Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pit Bulls, Surgeons and Statistics

Pit Bulls are mostly a danger to themselves.

Are you looking for an article that will make heads explode? 

I've got one. 

Today's head-exploder is from the April 2011 edition of Annals of Surgery, Volume 253, Number 4, and is entitled "Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs." 

The article says what everyone who has actually done the research will agree on, but does so without enough context, even as its strays into rhetoric that is unnecessarily divisive because it is focused solely on dog bites.

So what does this article say that we should be able to agree on?

Just this:  When Pit Bulls bite, they can, and often do, do a lot of damage -- more than the average dog.

The article notes that:
Compared with attacks by other breeds of dogs, attacks by pit bulls were associated with a higher median Injury Severity Scale score (4 vs. 1; P = 0.002), a higher risk of an admission Glasgow Coma Scale score of 8 or lower (17.2% vs. 0%; P = 0.006), higher median hospital charges ($10,500 vs. $7200; P = 0.003), and a higher risk of death (10.3% vs. 0%; P = 0.041).

What else should everyone be able to agree on?  Just this:  Pit Bulls are implicated in serious dog bites, including fatal dog bites, more often than most other breeds.
Over a recent 3-year period from January 2006 to March 30, 2009, a total of 98 dog bite fatalities involving 179 dogs occurred; 60% of the deaths were caused by pit bulls, and 76% were caused by pit bulls and Rottweilers. A total of 113 pit bulls were involved in these deaths, and they accounted for 63% of the dogs involved in fatal attacks (Table 2).

The article goes on to note that laws governing dogs that bite are far from uniform:
Dog bite ordinances vary widely across the United States. Seventeen states have “one bite” laws that do not hold the dog owner accountable for the actions of a dangerous dog until after the dog has caused harm, at which point it can be considered potentially dangerous or vicious. Twelve states have laws that specifically forbid municipalities to enact breed-specific laws or ordinances. Currently, 250 cities in the United States have breed-specific ordinances, even though some of these cities are in states that prohibit breed-specific laws. Texas, the state that leads the nation in dog bite fatalities, is a “one bite” state that prohibits breed-specific laws.

So where does this article go wrong?

Well, for one, they are using AKC American Staffordshire Terrier registration data as a proxy for Pit Bull owneship.

This is not just slightly wrong, this is monumentally wrong.

Most Pit Bulls are not registered with the AKC, and most AKC American Staffordshire Terriers are "PET Bulls" far removed from Pit Bull fighting stock.  It can be argued, pretty convincinly, that registered AKC dogs are very often temperamentally different from unregistered non-AKC stock, and that the AKC-registered dogs are more likely to have stable and responsible owners.

This is basic stuff and needs to be said.

Pit Bulls are a broad type of dog, but the American Staffordshire Terrier is a narrow breed that was split off from the type about 70 years ago, and it is slowly becoming distinct.

Is the split complete? No, not yet. But the fact that it is occuring should be recognized.

Another place where this article goes astray is in its focus on human injury and mortality, and its failure to provide a base line for that injury and mortality.

Yes, 20 Pit Bull-related deaths a year sounds pretty terrifiying, but compared to what?

The simple truth is that this is a huge country and 20 deaths a year from any source is really not very many.

Bee stings kill about three times more people a year than Pit Bulls do.

And, of course, bees are nothing to worry about compared to the number of deaths caused by backyard swimming pools, the hazards of falling down steps in your own home, deer wandering into the roadway, and the hazards of playing golf!

This is not to say that Pit Bull bites are not an issue; they are. But death is not the only outcome, and it is certainly not the most common outcome, associated with dog bites in general, or Pit Bull bites in particular.

What price do we put on the scarred face of a child, or a lifetime of fear associated with dogs? Can we talk about that a little more?

Finally, the article gets down to solutions. What should we do about Pit Bulls, and WHY?

This last question is where I think the article really falls apart, as it considers the Pit Bull problem to be solely and mainly about dog bites.

It's not.

Why does every dog debate have to revolve around the fears and desires of humans?

Is it too much to ask that we actually talk about the dog's problems?

You see, Pit Bulls are mostly a danger to themselves, not to others.

When a bored, untrained, and under-exercised young Pit Bull bites another dog, eats the couch, or growls at anything, it is too often shipped off to the pound where it is rarely adopted out, and where it is almost invariably killed, i.e. "put down."

Last year, nearly a million Pit Bulls were killed in shelters -- 40,000,000 pounds of dead Pit Bull.

Yes, let's talk about the 20 people that were killed by Pit Bulls last year, but can we also talk about the ONE MILLION Pit Bulls that were bred, bought, abandoned, and killed by people that same year?

