I have a dog in this fight. Or, rather, I had a cat.
Mr. Whiskers was my buddy for 12 years. He sat by my computer while I worked, came with me on walks under the stars after work was done, and often lay out in the grass by the sidewalk, welcoming passersby like a greeter at Walmart. He was big-pawed, big-tummied, big-hearted.
Then one day he went up to greet a neighbor’s dog, a pit bull. Fatal mistake. With one gulp, that pit had Mr. Whiskers’s head in his mouth. Mr. Whiskers’s claws were still outside, and I’m proud to say he shredded the hell out of the pit’s chest and face as he flailed and probably screamed, trying to get loose.
Another brave neighbor saw what was going on and tried to separate Mr. Whiskers from the dog’s jaws, but as they say, you don’t unlock a pit. That’s bred into them, to take bulls down by the nose. When the dog finally did drop Mr. Whiskers, the cat was dead.
That’s when I started paying attention to pits. Reading the stats. Because, it turns out they seriously kill people, too. According to Dogsbite.org, a victims’ website, pit bulls mauled to death 176 Americans between 2005 and 2013.
In 2013, pit bulls killed 25 of the 32 Americans mauled to death by dogs, or 78 percent. Yet, pit bulls make up only about 6 percent of the total U.S. dog population. San Diego makes no effort to regulate these animals. The only exception: La Mesa.
In 2012, four people died by dog in California. The scariest thing: three of those four were killed here in San Diego County.
Rina Kelley had a pit bull encounter of the really scary kind in late 2013 (as reported by Bruce Kauffman in these pages). I’ve come down to Imperial Beach to hear firsthand what being attacked by a pit is like.
Kelley’s a cultured, forthright woman, a classical pianist of passionate Hungarian and Italian extraction. In 2013 she suffered multiple bites from a pit bull while she and her daughter were walking their dogs.
So, she and I are hiking the beach to the exact spot where the attack happened. We’re just south of the “Elephant Cage,” the Navy’s 50-year-old circular radio antenna.
“We were throwing kelp balls all along here,” Kelley says. “And my daughter’s four dogs were chasing them. Then, the balls landed by a woman who was walking her pit bull.
“I thought to myself, Uh-oh. That’s the end of Ricky. That’s the end of the chihuahua. The pit bull attacked, all right, but he went after another of our dogs, Sparky. He grabbed him by the throat. Jamie, my daughter, and I ran up immediately and grabbed them.
“The pit bull wouldn’t let go. Jamie got on top of him. I was trying to pull Sparky from his jaws.
“Jamie said, ‘Stop pulling, Mom. You’re going to hurt him more.’
“She was right. If you pulled [Sparky] a little away, it would grip again. So, I was tearing Sparky. Jamie said, ‘Ma! Get his ears!’ Except the pit bull had no ears. I couldn’t grab them. What you needed was a sharp object to stick in his eye or his ear, to stop him.
“Then Jamie had this idea. We dragged the pit and Sparky into the water. Held the pit’s head under the waves. He was drowning. Only then did he let go. Sparky ran away, and I thought it was over.
“But when Jamie got off the pit, it got up and ran after Sparky. And he attacked again. As I was picking Sparky up, the pit bit me. Bit my hands, grabbed Sparky again.
“And so I dragged the pit into the water again and kneeled on his head, until he released Sparky again. This time there’s blood all over. My hands are all bloody.
“Jamie yelled at me ‘Pick him up, Ma! Pick him up! Go! Go!’ Sparky was heavy with water. My legs cramped up. I dropped him. All this time Jamie was sitting on top of the pit bull. ‘I’m not leaving this dog until you get his leash, his muzzle, his collar and you come and sit on him,’ she yelled at the owner. The dog was biting every which way. He was dangerous.”
They finally escaped and sought out an emergency vet.
“We did not know if our dog was going to live or die. He was so badly chewed up and bleeding. We thought it was all over for him. The pit bull was fine. But my hands were a mess. Puncture wounds. Blood. Pain. He also bit the owner.
Rina Kelly recounts the pit bull attack
Rina Kelly talks about the pit bull attack on Sparky and her family while walking on the beach.
“The doctor at the emergency clinic wanted $2500 for surgery, suturing, all kinds of stuff. We asked the doctor, ‘What’s his prognosis for survival? Can he eat?’
She said, ‘Well, the bad thing is that he’s going to lose his glove of flesh around the lower jaw, his tongue will probably be hanging out,’ — which, miraculously, it doesn’t — ‘he has no teeth on his lower jaw, and he’ll probably lose the ability to salivate. He’s young. He can probably make it. But he’s in a lot of pain. Healing will be a painful process.”
And the other dog’s owner? “She says her dog didn’t bite. She denied everything, to save the dog. So, it’s lawyers now between us. If the water hadn’t been there and my brilliant daughter thought of dragging the pit under, it would have been far worse. Now I feel like bringing a gun to the beach, just in case it happens again. Because the city does nothing to protect us.”
So, Kelley started a petition to persuade the City of Imperial Beach to control its citizens’ more aggressive dogs.
“We ask that these Principal Reforms take effect immediately and be made public by the city:
“1. Dog owners provide proof of insurance to be deposited with the City at time of licensing their dog and carry such proof of insurance on their person if visiting the City. The only exception would be for dogs twenty pounds or under and not one of the Dangerous Breeds.
“2. Immediately Ban all Pits, Rots, Dobermans and Shepherds from City Beaches because their only purpose for coming is to let them run at large on the beach and if they are leashed they still pose a severe threat to persons, their children, and their pets attempting to enjoy the Beach.
“3. Adopt immediately Ordinance Number 921 from Riverside County requiring mandatory sterilization of all Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Shepherds and other Dangerous Breeds listed in the Top Ten Dangerous Dog Breeds by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control].
“4. Raise the License Fee to $200 for any non-sterilized dog with a view toward encouraging sterilization.…”