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Let's consider both sides of the pit bull ban debate

By Seth Bynum / Federal Way News
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

On the other side of I-5 in Auburn, the debate over the banning of pit bulls and similar breeds has escalated into a fury.

As the nature versus nurture battle endures, local lawmakers have found themselves somewhere in the middle, forced to decipher mounds of emotionally driven rhetoric and misinformation presented by both sides in the debate.

In one corner, owners and breeders of these dogs blame irresponsible owners for the rash of pit bull attacks that have plagued the communities of Auburn and Federal Way in the past 12 months. The opposing camp generally agrees, but insists these dogs possess a genetic predisposition for aggressiveness.

Nature or nurture, they claim, pit bulls and the like pose a threat to the community.

Most of us continue to try and make sense of it all.

Personally, I find little bite in the argument that a child is 100 times more likely to be killed by his or her mother than a pit bull. Nor do I believe that only irresponsible owners raise dogs with a predisposition to attack.

Admitting my own stereotypes, I see two general camps of people who raise these dogs.

At one end of the spectrum lie owners who chose the breed for its utility and companionship. Pit bulls-members of the working terrier group-express a keen devotion to their masters and a strong desire to please.

As a rule, they do far more licking than biting.

Former American icons like Petey from the Little Rascals and the RCA dog, both pits, likely fit this description. Boxing star Jack Dempsey and former president Theodore Roosevelt owned these tractable dogs.

The problems expressed by the community generally stem from a response to the other type of pit bull owner.

Too many raise pit bulls as an outward expression of toughness and train their dogs as bark-happy muscle hounds that incite fear and earn respect.

What Taco Bell, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears have done to boost the popularity of tiny Chihuahuas, pop culture has immortalized the pit bull as an unfortunate symbol of strength and violence.

Log on to dungeonpitbulls. com to see a group of breeders who have sullied the pit bull's gene pool and public reputation, while either fostering or perpetuating a my-dog-can-kill- you-if-I- want-it-to attitude that has earned these animals so much negative press.

An opening video welcomes visitors with a blast of hip hop music and scenes of young men teaching their oversized dogs to fear and strike out at strangers.

My younger brother fell victim to this philosophy, although his adorable young pit bull, Kita, firmly resisted his efforts to turn her into a tough guy status symbol. He tried dangling weights from her neck to increase her muscle mass, but Kita let my brother know early on that she would rather play lap dog than guard dog.

The tragic story of Toney Mikesell and his partner, Michelle Jaroszek, adds more gray to an issue that seems neither completely black nor white. (See the February 1 issue of the FW News.)

On January 17, the couple's adorable pugs, Cola and Lola, were attacked and killed by three pit bulls that broke through a fence that surrounded their property. The neighbor's pit bulls murdered both pugs and buried their bodies in Mikesell's back yard. The pit bulls then entered the house and covered the couple's living room in urine.

The violent nature of the attack continues to resonate with me.

King 5 picked up the story and turned the couple's tragedy into a five-minute blurb of sensationalism. The reporter depicted a tale of a violent attack that made an assumption about the breed's temperament and blood-thirsty actions of the neighbor's dogs.

On the sofa of the couple's home of 356th Street, I watched the news clip they had taped to honor their five minutes of unwelcomed fame.

"They're just a violent breed," Michelle said on screen before the rest of her sentence disappeared into television editing ether.

"What I tried to say," Michelle protested as she stopped the tape, "is that that pit bulls are a violent breed, but these weren't violent dogs."

The neighbors' dogs had never attacked the couple's pugs before. Previous interactions between the two groups of dogs had never incited violence. Toney said the pit bulls seemed like friendly and obedient dogs who shared a close relationship with their owners.

At that point, I began to fully understand the dilemma. The incident seems like the exception to my theory.

These weren't the psychotic pit-fighting bulls synonymous with drug lords and wannabe gangsters. These were family dogs that snapped. And when 100 pounds of muscle decides to strike, the outcome-as Toney and Michelle have experienced- can be catastrophic, particularly for a pair of small pugs.

The couple plans to push the city council to impose a breed-specific ban on pit bulls in the city limits. Their personal account certainly helps give their argument some credibility, and I applaud them for doing what they feel necessary to find closure after the incident. After we ran their story, several readers contacted us for information on how to join their movement. Their letters indicated that they share a similar fear of pit bulls and, like Mikesell, hope to see them banned from the city.

During a meeting February 7, the council said it would consider imposing a ban after it analyzed some data about the breeds.

I have complete confidence in the council's ability to come to a well-thought out and thoroughly researched plan of action. But I caution the community against engaging in a witch-hunt to rid Federal Way of pit bulls. A new law might infringe on the rights of the responsible majority in order to purge the city of a few problem pit bulls.


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