Category Archives: Dog Attack

Is a Pit Bull a Semi-Automatic?

The Truth About Pitbulls on Facebook

Myths and Facts: More pit bulls are involved in human deaths than any other breed. (Along with Rottweilers, they make up 67% of dog bite deaths.) Pits also=92% of dogs killed by dogs & 96% of cats killed by dogs. More pit bulls end up in shelters than any other breed. I’ve known many happy pit owners but owning a pit requires responsibility and intelligence, as would owning a car or gun. Statistically, many owners just aren’t up to the task. – Rebuttal to the Image on Facebook [link to corroborating evidence added]

Another commenter then responded with a dog is a dog, what part of this don’t you understand here? This misunderstanding allows me to draw some allusions to the gun argument, and perhaps shed some light on both subjects. This is another one of those instances of miscategorization that seem to automatically get me started. I’m off and running before I’m even sure what I’m talking about.

A dog is not a dog in the same way that all guns are not semi-automatics. To say it another way, a Pit Bull is not a Shepherd is not a Terrier in exactly the same way that a repeater is not a revolver and is not a semi-automatic weapon. Let me draw a third comparison so I know this illustration will be crystal clear. A hammer is not a claw hammer at the same time as all claw hammers are hammers. Groups and subgroups. Dogs are tools created for purposes in the same way that guns are tools created for their purposes. Owning a tool that you don’t understand how to use and don’t know the use it was created for leaves you open to errors that stem from the purpose of the tool’s creation.

Breeds of dogs were created for specific purposes. Terriers were created to hunt down rodents hiding in stonework. Terriers bite more frequently than any other breed of dog. Ask anyone who has groomed dogs. [Although stats show Chihuahuas bite the most. They are snappy little things, personal experience confirms this fact.] Shepherds were bred to herd sheep and other farm animals. They have specific natural tendencies and require different kinds of care than Terriers and other small dogs do. Pit Bulls (and other bulldogs) were bred for a specific purpose, they (like Rottweilers. Rottweilers are also drover dogs, like Huskies) were bred as dogs to fight other dogs and to take down prey larger than themselves.

Dogs are descended from wolves, and there are common traits that all dogs share with wolves. As pack hunters they defend their pack from other packs, exhibiting very strong ingroup/outgroup discrimination; in other words, if you never let your pet out to play with other dogs and meet other people, your pet will respond aggressively to others until it learns what order the new group structure represents. The ingroup is to be cared for even to the destruction of the individual itself, making them doting with children and fierce when threatened by strangers. These ingroup tendencies endear dogs to their owners, which is probably why dogs are the favored pet in most households.

But the general tendencies of the species can masque other traits that the specific breeds were bred for in the past, that might come to the surface in any descendant individual animal. So Pit Bulls that were bred exclusively for fighting can be more dangerous than other dog breeds whose jobs were less focused on the need to guard or attack and more on herding/caring.

A complex biological tool can be like that. Traits that had been designed in can disappear and then resurface later. A purpose-built simple tool, like a firearm, can’t do this. Single-shot pistols and muskets gave way to cartridge-loads fed by mechanical action and springs (repeaters) or mechanical action alone (revolvers) which gave way to the gas-powered semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons of today. A musket is not a semi-automatic weapon. Aside from the basic design, killing with a chemically propelled metallic slug directed through a hardened steel barrel, the tools have virtually nothing else in common.

Hello Kitty Weaponry

Today we own dogs as pets, and we choose those pets based on their appeal to us, visually and behaviorally. The purposes that the various breeds were created for are not what we own dogs as pets for now. There are some people who want a stocky, threatening dog because they want to train it to be dangerous. Dangerous to other dogs, dangerous to other people. There are people who cherish the soft-side of their visually threatening dog and they train their dogs to be things other than what they visually appear. This is also true of weaponry. We generally buy a weapon for how it looks, and how it looks can determine how it is treated by law.

Both the laws against Pit Bulls and the laws against assault weapons are misguided, and for the same reason. They are misguided because the characteristics of their design, the nature of what they individually were made for, are not accurately reflected in the way they look. A Pit Bull is no more dangerous than the training that the dog owner has given it, no matter what it looks like. The wooden stock and grips on a semi-automatic weapon do not alter the underlying technology that allows it to throw large amounts of lead downrange in a very short order. Ask any expert on weaponry, and they will confirm this fact for you. A semi-automatic weapon is a semi-automatic weapon, no matter what it looks like.

