Tag Archives: “Animal Farm Foundation”

Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

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Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

You might not be aware that Snopes is one of the oldest websites around, and one of the original ways skeptics would meet online and discuss their skepticism way before social media existed. It ran on Usenet, which was rather like a hybrid of email and a web forum. Snopes is usually pretty reliable in its debunking so long as the writers are not called upon to make a determination about a website that is beyond their expertise or is highly nuanced. But they don’t always nail their arguments and they don’t get a pass just because they’re Snopes – they are not immune to being critiqued.

In October, Snopes author Brooke Binkowski disputed the effectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation in the US and Canada. Binkowski exhorted Snopes readers to accept that her “deep research” is the result of rational objective examination – something she vigorously defends on her professional Facebook page, yet it hardly begins with any sort of “null hypothesis” about BSL.  Her credibility in this particular piece of writing is called in question both by her use of source materials and her unfiltered admonishment of posters who disagree with her as “mentally ill” or “paranoid” on her Facebook page.  Ms. Binkowski relied heavily on the debunked pit bull propaganda mill, the National Canine Research Council and her conclusions are at odds with many other published studies.

Unpacking the Problems With the Snopes Article

1. The Use Of Questionable Sources Or Debunked Source Material

Ms. Binkowski didn’t expand her search or chose to ignore many other published studies in the US National Institute of Health database and elsewhere, and cited several source documents in her analysis that were later debunked.

Binkowski relied upon the work of the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), the same group referenced by the Ordre des médecins vétérinaire du Québec (OMVQ) when appealing Montreal’s BSL legislation earlier this year.

It was subsequently revealed by La Presse journalist Marie-Claude Malboeuf that five of the roughly 50 studies cited in the report by the OMVQ were financed by American pit bull lobbyists (the NCRC) and that the data they used was problematic. At the same time, the Order of Veterinarians listed four recent medical studies on the gravity of injuries suffered from dog attacks, but downplayed the role of pit bulls. La Presse reported that the OMVQ report also emphasized that shelters are concerned for “their structure and already precarious financial health” if the Montreal bylaw were to proceed. However, these concerns should never supercede those of public health.  Public policy is not always based solely on the frequency of an event.  For example, a recall of children’s car seats or faulty ignition switches in vehicles may be based in a small number of deaths over a years’ long period.

The 5-part La Presse investigation, now translated into English, also shows that the OMVQ report cited studies that gave the impression of being “scientific and objective” when in fact they had been funded by the not-at-all objective American pit bull lobby.  To get an expert opinion of the OVMQ report, Malboeuf gave it to McGill University professor emeritus Dr. Barry Pless, a professor of Paediatrics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics, and the Director of the Injury Prevention Program at Montreal Children’s Hospital among other achievements.  Said Pless“doing studies that are primarily intended to prevent the adoption of laws, without declaring conflicts of interest, is the strategy employed by the gun lobby and the tobacco lobby.”

The Order’s President now says he recognizes those studies should have been excluded or properly nuanced.  The use of paid-for research by the OMVQ represents a lack of scientific rigeur and transparency on their part, and at worst, is a serious conflict of interest.

La Presse spells out the players of the American Pit Bull Lobby. They divide it into 5 levels and explain the often overlapping relationships:

