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In April, a tug-of-war over the fate of a pit bull in Montgomery County came to a happy end: noted dog trainer Cesar Milan agreed to take the dog, Gus, on the condition Gus never again step paw in Texas.
Gus had seriously injured a rescue group volunteer named Amber Rickles, who'd been watching him. County officials planned to euthanize the dog, but the rescue group, Maggie's House, along with an animal welfare legal assistance group called the Lexus Project, petitioned for a reprieve.
The news came on the heels of another pitbull-related story that made headlines around the world: in League City, a courageous mother bit off the ear of a pit bull that attacked her two-year-old daughter.
The same week, police in Kaufman said two pit bulls killed an 85-year-old woman in her home.
Four months earlier, two pit bulls were euthanized after police said they tore apart a 43-year-old homeless woman.
A year before that, in Conroe, a four-year-old boy hopped his backyard fence into his neighbor's yard, where, police said, a pit bull mauled him to death.
It's possible to come to the conclusion, based on these reports, and the myriad other pit-bull mauling news stories that regularly make headlines, that pit bulls are vicious killing machines with a tendency to flip out and attack for no apparent reason. That certainly seems to be the position of groups like DogsBite.org, which are sometimes cited as reputable sources by the media.
Too often, other factors -- how an owner's nature may have contributed to the dog's nature, say -- are ignored for the sake of a superficially simple story. This reinforces pit bulls' reputation as savage beasts -- quite the opposite of these dogs' image in the first half of the 20th century. So what happened?
Jake Flanagin, writing in Pacific Standard, describes it rather eloquently: "The pit bull's trademark loyalty combined with its muscular physique made it a prime candidate for exploitation. The breed quickly came to represent aggression and a perverse idea of machismo, thus becoming the preferred guard dog cum status symbol for drug dealers and gangsters. Popularity for the breed in low-income, urban areas exploded." This led to "an epic puppy-boom" centered "predominantly [in] low-income areas," making pit bulls "arguably one of the least-responsibly cared for breeds in the country."
(It's important to note that "pit bull" is not a proper breed title, but an umbrella term for Staffordshire bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers, and bull terriers -- or any combination thereof).
Flanagin articulately stated what Hair Balls, somewhat less intellectually, always called The Scumbag-Dipshit Axis. Generally, if you graphed the plot points and players in a pit bull attack, there's a strong possibility that the pit bull would be plotted conspicuously close to either a scumbag or a dipshit. Typically, the chief scumbag or dipshit in each scenario is either the dog's owner or a parent of a victim, but not always.
The Scumbag-Dipshit Axis can of course be applied to any dog attack situation, it's just mostly applied to pit bull-related bites, because, to the detriment of society as a whole, scumbags and dipshits are drawn to pit bulls more than just about any other dog. If the preferred canine companion of scumbags and dipshits everywhere were dachshunds, then we'd probably be reading a lot about vicious wieners. And those bites would probably require, at most, a Band-Aid.
So we thought we'd take a look at some of the misunderstood or mythologized aspects of pit bulls. In the spirit of full disclosure, Hair Balls is a pit-bull owner, and has friends and acquaintances who also own pit bulls. None of these dogs have ever eaten anyone's face. Not coincidentally, these dogs are rarely -- if ever -- in the orbit of scumbags or dipshits. So we're definitely biased -- not in favor of pit bulls, but against S's and D's. We just want to make that clear.
Invariably, when someone writes about pit bulls, at least one pro-pit-person will refer to the American Temperament Test Society results showing how well-tempered pits supposedly are. However, we're not really sure if the Society's results allows a decent comparison among breeds. We're not even convinced the results are particular useful within a particular breed. The Society's website states that "the test simulates a casual walk through the park or neighborhood where everyday live situations are encountered." These live situations include, among other things, firing a starter's pistol, rattling a metal bucket full of rocks near the dog, and opening an umbrella five feet in front of the dog. The whole test takes 8-12 minutes.
Among the many problems associated with this less-than-comprehensive test is that, sometimes, there's not enough of a particular breed to go around. The recent testing population for Alaskan klee klais was two. Yet for Australian shepherds, it was 680. Can one compare these breeds to each other?
There's an even bigger problem when looking at pits' results, namely, as previously noted, "pit bull" isn't a breed. The Society has different results for the American staffordshire terrier and the American pit bull terrier, for example. Fortunately, because scumbags and dipshits don't neuter their dogs, there are large sample populations for all pitty breeds. The most recent results show that these breeds have a minimum passing rate of 82 percent. Compared to another breed with a large sample group -- like 873 collies -- the pitties emerge at least two-percentage points victorious.
