Back in June, a woman and her dog were unfortunately attacked by an unconstrained dog in Wausau, WI. Her dog, a chihuahua, unfortunatelyl was killed in the attack.
Because the dog was classified as a "pit bull", hysteria of the moment set in and the woman requested that the city of Wausau consider banning pit bulls from the community.
Fortunately, Lisa Rasmussen, the chairwoman of the Wausau Public Health & Safety Committee said the city will not pursue breed-specific action.
Unfortunately, that hasn't kept Andy Davis of the Wausau Daily Herald from trying to stir the pot with a bit of made-up hysterics.
On Sunday, Davis wrote an article for the Herald entitled "Pit-bull bans controversial, but they work" in what appears to either be a failed attempt at journalism, or a successful attempt at stirring up controversy, attention and page views to the newspaper. But from a journalistic standpoint, the article completely fails at the ability to understand basic math, statistics, or honesty or integrity.
In the article, Davis compares Wausua (which has breed-neutral legislation) with neighboring communities such as Antigo and Greenwood -- which have bans on 'pit bulls'.
For both Antigo and Greenwood, both passed bans 20 years ago. In neither case was there any incident that sparked the ban, but both passed bans anyway. So, in the time they've had the ban they have gone from having no pit bull problem to continuing to have no pit bull problem.
But Davis says that the bans are successful because authorities in both communities say there have been no major incidents and thus, they feel the bans are working -- which compared to the one incident in Wausua, somehow makes Wausua's breed neutral approach (which is favored by all experts organizations) worse. Except, it's not.
There is one major thing that Davis completely failed to mention in his article: the size differential of the communities.
Greenwood: Population 1,000
Antigo: Population 8,000
Wausau: Population 39,000
Um, yeah, so based on size alone any type of incident is 4x more likely in Wausau than in the other two communities combined.
So, through the power of the interwebs, I filed a couple of freedom of Information Requests and gathered the following dog bite data for the three communities. Note that none of the communities track bite cases by severity. Over the past 18+ months (Jan 1, 2013 - July 23, 2014) here are the number of dog bites in each community:
Greenwood: 1 (so exactly 1 bite per 1,000 people in the community)
Antigo: 31 ( 3.9 bites per 1,000 people)
Wausau: 64 (1.6 bites per 1,000 people)
So if you look at the "success" of the Antigo ordinance, you'll note that you are 2.5x more likely to be bitten by a dog in Antigo (per capita) than you are in Wausau. This is Mr. Davis' success story?
And yes, while I agree there is a difference between a "Bite" and an "attack", it's worth noting that the vast majority of bites are quite minor, with less than 20% of them requiring any medical attention at all and less than 1% being anything that would qualify as even close to "severe". And severity is often a measure of the size (not breed) of the dog and the vulnerability of the victim -- whether that's an elderly adult, young child, or in Wausau's case, a tiny Chihuahua.
In this case it appears that Davis simply either ignored the actual statistics, and ignored the impact the dramatic community size difference would have in the likelihood of an attack, and tried to make a compelling story and headline to create controversy and sell newspapers.
This is why the media should not be considered experts in dog bite prevention. Experts should be. And the community of experts: dog trainers, shelter workers, veterinarians, animal control officers, etc are universally opposed to laws targeting breeds of dogs.
Breed-specific laws don't work. Behavior-based laws do. Don't let flashy headlines fool you.