But a Pit Bull is not always a dangerous weapon, ask any Pit Bull owner. It, like almost any other full-sized breed, can be trained to be dangerous by the people who own it. The problem with that breed and other dangerous looking breeds arises when the owners want a dangerous looking dog because they want a dangerous dog, and then make the dog dangerous with training. This is where a simple weapon, like a firearm, is not like a biological weapon, a trained attack dog. Guns don’t think, at least not yet, but dogs do think and they can do things their owners don’t expect no matter how well the owner thinks they’ve trained their dog. The key here is not to make a living weapon out of your dog. I would not let my child play around a dog I had trained to kill. That is simply irresponsible parenting.

So you can have a Pit Bull that isn’t a killer, but your semi-automatic weapon is always going to be a killing machine. Pit Bull’s are not semi-automatics, anymore than other wolf-descended canines can be deceptively harmless around pack-mates. However, your Hello Kitty assault rifle will always be a killing machine. Like the hammer, a firearm is a purpose-built tool. A hammer drives in nails. A claw hammer drives them in and then can pull them back out again. If only we could recall the bullets from all the semi-automatic weapons fire we’ve seen over the past few years.

ZAP Doesn’t Include Firearms and Killer Pets

This one is for Dylan Boswell, the shortest term facebook friend I’ve had so far. 

I find it interesting that someone promoting the Zero Aggression Principle would have need of a weapon designed to kill people.  It takes professional grade tolerance for contradiction to not see the hypocrisy in those two positions held together. How can you not be the aggressor while killing someone?  You can wave your hands in any flim-flam manner you wish, but no amount of hand waving will change the fact that you are alive and the other person is dead at your hand.  That is aggression, plain and simple.  It’s excusable in certain circumstances, but you don’t get to kill people (outside of war) just because you want to.

So yes, owning a gun that carries the appearance of one designed to kill people signals the potential of aggression (openly carrying any weapon signals this to some extent) Ask the Somalis, the Afghanis, the Iraqis if they felt threatened when approached by people carrying those weapons.

…and yes, you are stupid for owning a Pit Bull. That breed of dog was carefully bred for aggression against other dogs, a stronger bite and stronger physic.  As a dog owner whose dogs have been attacked by free-wandering Pit Bulls, more than once, I have very little sympathy for the cries of how gentle Pit Bulls are. They were made into weapons, to fight in a sport that mercifully (soon will) no longer exist. I’m not certain that the breed has a reason to continue to exist.

Facebook Status backdated to the blog. 

Milam County Dog Attack: Dog owner still awaiting trial

Going through the archive, I realised that the story about the dog attack had been moved on the Statesman site. I added it to my blog entry on the subject, as well as the story concerning charges being brought against the dog owner.

He’s still sitting around awaiting a trial, which has been rescheduled for January 16, 2007.

I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll ever face trial, myself. The gov’t in Milam county clearly doesn’t think that it’s important enough, or they have sympathy with the dog owner rather than the victim who was innocently minding her own business when she was attacked.


Reading back through the early blog articles I was stunned to realize I never followed up on this story. Sadly, the jury was unwilling to convict the dog owner. I found a legal opinion on the subject here which I will repost. There is more information at the link if you are interested.

Like the prosecutors in the Diane Whipple case, the district attorney here found the existing laws to be inadequate. There was and is no state law that specifically addresses canine-inflicted homicides (i.e., deaths of humans, caused by dogs). (For proposed changes to the dog bite law of Texas, see Texas on this web site.)

Texas law addresses a different situation, namely the consequences of having a dog that previously was adjudicated as being “dangerous.” Heath & Safety Code §822.041 provides that a court may declare a dog “dangerous” basically if it causes injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class C misdemeanor if the owner violates the provisions of the dangerous dog law or the dog causes serious injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class A misdemeanor if the dangerous dog causes a death of a person in an unprovoked attack. A $10,000 penalty may also be imposed on the owner whose dangerous dog causes serious injury or kills someone. Texas Heath & Safety Code §§822.044, 822.045. (See generally Dangerous and Vicious Dogs for discussion of the legal meaning of “dangerous” and the issues pertaining to legal “dangerousness.”)

If a dog has not been previously declared “dangerous,” however, there is a “loophole” in the law, in that there is no law that addresses the situation. Given the savageness of this killing, prosecutors attempted to apply the general law. To make the punishment fit the crime, the grand jury indicted Jose Hernandez for criminally negligent homicide. His trial took place in March 2007.

