Four-Year-Old Girl Killed in Fatal Dog Attack: Who’s to Blame?

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My dog, Emmett.

Over the years I’ve written and talked about breed-specific legislation. I am a passionate owner of two pit-bull-type dogs, and I’ve taken every opportunity to write about the myths and misconceptions about the breed and the benefits of breed-neutral laws. But it was always from a theoretical perspective.

Then, on March 24, an unspeakable tragedy occurred in my town of Houma, Louisiana: A four-year-old child was killed by a dog in her apartment.

Now, I’m afraid that my dogs are in danger.

The details of the case have been reported differently across news outlets. The gist is that a 130-pound unneutered dog – initially called a pit bull, then an American bully, and now possibly a mastiff mix – and a young unspayed dog were in an apartment together with the child and her mother. The male dog attacked the child. The mother called the police and was able to hand her daughter out a window before the police shot the dog to death. The young girl died at the hospital.

It is a heartbreaking loss of life.

The knee-jerk reaction has been to call for a breed ban, rather than demand the specifics and accurate details surrounding the case. There is an ongoing, official investigation that has come to a halt because the girl’s mother and her boyfriend, the owners of the dog, refuse to speak with police.

Allegations swirled around social media and in the news. Some claim that the mom’s boyfriend, a kennel operator, was breeding the dogs for fighting. Others allege that the dogs received steroid injections to achieve that massive size, and still others claim the dog was in the woman’s apartment specifically to breed with the younger female. It was originally reported that the dog was a family pet who was never mistreated, but the man’s social media accounts told another, more gruesome story. In one dangerous example, a picture showed the four-year-old child "training" another pit-bull-type dog on a flirt pole.

In the media flurry, questioning the mother and boyfriend and examining the details of the tragedy have been called “victim blaming.” The argument is that she lost her beloved daughter so shouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny.

The family suffered a horrendous loss of an irreplaceable, adored four-year-old. I get that.

But I also get that if we don’t examine the details and, more importantly, report on what accurately happened, we’re unable to spread valuable information that could, potentially, prevent another child from losing her life. Further, the lack of accurate reporting is resulting in a hasty, panicked call for a breed ban, instead of holding the child’s human caretakers responsible.

Hopefully the family cooperates with investigators and the truth emerges. In the meantime, I’ll be on the offense, writing letters to the reporters, editors, and newscasters who are covering the story, and reaching out to those responsible dog owners who can speak out against the proposed breed ban when it arrives in the legislature.

And I’ll be holding my dogs closer than ever before.


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Positively Expert: Maggie Marton

Maggie Marton is an award-winning pet journalist who focuses on the animal-human bond in her writing and her advocacy. She is a freelance writer and the founder of the popular dog blog "Oh My Dog!" She is also the author of "Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup."


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