Anatomy Of A Pit Bull Narrative


Rhoda Wagner, 60, was killed by three dogs that appear to have been some variety of pit bull-type breeds or pit bull breed mixes. She was caring for the dogs for her roommate. Jonathan Turley flagged the story for his own purposes: he was interested in talking about how the law treats such attacks. This one was in Pennsylvania, which has no “dangerous breed laws” (yet), and the owner had the dogs euthanized. However, as in almost all of the tragedies exploited by dog bigots to cast any dog that looks like pit bull supposedly looks as dangerous monsters, this story is missing too many facts to know who to blame and what happened.

Turley doesn’t help, and reveals himself as a a dog breed tyro by referring to the dogs as “pit bulls.” “Pit bull” isn’t a single breed, and as I’ve written here already too often, incidents involving eight or more distinct breeds, as well as mixes, are routinely reported as involving “pit bulls.” This accounts for the extreme statistics reported by anti-pit bull breed propagandists like (which was naturally used as an authority in several of the articles about the Pennsylvania attack).

The police called the dogs “pit bull terriers.” The American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed, but unless abused or trained to fight, not one known for aggression. The few, inconclusive photos I’ve seen of one of the dogs suggest a Staffordshire Terrier mix of some kind, but who knows? There is no information so far about whether the three dogs were even the same breed or mix or from the same litter: police don’t know dog breeds. An incident can’t be used to impugn a breed or breed of dogs without accurate identification of what they were.

Next, as Turley notes, we don’t know if any of the dogs had been abused or had any prior incidents of aggression. Were they rescues? Many, maybe most, pit bull breeds and mixes are. Rescues—of all breeds— have special issues and triggers. Most important of all, how well were the dogs trained? All of the pit bull breeds are intelligent and train relatively easily. They also often will obey only their master. Not training large dogs adequately is negligence. (No, I still can’t get Spuds to lie down.)

Third, what was the relationship between the dogs and the victim? I assume that the room mate was well-acquainted with the dogs, and also had no special reason to fear them. However, I am a 6′, 200 pound man; I am used to dogs and have owned dogs bigger than any of the pit bull breeds along with having Spuds as a companion now. Yet I would never house sit for three large, powerful dogs that I didn’t own. I wouldn’t dare own three large dogs either. Dogs are animals, and have moods, off-days and moments of unexpected behavior. They are also pack animals. Three dogs is a pack, and a pack can be like a human mob. A woman who does not own them taking care of three large dogs is a disaster waiting to happen. It wasn’t the dogs that arranged this.

Finally, one report claims that the victim tried to break up a fight between two of the dogs. If so, she chose…poorly. Even in “Babe,” the loyal Boarder Collie Rex bit Mr. Hoggett when he tried to stop a fight with another dog. At the dog park I go to, where dogs occasionally have brief spats, it takes two or more owners to break up the dogs safely. If the woman (her name was Rhoda Wagner, and she was 60) tried to interfere with two battling dogs of 50 pounds or more with a third one around, she was risking life and limb. It doesn’t matter it the dogs were pit bull terriers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Greyhounds, Huskies, Standard Poodles or Golden Retrievers. The pack could have turned on her.

Incidentally, the dog above, a newish breed called an “American Bully,” is not a “pit bull,” and as far as I can determine none of them has ever attacked anyone. But I guarantee you that if one did. it would be reported as a “pit bull attack.”

8 thoughts on “Anatomy Of A Pit Bull Narrative

  1. Anything that stimulates a dog’s brain, (aggression, food, sex, etc.) can cause “over stimulation”. This may result in “target fixation” causing situational awareness to disappear. The only remedy is to break that focus, (water hose, loud noise, etc.), preferably directed to all participants simultaneously.

    Weird example: Two K-9 units respond to a scene. A suspect flees toward a vehicle in an attempt to escape. Dog 1 is deployed, enters the open car door, and latches onto the suspect. Dog 2 slips his lead or is mistakenly deployed, sinks his teeth into Dog 1’s hind leg, and drags HIM from the car. Dog 1, having had his focus disrupted, no longer has control of the suspect, (who proceeds to drive away.

  2. Do we know the sex of the dogs? (I don’t think dogs are able to “identify” as do humans.) And if males, were they intact? These things make a difference.

    • Yeah, I should have mentioned that.You’re right. Un-snipped male dogs are much more prone to fight and be aggressive; with terriers, and especially big terriers, this is near mandatory. With our first Jack Russell, the diabolical Dickens, the vet said, “Well, with is one your choice is to fix him or shoot him.”

  3. Peace officers in my state have had mandatory annual “Law Enforcement / Dog Encounter Training” for about twenty years now. It has helped greatly reduce dog attacks on officers and deadly force being used against dogs. One of the first things taught is that aggression is not confined to any particular breed. The “Pit Bull” breeds have certainly gotten a bad rap, although I will admit a bit of personal bias.
    Our family dog, Josie (full name: “The Outlaw Josie Dog”), is a rescued Staffie mix (picture a standard fawn and white Staffie with longer legs) and is not only the family watchdog but the constant companion of my grandsons, aged 7 and 3, whenever they are outside. She is very protective of the boys and must be introduced to strangers to stop her soft barking at anyone she doesn’t know who comes too close. She will put herself between the boys and any perceived threat, but has never bitten or even attempted to bite anyone. She is a very quick and powerful dog and loves to play “tug-of-war” with a rope toy; I am the only member of the family from whom she can’t forcibly take the rope, but she never jerks the boys very hard. She was very well trained by her previous owner and obeys commands very well -except for “Stay!” which she will tolerate for only about thirty seconds. She spends nights and most of the days indoors, especially when the weather is not to her liking.
    A few of the neighbors have asked me about the “Pit Bull” they see around my house and out in my fields, and I always try to explain about “Pit Bulls” but I fear it does little good.

    • I actually met one—sweet dog! They are famously docile, and scary looking, with the highest muscle to weight ratio in the dog world.The owner said he got the dog for free when his friend’s landlord said the dog had to go because tenants were terrified.

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