Do you know Wheaten Terriers? They have a reputation for sweetness, and, as the owner of a three-year-old female Wheaten named Frankie I can attest that besides being eccentric—mine barks and spins like a pinwheel when I scramble eggs or charge my Kindle—they are indeed cuddly and kind. This is the breed, after all, that invented the effusive “Wheaten greetin’,” and dispenses it willy-nilly to friends, strangers and second-story men alike.
The next minutes are a blur, but I remember the snarling male pit bull digging its teeth into Frankie’s chest, her mournful sobs and the Pit Bull’s vacant eyes as I drove my fist between them.
Do you know Pit Bulls? Just before 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 28, I was walking Frankie at Clinton and Baltic Streets in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, a time and a place where you can hear the Nikkei drop, when an unleashed brown-and-white Pit Bull exploded out of a car and, rumbling with blood-lust, charged us. The next minutes are a blur, but I remember the snarling male pit bull digging its teeth into Frankie’s chest, her mournful sobs and the Pit Bull’s vacant eyes as I drove my fist between them. Eventually, the Pit Bull’s cohort got a leash on the animal and, while I tried to comfort my blood-and-poop-streaked buddy, two plainclothes policemen materialized (Yay!) and gave the man a ticket—for not having his dog on leash (Huh?). The Pit Bull belonged to his sister in Washington, D.C., he told the cops, and, he added, “It doesn’t get along well with other dogs.” You don’t say.
Frankie and I were lucky compared to most animals and people who will be on the bad end of a Pit Bull this week. She was treated at the veterinary hospital for severe lacerations, had to stay over two nights, and may need surgery for a torn ligament. But she will survive in some fashion. The Pit Bull’s owners say they will pay Frankie’s vet bills, and we will see if they are as good as their word. As aficionados of that controversial breed they are, after all, sensitive people who see misunderstood creatures where logical lummoxes like me, who keep getting hung up on the death and misery pit bulls cause daily, see something else—namely vicious beasts who are allowed to live and propagate so that certain sad individuals can proclaim their moral superiority. To the Pit-Bull lover, nothing says, “I am special” like his own pretensions to Pit-Bull love.
Do I sound angry? I’m not mad at the dog who attacked Frankie or even at the highly unattractive man from Chestnut Hill, Mass. who let him get off the leash. What agitates me is the sheer number of people, groups and Web sites that defend Pit Bulls from those who would criticize and legislate against them. As hyper-sensitive to criticism as Scientologists, Pit Bull proponents tend to fire back before any shots are fired in their direction, insisting that their dogs are no worse than any other breed, and indeed probably better. "If it ain't pit it ain't shit," says a woman in one pro-Pit Bull Facebook group.
These people are entitled to their stance. What needs to be noted, though, is that the "forces" they are railing against or the tidal wave of pending “breed specific” legislation they fear are largely figments of their own self-aggrandizing paranoia. The anti-pit bull "movement," such as it is, seems to come down mostly to the scattered victims who speak out, and try to get local laws passed, when a Pit Bull attacks them, someone they know (or, if the attack is fatal, knew) or their pet. If anyone is working round the clock to besmirch the reputation of Pit Bulls it is Pit Bulls themselves.
I’ve developed a kind of parlor trick since Frankie was attacked. I will now go to another screen and Google “pit bull attacks.” Limiting myself to the last five days—a full week would bring too many hits—I see that a 65-year-old woman died of heart failure during a Pit Bull attack in South Carolina, that two Pit Bulls “invaded a home” and killed a dog in Colorado, that a Pit Bull “chewed up” a Yorkie in Missouri, a golden retriever was severely injured by a Pit Bull in Indiana, and that two Indianapolis police officers were bitten by Pit Bulls on successive days. Meanwhile, the Jackson City, Utah city council failed to pass proposed Pit Bull restrictions, although the council president “expressed sympathy for the death of Anataisa Bingham.”
Statistics show that Pit Bulls are by far the most dangerous breed of dogs, involved in several attacks on people and animals in the U.S. each day. Yet their supporters are numerous and cross a wide political spectrum. On the right you have the rednecks, who surround themselves with obnoxious and dangerous things like guns, big-ass vehicles, body fat and killer dogs, and who dare others to say something. On the left are certain PC urban professionals who long to tell the world that they are super-sensitive and understanding souls, but who lack the imagination and intelligence to come up with anything more worthy of their support than the sort of dog that killed three-year-old Omar Martinez a few weeks ago in Apple Valley, California.
After Frankie’s mauling a Pit-Bull owner we know (and like) informed my wife and me that the attack was “natural” because “dogs fight in the wild.” Other Pit Bull proponents have assured us that it was not the breed of the attacker, but the absence of a leash, that was key to Frankie’s violent encounter. To those well-meant but worn-out bromides I say, first, what wild? Where is this raw and savage land where Pit Bulls and Wheatens are duking it out? In any case, this was not a fight or a display of dominance—it was attempted murder. The leash argument also leaves me cold. I have heard stories about leashed Pit Bulls killing other dogs. Besides, if I drop a Wheaten’s leash in your presence, the worst you’ll get is a greetin’. Except not from Frankie, not right now anyway; she just doesn’t have it in her these days.
Charles Leerhsen is the author of Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, The Most Famous Horse in America.