Goochland County, Virginia resident Bethany Stephens was mauled to death by her two 125-pound Pit Bulls
Some will say that a dog that weighs 125 pounds is not a Pit Bull, but Ms. Stephens disagreed.
Ms. Stephens, age 22, fancied herself a Pit Bull lover. On her Facebook page she had links to "Pit Bulls and Parolees", "Stop Pit Bull Bans (Ban the Deed Not the Breed)", "American Bully World and Reaper Bulls XL, XXL" and "Extreme Bully Style Pit Bulls and Phantom Rolls XXL Bully Pits".
Over-large molosser-type Pit Bulls (there is no terrier in them) have always been bred, from the time of Bill George to today, with the modern massive American Pit Bulls beginning with dogs bred by John D. Johnson in the 1970s.
And what of Ms. Stephens?
She is quite dead.
Ms. Stephen had defensive wound on her arms consistent with her being alive and trying to fight off her dogs. Her throat was ripped, and she was bitten hard around the face and through the skull.
Sheriff James L. Agnew said:
It was an absolutely grisly mauling. In my nearly 40 years in law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I hope I never see anything like it again...
There were various articles of clothing, under clothing, scattered about the area not far from the body and torn into small pieces, there were patches of blood....
There were no strangulation marks, the victim had puncture wounds in the skull and this was not a homicide.
It took deputies more than an hour to wrangle the dogs which were standing over her body when her father found her. Neighboring Henrico County Animal Control was called for assistance, and they provided tranquilizers to subdue the dogs. Deputies spent eight hours collecting more than 60 pieces of evidence.
The two dogs, Tonk and Pacman, were reported to have come from the same litter, but one had recently come back to Ms. Stephens.
Killings of people by dogs is pretty rare in the U.S. -- only 20-30 deaths a year -- but serious dog bites are a great deal more frequent, and Pit Bull dogs are implicated in a disproportionate majority of these serious attacks.
In neighboring Maryland, Pit Bulls are deemed to be inherently dangerous a stance embraced by the courts after a particularly serious mauling case.
The core problem with Pit Bulls, as I noted back in 2012, is that this is a breed caught between two lies:
When it comes to Pit Bulls, two lies are commonly told.
The first lie, exemplified in the U.K.'s Dangerous Dog Act, is that Pit Bulls are as dangerous as wild lions.
Because of this patent falsehood, Pit Bulls can only be kept in Britain with specific permission from a court, and can only be walked when muzzled.
The second lie, told by Pit Bull aficionados, is that Pit Bulls are no different than any other dog. If you disagree with this statement, be prepared to be called a "breed bigot".
Here's the truth: both claims are lies.
In the United States, where Pit Bulls are a common dog, more people are killed by lightning strikes than by Pit Bulls. In fact, more children are killed by their parents than by Pit Bulls.
Does this mean Pit Bulls are just like every other dog in the world?
No. That too is a lie.
In the U.S., where Pit Bulls account for 2 to 3 percent of all dogs, this breed type (it is not a formal breed) accounts for over 50 percent of all serious dog bites.
And while Pit Bull-related fatalities are low (about 10 a year), for every fatality there are thousands of hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Those who focus solely on the low number of Pit Bull fatalities are lying by omission when they fail to mention the physical and emotional scars left by Pit Bull attacks.
So, does this mean that Pit Bulls are a problem?
Yes it does.
And part of the problem is that this breed -- like most others -- comes with a code inside it.
Of course, we all know that dogs come with a genetic code.
When we talk about Pointers and Setters, everyone knows these dogs are particularly "birdy."
When we talk about retrievers, everyone agrees this breed is particularly biddable, loves water, and has a desire to bring things to hand.
When we talk about Jack Russell Terriers, everyone agrees they hate rats, and have a natural inclination to go to ground.
But Pit Bulls?
