May be man's best friend, but some people seem...

A DOG

October 12, 1994

A DOG may be man's best friend, but some people seem intent on turning Fido into another urban menace.

In recent months, a spate of incidents has been reported around the country involving attacks by dogs whose owners deliberately transformed their pets into deadly weapons.

The most serious attack took place early in September in New York City, where an elderly woman was killed and her husband severely injured by two pit bulls left in their apartment by their son while he was away visiting friends in another state.

According to the police, one of the dogs attacked the man's mother inside the apartment, and when her husband tried to help her he was attacked by the other dog.

Ana Claudio, 66, was pronounced dead at the scene from bite wounds on her neck, arms and chest. Her husband, Manuel Claudio, was hospitalized for bite wounds on the arms and chest.

All of this raises the question: Why would anyone keep such vicious beasts as pets?

Apparently, for many young adults and juveniles in depressed urban communities, owning a powerful, aggressive dog has become a way of affirming status and respect among their peers.

The types of dogs most prized -- pit bull terriers, Doberman pinschers and Rottweilers -- are known for their fighting ability and fearlessness.

In many communities, pickup dog fights in back alleys and abandoned buildings have become an new and increasingly popular outlet for the aggressive impulses of poor urban males.

Dog fighting is illegal in every state and has been a felony in the District of Columbia and all but eight states since 1975.

Yet animal advocates say the rise in popularity of such contests mirrors the trend toward a more violence-prone society generally.

In Prince George's County, for example, there have been 2,320 reported cases of animal cruelty this year, up from 1,240 last year, and the county animal control department estimates that a quarter of the cases involve dog fighting.

Vicious dogs employed in such "sport" are every bit as dangerous and as deadly as firearms in the wrong hands, with results no less tragic.

This is a problem that goes beyond ordinary measures such as licensing and leash laws. In the final analysis, a solution must deal with the attitudes of owners rather than any particular breed dog. It is they who are ultimately responsible for the behavior of their pets.

As with gun-related violence, authorities can only be effective when residents support their efforts with timely information and accurate descriptions of the perpetrators.

Many people are reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisals. Yet prevention is the key to any successful effort. Left unattended the problem can only grow worse.

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