the U.S. dog population, based on electronic counts of dogs offered for sale or adoption through classified ads. The most recent edition may be downloaded from https://www.animals24-7.org/2019/07/09/breed-survey-2019-more-puppies-yet-fewer-homes-for-pit-bulls/, with historical data appended from 1900-1950, 1970-1979, 1980-1989, and every year from 2010 through 2019.
Another ANIMALS 24-7 data compilation of relevance estimates the numbers of dog attacks on other dogs, cats, and livestock, updated annually since 2013, using statistical methodology similar to estimating the size of an iceberg from the visible portion. The most recent update of this information may be downloaded from https://www.animals24-7.org/2020/01/13/record-pit-bull-attacks-on-other-animals-in-2019-pro-football/.
A fourth ANIMALS 24-7 data compilation of relevance pertains to what techniques have the most success––and the least success––in stopping dog attacks, especially pit bull attacks. This may be downloaded from https://www.animals24-7.org/2019/02/24/15-real-life-tips-for-surviving-a-dog-attack/.
WHO WE ARE
Merritt Clifton, who with Beth Clifton cofounded ANIMALS 24-7 in 2014 to continue his life’s work for print media in an online format, is a journalist of more than 50 years’ experience on news beats pertaining to animals, public health, and environmental and occupational health and safety. Merritt Clifton is also a statistician who as of 1982 had already for several years been logging several other categories of animal-related information that were at the time not tracked by anyone else, but were of use to the humane and public health communities. Merritt Clifton in 2010 received the 15th annual ProMED-mail Award for Excellence in Outbreak Reporting on the Internet, presented annually by the international Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, for contributions to understanding the animal behavioral and cultural aspects of emerging zoonotic disease.
Beth Clifton, wife of Merritt Clifton, brought to ANIMALS 24-7 extensive hands-on experience with a wide range of wild, exotic, and domestic animal species, including as a former mounted police officer for the Miami Beach Police Department, animal control officer for several jurisdictions in Florida, and as veterinary technician. Her cumulative experience with dogs of many different breeds also totals more than 50 years. Formerly involved in pit bull rescue, Beth Clifton detailed her discovery that pit bull behavior is not governed primarily by “how you raise them,” nor by training, in “Why pit bulls will break your heart,” accessible at https://www.animals24-7.org/2018/05/15/why-pit-bulls-will-break-your-heart/.
WHY WE ARE RESPONDING TO THE DOT-OST-2018-0068 REQUESTS FOR COMMENT AND INFORMATION PERTAINING TO PIT BULLS ON AIRCRAFT
ANIMALS 24-7, as news media, does not customarily take part in advocacy issues; our role is to discover and document whatever is going on, i.e. to report the news, not to make news.
We are editorially concerned and alarmed, however, that for many years now the public policy decision-making pertaining to dangerous dogs in general, and pit bulls in particular, has been driven by organizations, and by individuals in leadership positions within organizations, who have concealed their longtime pro-pit bull advocacy agendas behind postures of general concern for animals and the rights of pet keepers.
The voices of pit bull victims, meanwhile, have usually gone unheard. The first organizations specifically representing pit bull victims were founded in 2007, 2013, and 2015, respectively, and have among them only two part-time employees, with budgets in the low thousands of dollars, compared to the multi-million-dollar budgets of the pro-pit bull organizations.
Of note is that pit bull victims are most often children, the elderly, and low-income adults, whose resources are limited to begin with. Following an attack, pit bull victims and their families are usually obliged to expend all of the resources available to them just to try to recover physical and emotional functionality.
CONSEQUENCES OF PIT BULL PROLIFERATION
In consequence, as illustrated by our data log Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to December 31, 2019, while U.S. pit bull representation within the dog population has gradually risen from 2% in 1986 to 5.8% now, pit bull attacks have increased exponentially, with no effective public policy response:
By way of explanatory notation, “Attacks” in the chart above includes all fatalities, maimings, and other injuries requiring extensive hospital treatment.
The numbers of “Children” and “Adults” listed include all victims of attacks in which one or more victims are killed or maimed. Not all of the victims of attacks in which some people are killed or maimed are killed or maimed themselves.
“Maimings” includes permanent disfigurement or loss of a limb. The Ian Dunbar scale for evaluating dog attack severity did not yet exist until decades after this data log originated, but all attacks in the log would rate a high 4, 5, or 6 on the Dunbar scale.
Because attacks involve varying numbers of dogs and victims, because victims’ ages are not always disclosed, and because not all victims of an attack in which someone is killed or disfigured are themselves killed or disfigured, these numbers cannot be added up from left to right to get a balance.
