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Dog Bite Prevention Week arrives as West Michigan talks pit bull attacks, dangerous dog breeds

Published: Friday, May 20, 2011, 7:00 AM     Updated: Friday, May 20, 2011, 7:19 AM
G0520CHARLES3.JPGCharles McDonald spends some time on the basketball court with 'Beauty', his girlfriend's pit bull. McDonald had his leg amputated after a pit bull attack 10 years ago. He's the soon-to-be captain of his college wheelchair basketball team and loves cuddling with his girlfriend's pit bull.

GRAND RAPIDS Charles McDonald remembers he didnt even shed a tear when, jumping a neighbors fence to get a wayward ball, a pit bull sank its teeth into his left leg, refusing to let go until it was shot to death.

Doctors told the boy, then 9, that shock had canceled out his pain.

I got a glimpse of it and it looked weird, McDonald, now 19, said of his leg. It was like a big hole with layers of meat ripped through it, and one of my tendons was popping out of my skin.

His ravaged leg had to be amputated. A decade later, the Grand Rapids teen has become a scholarship-worthy wheelchair basketball player.

He also has a thing for pit bulls.

Beauty is adorable, just sweet as pie, McDonald said of his girlfriends 6-month-old pit bull.

While hes managed to turn his dog bite tragedy into a story of hope, that doesnt hold true for all area victims.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week began Sunday, the same day a 48-year-old Howard City woman and her dog were attacked by a pit bull around 1 p.m. Passersby used shovels to keep the dog off the woman, who suffered minor injuries.

This spring, an attack by two pit bulls sent a Wyoming man to the hospital with broken arms when the dogs broke free from a neighbors garage. A court order put the dogs to death.

Incidents like this have ignited dangerous breed conversations in coffee shops to city halls, and pit bulls often are mentioned as the common culprits.

But the local numbers arent so one-sided.

Kent County Health Department Deputy Administrative Health Officer Bill Anstey said the frequency of dog bite incidents is trending down in the long-term.

There were 295 breed-identified dog attack calls and 500 bites reported last year in Kent County. Pit bull breeds were the culprit in a third of the attacks and 111 of the bites, according to the department, which incorporates Animal Control staff.

Other breeds are guilty, too. Anstey said 48 of the attacking dogs were Labrador retrievers a breed with a gentle, family-friendly reputation and 20 were German shepherds.

About 40 percent of the dogs in the Kent County Animal Shelter are pit bull breeds, he added.

Theres a high public awareness when its a pit bull, but theres a lot of dogs in the community and a lot of people who dont take dog ownership responsibly, Anstey said.

Mari Ann DeGraaf was an animal control specialist and officer in Kent County for 24 years. She suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after being attacked by a pit bull for the third time in 1999.

Dispatchers sent her to a scene to handle two problem dogs. When she arrived, only one pit bull was found, and it was in attack mode. Luckily, she was able to fend it off and escape into her van.

Knowing that had both been there, that I could have been dead, really got to me, she said. I would be crying every day and would have outbursts where Id be screaming the pit bulls, and you dont have any control of your life.

There is always that question: What if?

DeGraaf said while lovable pit bulls exist, she knows nice-pits-gone-bad stories as well.
I would say 90 percent are bad, but the ones that are good are really good. Certain breeds are just predetermined, DeGraaf said. Herders like to herd and pit bulls are bred from the fighting pit.

A ban on pit bulls has been hotly debated for some time, but Anstey and many pit bull owners disagree with DeGraaf.

Dog breeds are not dangerous. The owners are dangerous, and that is why in Kent County we dont have any breed-specific prohibitions, Anstey said.

Nino Islamcevic, training director at the local K9 Academy International who has worked with dogs for 20 years, said aggressive behavior should be addressed in puppyhood, and is often contingent on the dogs environment.

He argues socializing an animal by exposing it to different people, animals and environments is the most important step for breeders.

There is an animal instinct and some breeds are more protective than others, but when it comes to aggression, some of it is bred and some is created by not socializing, and that is what we really need to do, Islamcevic said. The whole breed isnt bad, there are just some bad ones.

Islamcevic, who moved to Grand Rapids from Croatia, said European breeding laws are stricter than those in the U.S. He thinks better policies may solve some dog-bite problems.

We need to make sure that breeders are licensed for what they are doing, he said. There is no backyard breeding in Europe because rules are strict and basically they wont issue you a license unless you are knowledgeable about it.

McDonald, who lost his leg in the September 2001 attack, agrees with the experts. In his case, the dog attack ended when another neighbor shot the pit bull with a .38-caliber pistol.

I dont think its the dogs. I believe its the owners, he said, Anyone can make the dog mean. People say that pit bulls have an instinct to attack and I know there is a lot of pit bull attacks but I think it is how they are raised.

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virgogirl May 20, 2011 at 8:11AM

I have heard of 2 dog attacks this week. Neither by a pit bull. Hmm wonder why that was not front page news? Oh, I know. It was not a pit bull

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grsteve50 May 20, 2011 at 8:47AM

You are exactly...CORRECT !

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FireDancer May 20, 2011 at 1:21PM

Don't let the truth come out. I read an article from the google news page, I think it was from Headline read: "Pit Bull Follows Kids Onto Maryland School Bus, Attacks". Then at the end of the article it clearly states that it was an American Bulldog. Not even close to Pit Bull type dog. But hey, they gotta sell their papers, so what else should you expect.

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sjmyers3142 May 20, 2011 at 8:12PM

I'd suggest learning a bit about the American bulldog. It had a recent common ancestor with the several breeds called "pit bulls". The American bulldog declined in numbers and then was resurrected as a breed by someone using...wait for it...wait for it....PIT BULLS. This is why American bulldogs look pretty much like big pits and often attack as well.

