Finley: Mauling death a red flag to dog danger

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Benjamin Cobb

The mauling death of another Metro Detroit child by a pit bull is a call for some common sense in our relationship with dogs.

You can call your pooch your child or baby if you want, but it is still an animal, and as such, is unpredictable. 

And while it may make you feel far more virtuous to label your pet a 'rescue' instead of saying you went down to the pound and picked it up for the cost of shots and paperwork, one dog is no nobler than another.

In other words, they'll all bite.

When someone tells you otherwise about their dog, what they really mean is that it has never bitten them. That doesn't mean it won't bite you. And sometimes it doesn't even mean it won't bite them.

I have a friend who was driving his pickup truck with his beloved hunting dog asleep in the back seat. When he had to brake suddenly, the startled dog reflexively bit him on the arm, which due to the resulting infection he almost lost.

Place any dog in a stressful, strange environment or around people, especially children, it is unfamiliar with, and the worst can happen, as it did this week in Hazel Park. 

Four-year-old Benjamin Cobb was torn apart by a pit bull his mother was fostering (another ridiculous word when applied to animals). The viciousness of the attack is hard to comprehend. The dog continued to bite the boy even as the mother was stabbing it with a kitchen knife. It then turned on her.

Apparently, the mother, who survived, was housing the dog on behalf of acquaintances who could no longer keep it while a permanent owner was found.

How much was known about the dog's history and temperament before it was placed in a home with a young child is unclear.

But the danger of pit bulls is well established. Earlier this year, a 7-year-old girl in southwest Detroit was pulled from her bike and killed by a pack of pit bulls that had gotten loose from a neighbor's home. Three years earlier, another Detroit child was dragged under a fence and killed by pit bulls as his mother tried futilely to save him.

There have been a string of non-fatal but serious pit bull attacks throughout the area. And yes, I know, pit bulls can be sweet and loving pets and so on and so forth and so what?

They can also be killers, and their physical characteristics make them uniquely suited for that role.

When uncertain which camp an individual pit bull falls into, it's better to assume killer until you're dead certain otherwise.

This tragedy should again be a warning against the growing presence of dogs in public places such as restaurants, stores and airplanes.

These aren't natural environments for dogs. They're noisy and crowded, and no matter how accustomed the dog is to such places, there's no certainty of how it will react should someone accidentally roll a shopping cart over its tail.

Leave the dog at home. And make absolutely sure to know the temperament of any dogs that come into your home.

Catch Nolan Finley on "One Detroit" at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.