Could it be that if we focus on reducing the breeding of Pit Bulls, we will also reduce the unnecessary killing of these dogs and, by extension, increase the chance that the Pit Bulls that are bred have a good temperament, and are placed in the right homes with the right owners?

This article misses that discussion, entirely.


seeker said...

AMEN, Brother and HALLEJULA!! At the risk of upsetting the First Church of Field and Stream's comtemplative nature I say it again. AMEN AND HALLEJULA! Well owned dogs are good dogs. Stray dogs, abused dogs and neglected dogs are nightmares to themselves and us.
Can we please have a moritorium on dog breeding for say, five years? If you want a dog go to a shelter or find a stray.
My Am Staff was an wonderful dog. Bred by a pet fancier from lovely female, raised by us in our home as a pet. She only lived 7 years to die of cancer. Our Pit/SharPei came from a shelter, couch potato love wart, and mothered by our Jack. Six years until kidney failure.
Five years of no breeding would certainly help. Of all breeds. Period. Stop. Get your hunting dogs, your lap dogs, your working dogs, and your kids dogs from a shelter.
What a dream we have in Rescue.

Debi and the TX JRTs

PS. If you're bitten by a Pit Bull, you are indeed bitten badly. AS with German Shepherds, Malinois, Chows, and any large powerful breed. Use common sense, watch your kids and BE CAREFUL!

april 29 said...

In my opinion, you have missed the point as well. This issue has been turned into the welfare and rights of pit bulls and the rights of the owners of those pit bulls. The rights of victims are simply not considered.

As a victim, I feel marginalized by the remark that "pit bulls are mostly a danger to themselves, not to others." The pieces of my life will never line up quite the same. I know a great many pit bull mauling victims and my experience is absolutely the norm, and I am one of the most fortunate of pit bull victims. If pit bull advocacy kept the violence within their own circle, no problem.

Crate and rotate all you want but don't allow your pit bull to maul the neighbor's poodle to death. Here is a news flash for pit bull advocacy, the neighbor has the right to have her poodle in her own yard! Pit bull owner gets mauled by his own dog? No problem here. The elderly neighbor torn apart while they are working in their garden, or going out to pick up the newspaper, or pick up the mail, or take out the garbage? Huge problem.

I can agree with you that pit bulls suffer... but the blame for that falls squarely upon pit bull advocacy for failing to neuter and spay their dogs, and for failing to control and contain them. The most common victims of pit bull violence are other dogs but pit bull advocacy gives no thought to the suffering of these particular dogs, or cats, or horses, ponies, goats, all manner of farm livestock. Why?

When pit bull advocacy begins to consider the rights of the peaceful public and accept financial and moral responsibility for the violence of their dogs, then a dialog may begin.

Carol Miller

PBurns said...

I am not sure you read too well Carol. Seriously. This article talks about people getting bitten by Pit Bulls, and it gives the data. That data is presented as NON controversial, and the first half of the article talks about NOTHING else.

This post EXPLICITY asks:

"What price do we put on the scarred face of a child, or a lifetime of fear associated with dogs? Can we talk about that a little more?"

But never mind thatm right?

For you, dog bites are all about YOU. They are all about fear and terror. I get it.

Sadly, however, that is a public policy FAIL on your side, same as "Pit Bulls are my property" arguments are a public policy FAIL on the side of so many Pit Bull owners.

Both sides lie.

Both sides misrepresent.

Pit Bulls are more than property (they are not shovels) and they are mostly NOT biting their owners or their neighbors. If you think otherwise you are either misinformed, delusional or a liar.

The simple truth is that there are many, many MILLIONS of years of Pit Bull life in America, and MOST pit bulls do not do any harm to people. That is a FACT.

Sadly, it is also a fact that about HALF of all pit bulls born in America end up dead at the pound.

You want to reduce bites and mayhem? Me too.

The way to do that is to stop making the debate about you (poor me, poor me) alone and make it about the dogs AND you. Reference something larger than yourself. Instead of demonizing the dogs, clearly stand with them and make the case of why there needs to be fewer of them.

To be honest, a dog that is about to go to its death is going to be a much more sympathetic figure for taking action than a fear-mongerering person who has taken her horrible personal experience and generalized it in a way that simply does not stand up to observation or common sense. People KNOW Pit Bulls far much better than that. If you want to be credible, talk about your scars and your fears, but ALSO talk about those two million Pit Bull graves. Make it clear that you don't think you're the only victim in the room, and that your side stands for the dogs too, not just for themselves and not just for irrational fear and demonization.

april 29 said...