The conviction of this dog owner depended upon overcoming the bane of dog bite victims, namely the one-bite rule. Under this ancient British legal doctrine, the owner of any domestic animal is not held responsible for the first bite, the first mauling, or the first killing by each and every one of his animals. (See The One Bite Rule.) Texas is in a minority of states that continues to salute the flag of Great Britain when it comes to dog bite laws. (For lists of states that follow or have abrogated the one bite rule, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.)

Hernandez testified that he had no idea his animals were capable of such brutality. He admitted none of his animals had ever been seen by a veterinarian and hadn’t been vaccinated. Several other witnesses for the defense testified that Hernandez’ dogs were not aggressive and were not trained to be aggressive.

The jury found Hernandez not guilty.

I had never heard of the one bite rule before in my life. I’m actually horrified that this is law in this state. They did actually update the laws after the verdict in this case, but the laws remain woefully lax when it comes to holding dog owners responsible for the behavior of their animals.  

Charges in Fatal Dog Attack

When I wrote on this subject previously, this was the headline: “Charges in fatal dog attack not likely, sheriff says” Which was, as I said at the time, outrageous.

Apparently the Grand Jury in Milam County felt the same way:

The owner of six dogs that mauled a woman to death in November was indicted Thursday by a Milam County grand jury.
Jose Hernandez, 52, of Thorndale was arrested by Milam County authorities after being indicted for criminal negligent homicide as a result of the November 26, 2005, dog attack in which Lillian Lorraine Stiles was attacked and killed at her residence by dogs owned by Hernandez.
Authorities say the pit bull-Rottweiler mixed-breed dogs attacked and killed Lillian Stiles as she rode a lawn mower. Her husband, Jack, was inside the house watching a football game. He shot and killed one of the dogs. The other five were later euthanized.

Here’s hoping justice is done on the subject.


Reading back through the early blog articles I was stunned to realize I never followed up on this story. Sadly, the jury was unwilling to convict the dog owner. I found a legal opinion on the subject here which I will repost. There is more information at the link if you are interested.

Like the prosecutors in the Diane Whipple case, the district attorney here found the existing laws to be inadequate. There was and is no state law that specifically addresses canine-inflicted homicides (i.e., deaths of humans, caused by dogs). (For proposed changes to the dog bite law of Texas, see Texas on this web site.)

Texas law addresses a different situation, namely the consequences of having a dog that previously was adjudicated as being “dangerous.” Heath & Safety Code §822.041 provides that a court may declare a dog “dangerous” basically if it causes injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class C misdemeanor if the owner violates the provisions of the dangerous dog law or the dog causes serious injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class A misdemeanor if the dangerous dog causes a death of a person in an unprovoked attack. A $10,000 penalty may also be imposed on the owner whose dangerous dog causes serious injury or kills someone. Texas Heath & Safety Code §§822.044, 822.045. (See generally Dangerous and Vicious Dogs for discussion of the legal meaning of “dangerous” and the issues pertaining to legal “dangerousness.”)

If a dog has not been previously declared “dangerous,” however, there is a “loophole” in the law, in that there is no law that addresses the situation. Given the savageness of this killing, prosecutors attempted to apply the general law. To make the punishment fit the crime, the grand jury indicted Jose Hernandez for criminally negligent homicide. His trial took place in March 2007.

The conviction of this dog owner depended upon overcoming the bane of dog bite victims, namely the one-bite rule. Under this ancient British legal doctrine, the owner of any domestic animal is not held responsible for the first bite, the first mauling, or the first killing by each and every one of his animals. (See The One Bite Rule.) Texas is in a minority of states that continues to salute the flag of Great Britain when it comes to dog bite laws. (For lists of states that follow or have abrogated the one bite rule, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.)

Hernandez testified that he had no idea his animals were capable of such brutality. He admitted none of his animals had ever been seen by a veterinarian and hadn’t been vaccinated. Several other witnesses for the defense testified that Hernandez’ dogs were not aggressive and were not trained to be aggressive.

The jury found Hernandez not guilty.

I had never heard of the one bite rule before in my life. I’m actually horrified that this is law in this state. They did actually update the laws after the verdict in this case, but the laws remain woefully lax when it comes to holding dog owners responsible for the behavior of their animals.  