Over the duration of the data collection, the severity of the logged attacks appears to be at approximately the 1-bite-in-10,000 level.
Please note that over the past decade we have had many times more pit bull attacks and maimings in each and every year, and more than twice as many deaths inflicted by pit bulls, than occurred in the entire first 10 years that we logged such information.
The medical studies examining the effects of the increasing numbers of pit bull attacks are unequivocal in reinforcing our apprehension. Recent examples, listed in reverse chronological order, include:
Khan K, Horswell B and Samanta D, Dog-Bite Injuries to the Craniofacial Region: An Epidemiologic and Pattern-of-Injury Review at a Level 1 Trauma Center, J Oral Maxillofac Surg, [2019 Nov 14, Epub].
Lee, Christine J, Santos, Pauline Joy F, Vyas, Raj M, Epidemiology, Socioeconomic Analysis, and Specialist Involvement in Dog Bite Wounds in Adults, J Craniofac Surg, May 2019;30(3):753-757.
Essig G, Sheehan C, Rikhi S, Elmaraghy C and Christophel J, Dog Bite Injuries to the Face: Is There Risk with Breed Ownership? A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis, International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, Volume 117, February 2019.
Abraham JT, Czerwinski M, Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries in Central Texas, Journal of Pediatric Surgery, July 2019 [2018 Oct 31, Epub].
Brice J, Lindvall E, Hoekzema N, Husak L, Dogs and Orthopaedic Injuries: Is There a Correlation to Breed?, J Orthop Trauma, 2018 Sep;32(9):e372-e375.
Smith AM, Carlson J, Bartels AB, McLeod CB and Golinko MS, Characteristics of Dog Bites in Arkansas, South Med J, 2018 Aug;111(8):494-500.
Alizadeh, K, Shayesteh, A, Xu, ML, An Algorithmic Approach to Operative Management of Complex Pediatric Dog Bites: 3-Year Review of a Level I Regional Referral Pediatric Trauma Hospital, Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open, October 2017.
Golinko MS, Arslanian B, Williams JK, Characteristics of 1616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution, Clinical Pediatrics (Phila), April 2017;56:316–325 [July 2016, Epub].
Kumar R, Deleyiannis FW, Wilkinson C and, O’Neill BR, Neurosurgical sequelae of domestic dog attacks in children, J Neurosurg Pediatr, January 2017:24-31 [Epub 2016 Oct 21].
Prendes MA, Jian-Amadi A, Chang SH and Shaftel SS, Ocular Trauma From Dog Bites: Characterization, Associations, and Treatment Patterns at a Regional Level I Trauma Center Over 11 Years, Ophthalmic Plast Reconstr Surg, 2016 Jul-Aug;32(4):279-83 [June 2015, Epub].
Foster MD and Hudson JW, Contemporary Update on the Treatment of Dog Bite: Injuries to the Oral and Maxillofacial Region, J Oral Maxillofac Surg, May 2015 Volume 73, Issue 5, Pages 935–942.
Garvey EM, Twitchell DK, Ragar R, Egan JC and Jamshidi R, Morbidity of pediatric dog bites: A case series at a level one pediatric trauma center, J Pediatr Surg, February 2015;50:343-6.
O’Brien DC, Andre TB, Robinson AD, Squires LD and Tollefson TT, Dog bites of the head and neck: an evaluation of a common pediatric trauma and associated treatment, Am J Otolaryngol, 2015 Jan-Feb; 36(1): 32–38. [2014 Sep 28, Epub].
Gurunluoglu R, Glasgow M, Arton J and Bronsert M, Retrospective analysis of facial dog bite injuries at a Level I trauma center in the Denver metro area, J Trauma Acute Care Surg, 2014 May;76(5):1294-300.
Chen HH, Neumeier AT, Davies BW and Durairaj VD, Analysis of Pediatric Facial Dog Bites, Craniomaxillofac Trauma Reconstr, Dec; 6(4): 225–232 [Sept 2013, Epub].
Wei LA, Chen HH, Hink EM, Durairaj VD. Pediatric facial fractures from dog bites. Ophthal Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013 May-Jun;29(3):179-182.
Horswell BB and Chahine CJ, Dog Bites of the Face, Head and Neck in Children, W V Med J, Nov-Dec 2011.
Bini JK, Cohn SM, Acosta SM, McFarland MJ, Muir MT, Michalek JE; TRISAT Clinical Trials Group, Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs, Ann Surg, April 2011;253:791-797.
