DennisBeaverJune 29, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

“Our neighbors have a pit bull, and we really are afraid of it. A chain-link fence separates our homes, and when we walk to get the mail or newspaper, it follows us, growling. When their gate is left open, the dog runs around the neighborhood barking and everyone who sees it immediately walks the other way.

“Trying to be good neighbors, we and others have brought this to the owner’s attention, with little results, in part, we think, because we hear them screaming and yelling at each other and their children at all hours of the day and night. ”

“Pit bulls are dangerous dogs. We have two daughters in junior high school and are very worried. Do you have recommendations on how to react if it appears we could be attacked by the dog?” Thanks, Margaret.

We phoned our reader, and spoke with a family who reflected the commonly held belief that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. But when animal control officers are asked about pit bulls, a very different picture emerges.

“Pit bulls get a bad rap. I love pit bulls,” Animal Control Officer Amanda Uthoff of the Hanford Police Department told You and the Law. “There is no scientific evidence that any one breed of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog. Any dog has the potential of being dangerous, but the media tends to exaggerate and blow things out of proportion when a pit bull is involved.

“While they were bred for fighting, the breed appears to be reverting to where it was in the 1700s, as a nanny dog, watching over children and protecting families.

“They are wonderful dogs and very loyal, but in the wrong hands, a pit bull has no chance.”

HPD Capt. Parker Sever agrees:

“In many cases, you can trace the dangerous tendencies of most any dog, including pit bulls, to the owners. Angry, anti-social or dysfunctional people communicate the wrong things and often refuse to maintain proper enclosures, and when the dog runs loose, this can spell trouble for anyone nearby. That could easily be the situation your readers are in, evidenced by the screaming from next door. For that reason, they need to contact law enforcement when that dog gets out.”

Keep your distance

You and the Law presented Uthoff with a common situation:

“I walk outside to get the newspaper or perhaps am about to get into or out of my car. My neighbor’s dog is on my driveway, growling and barking loudly, its tail pointed straight and not wagging.  What should I do?”

She provided the following recommendations, and it is no exaggeration to consider this as life-saving advice:

• Go back into your house or, if you are in your car, stay there.

• If at all possible, do not turn your back to the dog as this is a green light for it to consider you prey and weak. A threatening dog running loose isn’t man’s best friend.

• Do not make eye contact with the dog. As a prey-driven animal, it could feel challenged or threatened by your staring, and that’s all that it takes to be attacked.

• You cannot outrun most dogs. If you start to run — especially if there are multiple dogs running loose — animal instinct takes over, sees you and the chase is on. But this is no game of “fetch the ball.” People doing nothing more sinister than going out for a walk have been mauled to death by trying to outrun a dog.

• While admittedly difficult to do, experience has shown that your own body language can send a powerful, reassuring signal to the dog by simply standing where you are, avoiding eye contact, and beginning to back off. The dog will likely conclude that you are not a threat and move along.

Self-defense tools to consider

Uthoff and Sever strongly feel that it is important that joggers, folks out for a walk or bicycling realize that the risks of being bitten are real. Last year set a record for more than 5 million dog bites, with close to 1 million requiring medical care.

“For these reasons, law enforcement agencies recommend becoming familiar with the self-defensive tools on the market. Some of the most effective, non-lethal, inexpensive and easy to use are Mace and pepper and citronella spray,” Uthoff advises.

In addition to chemical deterrents, there is an entirely different class of dog deterrents: hand-held devices which emit ultra-high frequency sound waves dogs find tremendously irritating.

Last year in reviewing the Dazer II Dog Deterrent — used by many FedEx drivers — out of nowhere appeared a charging rottweiler, who evidently wasn’t a fan of this column. One push of the button stopped the advancing hound instantly.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.