Fatal Pacifica dog attack dredges up questions over pit bulls 

Last week’s tragic fatal pit bull mauling of a pregnant woman in Pacifica has raised inevitable questions about the safety of owning the dogs. While pit bulls are regulated in San Francisco with strict breeding licenses, plus spay and neuter requirements, no such breed-specific regulations exist in Pacifica.

While the death of 32-year-old Darla Napora is still under investigation, Pacifica police said the 2-year-old male dog — shot dead by officers when it tried to escape a backyard fence after the woman’s death — was not neutered. Police have not determined what made the dog turn on his owner or whether the woman’s pregnancy played a part in the attack. The family owned another younger female pit bull, which is being held at a shelter while police determine what to do with her.

Ken Phillips, an attorney who specializes in dog-bite cases, said while no good data exist to determine whether pit bulls make up the majority of bite cases, the breed is clearly responsible for most of the attacks that lead to death.

“The death cases are reported widely and studied closely. Pit bulls are doing most of the killing,” Phillips said. “This dog is hardwired to kill other dogs.”

While there are several breeding combinations for pit bulls, they are derived from bull-dog and terrier mixes. Some of those were bred specifically for the brutal 18th century English gambling trend called “bull-baiting,” in which they would be directed to gang up on agitated bulls. The dogs were later bred to fight each other.

But pit bull rescue organizations are quick to note that while they are fighting dogs, they were also meant to be kind and protective toward humans and they were even once used as “nanny” dogs to watch over children. They said if pit bulls are suddenly prone to attack, it probably has more to do with negligent owners than the nature of the breed.

“The blame almost always falls on the guardian,” said John Griffin of The City’s Dogtown Rescue. “People should take care of them and train them, get them fixed. Not just because it’s the law, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Rebecca Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control, said that the practice of “backyard breeding” also presents a problem when breeders seek to make hundreds of dollars per puppy without regard for the temperament of the dogs — or the buyers. The department runs an adoption program that deals with a lot of pit bulls, which are highly prone to abuse, Katz said.

“These kind of stories bring an awful reputation to the breed,” Katz said. “And it’s not the breed. I hope it won’t scare people from adopting a pit bull. We screen the dog and the adopters.”

Denver and Miami have laws banning or severely restricting ownership of the dogs.

San Francisco’s pit bull regulations

If you own a pit bull, you must get the dog spayed or neutered:

If you want to breed pit bulls, you must:
- Get a special annual permit and list the permit number on all advertisement and sales
- Provide the Department of Animal Care and Control with information about the number of puppies born and to whom they were sold

$500: Maximum fine for failure to spay or neuter, or for violation of the breeding permit
$100: Maximum fine for first offense in not reporting number of pit bull puppies born

Source: San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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Dan Schreiber

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