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Dogs as Weapons

Jack Lessenberry

To me, one of the most horrific stories over the last year came in December, when a lady named Lucille Strickland was walking her five-year-old son to kindergarten in Detroit.

Suddenly, a pack of four pit bull-type dogs appeared, grabbed the child, pulled him under a fence and into their yard and killed him. Neither the child nor his mother had done anything to provoke the dogs.  Police came and killed the dogs, but were too late to save the child.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy went after the owner, a man with a past criminal record named Geneke Lyons, and attempted to convict him of second-degree murder.

But before the case went to the jury, Wayne County Circuit Judge James Callahan refused to allow the jury to consider the second-degree murder charge. They then promptly found Lyons guilty of manslaughter and other charges, which could have landed him in prison for up to 15 years. But on Thursday the judge refused to give him a harsh sentence.

Instead, he gave Lyons a year in which he is allowed to go to work, but has to spend his nights in jail, followed by four years of probation. The judge said he thought that Lyons had turned his life around, and “did not intend for this child to be viciously attacked.”

Well, I wasn’t in the courtroom, didn’t see the trial, and may not have access to information Judge Callahan did. But we have a terrible problem in this country with dogs that are essentially weapons, and most of which are pit bulls. Pit bull is sort of a generic name for a type of dog that is often bred for fighting. The name is sometimes applied to a couple purebred breeds and dogs that are crossbred with similar species.

According to a research outfit called DogsBite.org, pit bull type dogs make up less than seven percent of the dogs in America, but have been responsible for almost two-thirds of the 360 dog bite deaths in this nation over the last 11 years. Rottweilers were the only other breed notable for killing humans, and they were a very distant second.

I know something about dogs, having had them all my adult life, and a brother who is a highly respected dog psychologist. Currently I have an Australian Shepherd who is, quite simply, one of the best friends I have ever had I don’t ever want to live without a dog.

But while there are some very noble people who rescue pit bulls, some of which go on to live quite normal lives with decent families, these dogs are mostly bred to be weapons, or for use in illegal dog fighting rings.  It is no accident that they kill more people than any other breed.

And we aren’t doing enough to stop it. Geneke Lyons did not have those pit bulls to play ball with him at the park, and he allowed them to run free. They tore a child apart, because that is what dogs like that do. There are vast numbers of people, not just in our inner cities, who are buying pit bulls in a misguided attempt at self-protection.

I’m not sure giving him what amounts to a slap on the wrist sends the right message.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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