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Wed., Dec. 18, 2013

Editorial: Pit bull ban won’t help; leash, license will

We don’t want to write an elegy to Koko. We just want to keep admiring her picture – all eager eyes and beautiful brown markings – and think about dogs in general. The love, the loyalty and the utter joy they bring.

The writer Roger Caras said, “Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.”

This isn’t true for everyone, but it was true for Dan Pelle and his family, who lost their beloved pet to a vicious attack that never should’ve happened.

Pelle, a photographer for The Spokesman-Review, was walking Koko last Thursday in a South Hill field, as he had done countless times before. But on this day two young men were walking a pair of unleashed pit bulls. The dogs spotted Koko and charged. Two frantic minutes later, a beloved 11-year-old Australian Kelpie-spaniel mix was mortally wounded. Pelle escaped terrified but not seriously harmed.

One of the pit bulls subsequently died, probably from the beating it took as the two young men tried to intervene. The other is locked up, and its fate is pending. If only the pit bulls had been leashed. Let that be a lesson to us all.

The two young men have revealed themselves and shown genuine remorse. Still, passions are running high, and some people are calling for a ban on pit bulls. It’s not the first time, but it’s not so simple. As animal control officials note, “pit bull” is a generic term, not a breed. There are many variations with differing dispositions. Correctly identifying a pit bull – or any breed – is not as easy one might imagine.

Denver has banned pit bulls for many years; so has Yakima. But both cities still have dangerous dog problems. Prohibitions can’t be effectively enforced, and they compel owners to hide their dogs, which robs them of the socialization they sorely need. Breed-specific bans are opposed by animal control officials and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Research shows it’s fruitless, so experts counsel the regulation of deeds, not breeds.

The surviving pit bull in Thursday’s attack is at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service facility. It’s among about a dozen animals with the “dangerous dog” designation, including an Australian shepherd, a border collie, a Rottweiler and other pit bulls, according to SCRAPS director Nancy Hill.

To retrieve the dog, the owner must purchase a $250,000 insurance policy (which comes with a hefty monthly premium), keep the dog in a secure kennel and post prominent warning signs. When outside the kennel, the dog must be muzzled and on a leash. Many owners, especially those who have witnessed what their pet is capable of, decide it isn’t worth it. They have two weeks to act before their dog is euthanized.

It’s the responsibility of pet owners to head off attacks, and they can be held liable. SCRAPS has some educational programs on the proper care for pets but would like to do more outreach. Unfortunately, it has a limited budget because most pet owners fail to buy licenses.

In the name of Koko and all beloved pets, license and leash your dogs. We don’t want to write another elegy.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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