Most people have a healthy respect for sharks, sewer rats, bears and pit bulls. However, fear may be misplaced in at least one of these cases. According to area animal specialists, pit bulls are no more aggressive than most dogs, but their reputation precedes them.
A little boy was attacked and seriously injured by a pit bull in Moline Saturday. News of such attacks reinforces the public's conviction that pit bulls pose a threat to personal safety.
``Pit bulls have the propensity to cause more damage once they get ahold of a person than, say, a cocker spaniel,'' said Tami Flama of the Scott County Humane Society. ``But, they are not more aggressive than other dogs.''
According to Ms. Flama, in the Quad-Cities, chows and chow mixes are the No. 1 bite dogs. Nationwide, terriers cause the most damage.
``Pit bulls will give a warning before they attack,'' Ms. Flama said. ``They bark and become aggressive.''
Other dogs are silent predators. Rottweilers, shepherds and chows will lunge at a person and begin biting without warning.
``All breeds of dogs are decended from wolves,'' Ms. Flama said. ``It's their natural instinct to chase prey. When someone is running and screaming, it puts the dogs in attack mode.''
When pursuing a victim, pit bulls go for moving parts of the body, usually the arms or legs, she said. Chows go straight for the face in most cases, causing serious damage.
There are ways to preempt dog attacks and to make inevitable attacks less damaging, Ms. Flama said. If people sense a dog becoming aggressive, they should stand extremely still and slowly back away. Feral dogs are looking for prey, so specialists recommend people offer a substitute for their bodies such as a stick or a shoe. In the case of an actual attack, people should curl up in a fetal position and cover their neck with their arms.
Pulling, screaming and running, Ms. Flama said, only will make the situation deadly. However, when a dog attacks a child or an adult when no others are around, the above precautions may do little to prevent injury or death.
Laura Williams, an approved humane investigator with the Rock Island Humane Society, said the dog probably would have killed the little boy Saturday if no one had intervened -- even if he had stopped screaming and ``played dead.'' A local veterinarian ran across the street when he heard the boy's screams.
However, Ms. Williams said the problem with pit bulls is their owners, not the dogs. People buy and train them to fight or as a status symbol of aggression. Under such ownership, many dogs learn to act out their violent instincts.
``They can be good pets, but most of them aren't because they're so many out there fighting,'' she said.
Ms. Williams has owned two pit bulls. One was a great pet, she said, the other had been trained to fight and eventually had to be put to sleep.
``We need to start taking an abuse seriously. Dogs are being chained up 24 hours a day. This is where a lot of things start,'' she said.