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Two horse attacks spur pit bull debate

Critic says they’re bred to fight; owner argues training the key
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Expect more pit bull attacks, a critic of the breed said Wednesday in the wake of the second Auburn-area incident this month involving a pit bull injuring a horse on a trail ride. But the Colfax owner of a pit bull is defending a breed that she says has been given a bad rap because of bad owners. The dog attacks on horses near Auburn in recent weeks have pit bull owner Abbey Colman afraid that people will be making what she says are wrong assumptions about her dog. She said that her big concern now is that someone will injure her 3-year-old pit bull out of fear or distrust. “She’s not a fighter,” Colman said. “If another dog wants to fight, she rolls over onto her back.” But a victim of a pit bull attack who has started a Website as a clearing house for dog attack information is saying fears surrounding pit bulls are very much real-world concerns. Her site advocates laws banning pit bull ownership and prescribing mandatory spay and neutering. “I don’t disagree (that there are pit bulls that are relatively docile),” said Colleen Lynn, president and founder of DogsBite.org. “But there are a whole lot more that aren’t. They’re all about successful breeding over 2,000 years for dog fighting.” Lynn, a Seattle Web site designer, launched DogsBite.org in October, four months after having her arm broken in the vice-like jaws of a leashed pit bull. The Auburn-area attacks both took place this month on trails and involved unprovoked assaults on horses by leashless pit bull terriers. Both times, the horses were injured but survived by fleeing. In the April 3 attack, which Auburn State Recreation Area officials described as a rarity, a horse was bitten in the face and flank before escaping down a trail and eventually losing the dog as it ran down Foresthill Road. The owner fled with the dog and authorities have failed to locate them, despite a $4,000 reward. This past Sunday, a second attack occurred on the shore of the North Fork of the American River, with a pit bull biting into the side of the horse before the Arabian escaped into the swift-flowing river to prevent further attacks. In that incident, the owner tried to stop the dog and later stayed to identify himself to the rider and authorities. Colman said that she rides her family horse with her leashless dog. She now fears someone will do something rash when they encounter Lutlee – a female pit bull whose name is shorthand for “absolutely beautiful rose.” “I really do believe it’s the owner, and not the dog’s fault,” Colman said. “They shouldn’t have the dog out unless she’s is well adjusted and able to react to new situations.” Colman said she agrees with leash laws, which require dogs to be leashed and under control in public places. “People should understand that they’re there for a reason,” Colman said. “If a dog is not trained, it should be on a leash or should be taken to a place where it’s not going to get into trouble.” Lynn said the image of the playful pit bull isn’t true. “It’s propaganda from pit bull owners, who have a strong voice in preventing laws from being made,” she said. “In reality, they’re animal-aggressive.” The DogsBite.org Website has compiled information that Lynn said shows that pit bull and rottweiler attacks make up an inordinate percentage of total fatal dog attacks in relation to the percentage of the breed in comparison to the total population of all breeds. The research showed that between 1979 and 1998, 25 breeds were involved in 238 human dog bite-related fatalities. Pit bulls and rottweilers were involved in 60 percent of the deaths. Lynn said that with more people out with their dogs as the weather improves, dog attack incidents will continue. “We’ve entered into the mauling season,” she said. Colman said that these days, with negative news stories about pit bulls, she’s becoming concerned that someone with a dislike of pit bulls could jeopardize her ownership of her dog. “If I leave her in the car, what’s to say someone decides to say the dog attacked them and calls the pound,” Colman said. Colman said Lutlee was initially rescued by her husband from the dog pound and even served as the flower girl at the couple’s marriage last August. “She’s a big sweetie,” Colman said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.