For all of the consensus against breed-specific bans, it's an undeniable fact that dogs bite, and sometimes kill. And that is also true of pit bulls — even pit bulls who weren't abused in their youth.
St. Louis native Adonis Reddick, who was profiled in the RFT in June, was beloved locally as a disability rights activist. He'd helped a friend and roommate care for her pit bull, Milow, since the dog was a puppy, and he kept Milow after she moved out.
As the RFT reported, Reddick's daughter, Danielle, had her concerns about Milow, who "just went crazy" after he spotted her infant daughter. But Reddick didn't want to turn the dog over to a shelter where he might be euthanized.
On May 11, Reddick's father and brother found Reddick in a pool of blood and Milow barking, teeth bared. Reddick's family called 911. The police officers who responded shot the dog and later confirmed Milow had killed his guardian.
"All we know is the dog got at him, and we don't know why," Aaron Reddick, Adonis' father, told the RFT. "We'll probably never know."
Stories like Reddick's resonate, and the Internet offers dozens more examples. These stories often shape public policy. In June, Christiane Vadnais was killed by a dog that may or may not have been a pit bull in Montreal, Canada. After a long court battle, the pit bull ban introduced in the immediate aftermath of Vadnais' death went into effect in the Canadian city on December 1.
In the comments section of any story relating to pit bulls, you can find the two factions battling it out: the pro-pit bull side is fiercely defensive, often testifying emotionally to the safety and sweetness of their pets, while the anti-pit bull group retaliates with anecdotes of the dogs' violence, excoriating anyone who defends them or would allow a child to be around them.
Many online debates have a few of the same recurring characters. There's Jeff Borchardt, the leader of the somewhat hysterical Facebook group "Against the Pit Bull Propaganda Machine." There's Merritt Clifton, a longtime blogger and purveyor of misleading statistics about the danger of pit bulls.
Then there's Colleen Lynn, the closest thing the nebulous anti-pit bull movement has to a leader. Lynn operates DogsBite.org, which (unlike many of the other sites on the topic) is well-organized and professional; she's a web designer by training. She was attacked by a pit bull while on a morning jog, a frightening episode that made her an activist.
Describing the attack on her website, Lynn recalled the horror in a vivid present tense account. "I am terrified of releasing my hand that is covering the wound. I fear that I will see bones and ligaments popping out," Lynn wrote. "Worse, I fear that the ONLY thing that is keeping my right forearm connected to my body is my left hand. To let go would force me to see that the dog had actually bitten my arm into two pieces."
DogsBite chronicles hundreds of dog attacks, many of them fatal. It also rigorously documents laws on the state, county and local level that govern dog ownership, offers tips on avoiding dog attacks, counters "pit bull myths" and hosts a blog that covers what Lynn sees as the failure from animal rights activists to consider the experiences of dog bite victims. There are no reliable statistics on how many pit bull attacks occur in the United States, or how many of them are fatal, but Lynn makes a valiant effort to track down each one that makes the news.
"We all miss the person we were prior to the attack," Lynn wrote. "The trauma of a violent dog attack, along with the subsequent minimization of it by social forces, forever removes parts of a person. These missing parts are often aspects of an individual's identity and trust systems. The process of rebuilding them takes time. Four years later, I think I am about half way there."
The site directs readers to the donation funds of many victims of severe dog attacks, but it also offers a degree of disdain for owners whose dogs attack them or their children. "No information was provided about where the mother located the dog — on Craigslist, Facebook or a rescue dog forum board?" the DogsBite blog asks scornfully about the mother of a four-year-old girl who was killed by a recently adopted doberman. (Lynn said she would not have time for an interview with the RFT.)
Brent Toellner, an animal rescue worker and blogger who frequently takes on anti-pit bull tropes on his website, KC Dog Blog, says the arguments can be fierce. "There can be a lot of junk that gets spewed online. Online comments sections are like that."
Toellner started doing research on pit bulls when he was considering adopting one twelve years ago. He did, and then did even more research when Kansas City, where he lives, was considering a breed ban. The ban didn't pass, but Toellner used his new knowledge to begin talking about pit bull issues.
Toellner believes that sites like DogsBite.org are full of "errors of omission" — the omission being the professional consensus against breed bans. And that helps elected officials believe that the issue isn't settled.
"These debates are pretty one-sided when it comes to the information that's out there," Toellner says. "It's pretty overwhelming."