As the owner of a nice little butterball of a puppy during my youth, I set out to train it to become a watchdog. I wanted it to kill burglars, to kill bicycle thieves and especially to kill other dogs that chased me through the neighborhood.
I was told by the owners of other mean dogs that the first thing you had to do was check the dog for "killer instinct," meaning you had to pick the puppy up by the neck and if it didn't holler, it had the killer instinct.
My dog yelped like a turkey, but it was the only dog I had so I proceeded with training tip No. 2: Feed the dog hot peppers from a table fork. My dog would not eat them (then again, neither would I). So I proceeded with tip No. 3: Erect a cloth dummy in the back yard and make the dog attack it.
I made this dummy with old clothes and my dog loved it. In fact, he loved it so much that whenever my mother hung freshly washed clothes on the back yard clothesline, my dog thought this must have been tip No. 4 and proceeded to tear them all to shreds.
So much for my dog training, and after so many ruined loads of wash, so much for my dog.
Years later I find that the watchdog craze is still with us -- as is the sheer ignorance of dog training. This time, however, the problem is not some lowly mutt plunging into a row of waving bed linen. The problem is pit bull dogs, attacking everything and everyone that crosses their paths -- including children, mail carriers, elderly people and pets.
With five pit bull attacks in the District in June -- the highest monthly number ever reported here -- and more reports coming almost every week, an unconscionable situation has developed that requires immediate, and drastic, action.
According to District animal control officers, two of the attacks involved children. In one case, a 16-year-old ordered his pit bull to attack an 11-year-old boy, who had discovered the dog's hiding place.
Nationwide, all five of the dog attacks reported this year that have resulted in fatalities have involved pit bulls, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Since mid-1983, pit bulls have been responsible for 20 of the 28 fatal dog bites. Fourteen of the 20 pit bull victims were age 6 or younger.
Respectable owners of pit bulls say that if the dogs are trained properly, there is no problem. But the same is true of a baby tiger or bear. The reality is that many of the pit bull owners in this city want their dogs to do just what I wanted my dog to do: harm.
Dope dealers now use pit bulls to protect stash houses. And urban kids, tired of being intimidated by the German shepherds and Doberman pinschers brought into their neigborhoods by new residents fearful of burglaries, are resorting to pit bulls to even the score.
But this has gotten way out of hand.
This week, a pit bull whose owners had the audacity to name "Satan" jumped over a fence and attacked a small dog in the Brookland neighborhood. The owner said Satan had been provoked. Yet, it was the third time in the last year that the dog had attacked another pet.
Some neighbors say Satan has chased their children and now they live in fear, worrying that one day the dog is going to catch a child and even kill one.
D.C. Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) has introduced legislation to control dangerous dogs by registering, muzzling and confining them. Under the bill, owners who handle dangerous dogs irresponsibly could face a $10,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
This is a tempered response, but just does not seem to go far enough given the menace this community faces. For once a child is killed, a fine and a measly jail term become meaningless. I reflect on my own experiences here and figure that, if attacking a pillowcase can be grounds for banning a dog, surely attacking people should be, too. Pit bull dogs should be outlawed.