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Making rescued pit bulls pets is an unnatural selection [Commentary]

I fully support liberating any animal from abuse. It does not follow however, that rescued animals — pit bulls in particular — should be pushed as companion pets by shelters and rescue organizations.

Terry Douglass of Baltimore became the 25th dog bite related fatality nationally this year when she was mauled to death by her own pit bull on Nov. 1. In the days since her passing there have been three more of these gruesome deaths, according to DogBites.org. Nearly all of the 28 people killed by dogs — 15 of them children ranging in ages from 14 months to 7 years — were killed by pit bulls.

My wife Irene and I have spent the last six years of our lives advocating for dog bite and mauling victims. In 2007, our then 10-year-old son, Dominic, and his 9-year-old playmate, Scotty, were mauled by a neighbor's pit bull in an alley behind our Towson home. Dominic was critically wounded, suffering a femoral artery tear when he and two other children attempted to assist Scotty. He was in the hospital for 17 days and went through a year of rehabilitation.

Our advocacy to bring awareness to the dangerous dog breeds issue has led us through a hearing in Baltimore County to have the offending pit bull euthanized; a failed attempt to compel a still completely indifferent Baltimore County executive, council and health department to sponsor sensible breed regulations; a criminal trial and conviction against the dog's owner for child endangerment in circuit court; and a civil trial against the dog owner's landlord.

That civil case led the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to label pit bulls as "inherently dangerous," which broadened the liability of the dogs' owners and others, including landlords who rented to people with pit bulls, in the event of an attack.

Before acquiring or rescuing any shelter dog as a pet, one needs to consider the nature of the breed and what that specific animal may have been exposed to — especially when the breed is frequently chosen to train for blood sport.

All dog breeds are the result of unnatural selection, man's intentional over-concentration of selected instincts to produce animals that would be otherwise unattainable or unsustainable if left to the domestic canine's natural mating instincts. Breeding is done to refine the dog breed's physical ability to perform tasks and more importantly to promote an aptitude to instinctively respond to those tasks we aspire to train our pets to accomplish.

Pit bulls were bred to be fighters, both physically and in their instinctual behavior, making them a dangerous choice as a companion pet.

Shelter volunteers unfortunately are not dog experts, they are animal advocates — most of whom are completely debilitated by their own empathy for an abused dog's plight. In their zeal to find dogs quality homes, they could not possibly be expected to make an objective, rational or reasonable assessment of a dog's suitability as a pet, especially when viewed from a public safety and welfare perspective.

And the health departments, which oversee animal services, have abdicated their responsibility to ensure human safety by allowing animal-welfare organizations, often privately funded, to run the show.

These type of operations and rescues, including BARCS here in Baltimore, and their political supporters are beholden to their donors, who support an animal-first doctrine. Otherwise they would first inform potential pet parents from a public welfare perspective at the time of application of the hazards associated with owning a dog or dogs of any breed and certainly pit bulls.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Children make up the largest at-risk group followed by the elderly and disabled. Protecting them should be our first priority.

It is better to be our brother's keeper, rather than residential zoo keepers.

Tony Solesky is an advocate for victims of dog mauling and author of the e-book "Dangerous by Default." His email is twotons@comcast.net.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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