Recurring pattern continues to elude the animal care-and-control community, much of law enforcement, mass media, and the public
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y.––Social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic kept people and dogs home in 2020, cutting reported dog attacks on other animals by more than half in 2020 from the annual average since ANIMALS 24-7 began tracking the numbers in 2013––but the recurring pattern of pit bulls accounting for approximately 90% of dog attack fatalities and injuries to other animals was practically unchanged.
Exactly 90% of reported fatal dog attacks on other dogs in 2020 were inflicted by pit bulls, as were 87% of reported fatal dog attacks on cats and 87% of reported fatal dog attacks on other animals overall.
Ignoring the body count
The recurring pattern of denial of the realities of pit bull attacks on other animals was also unchanged in 2020. Again the animal care-and-control community, much of law enforcement, mass media, and the public continued to deny the magnitude of the pit bull contribution to fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on other animals, echoing denial of the realities of pit bull attacks on humans.
Altogether, since ANIMALS 24-7 began logging fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on humans in 1982, pit bulls, accounting for barely 5% of the U.S. and Canadian dog population, have accounted for 58% of human deaths from dog attacks and 76% of disfiguring injuries.
The pit bull toll on humans through 2020 included 518 deaths and 5,048 disfigurements, continuing a pattern retrospectively evident at least as far back as 1833.
Even New York Times writer overlooks the obvious
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative financial reporter Susanne Craig, who should be good with numbers but cited none, published a typical example of denial of the truth of pit bull attacks on other animals on January 26, 2021.
Craig lamented at length that a pit bull named Jasper badly injured her 12-year-old Labrador/basset hound mix Chloe, adopted, she said, “from a shelter in New Jersey more than a decade ago.”
Jasper was running at large despite a multi-year history of repeated previous attacks on dogs and other humans, including Chloe on a previous occasion and Craig’s brother David.
Jasper––again––left his owners’ property to attack Chloe without provocation.
Queen Elizabeth I preferred pit bulls to Shakespeare
Jasper’s behavior should not have surprised anyone, even the first time he jumped someone or lunged at another dog. Attacking other dogs and humans is precisely what pit bulls have been bred to do at least since Elizabethan times, nearly 500 years ago.
Nothing about dog breeding or behavior is better documented. Indeed, canine pedigrees appear to have originated with the line-breeding practices of “dog men” in their quest to produce ever more aggressive and efficient killers.
In Elizabethan England, dogfighting and bear-baiting at the Paris Gardens drew far bigger audiences, including Queen Elizabeth I herself and her court, than the plays of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, offered nightly at the Globe Theater right next door.
In the New World, pit bull ancestors unleashed by Spanish conquistadors terrorized Native Americans and enslaved Africans who survived capture and the journey to plantations.
Faults only lack of leash
Wrote Craig, “In the days after the attack I heard from friends who felt that Jasper’s being a pit bull was to blame. I fault only the owners, who failed to leash Jasper.” Jasper when the attack began was on the owners’ porch, across a “sprawling front yard” from Chloe, Craig, and her friend.
A normal dog, of any other lineage, might have risen to investigate passers-by. A normal dog might have run toward the passers-by––but not to attack them. A normal dog would not have lunged immediately for Chloe’s throat, as year after year the ANIMALS 24-7 data on dogs attacking other dogs demonstrates.
Eight dog breeds other than pits
Only eight dog breeds other than pit bulls figured in reported fatal dog attacks on other dogs in 2020, all of them in statistically insignificant numbers: border collie, bullmastiff, Dogo Argentino, German shepherd, husky, Labrador retriever, Malamute, and just one atypical Vizla.
Of these, bullmastiffs and Dogo Argentinos share recent ancestry with pit bulls.
Of the dogs exhibiting German shepherd, husky, and Labrador ancestry, 75% were indeterminately mixed with something else, with pit bull a strong likelihood.
“If your mother says she loves you, get a second source”
Craig, despite her credentials as an investigative financial reporter, ignored the mountains of data indicting pit bulls, much of it readily accessible at the ANIMALS 24-7 Pit bull data link, and instead reinforced her own ignorance by referencing one of the more notorious items of pit bull advocacy propaganda in widespread circulation since 2015:
“After Chloe was attacked,” Craig wrote, “I watched The Champions, a documentary about the fate of the pit bulls abused by Michael Vick, the professional football player who served time in federal prison for operating an illegal dogfighting operation. Dozens of pit bulls were seized and rehomed. The movie is a testament to the idea that many dogs, regardless of breed or the conditions they were raised in, can be rehabilitated with proper attention, training and love.”
Craig evidently missed the once frequent newsroom admonition that “If your mother says she loves you, get a second source.”
One second source Craig should have consulted, dog trainer Liz Marsden, “worked for the Washington Animal Rescue League in 2007 when eleven of the Michael Vick pit bulls were kept there for several months, pending permanent resolution,” Marsden recounted for ANIMALS 24-7 in her guest column Pit bull wisdom & dog pound foolishness, posted in 2015, concurrent with the first release of The Champions.