The Pit Bull community wants us to think these dogs are just like any other! Never mind the illegal kennels here in America that crank out line-bred fighting dogs like Pez from a dispenser. Never mind the history of this dog as feral hog hunter, pit fighter, and junkyard protector.
To even suggest that Pit Bulls might have a different genetic code inside them than Pugs, Standard Poodles, Pointers, or Salukies is heresy among many breed-blind Pit Bull defenders.
Of course, canine genetics is only part of the equation. Along with nature comes nurture. In the right hands, even a Pit Bull with a lot of drive can end up being a happy, docile, and extremely playful family dog.
The sad truth, however, is most Pit Bulls in America do not end up in the right hands. This is a breed that tends to attract "the wrong types" to the point that research has shown that U.S. Pit Bull owners are far more likely to have criminal records than other dog owners.
The predictable result of too many boisterous Pit Bulls meeting up with too many ill-prepared and unstable owners is that the dogs suffer.
And in America, Pit Bulls suffer terribly.
Nearly a million Pit Bulls were euthanized in American shelters in 2009 -- more than the sum of all dogs of all breeds registered by the American Kennel Club last year.
In the last decade, about 8,000,000 Pit Bulls were euthanized in U.S. animal shelters -- approximately four hundred million pounds of dead Pit Bull.
What makes this particularly distressing is that Pit Bull euthanasia rates in the U.S. have been on the rise for 30 years, even as all other canine impounds and euthanasias have been on a steady and steep decline.
What's going on with Pit Bulls?
The problem is not Pit Bull haters.
Ironically enough, the problem is Pit Bull lovers.
After all, it's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are breeding these dogs.
It's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are acquiring these dogs.
It's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are too often abusing the dogs through ignorance and neglect before abandoning them to their death a year or two after acquisition.
You mean Pit Bull "haters" are not the problem?
No, they are not.
The problem is young numbskulls who acquire these dogs in ignorance and haste, discover that they are too much dog to handle, and who then abandon them at leisure.
So what to do?
One of the most obvious ways forward, is to do with Pit Bulls what we have done for hawks, guns, and and cars in the U.S.: require a license conditional upon passing a basic training course.
When "hunter safety" courses were mandated in the U.S., accidental shootings fell to the point that golf and tennis are now deemed to be more dangerous than hunting.
When falconers were required to serve two-year apprenticeships, the longevity of captive birds soared, and concerns about raptor abuse plummeted.
And, of course, driving courses and driver's licenses have been in place since the beginning. Do accidents still happen? Sure, but no one argues that driver's license enforcement is not Step One to improved highway safety.
With dogs, however, the assumption is that everyone knows everything they need to know about dogs at birth -- and never mind if that is demonstrably wrong, especially for large game-bred breeds like Pit Bulls.
And the consequence of this crazy idea?
Millions of dead dogs.
What is bizarre here, is that you would think there would be a natural constituency for a simple Canine Safety and Responsibility Course.
After all, teaching such a course could be a small money-maker for sponsoring groups such as the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, and dog-activity clubs.
Would a Canine Safety and Responsibility Course solve every Pit Bull (or dog) problem in the world?
No, of course not.
But it would solve a lot of them, and it would also serve as the "edge of the wedge" when it comes to tackling the human problems that too many dogs face -- ignorance about costs, responsibility, health, and training.
I am sure Bethany Stephens meant well. But meaning well does not give you a stable life style, real dog training, or the experience and physical size to handle two 125-pound dogs.
Most Pit Bulls are fine (there is one asleep at my feet as I type this), but these are not "nanny dogs" that can be "loved into being good," as if human emotion and intent is a quick and ready substitute for 5,000 hours of dog training and socialization.
A Pit Bull is a serious thing; every bit as capable of mayhem as a gun or a car. Owning one should be a right that is counter-weighted by a legal responsibility to carry insurance, to have at least 100-hours of dog training under your belt, and to have a properly fenced yard.
