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Canine Ferae Naturae: The Statutory Elimination of Naturally Fierce Dogs

Ferae naturae refers to animals never shed of their wild animal leanings. Monkeys, lions fit nicely into this category. Someone walking down the street with a fully-grown lion on a leash would probably get a very wide berth because a lion is classified in law as a ferae naturae, never capable of being truly domesticated but always at heart and instinct, always, a wild animal.

Pit bulls are fighting hard to earn this distinction back.

The headline and story on the San Diego Union Tribune, June 19, 2011 was simply far too frequent. The archives of the local newspaper of every urban city has several references to horrific dog attacks.

This one was no less Neanderthal than the 3-year old attacked by a pit bull in the parking lot in Queens, New York City on December 12, 2013 ... the attack by five pit bulls in Carlsbad, Texas on a 28-year old on December 27, 2013 ... the pit bull attack on a Canada Post employee in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada on December 4, 2013. No, this was just the one local story in San Diego circa June 2011:

"A 75-year-old woman who had to have her left leg amputated after being mauled by her neighbor’s two pit bulls remained hospitalized Sunday in critical condition and could possibly lose her other leg and an arm, her husband said. Emako Mendoza was attacked around 6:30 a.m. Saturday inside the fenced backyard of her house."

New phenomena?

Ottawa, Canada, circa 1989, a little 2-year old girl plays with her toys next to an anxious 7-year old family pet, a white Rottweiler. Suddenly, the dog bares his teeth, growls, rises and approaches the girl menacingly. The mother, horrified, jumps into the fray and manages to stop the attack. It had happened in seconds. By pure luck, the mother had been in the room.

pit bull attackThe averted attack was a first. The family dog belonged to the couple when the child was brought home from the hospital but as the child got older, the dog became increasingly unfriendly towards her. This was too much. The husband rushed home from his desk job and consoled both child and wife. The dog was put down that afternoon.

In another case, Marie was pushing her toddler in a stroller up a hill in a quiet Quebec residential area. The infant had brought along her new kitten for the ride. Suddenly, a loose pit bull emerges and jumps onto the carriage before the mother can react, grabs the kitten, lunges away and shakes the kitten violently, breaking its neck. The kitten died instantly but the attack left the mother and child with life-long fears.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports:

"Toronto police fired more than a dozen bullets into two pit bulls that had turned on the man who was walking them as a favour for a friend. Fredericton, N.B.: a family is out walking their Shitzu. A Rottweiler, recently acquired by a neighbor, attacks and kills the dog. In London, Ontario a woman and her seven-year-old son watched in horror as a pit bull latched onto her husband's arm as he tried to keep the family puppy out of the dog's reach."

YouTube has a stock of pit bull attacks caught on tape: viewer caution advised except for pit bull owners who must believe that this is merely the acceptable and occasional price to pay to have such a lovable canine specimen grace Earth.

In the USA in 2009, as of June, there were already 20 reported dog attack deaths according to dogbitelaw.

There are pit bull, rottweiler and bull terrier attacks everyday in our cities, most resulting in minor injuries but some, when death ensues, occupying the headlines for a brief hurrah. In so many more unreported cases, these dogs lunge for a human with serious injury or death prevented only by the sheer strength of the owner or a leash.

These stories play out in homes everywhere these little time bombs are allowed, but kept quiet by owners too embarrassed to speak or too overwhelmed by animal rights to call a spade a spade. The position they hold plays like a broken record:

"The problem is not the dog; it's the owner's neglect of training."

One well-intentioned dog-lover publishes a blog which posts pictures of pit-bulls in calm, puppy poses, over the caption: punish the deed, not the breed.

Another pit bull owner started a Dog Legislation Council of Canada which naively prefers a dog-by-dog approach: wait until a dog has attacked, designate that dog as "dangerous", then control it!

Pit bull attack survivors have set up their own associations. See, for example,

Pit bulls, bull terriers and rottweilers are little lions, naturally fierce animals, walking among us; time bombs waiting to go off under circumstances impossible to control or predict. What one dog might ignore would drive another into a berserk killing frenzy. Pit bulls were bred and selected in 1800s for one purpose: to kill.

In Vanater v Village of South Point, Ohio judge Herman Weber wrote:

"Pit bulls ... possess ... the propensity to catch and maul an attacked victim unrelentingly until death occurs, or as the continuing tenacity and tendency to attack repeatedly for the purpose of killing. (T)he unquantifiable, unpredictable aggressiveness and gameness of Pit Bulls make them uniquely dangerous.

"The breeding history of pit bulls makes it impossible to rule out a violent propensity for any one dog as gameness and aggressiveness can be hidden for years."


Naturally fierce dogs such as rottweilers and pit bulls can be eliminated within 10-15 years by a simple prohibition. No dog lover's feelings need be hurt as such legislation can grand-father in any such dog then alive. When the last one expires, we've purged ourselves of an animal never meant for neighbourhoods.

Far too many owners of pit-bulls or rottweilers own their dogs because they kill, attack, defend and protect. One group of owners can even be stereotyped: male, early to mid-twenties, black leather jackets, baseball caps and curiously unemployed. The dogs are their firearms and are often poorly-cared for.

Funny thing about the law is that it is often municipalities that take the requisite initiative on public safety issues; leading the federal governments and the provincial or state governments. Winnipeg led the way with a ban in 1990 after a young girl was permanently disfigured by a pit bull. The ban reduced the number of attacks in Winnipeg from 25 a year to one or two.Pit bull

Kitchener, Ontario instituted a ban in 1997 on pit bulls and saw the annual attack number go from 18 to 1. Prohibited dogs include pit bulls and bull terriers.

Sioux City, Iowa also banned pit-bulls and bull terriers in 1997, grand-fathering-in existing dogs, but prohibiting further breeding.

Internationally, many jurisdictions have bans, including England, Norway, Iceland, France and New Zealand.

The Canadian province of Ontario introduced a pit bull and bull terrier ban in 2005 which not only prohibited future breeding but requires that all existing dogs be sterilized, leashed and muzzled in public. The law exempts show dogs.

In her 2002 book, Fatal Dog Attacks, author Karen Delise found that most "canine homicides" resulted from attacks by chained dogs or dogs specifically owned for protection, as opposed to family dogs kept in houses. Most deadly dogs were males and almost all the attacking dogs had not been spayed or neutered.

The human wagons are circling pit-bulls and their deadly canine brethren, while the legislators twiddle their thumbs. Home liability insurance policies are now exempting pit-bulls, Rottweilers and bull terriers from coverage. The Allstate Insurance website:

"... in general, you may be covered if your dog bites a guest or someone else on your property.... (but) certain breeds of dogs may be excluded from coverage."

Sometimes, nothing quite does the trick like a well-publicized massive judgment against a tort-feasor. It is unfortunate if it has to come to that because in the aftermath of too many dog attacks, as pit-bull fans wag their tongues, real people are left bloodied and dazed, with permanent emotional and disfiguring scars, wondering what Jurassic creature just hit them.


Posted in Animal Law, Personal Injury and Tort Law

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