Five Levels of the Pit Bull Lobby

  • Level 1: The financing source. Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), owned by Jane Berkey. The company’s motto is: “Securing equal treatment and opportunity for pit bull dogs.” AFF devotes itself entirely to fighting pit bull regulations. “After inheriting a fortune from her father, Jane Berkey, who also owns a literary agency, turned over at least $6 million to her group, $2.85 million in 2013, according to government records. She pays 9 employees (one of whom, the director, makes more than $100,000 a year) and finances numerous groups that share her philosophy,” La Presse reports.
  • Level 2: The researchers. “To produce studies, AFF bought a private research body in 2007. The acquisition was kept secret until the victims’ group Dogsbite discovered this during litigation. The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) was created by a veterinary technician, Karen Delise. Neither an academic researcher nor a veterinarian, she self proclaims as the ‘greatest national expert on deaths caused by dog bites,’” La Presse reports. NCRC co-authors and finances studies, like the ones cited by the OMVQ, which chiefly attempt to show pit bulls cannot be identified.
  • Level 3: Publication. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). “The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publishes NCRC studies in its journal. On its own website it proposes sample letters [for readers to write] contesting any law aimed at pit bulls. Moreover, its site has a link to AFF,” La Presse reports. The journalist even points out the AVMA’s notice on the embargoed 2000 fatal dog attack study, which falsely and fraudulently states: “In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities.”
  • Level 4: The political lobby. Best Friends Animal Society. Their senior legislative analyst, Ledy VanKavage, drafts state-level bills to eliminate local pit bull ordinances (state preemption laws) and is also a board member of AFF. VanKavage boasts on Best Friends’ corporate website that she commissioned an ex-economist from the tobacco industry, John Dunham, to create a fiscal calculator designed to advise governments on the cost of breed banning. Dunham’s sham BSL calculator, financed by the NCRC, over exaggerates these costs by nearly two orders of magnitude.
  • Level 5: The distributors. The animal care industry. “All the lobby studies are abundantly distributed by animal-based companies like shelters, breeders, trainers, etc. In Montreal, they are [distributed] by, amongst others, the SPCA, whose mission is to avoid euthanizing dogs and whose two most senior executives are themselves owners of pit bulls,” states La Presse. “On social media, pit bull owners deploy these studies relentlessly and accuse all their opponents of ignorance,” La Presse reports. More aggressive ones have even threatened the mayor of Québec City with death.

The methodology and conclusions behind the NCRC’s study “Preventable Factors Associated with Dog Bite-Related Fatalities” was also called into question by two members of the Department of Comparative Pathobiology at Purdue University, in a letter to the editor of the AVMA journals, published July 1, 2014:

“For instance, where the NCRC clearly knew what breeds were involved, they did not disclose same.  They also classified dogs as “resident” or “family” dogs without explaining what that meant.  They did not state how much time a dog had to be kept outside in order for it to be considered a “resident” dog. How was it possible for the researchers to determine, by any means, what the dog’s status was? The assumption is that when the NCRC knew what breeds were involved in fatalities they simply declined to disclose that information, and invented new characterizations (resident vs family dog) in an attempt to further confound the findings and minimize the number of fatalities caused by dogs that were actually determined to be “pit bulls.”

The NCRC reported that “Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these.”  Since their report provided no data to support the conclusion, the Purdue University professors questioned the findings of the NCRC report since it conflicted with other studies that showed a correlation between the passage of BSL and a reduction in dog bite injuries. The Purdue professors were also not fooled by the statement that “dog bite-fatalities are exceedingly rare” either.

At several points in the NCRC narrative it is reiterated that child safety education and practices were one of the key factors in preventing dog bites.  There is no doubt that this is an important consideration for parents, and there is really no downside to educational efforts. But a study in the Cochrane Report on the effect of the role of education in preventing dog bite injuries in children and adolescents concluded that, due to a lack of evidence, education should not be the only public health strategy to reduce dog bites and their dramatic consequences.  (The Cochrane Report articles combine the results of research papers, while pointing out weaknesses in experimental design or quality – very useful for contradicting the standard pseudoscience retort. The Cochrane Report gives weight to properly designed studies and less to weaker ones.)

The naming of the “National Canine Research Council” itself may also be an attempt to capitalize on the legitimacy of the National Research Council, an American non-profit NGO that shapes policies, informs public opinion, and advances the pursuit of science.  Capitalizing on the name association with other more established groups appears to be standard operating procedure for the NCRC,  who also  purchased (or had purchased on their behalf) the top-level domain “dogsbite.com” for $11,000 to try to capture some of the bandwidth of the legitimate group Dogsbite.org.   (Dogsbite.com redirects to the website of the NCRC and this “cybersquatting” resulted in a domain name dispute) Both DNASalePrice and NameBio confirm this spend.  Why would self-described professional “think tank” researchers have a need  to cybersquat on an established internet domain?  Can they not generate enough traffic to their website through the legitimacy of their own “research?”