HERITABILITY OF DANGEROUS TRAITS
There is also an increasingly persuasive body of data emerging from neuroscientists which cumulatively refutes the notion that, as the DOT regulatory proposal frames it, pit bulls are especially dangerous only “because of their muscular bodies, large and powerful jaws and neck muscles, and ferocity when provoked to attack.”
Two studies published in prominent scientific journals in just the past six months point toward anatomical differences in dog brain structure among various breeds, which in dogs bred for centuries to fight appear to be linked to reactivity and aggression:
Evan L MacLeant, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Bridgett M. vonHoldt, James A. Serpell, Highly Heritable and Functionally Relevant Breed Differences in Dog Behavior, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0716.
Erin E. Hecht, Jeroen B. Smaers, William D. Dunn, Marc Kent, Todd M. Preuss and David A. Gutman, Significant Neuroanatomical Variation Among Domestic Dog Breeds, Journal of Neuroscience 25 September 2019, 39 (39) 7748-7758; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0303-19.2019.
OBFUSCATION OF MEDICAL & SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS
You will, however, find little if any recognition of the above referenced medical and scientific findings in the arguments against any and all breed-specific dog regulation presented by the organizations which have driven the discussion, and are advocating now for pit bulls to be allowed in the passenger cabins of aircraft as “emotional support” and “service” dogs.
We are speaking specifically of the positions against any and all breed-specific dog regulation taken by the following five organizations, listed in alphabetical order, with notes relevant to the consequences of their pit bull advocacy:
American Humane Association (AHA), founded in 1877, took an advocacy position against breed-specific regulation of pit bulls in 1935, in deference to the views of celebrity spokesperson Delores del Rio, after the United Kennel Club as a concession to woo the AHA dropped ear-cropping from the initial UKC pit bull breed standard.
Note: on May 4, 2009, the American Humane Association honored a six-year-old volunteer for the upstate New York pit bull advocacy organization Out of the Pits, just two weeks after a pit bull rehomed by the same organization severely mauled Frankie Flora, age 5, of Wappingers Falls, New York. Flora, now 16, is still coping with the consequences of his injuries.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), founded in 1866, took an advocacy position against breed-specific regulation of pit bulls in 1984, apparently through misinterpreting a statement by founder Henry Bergh (1813-1888). Bergh had opposed a ban on the Spitz breed which had been proposed by local politicians in the mistakenly belief that the Spitz was uniquely likely to transmit rabies. As the ASPCA never operated an animal shelter during Bergh’s lifetime, Bergh never addressed the issues associated with pit bull impounds and adoptions.
Note: the ASPCA in 2007 began promoting the so-called SAFER test as a better way to behaviorally assess dogs prior to adoption than the tests previously in use, chiefly because more pit bulls were able to pass it. When the SAFER test debuted, only two U.S. shelter dogs––wolf hybrids rehomed in 1988 and 1989––had ever killed anyone. Since 2007, however, 65 dogs rehomed from U.S. animal shelters are known to have participated in killing at least 38 people. Among the dogs were 49 pit bulls, five bull mastiffs, and four Rottweilers. Many of these dogs had passed the SAFER test. The ASPCA on December 2, 2015 quit certifying shelter personnel to administer the SAFER test, but continues to promote it.
Animal Farm Foundation, founded in 1986, with the advisory input of Andrew Rowan, later senior vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., has always existed to promote pit bulls and oppose breed-specific legislation. The National Canine Research Council is a wholly owned subsidiary of Animal Farm Foundation. Many of the most commonly cited articles and studies presented in opposition to breed-specific legislation have been authored by employees of Animal Farm Foundation and/or other organizations with longstanding positions opposing regulation of pit bulls.
Note: At least one Animal Farm Foundation employee, Cydney Cross (also founder of Out of the Pits, mentioned above) has reportedly been severely injured by a pit bull.
Best Friends Animal Society took an advocacy position against breed-specific legislation in 2005, reinforced in 2007, and has employed some of the same lobbyists to oppose breed-specific laws and ordinances as the ASPCA and Animal Farm Foundation.
Note: Best Friends Network volunteer Rebecca Carey, 23, of Decatur, Georgia, was in August 2012 fatally mauled at her home by two pit bulls, two Presa Canarios, and a boxer mix. Best Friends Animal Society employee Jacqueline Bedsaul Johnson, 61, was on December 4, 2017 severely injured at her home by her own pit bull.
Humane Society of the U.S. took an advocacy position against breed-specific legislation in 2007, after receiving a barrage of bad publicity for having recommended that the fighting pit bulls impounded from football player Michael Vick should be euthanized (as several were. Contrary to common advocacy claims, none of the actual fighting pit bulls were ever successfully rehomed.)