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FireDancer May 21, 2011 at 11:57AM

All dogs come from common ancestors. They are too different breeds. The American Bulldog is not a breed that is grouped in the "Pit Bull" type breeds. I suggest you pull your head out of your a$$ and try learning something before sharing your ignorance with the world.

Oh yea, also American Bulldogs are not known for attacking, are not known as hostile, and whats that other thing, oh wait, that's right....They're not Pit Bulls.

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sjmyers3142 May 21, 2011 at 4:14PM

Firedancer, see this is why it is frustrating talking to pit bull owners. Of course, you are correct that all dogs have a common ancestor (the wolf). However, breed origins follow a branching pattern (like that produced by evolution by natural selection) and so the more recent that two breeds diverged the more similar they are genetically. So, in the dog family tree there are smaller and smaller branches. So, your simple contention that "they are different breeds" shows you to be a very special person. The American Bulldog was nearly extinct 30 or so years ago. One person made it his mission to re-establish the breed. Guess what dogs he used to reconstitute the breed (not that I expect you to understand why you would need to do this if you only had a few specimens left)? He used pit bulls.

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Virgogirl: What were the circumstances? What breed/breed mixes? You can email info to me at I'm interested to know about these cases.

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requin23 May 23, 2011 at 4:36PM

Just a little fun thing to read from KY. Been a 5 year battle down thar.

From tall, bald guy in Douglas that left that crappy state and walked into a GOP slash and burn of K-12 and old people people for business. Logical. That's where most of the money has been hiding.


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clayhund May 20, 2011 at 11:38AM

Pit Bull equals juicy media story. They do it for their own greed. Step on dogs to turn a profit. Wonder how many people are victims due to heavy negative media coverage acting as a pit bull marketing tool geared toward thugs and irresponsible owners. If the media hype didn't exist, there would be more people alive. Thanks media for making this dog oh so popular!!

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k-9thinker May 20, 2011 at 11:49AM

To the pit fanciers:

What are you doing to reduce the problems that surround pit bulls? The suffering of the dog victims, the suffering of the pit bulls themselves, the costs to communities with injuries to other dogs and humans?

Free, mandatory spay/neuter is what I propose. I have a favorite breed. If my breed was being abused and suffering in the horrendous ways and numbers that pits suffer, I would want my breed to become extinct, too.

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clayhund May 20, 2011 at 1:08PM

Not my job to control other people that do not control their dogs. Just because I advocate for pit bulls, doesn't make me the preventer of irresponsible owners. What I do to protect the breed from evil haters is train my dog so well that people praise me on his excellent behavior and he is a good model for what the pit bull is supposed to be. Oh, and I also spay and neuter all of my pets, as I do not want to contribute to the utter amount of animals being euthanized. Good luck with your project. Do you have a website and a program in place to promote spay/neuter? I think you would have a much easier time with getting funding and having it passed if you include all breeds, and show that a decrease in pet population would keep the ghetto streets safer and save money due to not having to build and staff shelters. Please show me a few things that you have done.

And BTW, the breed isn't going to go extinct. It's been such a heated topic, the pit bull population has increased 10 fold in the past 10-15 years. Every time a dog is put in this position, the truth eventually comes out and the dog becomes incredibly popular. Seeing that the dog is popular, there are way too many people that would't allow the breed to go extinct. As a matter of fact , the opposite is happening.

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sjmyers3142 May 20, 2011 at 8:20PM

Clayhund, most of the people who are harming this breed are those people who claim to love it. Grow some emotional and intellectual maturity and recognize that fact. All the pit bulls dying or languishing in the shelters were NOT bred or previously owned by pit bull haters. This breed should obviously be more rare and owned by more responsible people. The fact that it is not causes suffering. But that isn't on your agenda. You are just concerned about people having a negative opinion. That's so trivial of you. People like yourself who cannot view this breed realistically often think that the people they oppose have an unconditional hate that matches their illogical, unconditional love of it.

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clayhund May 22, 2011 at 8:23AM


Sorry, but the people that are harming the breed is people like you. Not to mention all of the bad people you are marketing the breed to by negative advertising. If pit bulls weren't thrown into the spotlight of controversy, they wouldn't be nearly as popular, and would be left alone as they were for hundreds of years. If they were truly bad, we would have heard about them before the 1990s.

When they cast into the top, as with other vilified breeds, two things happen:

- They are negatively marketed to bad people, who in turn use them to harm, or they escape and harm an innocent person (this is what you market and are partially responsible for)

- Good people adopt them, prove they are excellent, and the dog becomes a popular household pet. (proven true for the other three highly vilified breeds that were little know before controversy, as we have seen a huge population explosion in pit bulls)

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dogcentric May 21, 2011 at 5:21AM

Uh, Clayhund, sorry, but you are a poor excuse of an "advocate" for pit bulls if you can't even answer a reasonable question about what you are doing to prevent the literally THOUSANDS of pit bulls who suffer and die each week because of irresponsible pit bull breeding.

K-9thinker is right that mandatory breed specific spay/neuter of pit bulls (except AKC and UKC-PR registered show dogs) is the only way to address the pit bull crisis. I personally would not make it free to pit bull owners across the board. If they can pay for it, they should. If they can't, it should be available on a sliding scale (or free).

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clayhund May 23, 2011 at 9:49AM

Sorry, but I do not waste my time with members. I've told you this before. Why are you asking me to address someone else's question? Could it be that you two work together. I frequently see this on many websites. it's the same old stuff that has zero impact on anything. I like you ideas, but they aren't realistic in the real world. it is what it is, and in a perfect world, breeds aren't vilified, because no one abuses them.

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