I once kept eight beagles in my backyard. When my wife complained, I'd tell her to choose which ones needed to go. It was a pure bluff: Some were prize-winning field trial hounds, others house pets. However, they all had eager, loving hearts, and she knew all their names.
But for all my foolhardy animal passions, I have never harbored a pit bull. Nor would I. Just as beagles are obsessed with tracking rabbits, pit bulls are preoccupied with fighting. It's in their genes. They aren't so much protective as simply belligerent.
Alas, that's what some people like about them. Others appear simply naive about what the animals are capable of. Statistics show that pit bulls are involved in four out of five — 80 percent — fatal human attacks. (Only beagles and basset hounds have never been implicated.)
So here's my story: Three weeks ago, I was walking my two big dogs in a city park. Jessie and Maggie are a Great Pyrenees and a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian cross. Both are shepherd's dogs historically bred to fight wolves. Weighing roughly 120 pounds, mine spent their first eight years guarding our farm against coyotes and cow-chasing dogs. Mostly they guarded cats, of which they're fond, and farm animals generally.
Jesse appears to think he's the king/boss dog of the world, which in his quite limited experience seems true. I once saw him pitch into two coyotes pestering my neighbor's goats. He shook one, threw it, and then started after the second, which took off at warp speed while its companion skulked away. Then Jesse picked up a goat kid and carried it unharmed to the herd.
Another time, he protected my wife from a charging mama cow. She wanted no part of him.
Nobody taught him these things; they're what the Great Pyrenees breed does. Jesse's consort, Maggie, fears just one thing: him. Otherwise, she's equally powerful and more aggressive. Maggie simply will not abide a challenge. It's the Anatolian in her, a Turkish breed inclined to be territorial. When they were younger, they spent a lot of time play-fighting — perfecting their moves.
People they like in their aloof way; children, they love. Even so, everything else being equal, I wouldn't keep these dogs in the city. But I couldn't abandon them after nine years, and they've adjusted. Our backyard fence is impregnable, the gates padlocked shut. We walk several miles together every day. Maggie needed some persuading that dogs we encounter aren't looking for trouble, but she's intelligent and I'm large enough to restrain them, so all is well.
So there we were in Allsopp Park near the end of our outing. As we passed a playground crowded with small children on a sunny afternoon, I saw a large pit bull, unleashed and dead-heading toward us with unmistakably aggressive intent. I called for somebody to control him. But nobody there owned him, so nobody acted.
There were no preliminaries. The pit launched directly for Maggie's throat. Wrong move. He got nothing but a mouthful of thick fur. In a flash, she'd seized his ear in her jaws, thrown her leg over, and pinned the crazy SOB to the ground. No way was she going to let him get back up.
Jesse tore into his hamstring.
A sane dog would have surrendered. But this was a pit bull.
Ordinarily, I could have pulled my dogs away. But not with a furious death grip on an 80-pound dog. I was afraid they were going to maim or kill him in front of the children and their mothers. Luckily, one fellow took Jesse's leash and tried to pull him away as I tugged Maggie in the opposite direction.
Another young father grabbed the pit's collar and lifted him off the ground without getting bitten — above and beyond the call of duty. A third guy produced a leash, and led the dog away with its terrified owner, a girl about 12 who'd left the front door open and had been chasing her dog across the park.
Maggie's face was covered in blood, none of it hers. Disaster had been averted. My dogs were excited and happy: Is it suppertime yet?
But what if I'd been walking dachshunds or cocker spaniels? What if nobody was there to help? It wasn't the poor girl's fault; the blame lay with whoever left a child alone with a deadly weapon.
So let the pit bull-fancier's rationalizations begin. I believe I've heard them all. What they basically amount to, as one friend put it, is, "Gee, he never killed a child before."
Possibly this breed has a place in today's world, although I can't think what it is. Like smoking or riding a motorcycle without a helmet, owning a pit bull should be seen as anti-social and stupid.
It wouldn't trouble me if it were illegal.