Pit bulls stir emotions like no other breed
By The (Easton) Express-times
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 5:50 p.m.
Updated: Saturday, November 10, 2012
BETHLEHEM — Lisa Earich had just gotten out of her Postal Service mail truck to deliver her first stop when she heard a voice saying the dog had gotten out.
“I saw him run past the truck, and it was like he was looking for me,” the 49-year-old mail carrier said. “When he saw me, he just stopped in his tracks and started running toward me really fast.”
The dog was a 70-pound pit bull — a breed that equally stirs fear in dog-bite victims and passion in its advocates — and it had latched onto her before her dog repellant could take effect.
“He was just gnawing on my arm and gnawing on my arm,” Earich, of Bethlehem, recalled of the Oct. 11 attack on Elayne Street in Bethlehem.
The woman watching the pit bull, identified by police as 46-year-old Nelly Santiago, pulled the dog off her, but he got loose again.
“I was on the ground at that time, crying in so much pain,” Earich said. “He came at me again. She must have lost control of him. His tooth went into my eye socket. My hand went to my face and all it was was blood. I was screaming, ‘My eye!' I thought my eye came out. She got him away and he came back again.”
The dog attacked her three times that day, nothing like the little nips from other dogs during her 15 years on the job. Santiago and her son, Hector Vazquez, 21, both of the 1500 block Elayne Street, were cited for failing to confine the dog and obtain proper licensing and vaccinations for it.
Earich got about 36 stitches, mostly on her face and ear; antibiotics; a tetanus shot; and several rounds of rabies shots that began with injections in each arm and leg. She can still see out of the bitten eye.
She escaped with her love for dogs intact. She likes several on her route, and her black Labrador, Bailey, plays with pit bulls at the city's dog park off Illick's Mill Road.
But the attack won't leave her mind, especially when she returns to work, she said.
“Physically maybe I'm hoping I would be better in like two weeks or so, but I don't know about mentally,” she said a few days after the attack.
She told her supervisors, “I didn't think I could ever set foot on that street again because I would visualize the attack again, and they told me they don't expect me to.”
Few dog breeds elicit the passion that pit bulls do.
The breed is seen by advocates as a victim of unfair media coverage, and by critics as a dog hardwired for violence.
October became National Pit Bull Awareness Month last year — Oct. 27 has been National Pit Bull Awareness Day since 2007 — but supporters say myths about the breed still abound.
“We began to sort of blame the dog for what the people were doing,” said Donald Cleary, spokesman for the National Canine Research Council.
Cleary believes news stories about pit bulls inspire intense media coverage.
But the real issue, he said, is much simpler. Attacks like the one on Earich are cases of owner responsibility, he said.
“Someone let a dog escape. If you want mail delivered to your home, you need to control your dog. I don't think it's any more complicated than that,” Cleary said. “Everybody must take care of the dog they have.”
Dog bites are tricky injuries, said Dr. Jonathan Shingles, director of emergency medicine at St. Luke's University Hospital in Fountain Hill. They can crush bone and tissue and create more problems than other superficial wounds.
Shingles said all bite wounds are prone to infection and other problems because a dog's mouth can be full of bacteria and the animals need certain vaccinations. But a dog bite can go beyond the physical.
“Bones will heal. Skin will heal,” Shingles said. “But it's also traumatic.”
Shingles said he has seen and treated bites from a variety of breeds.
“The fact of the matter is, certain breeds of dogs get certain amount of attention,” Shingles said. “But some of the worst damage I've seen is from lap dogs. Any dog has the potential to do serious damage.”
Denise Rader, spokeswoman for St. Luke's, emphasized education, especially for children, for behavior around dogs.
A 10-year-old Towson, Md., boy, Dominic Solesky, had his femoral artery severed by a pit bull in 2007. His father, Anthony, 52, made it a mission to have dangerous dogs exposed for what he believes is their instinct to kill.