If you're not serious enough about owning a Pit Bull to meet these expectations, then you are not serious enough to shoulder the responsibility of caring for, and training, a dog that requires daily exercise, daily training, and a jaundiced eye towards its potential for mayhem.
Finally, because I am from Virginia, and because I have written about the issue of Pit Bulls and southern culture before, let me say that I am not terribly surprised to find pictures of Ms. Stephens that suggest she was a young person acting out certain negative cultural manifestations and stereotypes.
As I wrote back in 2007, in a post on this blog entitled Black and White and Redneck All Over, and focused on the drama surrounding Michael Vick:
In Black Rednecks and White Liberals, sociologist Thomas Sowell suggests that the black pathology we see lionized by inner city thugs today is really just a kind of "black redneck" culture adopted from white rednecks in the South.
Sowell has a point. Both cultures embrace easy violence, routine inebriation, monthly government checks, and children born out of wedlock. Both cultures embrace prison tattoos and celebrate machismo posturing. Both cultures have a long love affair with fast vehicles, easy credit, and gambling.
Is it really such a shock, then, that a southern black redneck by the name of Michael Vick was caught with a dog fighting arena and a kennel-full of scarred Pit Bulls behind his house in Virginia?
Let's be clear what Vick was doing: He was raising dogs to fight each other to the death for entertainment purposes, and he had been doing it for at least 6 years as part of his "Bad Newz Kennels." The "winning" dog was lucky to survive his wounds, while the loser, if not killed outright in the fight, was shot, hung, or electrocuted.
I’m talking about it now, aren't I?
Yes I am.
Just to clarify: just because you are poor does not make you a redneck. Just because you are rural or Southern does not make you a redneck. There are good people, black and white, who do not have a lot of money or a lot of education and who happen to live in the South and buy their towels (and their deer-hunting ammunition) at WalMart.
Most of these people marry their children's mother, do not routinely get drunk, pay their bills, work hard at their jobs, and go to church. Call these folks "redneck," and you may be picking up your teeth.
A redneck is someone who confuses bad choices for culture. But don't take my word for it. Listen to any of the rappers who feel they have to routinely give a shout-out to their fellow "Niggaz," while singing about drinking their "40s" and shooting their "trey-eights," and cruising for their "hoes."
Better yet listen to country music star Gretchen Wilson celebrate "Redneck Women," whom she defines as those who would "rather drink beer all night, in a tavern or in a honky tonk, or on a 4 wheel drive tailgate."
And if you have a problem with her lifestyle of public drunkeness, she sings, "I don't give a rip, I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip, cause I'm a redneck woman."
Is it an accident that there's a Pit Bull in that big picture on her web site? I don't think so.
Great. These folks are glamorizing the folks who keep showing up drunk and shirtless on "COPS."
Bad boys, bad boys, who you gonna call when they come for you?
Make enough of them, and they have a way of catching up with you.
Bethany Stephens seems to have made more that a few of them, from the bad fake spray-tan and low-budget streaked-hair dye job you can see on her Facebook page, to the selfies with the Rebel flag behind her, to the KKK bikini picture, and the Dixie flag drape she also posted there.
Could she possibly have done anything more to signal her desire to date someone in the Ku Klux Klan?
This is someone who clearly wanted to trot out a Gretchen Wilson "Redneck Woman" persona. A pair of 125-pound Pit Bulls simply filled out that character, same as her over-large tattoos.
My condolences to her family and friends who no doubt loved her and will miss her. The chance that Ms. Stephens would be mauled, killed, and chewed on by her own giant dogs was never a given, and always quite remote. That said, it was never outside the bounds of possible, was it?
It reminds me of the folks who drink too much and drive too fast. When they wrap their car around a bridge abutment everyone at the funeral says it was a terrible "accident" and no one stops drinking, and there may even be another drunk driving death as people speed away loaded from the funeral.
Bad boys, bad boys, who you gonna call when they come for you?