“Of the 48 seized Vick dogs, who were dispersed to eight rescue organizations for adoption, ‘rehabilitation,’ or lifetime care in ‘sanctuaries,’” Marsden detailed, “one was euthanized due to ‘severe aggression.’
“Twenty-two,” featured in The Champions, went to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. Twelve of those were deemed ineligible for placement in homes, and were essentially sentenced to lifetime solitary confinement at Best Friends,” Marsden wrote.
“In 2010, two of those dogs broke out of their enclosure and were injured in a dog fight in which a third pit bull (not a Vick dog) was killed.”
“Scattered to the winds”
Continued Marsden, “Ten of the Vick pit bulls who were sent to Best Friends were later adopted out to homes, some with children and other pets. If any of them have injured or killed anyone, I haven’t heard of it. But I worked with some of these dogs,” Marsden mentioned, “and I would not have been comfortable recommending any of them for adoption.
“The remaining 25 Vick dogs, those who did not go to Best Friends,” Marsden recounted, “were scattered to the winds among rescue groups in several states.”
What became of them is completely undocumented. In North Carolina in October 2011 a pit bull claimed by the owner to have been one of the Michael Vick pit bulls bit a child’s face, inflicting disfiguring injuries. Then-Best Friends president Gregory Castle told ANIMALS 24-7 that the pit bull and owner were unknown to Best Friends, but the pit bull in question may well have been among those who were “scattered to the winds.”
Social distancing in 2020 contributed to the paradox that disfiguring dog attacks, including by pit bulls, dropped by 62%, even as dog attack fatalities soared to the second highest annual total on record, including the second highest total of pit bull attack fatalities.
This appears to have been an artifact of under-reporting of nonfatal dog attacks and especially nonfatal pit bull attacks occurring within homes and families.
Human fatalities due to dog attack are usually extensively reported, but insurance industry data consistently shows that about 25 times more payouts are made in claims for injuries inflicted by dogs than there are cases of disfigurement due to dog attack reported by news media.
Compensating for under-reporting
Under-reporting, even in “normal” years, is more frequent in cases of dogs killing or injuring other animals.
ANIMALS 24-7 accordingly derives our estimates of the numbers of animals killed by dogs each year, and the numbers killed by pit bulls, through a multi-step process meant to compensate for under-reporting.
First, ANIMALS 24-7 logs dog attacks on other animals reported by electronic media each and every day throughout the year, in the same manner as we log fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on humans.
As dog attacks on other animals are much less likely to be considered newsworthy than attacks in which humans are killed or disfigured, ANIMALS 24-7 estimates that reported dog-against-animal attacks are not more than 4% (one in 25) of the total number of cases in which an insurance payout would be made if a human had been the victim.
Experience has demonstrated, as more fully explained in previous years’ data summaries, that dog attacks on animals receiving electronic media notice are almost exclusively incidents in which a human was also killed or injured; law enforcement or other intervenors killed the attacking dog; and/or the dog attack caused the death(s) of animals valued at more than $1,000.
Further, dog attacks on other animals belonging to the same household are usually not reported at all.
ANIMALS 24-7 presumes that for every dog attack that is reported, meeting the criteria for making an insurance claim if a human had been the victim, at least one dog attack on another animal occurs within the same household as the dog, and at least one other dog attack occurs in which a person is not killed or injured, no one kills the attacking dog, and/or the dead or injured animal is not valued at more than $1,000.
Therefore our final figure is reported attacks multiplied by 25, to compensate for the gap between reported attacks and hypothetically possible insurance payouts if the victims were human, and then again by three to compensate for under-reporting of dog attacks that do not meet the criteria for hypothetically possible insurance payouts.
This amounts to reported attacks multiplied by 75, a ratio which so far appears to be consistent with local data, where available, on the frequency of dog attacks on other animals vs. local media reporting.
The process parallels a familiar geometry problem, in which one tries to calculate the mass of an iceberg from knowing the altitude of the tip of the iceberg above sea level.
Sea captains in Arctic and Antarctic waters resolve this problem through a similar process hundreds of times a day.
Avoiding the fate of the Titanic
The tip is the number of reported dog attacks on other animals. Sea level is the ratio of reported dog attacks on humans to insurance payouts.
Comparing these two known values to each other produces an estimate of the slope of the iceberg.
Knowing that about two-thirds of an iceberg is below sea level permits making an estimate accurate enough that it keeps ships whose captains look out for icebergs afloat, whereas for the Titanic it was full speed ahead and damn the consequences.
Fluctuations in the estimated numbers of dog attacks on other animals in comparing data from year to year are inevitable in extrapolating from the relatively low number of reported dog attacks on other animals to estimate national totals.
Thus the numbers from any one year are likely to be less representative than the average from multiple years.
With that much said, because the abnormally low number of reported dog attacks on other animals in 2020 has depressed the annual averages since 2013, the averages offered in the two tables below may be on the low side.