Patrick, I read very well. You throw crumbs to the victims but you are all about the dogs. I do not speak for myself, I speak for the many. The many who have disfiguring injuries, who lost a family member, who have lost a dog that THEY LOVE, just as much as your son loves his pit bull.

How is it a public policy failure for pit bull victims to advocate for protection for the public?

Patrick, this simply makes no sense "For you, dog bites are all about YOU. They are all about fear and terror. I get it. Sadly, however, that is a public policy FAIL on your side"
"To be honest, a dog that is about to go to its death is going to be a much more sympathetic figure for taking action than a fear-mongerering person who has taken her horrible personal experience and generalized it in a way that simply does not stand up to observation or common sense." Please pass this wisdom on to the families of Imako Mendoza or Roy McSweeney, or pit bull owner Michael Cook, or Darla Napora. "If you think otherwise you are either misinformed, delusional or a liar." Holy cow, you have indulged in a vicious personal attack someone who just does not agree with you and asks you to see the other side of the problem.

The end result of most pit bull attacks is financial disaster for the victim. It is very rare for a pit bull owner to have insurance that will cover the losses and medical bills of the victim. Actuarial risk makes insurance for pit bulls VERY expensive. Why do you think that might be? Because when a pit bull attacks the injuries are likely to be substantial, not soap-and-water and a band aid. Life Flight transport, multiple surgeries, and extended ICU hospitalizations are common.

You attacked the observations of doctors who treat the mauled. Those doctors probably don't care much about the dogs, that is not their job. Medical professionals, and I am one, focus on the human suffering. To us the problem IS "solely and mainly about the dog bites."

Pit bull advocacy has had 30 years to come up with some solution for the pit bull problem but the deaths and disfiguring maulings increase in number every year. How much longer should the peaceful public expect to wait for relief? I am not your problem, I did not breed one million unplaceable pit bulls last year. Pit bull advocacy is responsible.

Patrick, as much as you dislike me, please do not consider me some kind of "hater". I adore dogs, have always had dogs, obedience title my dogs, use them as part of my job as a medical professional. My concern is with the mauled pets, not the pit bull owners that shout at television cameras "my dog is not vicious" while the widow sobs over her dead poodle.

PBurns said...

Carol, the peoople who are being bitten by dogs, and who fear dogs in general and Pit Bulls in particular, have ALSO had 30 years to come up with solution, and THEY TOO have failed.

There is a third way. It is NOT about denying the problem of dog bites, but it is also NOT about denying the problems the dogs have. It is about talking about BOTH of these issues, which is what I do here.

As for disfigurement and economic disaster from health care tragegies, that happens everyday -- drunk driving, falls downs steps, people cutting their tendons while cutting bagles, drunks falling through windows, fires, etc.

Dogs too are struck by cars everyday, killed by drinking anti-freeze, put down at the pound, etc.

Your argument simply is not numbers based. I have never denied the problem of dog bites, nor am I an apologist for Pit Bulls, but Pit Bulls are not the cause of most, or even a small part of American health care tragedy and death. If that's your focus, you are starting at the wrong place. Now if your concern is dogs, starting with Pit Bulls is the right place, as they represent over 60 percent of all shelter deaths. But, of course, if the place you start is with your own story, and you do not want to impact public policy at all, then proceed to tell that story and to ignore numbers, and to demonize the dogs. I am not sure you are ever going to get dog people to change their thinking about these dogs by doing that (that's what we would call success in the public policy world), but 30 years of not having success is par for the course isn't it?

Tell you what. How about you give the world the NUMBERS on dog bite facial lacerations leading to significantg scarring as compared to car accidents, falls, gun shots, fires, plate glass windows, knife and bottle fights, etc. Sources, of course. Now what percentage of the former were linked to alcohol? Compare that data to the dog bite data -- a simple research paper that should make your case if there is one to be made about Pit Bulls being a massive public health problem that dwarfs other facial-laceration and disfigurement injuries. Of course, the data does not support the thesis. You will not do this work for the same reason that the Pit Bull apologists will not do the work documenting the types of dogs implicated in fatal dog killings -- the data does not support the frame, and never mind if the frame is wrong.

PBurns said...

People, when I ask for NUMBERS, I am not acting for more rhetorical typing. I am asking YOU to do the research. I have done the research, so please do not hide behind the "fake fact" that the numbers do not exist since I found them pretty damn quick.

And if you come here to argue, please be advised that I do not argue with people on the Internet, especially when they are too lazy to go get the data when asked. This point holds true for Pit Bull apologists who, in the past, have been asked to detail 2-3 years of fatal dog bites by breed (still waiting!), and it holds true for Pit Bull demonizers who do not salute the inherent risk in life.

