This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 232-5847 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"The photo literally turned my stomach, and I'm not terribly squeamish.
Pat Riva's arm looks like a badly butchered piece of meat, partially severed, with bloodied muscle and tendons exposed. It's way too graphic to run in the newspaper, and her husband, Harry Riva, asked me not to.
He did ask me to write about pit bulls again, as it was A FAMILY MEMBER'S PIT BULL that caused the damage. Riva owns a pit bull mix himself (not the one involved in the attack), and he understands the controversy around them.
"They're not all bad, but there is a problem with them," Riva told me, standing outside his wife's intensive care unit room at Mission Hospital on Thursday morning. "You never know the blood line of your dog going back."
The dog who attacked Pat Riva, 73, the evening of June 16 is an 80-pound white male pit owned by a family member. Riva was dropping off a prescription at a family member's house in Fairview when the attack occurred.
"I opened the door and went in the house, and he was at that door and had me so quick," Pat Riva said from her hospital bed, her right arm swaddled in thick bandages. "He had a feast, didn't he? It happened very quick."
Fortunately, a family member and her husband were in the home and came to the rescue, beating and kicking the animal, with the man literally prying the dog's jaws apart. He also put a tourniquet on Riva's arm, as she was losing so much blood.
An ambulance rushed her to Mission, where a surgeon spent nearly two hours repairing the damage. Harry Riva said the doctor told him it was the worst animal bite he'd ever seen, and she may have some permanent loss of finger and wrist movement.
After the surgery, Pat Riva, who suffered a heart attack last year, started having some coronary issues and had to go into the cardiac intensive care unit.
Like her husband, Pat Riva hopes others can learn from her experience.
"I never trusted that dog," she said. "It had killed one of (my family member's) small dogs. Her excuse was, 'Well, it was yapping at him.' With another little yappy dog, it had taken its eye out. It should've been put down then."
A week before the attack, the pit bull had lunged at Pat Riva, and she made it clear to the family members that she did not want the dog nearby when she came to the house. She thought the dog was outside at the time of the mauling.
"If somebody has a bad feeling about a dog, it's not worth the pain to the human," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "And I had a bad feeling about that dog."
Buncombe County Animal Control responded to the incident, with an officer taking pictures of Riva's arm and taking the dog to the shelter, where it's been quarantined since the day of the incident, according to Natalie Bailey, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
"The dog will be in quarantine for 10 days," Bailey said. "After the quarantine is lifted, the animal will be destroyed."
Harry Riva contacted me about his wife's misfortune, in part because he read my column last July in which I stated flatly what I believe: pit bulls are more dangerous than other dog breeds, mainly because they were bred for fighting, and cause more damage when they attack. That column came after the fatal pit bull mauling of a 6-year-old Hendersonville boy, who had gone into a neighbor's fenced backyard to play with the dog, which he'd done before.
But that time, something snapped in the dog and it attacked the boy.
I also cited some eye-popping statistics from dogsbite.org, including this: In the 10-year period from 2005 to 2014, pit bulls killed 203 Americans and accounted for 62 percent of the total recorded deaths (326). Combined, pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for 74 percent of these deaths.
About a month ago, I went to look at a basset hound at the Asheville Humane Society Adoption Center shelter. My wife and I couldn't help notice that about half of the cages were filled with pit bulls or pit bull mixes, some very aggressive.
I don't know what that says to you, but it says to me that owners know they're problematic. I should also note that the dog that killed the 6-year-old came from the center.
Tracy Elliott, executive director of the Asheville Humane Society, said dogs have different reactions to being restrained or held in cages.
"It doesn’t indicate whether a dog is going to be safe or not," Elliott. "We’ve obviously observed that dog in other groups, outside in play groups with other dogs or interacting with people (before adopting them out)."
As far as the numbers, Elliott said, "It's a population we've not been as successful in spaying and neutering. We still have a lot of work to do in convincing owners of pit bulls to spay and neuter."
Elliott said they are "extremely careful now about the kind of temperament testing we do with dogs," although he stressed, "There is no fail-safe and foolproof way to test any kind of animal for temperament."
With pit bulls, Elliott said they "need to be in the right kind of family. They have an arousal point they have to be vigilant about," he said.
Kim Brophey, a dog behaviorist who owns the The Dog Door Behavior Center in Asheville, has extensive experience with all dogs, including pit bulls. She’s also the author of an upcoming book on dogs and dog behavior.
She maintains that pit bulls, if raised with good training and socialization around people and other dogs, can be great, loving pets. But she acknowledged their bull baiting and fighting past and says owners have to be vigilant in training, and in keeping their dogs from become highly aroused.
Pit bulls were bred more for a “high-arousal” ability than viciousness, she said. In other words, they needed to be able to burst into that “high-arousal” mode quickly, conserving energy the rest of the time.
It is a breed that can quickly move from a quiet zone to one of intense, adrenaline-pumping arousal. It’s crucial that owners control the events the dogs are involved in and prevent the “high-arousal” mode from kicking in.
For me, this is not a chance I want to take. My bassets get highly aroused and go nuts running around the house and play biting each other or us, but I don’t worry about them killing people.
Look, I'm clearly not a fan of pit bulls. I've seen too many stories, locally and nationally, about attacks. And yes, other breeds bite, too, but they don't have the powerful jaws and musculature of this breed, nor the fighting history.
But I've also come to realize we're not going to just eliminate all pit bulls. Like it or not, we've got to live with them. So, if you're going to have one, keep in mind the Rivas' story, and the need to be very careful with this breed — all the time.
I think Harry Riva put it best.
"These are powerful, powerful animals," Riva said. "If you are going to have one, you have to be ever-vigilant."
This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 232-5847 or email@example.com"