 

2. Omission Of Studies That Support BSL And Implicate Pit Bull Phenotypes In Serious Dog Attacks

A review of the Pubmed database provides the following evidence-based studies that suggest that a majority of dog bite hospitalizations are attributed to pit bull phenotypes, often after analyses of decades worth of data.  Had Ms. Binkowski included these in her analysis, I believe she would have been compelled to revisit her conclusion in Snopes:

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog-bite injury hospitalisations in people in the Canadian province of Manitoba

Ocular Trauma From Dog Bites: Characterization, Associations, and Treatment Patterns at a Regional Level I Trauma Center Over 11 Years

Morbidity of pediatric dog bites: A case series at a level one pediatric trauma center

Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998

Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994

Dog bite-related fatalities: a 15 year review of Kentucky Medical Examiner cases

Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990 – 2007  (Includes references to bite incidents that immediately preceded the implementation of BSL in Ontario)

Mortality,  Mauling,  and Maiming by Vicious Dogs

Dog Bites in Urban Children

Dog Bites of the Head and Neck

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog bite injury

Periorbital trauma from pit bull terrier attacks

Characteristics of 1616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution

I can’t explain why articles and studies that favoured pit bulls featured so predominantly in Ms. Binkowski’s research, but somehow she did not locate or decided not to include information freely available using  in-depth knowledge tools for reporters, such as Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, the Pubmed open-access library, Social Science Research Network, or the Cochrane Report.  Unless of course she intended to come up with an hypothesis and then set to work proving it right.  But without confirmation bias, many theories would fall apart.

 

3.  Failure To Distinguish Between Dog Bites Vs. Maulings

Ms. Binkowski is not the first reporter/journalist to fail to make a distinction between a dog bite and a mauling. While a bite by the oft-mentioned scapegoat the chihuahua may require stitches, a bite from a pit bull type dog will more than likely require that, plus plastic reconstructive surgery or oral/maxillofacial surgery in order to make the victim “whole” again. Most dogs respect protocols in behaviour when they fight, which includes a lot of posturing and growling, and usually very little biting – if there is biting most dogs practice bite inhibition – they bite once and then release, possibly not even puncturing the skin, retreating to protect themselves. There is almost never a fight to the death between most breeds of dogs.

Reducing dog bites overall is not something that BSL or the Dog Owners Liability Act in Ontario has ever set out to accomplish, indeed, it would be impossible.  No law that seeks to protect the public can ever eliminate all risks.  The aims of the DOLA were to reduce serious maulings and fatalities by banning or muzzling the breeds statistically most likely to be responsible. But any law that is enforced will be effective and mandatory muzzling, required in Ontario for pit bull phenotypes, would have prevented the following recent attacks if only it were consistently observed and applied:

A dog was shot dead by police after it grabbed a child by the throat and inflicted several bites during an attack (May 2016)

Two dogs were shot and killed after they attacked a man and woman in Ottawa’s east end. “The dogs were going in, they were biting, they were shaking the person. The person on the ground was very bloodied…[The dogs] were just relentless,” (August 2016)

Toronto Police shot and killed a pit bull “when it attacked a shih tzu and held the small dog down with a “locked-jaw grip,” police said. The policeman was hitting the dog so hard with his baton that it flung out of his hands but the pit bull would not let go. Police shot the dog twice in the leg and when it still didn’t release the shih tzu, they shot it in the head.” (September 2014)

 

4. Accusations That BSL Is Really A Form Of Covert Racism

pit-bull-lovers-quotes

Some of the most offensive and racially-derived posts come from pit bull aficionados themselves. Repeated references are often made to minorities as being comparable to dogs, as if the pit bull advocacy movement really believes their challenges are comparable to that of minority groups. At the same time, they often diminish or mock dog bite victims. Source 1 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/shana-expresses-her-disgust. and Source 2 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/jacqueline-tries-to-help.jpg

