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‘Some Dogs Don’t Let Go’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Santa Fe police were asked to describe the dog bite injuries to Clifford Wright, a 74-year-old dog lover found dead in his front yard on May 3, they called them extensive but wouldn’t go into detail.

“They’re grisly,” a lieutenant said.

Five days later a large dog attacked a small toddler in a Las Cruces back yard. Jazilyn Mesa was 15 months old when she died of what police called multiple injuries to her head and chest.

Both of the dogs were family pets. Both were pit bulls.

Before we go on, I’ll ask you to rummage around in your kitchen drawer or utility room and find a ruler. If you don’t have a ruler handy, pick up your iPhone or Droid – most smart phones measure approximately 2 inches by 4 inches. These dimensions will help you understand what a veteran police officer has in mind when he uses “grisly” to describe death at the jaws of a pit bull.

The autopsy reports on Wright and little Jazilyn have not been completed, but we see a fatal pit bull vs. human encounter every few years in New Mexico, so it’s not hard to find another autopsy report to shed some light on what damage the dogs can do.

Out of respect for friends and families, I won’t identify this victim. Out of an abundance of caution, I’ll warn you that what comes next isn’t pretty.

The pathologist who autopsied this otherwise healthy adult concluded the cause of death was dog mauling and noted in her report that the dogs were pit bulls.

The pathologist finds her first major injury on the victim’s right arm. In her technical language she tells us that it has been “largely avulsed (torn) of skin and subcutaneous tissue, with resultant exposure of the underlying musculature and bone.”

Let’s move on to the left arm and get out our rulers.

On the left arm and forearm there were numerous deep-purple bruises measuring from three-quarter inches to 2 inches. “Multiple linear abrasions and incised wounds measuring up to 3 inches are present on the left medial upper arm,” she continued. “There are multiple linear and irregular gaping lacerations and puncture wounds … on the right and left upper arms measuring up to 3 inches.”

On the hands, there was a cut of three-quarter inches and another of 1 inch. On the knees and calves were “irregular, gaping lacerations and puncture wounds” – the largest spanning 4 inches. On one thigh the pathologist measures “a 6-inch round deep purple-blue contusion with numerous overlying puncture wounds …”

“Many of the lacerations/puncture wounds and abrasions are arranged in pairs,” the doctor notes.

That is the definition of grisly. And it is the definition of power and aggression.

In a study of dog attacks reported in the news media in the United States and Canada between 1982 and 2011, the dog breeds responsible for the majority of 466 fatalities are as follows: pit bull terrier (207), Rottweiler (78), husky (22), wolf hybrid (19), German shepherd (12), bull mastiff (11), German shepherd-mix (9), pit bull-mix (8), Akita (8), chow (7) and Doberman pinscher (7). All other dog breeds combined were responsible for the remaining 78 fatalities.

The animal rescue group that did the study listed every breed blamed for a human death. Some breeds on the list might surprise you, including a couple of Old English sheepdogs, a collie and a beagle. But pit bulls and close pit bull mixes were responsible for nearly half of the deaths.

Detectives comb over the scene of a fatal pit bull mauling in Las Cruces on May 8. Toddler Jazilyn Mesa was killed by her grandparent’s pet dog. (Associated Press)

If you look at the numbers compiled for 2011 for U.S. attacks by the dog bite victims’ group DogsBite.org, pit bulls show up even more often.

People who love pit bulls- and there are many – will tell you that their own dog is sweet and has never shown aggression and that pit bulls get a bad rap. Some question the statistics, arguing that pit bulls are misrepresented in reported dog maulings because people misidentify other dogs as pit bulls.

Statistically, pit bulls aren’t killers; only a couple dozen take a life each year. But statistically, they are; when 5 percent of the dogs in the country are responsible for half the deaths, your breed has a problem.

Remember the details of that autopsy report and all of the multiple 1-inch to 3-inch cuts and punctures on just about every part of that victim’s body?

The motto of DogsBite.org is “Dogs bite. Some dogs don’t let go.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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