For example take horses. Suppose you owned a horse and a pit bull attacked the horse. You got off, but the horse was injured. A horror? Of course. Shoot the dog? I have no objection.

But now let's look at the inherent risk to getting on a horse. Horses kill more people in the U.S. every year than Pit Bulls do. They also cripple people (ask Christopher Reeve's family). Horses are also routinely abused by stupid owners, abandoned, and many live their whole lives on medications such as Prilosec. They even bite. So should we kill all horses? Should we require licensing for horse ownership, same as we do with Lions and Grizzlies?

We can argue solutions later... but first GET THE DATA. And while you are at it, read the notes about commenting on this blog. I am fine with comments from people who will get the data. But I do not have time to waste with people who will not use the Google, but seem to have all the time in the world to engage in debate.

Numbers first, words second. If you will not get the data, then I do no have the time for time wasting.


70dd0968-b7d2-11e1-92d9-000bcdcb5194 said...

I am a horseman and a dog owner.

Yes, horses kill more people than do dogs. Here is a quote from my friend's grandfather, an ex-cavalry man, "The only safe horse is a dead horse". The problem with your analogy is that the person killed by a horse is 99.99% more likely to be the rider or the handler than someone walking down the road past the pasture. Hmm, you wanted numbers so you might want to add more 9's after the decimal.

There ARE strict requirements for horse ownership that perhaps you aren't aware of. You can't let them wander about. Can't house them in a city or suburb. Can't have a stallion unless it has specific housing. It must be stalled or within a six foot fence and two strands of hot wire in my county, even if it's a 10 hand mini. Kind of overkill, but stallions WILL attack people, not all, most are just as nice as other horses, so why the sexual discrimination? Hmm, maybe because people were tired of the destruction they caused. I bet it wasn't the STATISTICAL evidence. Weren't too many number crunchers around when the word stallion evolved from stalled-one.

Oh yeah, I'm also a math major. I find it funny you want people to fight with numbers, people don't think in numbers. You might, I do, but come on, if people understood numbers, the housing bust wouldn't have happened and neither would the banking fiasco. And those last folk were paid numbers guys. Go figure.

Personally, I've never been bitten by a dog, and up until recently I thought like you did. But lately, I've see too many idiot kids being dragged down the road by out of control pits, and in the woods, and in the vets' office.

The turning point for me was the kid who brought in his nearly 70 lbs (heard them weigh it later) pit into the vet's office (in harness, no collar), sat down and then got dragged halfway across the office when the dog spotted a tiny puppy on the shoulder of the woman at the counter paying her bill. Two thoughts went through my head, where do I stash my border collie so she's out of the way, and can I get to that dog with my knife before it knocks the woman down and eats her pup. The dog was totally out of control. Took the boy AND his girlfriend to drag it back out to the car.

Wasn't the NUMBERS that changed this mathematicians mind, it was the adrenaline.

There's a perfect storm brewing, terrierman and unless you can get the CDC to gather the data you need to make up your mind, you and your dogs (and my dogs) are going to be caught in it.

Here's my math:

Too Many Idiot Owners
Too many dogs bred for aggression
ALL dog owners lose their rights, no Privilege, to own and enjoy our dogs.

Yeah, I know, you won't post this, doesn't make the coming storm any less real.

PBurns said...

Nope I posted it.

But you STILL do not have any data.

How about using the Google!

For example, if you had, you would have found this little story:

"A Fourth of July parade in eastern Iowa turned to mayhem on Sunday when a pair of runaway horses lunged into the crowd and trampled 24 people, many of them children. At least one person was killed, and several others were seriously injured."

Sure idiot people + Pits Bulls = trouble. I have said that a THOUSAND times.

But of course, almost ANYTHING + idiot = trouble. Insert guns, cars, trucks, fire crackers, boats, propane grills, horses or even sex toys into that equation, and you have trouble.

As for the notion that the world is going to take away ALL dog owner rights because of Pit Bulls, that's nonsense. We KNOW what the world is going to do, because the world is alreadu doing it -- they are coming to IMPOSE responsibilities on Pit Bull owners and/or ban them alltogether. And that's a good thing, if you love Pit Bulls.

So, that said, there are NUMBERS when it comes to harm and as I have noted, thoese numbers include various kinds of harm to people and also harm to the dogs. I have asked for numbers from both sides. So far, NEITHER side gives a damn enough to get them, and if you want to show up here, it's best to use the Google. The numbers are out there!


Cgutts said...

PBurns, I respect the hell out of people like you that do your homework. And have little time or patience who are moved by mere ignorant fear, lacking in comparison to real and RELEVANT fears out there in life.