Binkowski mentions “racial parameters” in dogs when what she really means are morphological characteristics (because there are no races of dogs).  For a long time now, the pit bull advocacy movement has attempted to parlay BSL and discernment towards pit bull dogs as “canine racism” or overt racism.  With the Snopes article and a recent Washington Post article that echoed that theme, they’ve now carried that forward and attempted to show that BSL has been implemented to keep “undesireables” at bay. The cries of “racism” are further evidence that the pit bull advocacy movement are desperate to shift the blame for BSL on the cities or towns who express objections to bully breeds.  The goal is to further the cause of pit bulls as a social justice issue (while simultaneously ignoring victim issues).  Accusations of racism are intended to shame and squelch dissent and reasonable debate.

Looking into the data on breed bans turns up an interesting finding: each region that has enacted breed-specific legislation of some sort appears to have also experienced significant, if not dramatic demographic changes over a relatively short period of time.”  ~ Brooke Binkowski

The most recent available online Statscan report (2011) reveals that 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group in Canada. They represented 19.1% of the total

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the european demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario's 2005 Dog Owner's Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the European demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario’s 2005 Dog Owner’s Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

population. Of these visible minorities, 30.9% were born in Canada and 65.1% were born outside the country and came to live in Canada as immigrants. The vast majority of the foreign-born population lived in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta.  Since the 1960s, our immigration has steadily increased, but there is no single event that can accurately be described as a “significant, if not dramatic demographic change.”  Creating BSL as a means to racially oppress 20% of the Canadian population, only some of whom might actually own a pit bull type dog, is just laughable. Binkowski no doubt assumed that the overt racism seen across mainstream America during the current electoral process could also be (mis)applied to Canada with broad strokes.

The real reason for implementing BSL in Ontario was due to a number of serious bites immediately preceding 2005 (the year it became effective). Dog attacks were also the reason the First Nations community of Membertou in Cape Breton implemented a pit bull ban immediately after a pit bull attacked an elder and her grandchild, which coincided with “several other instances of close calls.”

From the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act:

In nonfatal aggressive incidents, the pit bull did rank highest in 2000 and 2001 (2.84 bite incidents per 100 licensed dogs of this breed type) in 1 Canadian municipality (Edmonton, Alberta). Other breeds that followed in this municipality included the rottweiler (1.60 bite incidents per 100 licensed), Akita (1.52), mastiff (1.47), Dalmatian (1.40), and Great Dane (1.21).”

In 2004, the last full year before the ban, there were 984 licensed pit bulls in Toronto and 168 reported bites. In 2013 there were 501 pit bulls registered in the city, and just 13 bites, according to a Toronto Star investigation.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported that:

“Most of the dogs Ottawa bylaw officers have sought to have destroyed as dangerous have been pit bulls, according to statistics released by the city. The city has initiated 10 prosecutions against owners who allegedly let their dogs bite another person or pet since the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act was passed in 2005. Seven of the dogs were pit bull types.”

 

5. Snopes Conclusion At-Odds With Competing Debunkers

politifact-imageFinally, Binkowski’s conclusion about BSL is at odds with that of rival fact-checking website Politifact, who found the statement that pit bulls were inordinantly dangerous to be “mostly true.”

“The past studies and research we’ve reviewed shows pit bulls are among the most aggressive dogs. Some breeds, however, have been shown to be more aggressive in each report.  However, the widely held perception is that they are dangerous, which was Boyer’s over-arching point. An Associated Press poll done in October found of the dog owners who would support breed bans, 85 percent would outlaw pit bulls.”

6.  Snopes Conclusion Not Researched In Accordance With The International Fact-Checking Network Declaration It Signed

Snopes,  as a signatory, clearly did not use the same standard of care for this article as they normally do  for every other fact check. There is a built-in bias if the writer of the article does indeed own a pit bull as has been suggested on social media sites – is this Binkowski posting about pit bulls on Live Journal in 2012?  If so,  it’s very illustrative of a pre-existing bias. Snopes needs to follow the code and recall this article.

