The mauling death of a 70-year-old San Bernardino woman underscores the reason that the pit bull remains at the top of all dangerous dog lists around the country, if not the globe. Authorities with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department say that four pit bulls owned by Lana Bergman mauled the woman to death in her Joshua Tree home January 16. The woman, who lives with her husband but was home alone at the time, kept the four pit bulls as family pets. It is unclear if the dogs were provoked, although authorities with the sheriff’s office say that there was no indication that the dogs had been mistreated or that they were malnourished. The dogs were taken into custody by animal control, and it is not clear whether or not the dogs will be euthanized.
Pit bulls are known to be dangerous dogs, despite the debate that is continually surfacing on the subject. An article published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery notes that a five-year review of dog bite injuries at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that more than half of all dog bite attacks, or 51 percent of attacks, among patients there involved a pit bull. An additional 6 percent of attacks involved pit bull mixes. An additional 15-year study in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology found that among all fatal dog attacks in Kentucky, the majority of dogs responsible were pit bulls, Rottweilers and German shepherds.
Pit bull attacks, notes a study in the Annals of Surgery in 2011, were associated with “higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs.” What this means for attacks victims is more complications, longer and more harrowing recovery times and more permanent disabilities and impairments in the aftermath of an attack.
In California, the law requires that dog owners keep their dogs under control in order to prevent dog bite attacks. Dogs are not given “one free bite” as they are in some states; dog owners are strictly liable for dog bites, provided the dog is not provoked to bite. When dog owners fall short of these requirements, they can be held liable for the damages of any dog bite victim, including those bitten on private property and in public parks and on the street.
Dogs are unpredictable, and this breed has proven itself to be dangerous under the right conditions. The dangers of pit bulls are so well known that the breed is banned altogether in some countries. Here in California, 17 municipalities regulate the breed, requiring that owners of pits have them sterilized. Unless the dog is a service dog, police dog, or registered with the AKC or other dog breed organization, then the law requires it to be spayed or neutered in cities like Santa Rosa, San Francisco and Barstow and in Sonoma, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.