Wash day. Pop wet clothes into basket, grab clothespins. Peer out window. Seeing nothing, race across yard to clothesline, wishing I'd asked for a Taser for Mother's Day. Slap up laundry. Peek under sheets. Coast is clear. Run back to house. Safe!
Typical laundry day for the past year. Also, outdoor grilling, gardening, lawn watering and fruit harvesting. Why? Two words. Pit bulls. Yard next to ours. Big dogs. Four-legged terrorists. News coverage describing how pit bulls have savaged some human beings. Women and children, mostly. It is small comfort, then, that we are separated from a pair of pit bulls by an invisible "fence" that sometimes contains them.
Sometimes, but not always. Click for more.
The larger dog is massive. His barrel chest houses a deep, authoritative bark that demands instant attention. However, it is the smaller dog that trends more aggressive, in our experience -- notably, the day it charged into our yard at David, baring its teeth and snarling.
David grew up around German shepherds. So, unlike me, he is not easily intimidated by big dogs with bad reputations. But when he found himself within 10 feet of a snarling pit bull, he knew he was in trouble. He didn't move. He didn't blink. The standoff ended when the dog's owner summoned it home.
On a different occasion, one of the dogs raced through the invisible "fence" in its frenzy to catch up with another neighbor's dog.
Now, as someone who has long championed individual rights, I guess people are entitled to own pit bulls, Akitas, rottweilers and other aggressive breeds. That said, I cannot fathom what moves them to do so. But I also champion individual rights to safety and peace of mind. It appears the deck is stacked in favor of dogs that inspire fear.
We contacted Animal Control. The officer was very accommodating. But our examination of city ordinances illustrated that options are limited. To be classified dangerous, a dog must inflict "substantial bodily harm" on a human being. Just so you know? Bodily injury is "a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member." There's more, but that got my full attention.
Bottom line: no harm, no foul.
Did you know that pit bull advocates have websites? Essentially, their message is "These dogs are getting a bad rap." Meaning, I guess, "My dog has never killed or mauled anyone." Yet. The possibility is there. Always. These are not soft-mouthed dogs, bred to retrieve ducks without destroying them.
Living near them is unnerving. It has had a profound effect on quality of life in the 'hood.
It has come to this. We and our nearby neighbors (who have small, medium and large children) have become hypervigilant, wary of the possibility of dog attack. At our house, we are no longer comfortable being in our own yard, entertaining there or having neighbor kids and grandchildren play among our gardens and fruit trees.
I respectfully suggest that if these breeds must be tolerated among us, then it is incumbent upon cities to require their owners to erect strong, tall fences, expertly installed and periodically inspected. In addition, as has been done in some communities, the city should require a homeowners' insurance rider covering "substantial bodily harm" that might be inflicted by the dog (aka, closing the barn door). And the city should impose a significant license fee for pit bulls and similar dogs.
Proactive, preventive measures are needed to protect residents. It's doubtful that state Rep. John Lesch's bill banning these breeds altogether will succeed. So please mandate fences for them, sooner rather than later.
I'll take my chances with Chihuahuas.
(originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 18)