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Pet Tales

Canary Island dog incident will provoke anti-dog backlash

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

The dust is still settling, and all the facts are not known, but the mainstream media and the "dog fancy" e-mail lists are buzzing with news of a "Canary Island dog" that brutally attacked and killed a college lacrosse coach in San Francisco.

A 120-pound dog named Bane knocked Diane Whipple, 33, to the ground and literally ripped her throat out. Whipple, who was a star athlete at Penn State, died Jan. 26, several hours after she was attacked in the hallway outside her apartment.

The attack was horrific. No responsible dog owner supports the actions or motives of people who own vicious dogs they are unable or unwilling to control.

But knowledgeable dog owners -- including breeders and trainers -- are worried sick about the backlash that will result from this attack.

Attacks like this threaten all dogs and the people who own them and love them. Look for shrill demands for this breed to be banned. Don't be surprised if this attack has a ripple effect, with calls for bans of other powerful breeds, starting with rottweilers, German shepherds, pit bulls, mastiffs, Akitas and Doberman pinschers. Look for shrill calls for mandatory muzzling of all dogs at all times.

In the wake of the fatal attack, "demand for the Presa Canario has tripled or quadrupled, breeders of the dog report," according to a Feb. 7 Associated Press story filed in San Francisco.

The demand for this breed is coming from people who should not own any dog at all, but we'll get back to that in a minute.

The Presa Canario, sometimes called the "Canary Island dog," has been bred on the Canary Islands for centuries. Some of the foundation stock may have been brought to the islands by Spanish conquerors, breed historians speculate.

The massive dogs weigh 88 to 126 pounds and resemble mastiffs. They were originally bred to guard farms and cattle. Somewhere along the way -- perhaps about the 18th century -- the Canary Islanders started using the dogs to engage in the so-called sport of dog fighting. Dogfights were banned on the islands in the 1940s, though it's doubtful everyone obeys that prohibition.

Supporters describe Presa Canarios as loyal and loving with owners but unfriendly to strangers.

Like all dogs, they can be dangerous in the hands of the wrong owners -- people who use them for fighting, for guarding drug stashes or other nefarious purposes.

Bane, who has been euthanized, was not a purebred Presa Canario, according to reports. He's also part mastiff.

But his breeding isn't really the problem. The problem is his former owners, described in news reports as "two Pelican Bay prison inmates." One man has been convicted of murder, the other of attempted murder, among other crimes.

The current owners or caretakers are two attorneys who already are dropping broad hints the victim provoked the attack, perhaps by choosing the wrong kind of perfume.

I've never seen a Presa Canario around here -- not at dog shows, not in local shelters and not in my neighborhood. It's still a fairly rare breed. People who breed the dogs estimate there are only a few thousand Presa Canarios in the United States.

Breeder Irina Vyatkin of Red Star Kennel in Hudson, Wis., said she's getting calls from "people who want weapons -- not dogs. One said, 'I want a dog that kills.' " Quoted in the Feb. 7 Associated Press story, Vyatkin said, "The exact kind of person who should not have a Presa Canario are now the ones asking about it."

Dog trainers and breeders, police officers and prosecutors fear this may be the new dog of choice for drug dealers, dogfighters and other bad guys. The current bad dog is, of course, the much maligned pit bull.

The pit bull took the place of the bad dog of the 1980s -- the much-maligned rottweiler.

People who love pit bulls and American Staffordshire terriers have quietly warned that there are bigger and worse breeds out in the world. Now one of those breeds has entered the spotlight, but this is not good news for anyone who loves pit bulls or any other dog.

Every municipality has laws that protect the public against vicious dogs and the people who own them. Pennsylvania has a generally excellent dangerous dog law. In many cases, the existing laws are ignored while lawmakers write new laws banning dangerous breeds.

People who love dogs suggest courts and cops should punish the deed, not the breed.

Go after the bad dogs and the owners who made them that way. Don't go after people whose dogs have hurt no one.

Further information about the Presa Canario can be found at www.molossermania.com/presacanario



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