A group working to ban potentially dangerous dogs from Seattle has abruptly canceled plans to submit a citizen initiative after receiving threatening e-mails from pit-bull enthusiasts, group members say. "You should be publicly executed for your actions against our beloved pets," one e-mail reads. "You all ought to be neutered," says another.
"The harassment was so bad, we decided it wouldn't be safe to send out signature gatherers," says Ellen Taft, a spokeswoman for Families and Dogs Against Fighting Breeds (FDAFB).
As the FDAFB regroups, pit bull advocates, organized as Families Against Breed Bans (FABB), are scrambling to downplay a recent attack by a dog owned by one FABB member, Faith Hynoski, and her husband Joel. The pit-bull supporters at FABB did little to promote their cause when one FABB member wrote The Stranger a letter, complete with smiley emoticons, threatening to sue the paper if it revealed Faith Hynoski to be the owner of the pit bull that attacked another dog; the letter went on to warn that "it would be advisable to run NOTHING pertaining to the events of Sunday, September ," the date the attack took place.
The move to ban fighting breeds comes after a number of grisly, high-profile attacks around the country, including several in the Seattle area. Most recently, two pit bulls savagely attacked a 71-year-old SeaTac woman who is recovering from shredded ears, a crushed right arm, and a broken jaw. More than a dozen U.S. cities have already banned or severely restricted pit-bull ownership, which has led groups like FDAFB to push for an initiative that would ban fighting breeds, including pit bulls, from Seattle. According to the Seattle Animal Shelter, pit bulls make up just 4 percent of Seattle's registered dog population but account for nearly a quarter of all attacks.
While the FDAFB's initiative wouldn't have required current fighting-breed owners to have their dogs euthanized, it would have required owners to muzzle, insure, and have microchips implanted in their pets. The measure would have been funded by a tax on pet food and luxury pet items such as Halloween costumes and diamond-studded collars.
"Most people are ignorant about how to handle a dog," says Taft, who likens FDAFB's proposal to handgun registration. "If everybody put muzzles on their pit bulls, we wouldn't have a problem."
But while Taft and her group are working to limit the pit-bull population, groups like FABB are doing everything they can to keep fighting breeds legal.
"I think [FDAFB is] a support group run amok," says FABB member Julie Russell, who owns two pit bulls. She blames the breed's poor image on an overzealous media, which she believes overreports pit-bull attacks.
In defense of pit bulls, Russell argues, somewhat counterintuitively, that the only reason pit-bull incidents have spiked is the breed's increasing popularity. "As [the pit bull] is becoming more popular, of course you're going to see an increased amount of activity," Russell says.
One such incident was the attack on September 7, during the grand opening of the Zak and Zoe pet store in Phinney Ridge. A large crowd of owners and their leashed dogs were milling around the store when, according to a report from the Seattle Animal Shelter, the Hynoskis' pit bull Zack attacked a yellow Labrador named Sam. The report says the Hynoskis' pit bull became aggressive, wrapped its jaws around Sam's neck, and would not let go.
After the attack, Sam's owner, Irene Mitri, called the Seattle Animal Shelter, which issued the Hynoskis a $269 citation for what shelter director Don Jordan calls "an unprovoked attack." While it initially appeared Sam was not injured, Mitri says a veterenarian later found "scabbed puncture wounds" on Sam's neck. The report also says that Joel Hynoski told a Seattle Animal Shelter officer that he was guilty and would pay the fine.
The Hynoskis did not respond to phone and email requests for comment, but Russell says they plan to appeal the citation.
According to the animal shelter's Jordan, the shelter had to put down 300 pit bulls or pit-bull mixes that were brought into shelters. "They're just so dangerous we don't want to place them with the public," he says.
Despite the fact that pit bulls account for more than twice as many bites as any other breed, Jordan isn't sure a ban on fighting dogs will be effective. "All dogs have the potential to bite, [and] all dogs have the potential to fight," Jordan says. "I think we need to focus on legislation on all breeds out there. We focus on the deed and not the breed."
Although FDAFB has pulled its initiative, the group is now lobbying the city council to amend Seattle's dog laws. "As far as I'm concerned, we don't allow dogfights, [so] why are we allowing fighting breeds?" Taft says.