Note: A pit bull adopted by Anne Hornish, Humane Society of the U.S. state representative for Connecticut, on November 6, 2019 killed Janet D’Aleo, 95, an invited guest in Hornish’s home.
PIT BULL ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS’ SAFETY RECORDS
Among them, the above-listed five organizations over the past 20 years have employed people for approximately as many person/years, a person/year being one year of employment by one person, as the number of people who might have flown on 50 Boeing 747s.
There are more than 28,500 commercial passenger flights per day in the U.S. which might be obliged to carry pit bulls in the passenger cabins.
If each of these flights carried at least one pit bull, and those pit bulls were as safe as those owned or otherwise handled by personnel of the above-listed five organizations, we might have as many as 570 pit bull-inflicted human fatalities aboard aircraft per day, and as many more disfiguring injuries.
PASSENGER PROTECTION FROM PIT BULLS
Of course we do not presently have anything even remotely close to 570 pit bull-inflicted human fatalities and disfigurements per day in the U.S., per year, or even per decade. But at present very few aircraft carry pit bulls, and several major airlines prohibit them.
The data tracked by ANIMALS 24-7 since 1982 indicates that approximately one pit bull in 100 will kill or disfigure a human, or kill another pet or livestock animal, each and every year.
This translates into about 10% of all pit bulls being likely to kill or disfigure a human, or kill another pet or livestock animal, during the course of an average 10-year canine lifetime.
In reality, though, only about one pit bull in three lives that long. The turnover rate for adult pit bulls is approximately 50% per year. Combining the totals of pit bull puppies who have not yet left their birth homes with the number of adult pit bulls offered for sale or adoption indicates that upward of half of all pit bulls are not in “forever” homes, a record without even remote parallel among other dog breeds.
(See https://www.animals24-7.org/2019/07/09/breed-survey-2019-more-puppies-yet-fewer-homes-for-pit-bulls/, previously cited.)
This extraordinarily high turnover rate reflects the extraordinarily fractious nature of pit bulls.
It also indicates the necessity of aircraft passengers and cabin crew being able to defend themselves quickly and successfully if a pit bull carried as an “emotional support” or “service” dog should demonstrate dangerous behavior.
The data tracked by ANIMALS 24-7 since 1982 indicates that only two defense methods succeed in breaking off a pit bull attack before someone, human or animal, is significantly injured.
Firearms have about an 80% success rate. But airline passengers are not allowed to carry firearms, for obvious safety reasons.
Fire extinguishers have about a 70% success rate. Passenger aircraft carry many fire extinguishers, but the fire extinguishers are typically not easily accessed by seated passengers, while a flight crew member usually would not be able to grab a fire extinguisher quickly enough to prevent the victim of a pit bull attack from suffering a fatal or disfiguring injury.
Further, fire extinguishers are as successful against pit bulls as they are in part because they oblige the attacking pit bull to retreat. There is nowhere for a pit bull on a passenger aircraft to retreat to. Therefore, deploying a fire extinguisher aboard an aircraft may be much less effective than deploying a fire extinguisher on the ground.
Small personal spaying devices, such as Mace containers, are successful against pit bulls only about a third of the time, and are also banned from aircraft for safety reasons.
Two defense methods, attempting to bludgeon a pit bull and attempting to knife a pit bull, actually have negative success rates, meaning that the attempt to use a blunt instrument or knife tends to put the user into an even more vulnerable position against an ever-more stimulated dog.
Since bludgeons and knives are also prohibited aboard aircraft, however, discussing their use is more-or-less beside the point.
The only self-defense or passenger defense method against an attacking pit bull that is both legal and has any chance of success aboard an aircraft is for someone to strangle the pit bull––which tends to require exceptional strength, leverage, and know-how.
There is every likelihood that if airlines are required to carry pit bulls in passenger cabins, as “emotional support” or “service” dogs, an ever-increasing number of pit bulls will detonate in flight, as already has been occurring on the ground with exponentially increasing frequency, while passengers and flight crew will continue to be almost completely defenseless against the consequences.
The argument for allowing pit bulls in passenger cabins has been advanced by organizations with longtime interests in pit bull advocacy, but little or no obligation toward maintaining public safety, in blatant disregard of the ever growing mountains of data demonstrating that pit bulls are uniquely dangerous, both in propensity to attack and in the seriousness of the damage to their victims.
Pit bull victims, not pit bull owners, are the disenfranchised class in this rulemaking discussion, whose interest in maintaining health and safety should prevail over any claim that a pit bull owner’s needs cannot be met by confining the pit bull to a safe carrying container in the aircraft hold during the relatively brief duration of even an international flight.