Monday, May 18, 2009

"Dangerous dogs" and Public Housing in New York City

A friend from NYC took partial exception to some things I wrote yesterday in “Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and guns in New York City.” I shall be disagreeing with him partially.

He described a traumatic experience in which his own dog was attacked by a pit bull and in which he had to kill the pit bull before it would let go. In another incident a few months later “a man in Brooklyn had half his face torn off as he attempted to save his dog from a pit bull . . .”

Then he wrote,

“The problem with these large or dangerous dogs -- in the city in general not merely in public housing -- is that, too often, the people who own them are not qualified. Attacks are not uncommon, and every month or so, one reads about children killed by large dogs owned by stupid masters. This problem is compounded by the reality of city life -- that people are compacted together, and in this concentrated population of apartments and high rises are more easily exposed to random dog violence arising from stupid or cruel masters.

“Additionally, these large dogs are often used as defensive measures by drug dealers and other felons, especially in urban public housing. Nine times out of ten, the dogs in housing projects are there to protect illegal activity, not personal freedom, and sometimes maim police or even firefighters.”

My prejudices against NYC:

Thinking about NYC is for me like thinking of Dante’s Inferno or the planet Lieutenant Ripley landed on; so I admit to being prejudiced against the city. I thought Garden Grove in California congested and retired early so I could move to a relatively small rural town. But the large congested cities often inflict the laws they intend to solve the problems caused by their congestion on the entire nation – the uncongested part as well as the congested. How can they do this? When you add up all the people living in cities and compare that number to the people that don’t, they have the votes, and they don’t intend to leave the rest of us alone; so we read about the traumas of NYC and worry about our uncertain future.

Number of people killed each year by dogs: Let’s look first at the actual threat toward people: According to the Humane Society 300 people were killed in the US between 1979 and the 1990s: The Humane Society compared that to deaths by coyotes and mountain lions and by comparison that seems a lot, but when you consider that the US population is 300,000,000 then 300 doesn’t seem like a lot.

The last time I checked the estimates of the number of people killed by dogs each year, the high number I found was about 30.

Notice another statistic, if it can be believed: says that more than 20,000 dogs are killed every year in dog fights. It doesn’t say whether these deaths occur entirely in the US.—probably not, but some of them do and some pit bulls are taught to be vicious by drug dealers as my friend suggests, but is it better to focus on the dog or on the people training the dog to fight or protect drugs?

This sounds very like the gun argument. Guns are used to kill a certain number of people every year; therefore let us ban guns. The people pulling the triggers or training pit bulls to fight or guard drugs aren’t mentioned nearly so much as the implements of their criminal behavior – at least not in the sense of wanting to create a principle (law) to solve the problems.

Are certain breeds inherently dangerous? For every story like the one my friend has, lovers of pit bulls can produce a hundred in which their beloved pit bulls frolic with or protect their children. Certain breeds are inherently dangerous in the same way an automobile is dangerous. If a person doesn’t learn to drive properly then he may kill someone. Death by automobile occurs about 42,000 times each year in the US.; which to my untrained rural eye seems a more serious problem than Pit Bulls. Laws have been passed to force prospective drivers to meet some minimum standards regarding driving ability. Before banning cars or pit bulls, NYC might consider creating more stringent tests for prospective owners.

Relative danger of dangerous dogs. Here are some interesting comparisons from :

Killed in car accidents


Killed by the common flu


Killed by murders


Killed in airline crashes
(of 477m passenger trips)

120 (1)

Killed by lightning strikes


Killed by Anthrax


Is the American Staffordshire Terrier a “dangerous breed”? I had occasion to study this breed a bit, looking for a smaller dog that might compliment my Rhodesian Ridgeback on hikes in the future. The Amstaff, or AST, as they are called was the first breed recognized by the AKC. This occurred in 1936. Fanciers liked certain qualities in the Staffordshire Terrier but wanted something larger and less pugnacious, something that would make a good all-around farm dog. They liked the old pit-bull look, but they didn’t like the aggressiveness; so they spent time “softening” the breed. Thus, today, you can buy an AST, give it a small amount of training, socialize it by letting the neighborhood children pet it and have an excellent family dog. But wait, you might say. Didn’t Michael Vick turn some Amstaffs into fighting dogs?

Yeah, he did. Unfortunately you can do that will a whole long list of dogs. You can treat them in such a way that they can become vicious. The list that the NYC authorities began with probably included most of those breeds. If it can be made vicious, then ban it seemed to be their philosophy.

I still like the idea of an Amstaff. I can imagine having a Ridgeback male of about 90 pounds and an Amstaff female of about 40 pounds. I think they would suit the circumstances I face in the places I like to hike very well. My Amstaff would be no more dangerous than my Rhodesian Ridgeback. However, I must concede, dog fighters don’t seem to want to use the Ridgeback; so no one is proposing to outlaw them (well maybe they are. I haven’t seen the initial NYC Housing Authority list). Dog fighters like the Amstaff; so despite the wonderful dogs a breeder near me produces, they can be treated in a way that was never intended by the developers of the breed and made vicious. Laws may be passed to attempt to eliminate the Amstaff because it can be used by dangerous people. Does that make sense to anyone that doesn’t live in NYC?

The Dream and the Reality. We know what happened to the Soviet Union. Marx, Engels and Lenin had a great dream of a communist paradise. Lenin brought this dream into reality in the sense of putting it to the test. It failed. Interestingly the Soviet governmental structure survived long after the actual experiment had failed. Here in the West, not just in the US, we have been subjected to similar if less radical experiments. Public housing is one of them. Liberals thought they were doing good, but the recipients of this example of tax-payer largesse haven’t turned into the “Noble Savages” that Rousseau anticipated. Rousseau has long since been proved wrong and all the experiments conducted in his name have proved wrong as well. The Savage produce isn’t noble, just savage. Most of the liberal programs the West has been subjected to year after year have failed. Here is another one. Now if some from NYC and other cities that have Public Housing claim the experiment hasn’t quite failed just yet, does this mean they are still hanging onto the dream? That is inconceivable to me. It is easier to think that like Stalin they are hanging onto their power after the death of the dream.

Public Housing in New City The following is from Chapter 5 of a book by Phillip Thompson, Housing and community development in New York. The chapter is entitled “Public Housing in New York City”: “Public housing across the country has a number of well-known problems, including poor design, inadequate funding, a large concentration of very poor people, lack of social services for residents, high crime rates, and bad management. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) historically has earned a reputation as the showcase public housing authority in the country. However valid this reputation in the past, high rates of resident unemployment, lack of social services, crime and an outdated management structure have eroded NYCHA’s luster. NYCHA faces a difficult and uncertain future.”

Don’t we all, Mr.Thompson. Don’t we all.

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