 

Summation

It’s very tiring to read of shady attempts to distort the facts. Common sense would tell you that bans on breed restrictions have everything to do with the safety of the public at large and nothing to do with the race, class and ethnicity of the people who own those dogs since the law is applied to everyone.   It is also morally bereft to claim that it’s OK to patch up people after-the-fact when an attack has a chance to be prevented in the first place. Making a person “whole” again after an attack isn’t nearly as positive as preventing the attack altogether. BSL cannot prevent all dog attacks but it is designed to prevent the worst sort of maulings by dogs with the greatest propensity to commit them.

Binkowski cites the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the American Bar Association, AVMA,  HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Toronto Humane Society, among other lesser known references and publications.  In addition to those aforementioned groups, Best Friends, the AKC, Bad Rap, Pit Bull Rescue Central, and various other Humane Societies are all lobbying partners of professional pit bull advocacy.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is a professional group; sometimes its journal publishes articles with scientific intent. Other times it publishes articles that are intended to protect financial interests of its members — and in those cases, its “peer review” is done by hand-picked “peers” who will reject anything that doesn’t support a purely political position the AVMA or other self-interested groups are protecting.  None of these groups or the NCRC/Animal Farm Foundation are qualified to comment on the effectiveness of BSL or the impact to society of dog bites, which are a public health issue and are the purview of epidemiologists and those holding Masters of Public Health degrees or similar educational achievements.

Perhaps non-science writers can be forgiven for not understanding what constitutes a scientific study or the “peer review” process and what a “peer-reviewed journal” is. There are plenty of impartial, scientific journals out there, whose peer review process is to guard scientific integrity. However, there are also as many journals founded and funded by an industry or a professional group, whose peer-review is intended to protect the interests of that industry or group.

 

Still, Snopes is pretty accurate and I’ll continue to rely on them for myths, email rumours, and urban legends.  Snopes’ accuracy is not a foregone conclusion with more complex issues such as the efficacy of BSL or vaccine conspiracies (they recently declared that Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein was not an anti-vaxxer, but I believe that the truth is less obvious).  Journalists should examine the full scope of the available evidence, whether they agree with it or not.  Avoiding biases in journalism is an important component of rationalism.  Merely repeating the propaganda does not challenge views or compel people to face facts.

 

 

Dog Bites Man – Again And Again

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dog-attackWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

I believe in an animal Bill of Rights, and I’m opposed to killing dogs based solely on their appearance, but none of that matters to the Pit bull Advocacy Movement. Dog bites have become one of the most emotionally charged issues that divide animal activists. For some time now, I’ve seen the Pitbull Advocacy Movement (PBAM) privileging the rights of dogs over the rights of human beings and their own pets. by accusing people who are skeptical about the aggression of fighting breeds of being “racists,” ”bigots,” and “breed bullies.”

I’ve had a special interest in this subject matter for a few years now. I’m a dog bite victim – the classic “dog bites man” story, In 2008 I was bitten by a molosser breed dog that I had known for two years. The owner was not irresponsible except in not informing me that the dog had bitten others before me. I was not playing rough with the dog, and the dog was leashed and visiting on my own property. So the hue and cry that only bad ownership or handling of a bully breed is the only possible explanation for a bite would seem to fall flat on its face.  My husband cried like a child – it was the first and only time I’d seen him cry.  This really scared me,  because I hadn’t yet looked in a mirror and had no idea what damage had been done.  The neighbour was crying.  I however,  refused to cry – I felt like someone had to keep it together.  My front teeth were loosened by the impact with the dog’s skull,  my top lip was ripped, and my nose was partially ripped off.  Bites to the face usually also result in a lot of blood loss,  due to the large number of blood vessels and capillaries located there. Later,  I developed two black eyes.  My neighbour cried whenever he saw me for weeks afterward.    Even the neighbour’s homeowner’s insurance company agreed that there’s little defensible when the bite is unprovoked, on the victim’s own property, involved a bite to the face that required plastic surgery, all by a dog that had an acknowledged history of biting people. As a result, the insurance company ruled that the doctrine of scienter applied in my case, and they paid me out for pain and suffering.

