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Ickes: Q-C plastic surgeon: Too many pit bull bites

Published on April 29, 2016

Every time a Quad-Citian was taken to the emergency room with a dog-bite wound, a plastic surgeon who was called to fix it asked about the breed.

During his 27-year career, Dr. Benjamin Van Raalte detected a trend.

“It wasn’t until the pit bulls (became popular) that I started seeing the really vicious attacks,” the Bettendorf plastic surgeon said Monday. “The worst pit bull mauling I ever saw was an incident in which a dog bit off the entire cheek of a 5-year-old boy.”

Of the severe bites he has treated, Van Raalte estimates, more than half have been the result of a pit bull attack. The high number of serious injuries, along with the appalling and increasingly popular “sport” of dog fighting have convinced him the time has come for an all-out ban on pit bull breeding.

“I’m just saying it’s time to stop breeding them,” he said. “Yes, there are lots of lovable pit bulls. I’m not advocating putting down pit bulls.

“They’re primarily bred for fighting. In 2016, we need to say we’re done breeding pit bulls. It’s primary purpose is to be a weapon. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Despite insistence by many pit bull owners that their dogs never would bite, the breed often surprises them. Too often.

Just last week, a newborn baby was killed by a pit bull in California. The dog owners obviously loved and trusted the dog, because they had it in their bed with them and their 3-day-old son. When the dog was startled by a noise, it came into contact with and killed the baby, police said.

Although he wasn’t commenting on the most recent death, Van Raalte said pit bulls sometimes simply do not know their own strength.

“When dogs are annoyed, they nip,” he said. “Mom dogs nip at puppies. But puppy skin is loose, and they have fur.

“It’s a leave-me-alone warning. When kids don’t take note of the warning, their face is at dog level.”

Other times, pit bulls are simply abiding by the hard-wired tendency of certain demonstrably aggressive terrier breeds. While many breeds of dog can be intolerant of other dogs, those bred to fight can do more damage than others.

Van Raalte has had experience with pit bulls outside the operating room. When his Shetland sheepdog was mauled by an off-leash dog at a Bettendorf park, his dog had to be stapled back together.

“And they (the dog owners) didn’t offer to pay,” he said. “They just high-tailed it out of there. When a pit bull clamps down on a person, it tears away the tissue.”

Dog experts say that pit bulls do not have any special biting powers. The damage they do is attributable to their personalities. When they’re onto something, they’re committed.

“Even labs, as big as they are, don’t do that kind of damage,” Van Raalte said of his dog-bite experience. “The only time I had a bad lab bite, the dog turned out to be sick.”

He is not the only one keeping statistics, of course. Regardless where you look, dogs identified as a type of pit bull are far and away the worst offenders when it comes to serious bites. They often are responsible for more serious injuries than all other breeds combined.

It is for the dogs’ sake and ours that Van Raalte wants to see an all-out ban on future breeding.

“If you have 100 drugs that treat high blood pressure, and one of those drugs caused half the deaths, it would be taken off the market,” he said.

Given the disproportionate number of deaths and injuries caused by pit bulls and the fact so many are bred to be fight-to-the-death gladiators, Van Raalte says it’s time to move on.

“It’s so disheartening,” he said. “Victims and their families think, since a plastic surgeon is called, there will be no scar. I have to tell them there will be a scar.

“The dog fighting is cruel and unusual to the animals. There are a lot of other dogs out there — a lot of good choices.

“If we as dog owners don’t figure out how to get rid of the bad actors … it could get to the point you can’t afford to have a dog because the insurance will be too high. Who wants that?”

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