'Pit bull' label clarified in Wilton case
Updated 11:25 pm, Tuesday, November 19, 2013
WILTON -- Does it make a difference how a dog is categorized when it has savaged a human victim?
The Board of Selectmen on Monday night discussed whether the dog that attacked and seriously injured a town resident was properly labeled a pit bull.
Police Capt. John Lynch updated the board on the Nov. 11 attack that cost Anne Murray, 56, all of one arm and the other up to the elbow. She also had bite wounds all over her body. A town police officer shot and killed the dog.
"The dog involved is in the group of dogs commonly referred to as a `pit bull'; however my understanding is that pit bull is not a breed itself, but is part of the terrier breed," said Lt. Don Wakeman, the Police Department spokesman.
According to veterinary records, "Tuxedo," the dog that attacked Murray, is listed as a Staffordshire terrier.
"The term `pit bull' is a very generic term used to describe dogs with similar physical characteristics," said Racquel Trapp, director of Angel Capone Pit Bull Rescue in Bridgeport.
"Usually a `pit bull' is considered one of several breeds, including the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, bull terriers and American pit bull terrier," Trapp wrote in an email to the Connecticut Post. "The problem is there are many other breeds that look similar. It seems whenever there is an attack, and the dog even has a feature close to one of these breeds, the media automatically lists it as a pit bull, no DNA test, no (American Kennel Club) paperwork."
Trapp said that Staffordshire terriers have a better temperament than other popular breeds, including beagles and golden retrievers. That is borne out in data from the American Temperament Test Society, which tests purebred and mixed-breed dogs.
But a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that pit bull breeds were involved in 42 (41 percent) of the 101 deaths in which the dog's breed was reported, almost three times as often as German shepherds, the next most commonly reported breed.
But whatever the breed's reputation, the 2-year-old Tuxedo savagely attacked Murray, whose sons reportedly owned the dog.
Passing motorists saw the dog in the street and stopped to call 911. Murray was found under a car in her driveway, trying to shield herself from further attack. She is recovering from her injuries at Norwalk Hospital.
Wakeman said Tuesday police have not yet been able to interview the victim. "The case is still under investigation and we remain hopeful to learn additional information as to what may have prompted this attack," he said.
For Kayte Zowine, co-director of the Bridgeport-based Project Precious Rescue, it is an open-and-shut case. Zowine said in an email to the Connecticut Post that coverage of the Murray case has created "mass hysteria" and resulted in "people dumping their dogs in huge numbers now because they're worried because of the `pit bull' attack."
But Stacy Rameor, the animal control officer in Greenwich, and Allyson Halm, president of Adopt-a-Dog Inc., said they haven't seen an influx of pit bulls being surrendered since the Wilton attack.
About 75 percent of the calls Adopt-a-Dog gets from owners looking to surrender a dog involve pit bulls or pit bull mixes, Halm said. Adopt-a-Dog, founded in Greenwich in 1981, is an animal rescue organization serving Connecticut and New York.
Most dogs in area animal shelters are pit bulls, and the dogs are particularly difficult to place, officials said. "It is a bit harder to find a foster home for any bully breed dog due to the negative stereotypes and we focus on all of them," Trapp said.
"Bottom line, it is all how the dog was raised; any dog can bite,'' she said. "But there is a reason, either genetics, a mental issue, steroids or simply because it was taught to bite."