I want to begin by stating for the proverbial record that neither this article nor any other of the ones I have, or will, write is intended to minimize the significance of the loss of life that recently occurred in Walworth County, Wisconsin, or excuse the behavior of the dogs that were involved in the tragedy just referenced. As a mother, grandmother, writer, animal advocate, and simply as a human being, I cannot express the grief I feel whenever a child is taken from his or her loving parents. I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathies to every person who has lost a child, including the couple who lost their toddler just last week.
With that said, I want to ask if you’ve ever considered what’s in a number. We all took math classes in school and some of us have even earned advanced degrees in mathematical fields. And most of us have experienced situations when the numbers before us simply don’t add up…most likely when we’ve been trying to balance our check books.
Perhaps in preparation for a discussion of legislation regarding banning certain types of dogs in Watertown, Wisconsin the municipality’s police department recently composed a report that details the incidents of dog bites that have occurred in the town for Watertown’s Public Safety and Welfare Committee. When compared with the numbers recorded in an independently-prepared report on the same subject, the numbers in the report created by the police department don’t seem to paint a truthful picture of the potential danger certain types of dogs pose to the public.
Consider the following excerpt taken from the independent report:
“Police report states that pitbulls are 2.4% of the overall population in Watertown, at 44 registered dogs. Actual count of pitbulls is closer to 163 (8.1%) based on local vet clinic data. This represents an error rate of 71% and assumes that the 44 registered dogs are included in the vet clinic patient count. If none of the 44 registered dogs are included in the vet clinic patient counts then pitbulls represent 10% of the overall population and contribute to less than 12% of the reported bite incidents.”
So, according to the police department’s report, pit bulls represent less than 2.5% of the overall number of dogs in Watertown, but are responsible for more than 11% of the bites that occur in the town when, in reality, pit bulls actually represent between 8.1% - 10% of Watertown’s canine population and are involved in less than 12% of the biting incidents that occur in the town.
Let’s overlook the fact that the total number of dogs in Watertown recorded in the police department’s report is presumably off by 2.5% - 9.1% and consider the following comparison between pit bulls, Cocker Spaniels, and unidentified breeds included in the independent report:
“Pitbulls: 8% to 10% of the population responsible for 12% of incidents.
Cocker Spaniels: 2% of the population responsible for 8% of incidents.
Unknown breeds: 4.7% of the population responsible for 21.8% of incidents.”
Given the numbers provided above, it would be logical to conclude that, as a percentage of the overall canine population, both Cocker Spaniels and unidentified breeds are more dangerous than pit bulls in terms of documented biting incidents that have occurred in Watertown as Cocker Spaniels and unknown breeds make up 6.7% of the town’s cumulative dog population and are responsible for a combined total of 29.8% of dog bite incidents in Watertown. Pit bulls, on the other hand, represent between 8% - 10% of the local canine population and are cited in a comparatively low percentage of biting incidents.
So what really is in a number? In this case, it seems there is incontrovertible truth in numbers. And it seems that truth is that pit bulls are not the biggest threat to residents in Watertown, Wisconsin, in terms of dog bites. When the numbers are compared, it appears that Cocker Spaniels and unidentified breeds are greater dangers to people when it comes to recorded bites.
Now the question is which breed or breeds of dogs should be banned from any town such as Watertown? Should it be a breed vilified in the media or should it be one that bites more frequently according to documented evidence? Should it really be any given breed at all when numbers can be manipulated to prove what we want them to instead of the undiluted truth?
Even though math gives us absolute answers to numerical equations, it can only provide insufficient, possibly contrived answers when it comes to deciding the type of pet a person can own in a given town. Why? Because no mathematical equation derived to determine which, if any, type of dog should be banned takes into account the most important factor when it comes to domesticated animals…the human factor.
Our pets are our responsibility. Perhaps the best way to lower the number of dog biting incidents is simply to ban certain people from owning dogs rather than banning the dogs themselves. In the hands of one person, a dog may enjoy his or her life without biting anyone or anything. In the home of another individual, that same dog may not only bite, he or she may be trained to fight and act aggressively. And that, while unfortunate, is demonstrative of the incalculable human factor.