Charges in fatal dog attack not likely, sheriff says

The story as it appeared in the Austin American Statesman (which has since removed it from the archive):

AUSTIN, Texas — The owner of six dogs that fatally mauled an elderly woman as she worked in her yard will likely not be charged with a serious crime, Milam County Sheriff Charlie West said Monday.

West said that he has consulted with District Attorney Kerry Spears and that they have been unable to conclude that owner Jose Hernandez committed a felony.

“There are no laws that apply,” West said. “We are still looking, but it is going to be hard to make anybody responsible for it.”

Five of the dogs were euthanized Monday; the victim’s husband shot the other dog.

West has said that Hernandez apparently kept the six pit bull-Rottweiler mixed-breed dogs in a pen behind a 3-foot chain-link fence. It was not clear how they got out of the pen.

Hernandez could not be reached Monday, two days after the dogs attacked and killed Lillian Stiles, 76, as she was tending her yard and flowers atop a riding lawn mower. Her body was taken to Dallas for an autopsy, which officials said had not been completed Monday.

Stiles’ husband Jack was inside their house north of Thorndale, Texas, about 50 miles northeast of Austin, watching a football game when the attack occurred. Two passersby, Weldon and Maurita Smith, saw Lillian Stiles’ body in her yard and tried to help.

Weldon Smith also was attacked and injured before Jack Stiles shot one of the dogs.

West said the euthanized dogs were sent to the Texas Department of State Health Services for rabies and other testing.

West said Hernandez is cooperating with the investigation and has said that his knee-high grandchildren have played with the dogs.

He said investigators have no indication that the dogs were being used for fighting and that a veterinarian who examined them said they had no signs of “war-like injuries,” such as cuts or broken bones.

“To him (Hernandez), the dogs weren’t vicious,” West said. “They were just pets.”

In 2003, the most recent year with available statistics, 288 people were hospitalized for dog bites and one person died, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Hernandez’s house, down a dirt driveway from the road that runs in front of the Stiles’ property, appeared empty Monday afternoon. A nearly full 50-pound bag of dog kibble sat on the screened porch and the gate one the fenced yard had a metal “T” painted with the visage of a bulldog — the Thorndale school district mascot.

The Stiles’ next-door neighbors reported seeing a big black dog near Lillian Stiles around 3:40 p.m. Saturday as they returned from Cameron.

“Oh, they’ve got a new dog,” Lauren Shumaker said she told her husband, Don. The couple said they had never seen a pack of dogs along the road.

Jimmy Hinistroza, pastor at San Gabriel Evangelistic Christian Church, lives immediately north of Hernandez’s house and said he saw two of the six dogs at the church’s property line early Saturday afternoon. He shooed a black Rottweiler away, he said, but the other one — a pit bull — “kept staring at me.”

“I’ve seen those two dogs many a time,” Hinistroza said. “I’d never seen the pack. I never knew this man had other pit bulls. If I’d have known, I would have talked to him because I know what pit bulls can do.”

Children routinely hike several acres of turf behind the church on Sunday afternoons, he said, but he temporarily barred anyone from going outside Sunday because the shot dog had yet to be found; the dog’s body turned up in the Stiles’ back yard.

“It could have been worse if all those children were out there,” Hinistroza said.

Hinistroza dedicated his Sunday sermon to Lillian Stiles, whom he described as a fixture on her rider mower, tending a lawn and garden that “looks like a little paradise,” Hinistroza said. “We all loved her.”


To: Kerry Spears [District attorney for Milam County]

This is an outrage. According to the reports that I have heard, the dogs were kept behind a fence that was just over 3 feet tall, they attacked in a coordinated pack (as if they were used to hunting together) and they killed a woman in her own front yard. They also attacked a would-be rescuer.

…and there isn’t anything to charge the dog owner with? Manslaughter? Criminal negligance? Anything? The fence was of insuffcient height to keep the animals contained, they had been trained to attack in a pack (or had been foraging enough to have learned the behavior) and they have a registered owner. I don’t know what else is needed to charge the man with SOMETHING.

I for one am sick and tired of this mantra that we “don’t have a law to cover this” (as if dog attacks are something new to the 21st century) You are tasked with upholding the law and seeing that justice is done in your county. This woman’s death will be on your heads as much as the dog owners if nothing is done about it now.


Additional –

If you also feel the urge to send a comment to the District attorney in Milam county, you’ll have to send it by fax or snail mail. Only the Sherriff’s office has a working e-mail address. Even the commissioners court is without internet service, apparently. Talk about not being in the 21st century.