A flash of teeth and a burst of violence forever changed the lives of at least three Yakima County children this year.
In Toppenish, 6-year-old Adrian Chacon’s face was ripped so badly he required dozens of stitches. In Grandview, 2-1/2-year-old Brian Whitney lost nearly three-fourths of his scalp and remains nearly blind from complications. In Yakima, 6-year-old Donavon Johnson’s nose was torn from his face.
The perpetrators were a pit-bull mix and two Rottweilers, dogs with similar traits: large, agile and powerful.
The children are only the most recent victims. Wheelchair-bound Walter Feser, 75, of Yakima, was mauled to death 1-1/2 years ago while trying to defend his pet dog.
The attacks raise troubling questions about certain dog breeds, the rising number of serious bites and the measures needed to stop them.
Most national canine-behavior specialists say the dogs are not to blame. Instead of specific breeds, they point the finger at large dogs in general and owners who place profit, power or personal security over responsible dog ownership.
Too many, they say, are simply taking part in the latest canine fad, unaware of the inherent dangers and responsibilities that come with owning powerful guard-type breeds.
“A Golden retriever was not bred to do the same thing as a Rottweiler, and a Siberian Husky was not bred to do the same thing as a Doberman,” said Julie Lux, a dog trainer who recently led a national campaign to educate people about the pros and cons of Dalmatian ownership.
National statistics support her. The dog breed with the largest American Kennel Club registrations - the Labrador retriever - has not killed anyone in the 18-year history of national record keeping.
Rottweilers - the second most-registered breed of dog in America - killed 27 people in the United States between 1987 and 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty of the deaths occurred in the past four years, and most of those killed were children.
In Yakima County, Rottweilers accounted for at least 10 of 85 dog bites reported in April and May. At least half of the victims were children, and four involved bites to the face.
A CDC study estimates 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Seventeen percent are serious enough to require medical attention or loss of work or school.
Because of their inherent strength, agility and history of being bred for protection and fearlessness, Rottweilers and pit bulls remain at the center of a national debate over the need for tougher laws, breed-specific bans and public education.
Careless ownership is why Responsible Rottweiler Owners of Central Washington is forming, said Jan Manning, a Yakima-area dog trainer who has owned and loved the breed for eight years.
“Our goal is to encourage responsible ownership and discourage a lot of people from buying the dog. Eighty percent of the people who own Rotties shouldn’t,” Manning said.
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