In the past few weeks, the East Texas media has been ablaze with headlines about vicious "pit bull" attacks.
On Thanksgiving, a man died of a heart attack after breaking up a fight between a family dog and two dogs that escaped from the neighbors' house. Some media accounts call both dogs "pit bulls," while the KLTV story suggests that a "catahoula bull dog" was the instigator, while the pit bull bit someone and ran back home.
East Texas is significant because former judge Cynthia Stevens Kent is trying to find a sponsor for her bill to ban or restrict the ownership of Pit Bulls statewide. Mrs. Kent’s proposal would make third degree felons of several hundred thousand law-abiding people in the State of Texas.
Mrs. Kent, who is representing the family of mauling victim Justin Clinton, pursued a fruitless but headlines-grabbing civil trial of the dogs' owners. Ms. Kent won $7 million in damages, even though she stated publicly that she knew that the owners had no money or insurance. The criminal trial has been pushed out from Fall, 2010 to February, 2011. The State of Texas has two ways to bring felony charges against owners whose dogs cause serious injury, yet Ms. Kent has delayed real justice for Justin‘s family by pushing to have the civil trial first.
What have people learned from the Clinton tragedy? People didn't learn to confine their dogs. A reporter covering the beat in which Justin Clinton was killed told me that there is still no leash law in the area because “the residents don’t want it.”
In mid-November, a chained dog killed a toddler who was playing on a swingset. Officials seized 40-something mixed breed dogs with little to no medical attention or socialization, and described the owner as a "hoarder." Some newspaper headlines read, "Family Dogs Seized After Pit Bull Attack." Video from the home showed nothing "family" about how those dogs were living. Did this incident lead people to consider using existing animal cruelty laws to increase safety for both people and animals? No, but the tragedy is being used as fodder for a "pit bull" ban.
The nearby City of Van is discussing banning "pit bulls" and Rottweilers after a dog chained in a front yard badly injured another toddler on Halloween. Tragedies can happen to even the most conscientious parents and pet owners, and Halloween is a notoriously dangerous time. According to the non-profit dog bite education organization Doggone Safe: "Changes in routine and the strange sights and sounds of Halloween can cause stress in a normally placid family dog." Stressed-out dogs and toddlers simply do not mix. The news media should be able to discuss safety without blaming the victim, yet the opportunity to educate novice pet owners is lost.
For all the headlines about pit bull attacks, people are far more dangerous to other people. Where is the outrage over people murdering babies, killing other people with cars, and assaulting women and children? Consider these local news headlines from today's East Texas television station (KLTV) website:
- Search continues for suspected baby killer (a man killed his girlfriend's one-year-old son)
- Athens man gets 8 years on child porn charges
- 9-year-old girl killed after go-kart accident (the child was hit by a truck)
- Wanted Rusk Co. suspect found dead (the man beat his wife)
- Houston-area toddler killed in home driveway
- E. Texas pedestrian killed after getting hit by car
- Longview man arrested for sexual assault of child
- UPDATE: Arrest made in death of one-year-old (the Tyler mother killed her baby)
- Hit and run kills East Texas mom
We shouldn't single out East Texas as a hotbed of crime without comparing East Texas' crime statistics with those of other areas. Throughout Texas, these headlines and the dog bite headlines have one thing in common: People.
What they don't share is the measured approach the media and authorities seem to take on the people-people tragedies compared to the dog-people tragedies. In the people cases, suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty, and investigators determine the cause as accidental, negligent or even murder. Existing laws are brought to bear and where appropriate, people are brought to justice.
So why is it that when a dog is involved, common sense goes out the window? People sue folks who have no money, and then rather than use existing laws or education to prevent future tragedies, the solution is to create new laws targeting several hundred thousand people whose dogs have never harmed anyone.
Texas is clearly having an epidemic of People Problems.