The government can’t prevent irresponsible people from being parents.
But it can make it more difficult for those parents to put their children in harm’s way.
One of the ways is by restricting or prohibiting ownership of dangerous dogs by parents of young children.
The latest incident to prompt such consideration involved an 8-year-old Amsterdam boy, who suffered severe neck injuries and underwent two surgeries after the family’s 5-year-old pit bull/boxer mix attacked the boy without provocation as the boy was walking the dog. The man’s fiance, who tried to intervene to protect the boy, also was attacked, losing the tip of one finger.
The owner of the dog, who has seven children age 2-12, said “Big Boy” had never exhibited aggression or bitten anyone.
A reasonable human being should be able to conclude that just because an animal bred for aggression hasn’t attacked anyone yet doesn’t mean it’s completely incapable of or unwilling to attack someone in the future.
No one hears the word “pit bull” and thinks “cuddly little bunny.”
According to a report in Annuls of Surgery on dog-related injuries, attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs.
A 2016 article in Clinical Pediatrics reported that pit bull breeds were more than 2.5 times as likely as other breeds to bite in multiple anatomical locations and that the victim was three times as likely to require surgery for a pit bull injury than with any other breed.
These dogs have a well-earned reputation for being dangerous and dangerously unpredictable.
And if parents are too reckless, stubborn or uninformed to realize that, then the state needs to take the responsibility for the decision to own a pit bull away from them.
We’ve got plenty of laws in place to deal with a dangerous dog after it attacks someone. They include fining the owner, forcing the owner to pay the victim’s medical expenses, removing the dog from the home and detaining or euthanizing the dog involved in the attack.
That might help prevent a future attack, but it does nothing for the unsuspecting first victim who has to endure the mental and physical pain, disfigurement and surgeries that often accompany an attack.
So why not take steps to protect children from parents and their irresponsible ownership of dangerous pets before an attack happens?
State limits on access to certain dangerous and exotic animals is certainly not unprecedented.
Several states, and hundreds of towns and cities in the country, prohibit or limit ownership of pit bull breeds. They’re even banned on U.S. military bases. Some states also restrict ownership of other types of dogs with bad reputations, including rottweilers, dobermans and chows.
Here in New York, there are plenty of animals that people are prohibited from owning or that require the owner to obtain some kind of permit — everything from bats to monkeys to lions.
In New York City, where the ownership ban extends to virtually the entire animal kingdom, residents can own what they call a “domesticated dog.” But they can’t own a “hybrid offspring of a wild dog and domesticated dog.”
Would a pit bull or other dog with a reputation for injuring humans qualify as a hybrid offspring based on its historical breeding practices?
We’re not saying people shouldn’t be able to own big dogs.
But the state could make ownership of certain breeds of dog, including pit bulls, conditional on the fact that there be no young children in the household. If you’ve ever tried to adopt a pet from an animal shelter, you might feel the conditions rival that of adopting a child. It should at least be that difficult to place a dangerous dog in a home with children.
If the practice of pit bull ownership were more strictly regulated by the state, it might keep clueless parents from having a pit bull in the same house as their children and keep more children out of the emergency room.
The state shouldn’t have to legislate common sense and responsible behavior.
But protecting children from parents who exhibit neither is certainly within its obligation to do so.