S.F. Pit Bulls: Protecting Yourself and the Controversial Breed

When angered, pit bulls are powerful and relentless. And even when not angered, they boast impressively strong jaws that you probably don't want clamped down on you. But we humans boast the gift of guile. And, over the years, our species has passed down punishing but innovative methods for handling pit bull attacks. Some say that the best way to get a pit bull to release its bite is to jam a thumb into the dog's ass. Others recommend flaming the dog's testicles with a Bic. Urgent situations, after all, call for extreme solutions.

But those methods are urban myths, says John Denny of the SFPD's Vicious and Dangerous Dog unit. Instead, Denny says the more effective strategy is to whip out a wallet or an iPhone or a nearby tree branch and stick it into the dog's mouth. This appeases its aggression and occupies its jaws. Another possibility: Avoid the confrontation by jumping onto a car.

The many well-publicized pit bull attacks in the Bay Area over the past couple of months have once again thrown the breed group into a negative spotlight. A Concord toddler and a Castro Valley toddler were each mauled in early May. In April a pit bull killed a pregnant Pacifica woman. And in March a pit bull attacked a Fairfax police officer.

In 2006, after 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish was killed by a pit bull, San Francisco became the first city to single out the breed for mandatory sterilization. Since then, nearly 40 other California cities have followed suit. Other places have gone even further. Denver and Miami implemented pit bull bans. A few weeks ago, a Maryland court classified pit bulls as “inherently dangerous,” ruling that both pit bull owners and landlords who rent to them are legally liable for any damage that the dogs cause.

But the pit bull faithful in San Francisco shouldn't worry about this recent string of attacks spurring a push for stricter regulation. Because if there are two things the city loves more than bans, it's dogs and defending outcasts.

“It'll never happen here,” says Kat Brown, deputy director at the city's Animal Care and Control. “When it comes to pit bulls, they're kind of like the underdog. They're more discriminated against. They're considered a cause célèbre.”

Though the pit bull population has dipped since the ordinance, pit bulls still account for 20 to 30 percent of reported dog bites in the city, Denny estimates (actual 2011 numbers: 92 out of 397, according to ACC). He notes, however, that people are more likely to report a pit bull attack than, say, a Pomeranian attack.

Warding off the latter would likely take a pinky rather than an iPhone.

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