When a pit bull mauls a child or another dog, it makes the news, but many questions are left unanswered after the brutal incident. Are pit bulls in fact more dangerous than other dogs? Can pit bulls be banned? Was the dog's owner punished?
"Pit bull" is a common term used for a number of dog breeds, such as an American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier. Pit bulls are no more temperamental than any other dog, Atlanta animal behaviorist Faye Owen said. A tiny "ankle-biter" could be just as mean, but the pit will hit the headlines because it packs a bigger bite.
"They do more damage," Owen said.
Temperament is based on genetics and socialization, she said.
"Six to 16 weeks old is the key period to introduce dogs to what they will encounter in life - such as children, people on skateboards," Owen said.
If they are not socialized in that time period, and/or if they are mistreated, an attack is usually motivated by fear due to a loss of socialization, Owen said.
But other breeds also have a dangerous bite. Why do pit bulls always hoard the headlines?
Because they, as well as Rottweilers, have a higher arousal level and a high pain threshold, Owen said.
"So when they go into attack, they are determined to carry on," she said. "A lab might back off."
That is perhaps why many people find the dogs dangerous, or even vicious - enough so to ban them from certain municipalities.
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A number of governments across the country are implementing breed-specific legislation.
In Miami-Dade County, Fla., it is illegal to own or keep pit bull breeds.
"There is a $500 fine for acquiring or keeping a pit bull dog and court action to force the removal of the animal from Miami-Dade County," the ordinance states.
The city of Maumelle, Ark., has also banned pit bulls.
The city of Marietta, in April 2007, passed an ordinance prohibiting pit bulls and Rottweilers from being in dog parks and off-leash areas.
Cobb County government does not have any restrictions on pit bulls. Last fall, after pit bulls killed one man's three dogs, county commissioners asked for a review of animal control ordinances, to see if stronger punishments are possible against the owners.
"We have unfortunately not found any ordinances that assist the situation," Chairman Sam Olens said. "As dogs sometimes fight with each other for other reasons, we are still struggling with the issue."
Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports pit-bull bans and the outlawing of pit-bull breeding. According to a position piece on PETA's Web site: "Legislatures across the country are increasingly seeking to ban pit bulls in an effort to crack down on dog fighting and prevent attacks by pit bulls. PETA supports legislation that bans the breeding of pit bulls, just as we support any spay/neuter legislation as the most effective way to combat the tragic companion animal overpopulation problem. We also support pit bull bans, as long as they include a grandfather clause allowing all living dogs who are already in good homes and well cared for to live the remainder of their lives safely and peacefully."
However, many disagree with the banning of pit bulls.
Adam Goldfarb, director of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets at Risk program, told a Tennessee newspaper that the bans have been unsuccessful.
"Even the United Kingdom has had a pit-bull ban in place for the last 20 years, and they have not seen a reduction in (cases involving dogs biting humans) at all," Goldfarb told the Kingsport, Tenn., Times News.
Owen, the Atlanta behaviorist, is from Britain and agreed with Goldfarb. She said there has been no reduction in dog attacks in the U.K. since the ban.
As for such legislation in Georgia, "I don't think it would serve any purpose," Owen said.
One non-profit group, Pit Bull Rescue Central, criticizes such efforts on its website.
"These laws are usually passed after several attacks by a particular breed so that city councils can assure citizens they are 'doing something' about a voter concern," the site says.
"But breed bans don't work. They target all dogs of a breed - the innocent as well as the guilty; are difficult to enforce; and do not end the use of guardian dogs by criminals ... Far better than breed-specific bans are strict laws to control aggressive dogs of any breed or mix. Known as generic vicious dog laws, they put restrictions on the ownership of dogs that pose a danger to people, restrictions such as confinement in locked, escape-proof kennels while outdoors on the owner's property; muzzles when the dog is off the property; and purchase of a liability insurance policy."
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In Cobb, the owner of a dog that attacks another dog can face misdemeanor charges of failure to control the animal and keeping a vicious animal.
In Cobb, each offense for violating these county ordinances can carry a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, said Aurieanne Sneed, a prosecutor in the Cobb County Solicitor General's Office. Owners convicted of keeping vicious animal may also have to relinquish control of the dog to Cobb Animal Control, which would decide what to do with it.
The owner of the pit bulls in the July 18, 2009, attack - in which a Pomeranian was killed - was ordered to pay $4,067.50 in fees and another $1,000 in restitution to the Pomeranian's owner, Sneed said.
The owners of the dogs in the two February attacks are set for arraignment next month.
If a dog attack results in death of a human, the case would then go to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution. District Attorney Pat Head said he did not recall such a case in Cobb County.
But that did happen in Rockdale County in February, when a baby girl just five days old was killed by her family's pit bull. Sgt. Jodi Shupe with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Department said no charges will be filed.
Ordinance violations pertaining to animal attacks begin in Cobb Magistrate Court. If the defendant requests a jury trial, that is heard in Cobb State Court.