This suggests that pits may not be evil killing machines after all, but Hair Balls takes these results with a grain of salt. We think a better test would be to immerse 873 collies in a Scumbag-Dipshit culture and see how well-adjusted those poor saps turn out.
According to the United Kennel Club, the American pit bull terrier (one type of pit bull) "is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers."
Admittedly, the United Kennel Club is probably not talking about American pit bull terriers who live in crack houses. They're probably talking about families who believe in taking their dog to the park and the vet on regular occasions, and perhaps making it wear a really cheesy sweater on cold morning. You know -- the pits who don't wind up eating people's faces.
One hallmark of S's and D's is that they refuse to neuter their dogs. A Freudian could probably have a field day with that, but in practical terms, un-neutered dogs of any breed is 2.6 times more likely to bite than its castrated counterpart.
Despite what DogsBite.org claims, there's a real paucity of legitimate dog bite studies. DogsBite likes to cite a study in which the group itself is cited -- a turd dropped by a group of people who should know better into a journal (The Annals of Surgery) that should know better. There's plenty debunking of this study out there -- and not by pit-proponents, but by fans of properly conducted studies.
Part of the problem is that, historically, even the most reputable-seeming studies relied at least in part on media accounts of dog attacks, and not first-hand information. Hair Balls offers this rule of thumb, though: instead of relying on a study to tell you whether a large, powerful creature with sharp teeth and strong jaws should be anywhere near your toddler's face, just rely us: DON'T DO IT.
For some reason, many people still think pit bulls have locking jaws. But, as the ASPCA notes, "there is nothing unique about the anatomy of pit bull jaws." Their jaws are definitely "strong," but these dogs are not mutants.
As we noted, pit bulls went from a nationally beloved family-friendly dog to hell-spawn sometime around the 1980s. So either there was a spontaneous restructuring of every extant pit's DNA, or suddenly S's and D's were adopting pits as a status-symbol.
Remember Chelsi Camp, the mom who valiantly fought off the pit bull attacking her two-year-old daughter? She's quoted in news stories as saying the dog had never been a problem. However, according to the girl's father, as well as one of Camp's former friends, Camp knew perfectly well that this was an aggressive dog: they say the dog killed Camp's father's chihuahua.
And, according to Camp's former friend, Camp urged the dog's owner -- her boyfriend, Taylor Corbin -- to get a shock collar for the dog in February, two months before the incident.
A League City Police Department spokeswoman says the dog bit a woman during a narcotics-related assault in the boyfriend's residence in 2013, but he was apparently trying to protect his owner. Here's what the spokeswoman told us: "The investigation by Animal Control determined that the bite occurred due to the assault where the dog's natural instinct would be to protect its owner and territory. Animal Control deemed the dog to be friendly and non-aggressive during its observation period. It was not labeled a vicious dog by the code of ordinances."
According to League City Police Department records, Corbin was not a suspect or victim in the incident -- he's listed as simply being one of two people "involved." The victim was identified as a 32-year-old woman. The only publicly available description of the incident states that an "unknown suspect assaulted victim with a handgun."
Police seized marijuana, meth, hydrocodone/acetaminophen, and testosterone (ewww). One of the items that was recovered was a money counter. Make of that what you will.
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Curiously, Corbin hasn't made any statements since the incident. He wasn't quoted in any news stories, and he's not actively involved in online fundraising campaigns to cover the child's medical bills. We reached out to his family and friends, asking to get in touch with him, but were shrugged off.
But it may also be important to note that, in 2008, Corbin took a baseball bat and crowbar to someone's pickup truck. According to Galveston County District Clerk's records, a charge of criminal mischief was dismissed when Corbin paid restitution.
Granted, we all have our bad days, but the cumulative effect of this information gives us an idea of where the pit bull in question might wind up on the Scumbag-Dipshit Axis.
And it also suggests to us that this dog shouldn't have been around other dogs, let alone a child. Yet, in most news stories, the dog was described as going from docile to devil for no good reason, and the mom comes out a hero. We believe Camp's story ought to have been at least questioned a little by reporters who were apparently more intent on lobbing softballs. Hair Balls tried talking to Camp but could not reach her, and her family and friends ignored our repeated requests to make her available for comment. It's just as well, though. We're fresh out of softballs.