As a pediatrician, I am compelled to respond to recent "All About Dogs" columns in the Herald-Tribune regarding pit bulls.
The author was asked his opinion about adopting a pit bull or pit bull mix in a home with a 6-year-old child. The author, a dog trainer, concludes that “there’s no reason a pit bull or a pit bull mix wouldn’t possibly be the most lovable pet you’ve ever had in your life.”
Unfortunately, he comes to this conclusion by claiming, among other things, that in the past pit bulls “were America’s darling and were referred to as ‘nanny dogs’” and, worse, that “controlled studies don’t show this breed to be disproportionately dangerous compared with other breeds.”
One column tells readers to do their homework and references several animal welfare organizations. However, he fails to reference any medical experts or research.
For parents who are looking for advice about choosing a safe family pet, and are wondering about the safety of pit bulls, I recommend listening to pediatric medical experts, not a dog trainer or animal welfare organizations.
As a pediatrician, I have devoted my career to promoting the health and safety of children. Dog trainers and animal welfare organizations are primarily interested in the welfare of the animals. Unfortunately, about a million pit bulls are in U.S. shelters at any given time. Animal welfare organizations equate success with reducing those numbers through adoptions. Which means the priority is not on you or your family’s safety.
Would you listen to the tobacco industry about the safety of smoking?
Claiming that pit bulls are just like any other dogs and pose no increased risk to children is completely wrong. This unsupported claim is part of what is getting so many innocent children mauled or even killed by a these dogs.
In my professional opinion, pit bulls do not belong in homes with children. The medical data is clear. Pit bulls cause about half of the severe injuries to children, and very often the worst of the injuries. The majority of other dog breeds don’t pose remotely this risk.
Of course, not every pit bull will attack. But, unfortunately, you can’t tell which ones will. And if they do — and enough of them do — one moment can mean the difference between life and death of a child or a disfiguring injury and a life of pain, scars and emotional trauma.
Pit bull defenders want you to think that it’s normal for a dog to maul or kill thousands of children. It’s not. The vast majority of dog breeds have never killed or mauled a child — no matter how they are raised.
The author of the prior articles says he wants you to do your homework. So do I! Take a look at some of the many pediatric medical studies that show the clear risk to children.
Here are a few key conclusions of recent pediatric medical studies (there are about a dozen excellent peer-reviewed medical studies in the last 10 years):
• May 2018: “Dogs and Orthopaedic Injuries: Is There a Correlation to Breed?” concludes, “Pit bull terrier bites were responsible for a significantly higher number of orthopaedic injuries and resulted in an amputation and/or bony injury in 66 percent of patients treated …”
• August 2018: “Characteristics of Dog Bites in Arkansas” states that “family dogs represent a more significant threat than often is realized and that, among the breeds identified, pit bulls are proportionally linked with more severe bite injuries.”
• A 2016 study, “Characteristics of 1,616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution,” found: “Pit bull bites were implicated in half of all surgeries performed and over 2.5 times as likely to bite in multiple anatomic locations as compared to other breeds.”
• A 2015 report, “Dog bites of the head and neck: an evaluation of a common pediatric trauma and associated treatment,” determined: “Although a number of dog breeds were identified, the largest group were pit bull terriers, whose resultant injuries were more severe and resulted from unprovoked, unknown dogs.”
• Another 2015 study, “Morbidity of pediatric dog bites: a case series at a level one pediatric trauma center,” stated: “Pediatric dog bites span a wide range of ages, frequently require operative intervention, and can cause severe morbidity. Dog familiarity did not confer safety, and in this series, pit bulls were most frequently responsible. These findings have great relevance for child safety.”
So, yes, parents should do their homework when choosing a family pet.
I wholly believe in the benefits dogs provide to families, including children. But please don’t risk your child’s safety or life because by listening to the wrong “experts.”
Laura E. Marusinec is an urgent-care pediatrician in Milwaukee and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.