Rothenburger: Dog parks are no place for pit bulls

Mel Rothenburger / Kamloops Daily News
January 24, 2013 01:00 AM

Jesse and I went to the dog park the other day - for about 30 seconds. That's when the pit bull showed up.

Our dog is smart, and highly intuitive. Ten minutes before my wife gets home from work he goes to the front door and wags his tail. I don't know how he figures it out.

Some things, though, he takes too much for granted, one being that all other dogs are as friendly as he is.

Though he'd never been in this dog park before, Jesse knew something good was up as soon as I parked the truck. It was a fine day for it, crisp and bright. I could see only one other person there, a woman distractedly yakking on her cell while her dog was off at the far end of the enclosure.

There are two gates. You pass through one, close it, and then open a second to enter the park. We were between gates and I was about to open the second when a pit bull suddenly slammed up against it. It had the broad, powerful jaws and ugly body typical of the terrier-boxer mix, the kind of dog I will cross the street to avoid. Its intentions were unclear but I wasn't about to find out, and retreated with Jess back to our vehicle.

My question is, if we aren't going to ban pit bulls altogether, can we at least keep them out of dog parks? Dog parks are supposed to be fun places where dogs can socialize with others of their species, not where you have to worry about your beloved pet being brutalized by a creature designed for killing.

Some people strongly advise never going to dog parks because of the danger of attacks from pit bulls and Rottweilers. Or they recommend carrying a club or pepper spray; in the U.S., of course, people take their handguns along.

To prove the point, just a couple of weeks ago, three pit bulls attacked a Pomeranian "like a chew toy," killing it, and severely injured a Great Pyrenees in a Calgary dog park. The pit bull owner claimed his dogs were "provoked."

One expert whose article I read after my own experience says dog parks are well intended but a bad idea.

Aggressive, territorial dogs regard any new visitor as an intruder. I suspect that's the way the pit bull viewed my golden retriever. When a dog park is crowded, and one dog attacks another, others will often join in the attack because that's what packs do.

Another opinion proposes that dogs and their owners should have to pass a test before being allowed in a dog park to show the dogs can be controlled when off-leash. Owners should be trained in what to do in the case of a dogfight. And small dogs should be separated from big ones by different enclosures.

Dogs, of course, aren't the only ones in danger at dog parks. Dog owners, and particularly their children, are also at risk. Dog-park violence is increasing across the continent.

Technically, aggressive dogs are banned from our City dog parks. It says so right on the sign posted beside the front gate. And, owners must have control of their dogs at all times while in the park. Sure.

Pit bulls, unfortunately, aren't likely going away. Neither are dog parks - the City has one for Juniper in its 2013 budget. I don't recall a really serious incident at a Kamloops dog park so far, but do we need to wait until there is one? Couldn't pit bulls go somewhere else to play?

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