Solesky was behind Maryland's recent law that calls pit bulls “inherently dangerous” and stiffens penalties for owners whose dogs attack. Solesky said he felt he lacked sufficient recourse to respond to the owner whose dog nearly killed his son.
“I don't know even how to try to remember the fear that I felt,” Solesky said.
The law has come under fire in Maryland by pit bull owners and advocates, but was upheld by the state appellate court this spring.
David Lee, co-founder of the Lehigh Valley Pit Bull Awareness Club, said his heart goes out to victims of dog attacks, particularly young ones. But Lee said the problem is irresponsibility of owners, not dogs predisposed to hostility.
“I completely understand the passion behind it,” Lee said. “The easiest thing to do would be to get a dog out of the wrong person's hands before something tragic happens.”
Debi El Chaar, head dog trainer at Chaar on Airport Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, said she's met as many aggressive golden retrievers as pit bulls.
El Chaar said she uses pit bulls to help socialize dogs. “You must judge each dog individually,” she said. “Any dog will bite.”
Being aware of a dog's warning signals, which are often motivated by fear, is the best way to prevent problems and learn how to fix them.
Lee said pit bull owners who want to change perceptions must educate.
“Let people know why you have a pit bull,” Lee said. “When approached, you've got be ready with the right answers. If (fans of the breed) are not willing to speak up, then no one is going to speak up.”
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The it's the owner not the breed mantra sounds logical but it's not. This repetitive slogan is illogical. Other dog breeds owned in much greater numbers have equal chances of getting neglectful and abusive owners, yet they adapt to human shortcomings and don't maul people or pets at anywhere near the rate that pitbulls do. Labs are routinely forgotten and chained in backyards and they are the most popular dog breed in America, Labs are not the top killers, pitbull are. Beagles are routinely penned up in backyards and ignored. They are given no human socialization but they do not pose any threat to humans when they get loose. Most dog bites are nothing more than a minor annoyance, as they rarely break the skin. This is why you don't hear about them on the news. If a normal dog is in a fight it will fight until the opponent submits and then stop. Pitbulls don't bite, They maul. They do not stop when the victim submits, they keep on mauling until the pet or human is left in parts. The other problem with pitbulls is that they are extremely strong, and were bred to have fewer pain receptors, and are able to keep breathing while attacking. This makes it extremely hard for people to stop a pitbull attack in progress. News stories are full of stories of strong men being mauled and three or more men being unable to get a pitbull to let go of its victim. Mortality, Maiming and Mauling by Vicious Dogs, Annals of Surgery, April 2011, is study of dog injuries in hospitals spanning the last 15 years. The study found that you have a more than 2500 times higher chance of dying if attacked by a pitbull. In addition it found that pitbulls caused the highest hospital charges, and the most deaths, dismemberments, permanent disability, and disfigurement of all breeds. The study also found that pitbulls attack children, and owners much more often than other breeds AND IT IS FAMILY LOVED AND UNABUSED PITBULLS THAT ARE MAULING PEOPLE. Despite be given all the love and care that other dogs enjoy, pitbulls turn suddenly and the owners are always shocked by the sudden change in behavior. Alexandra Semyonova, a world reknown animal researcher and author of the book, The 100 Silliest Things People say About Dogs, says pitbulls have a disconnect between the thinking and impulse control centers in the brain and a different chemical make up in the brain. Just as you can't see a gene that suddenly turns on cancer, you can't see the gene that is suddenly activated in a pitbull making them violent. I personally know of several people who had a pitbull turn on them after years of normal behavior. Personal accounts of owners who had "nice" pitbulls doesn't mean that pitbulls are not dangerous. This again is illogical. The statistics on pitbulls seriously harming people at a much higher rate than other dogs are overwhelming. You can't love out genes or untrain genes. Family owned and loved pitbulls can turn on a dime. If you believe that pitbulls are just like any other dog, and regurgitate the false "its the owner not the breed mantra" you might of believed the world was flat, too Just because something sounds good doesn't make it true. LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, don't own a pitbull!