The scienter doctrine was developed as, and remains, a form of strict liability. If the conditions for scienter are found, the liability is absolute and does not depend upon proof of negligence.

bred to protect children

No – they were originally bred as dogs to hold animals for slaughter, and later as fighting dogs. There are no “nanny dogs, ” and young children shouldn’t be left in the care of dogs to begin with.  What I find  especially hypocritical about PBAMers is that they will proclaim pit bull types to be “Nanny Dogs,”  but if your child is bitten by the “Nanny Dog,”  they will be the first person to call you a “bad owner.”

Unfortunately, dogs have become a real enemy for the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners’ insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2012, costing more than $489 million, with an average amount of $29,752 per claim. The Canada Safety Counsel estimates that about 460,000 Canadians are bitten by dogs each year. In addition, several recent high profile dog bite incidents have brought the issue to the forefront of insurers’ minds, with some insurers going so far as to refuse to underwrite insurance for homeowners with certain dog breeds. The PBAM evangelists I’ve encountered are far less concerned with dog bite victims and are more prone to screech “discrimination” when told of this latter finding with respect to their own insurance coverage.

The mandate of the PBAM evangelists has been to persuade the public that pit-bull phenotypes (for the purposes of this blog post – American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog and any other pure bred or mixed breed dog that is a combination of these dogs) are just like any other dog and any problems with temperament can be laid squarely at the feet of the owner. In order to push pit bulls into private homes, these evangelists rely on the average person’s general unfamiliarity with the heritability of dog behaviour. It is a fact that every breed of dog results from the human manipulation of inherited physical and behavioural traits, and all modern breeds of dog are what we have designed them to be via artificial selection. This blog post is not about presenting pit bulls and pit bull types as evil dogs to be destroyed at will – we know that statistically the vast majority of pit bull type dogs co-exist with people and other dogs without incident. Yet for a breed(s) that represents approximately 6% of the dog population, they commit anywhere from 70 – 90% of all dog bites. And many PBAM advocates consider these statistical truths to be nothing more than poopytalk by dog-haters. So, many of them are engaged in an all-out war to conceal information or hoodwink prospective adopters about these breeds of dog.

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PBAM’s consistently implicate dog owners as solely responsible for their dog’s misbehaviour. While this is certainly often true, we know from understanding population and bite stats that this cannot be the sole reason for bites and fatal attacks. If pit bull types account for roughly 6% of the dog population while simultaneously committing 70-90% of dog bites (depending on various sources), then there must be another explanation beyond poor dog handling skills. It’s confusing when both professional dog handlers and casual owners recognize genetically predisposed dispositions such as chasing, catching pigs or cattle, killing escaping slaves, chasing foxes down holes, and guarding farm stock, but in the same breath they will tell you that every pit bull down at the shelter is harmless unless it has been raised wrong. To even suggest that a pit bull might come with a different genetic programming than a pointer or a setter is to be accused of “racism.” Which, I might add, is impossible since there are no “races” of dogs. Yet, people will acquire a hunting dog that was bred to kill rats and are then horrified when it displays its genetic legacy by killing a squirrel while off-leash. The dog merely exhibited a behaviour it was artificially selected to do, by man.

Just as we bred pointers to point, retrievers to retrieve, and sheepdogs to herd, we bred fighting dogs. Working bulldogs and terriers were used by butchers to hold and control animals for slaughter. The morphological characteristics of these breeds also meant that they were useful in bull and bear baiting. Dogs used for such activities have a physical conformation suited to the task – including large jaw muscles, necks and shoulders, and a body mass that makes defence against an attack much more difficult.

Naturally, we expect a breed to behave in certain ways because they were or are bred for specific purposes. In the case of selective breeding, the goal for any desired offspring are physical aptitude and inclination to engage in a behaviour. Sometimes conformation is an additional goal.

The inclination to chase prey is probably the aspect of the predation sequence that is most commonly exhibited across all dog species. The complete predation sequence consists of:

  • eye
  • stalk
  • chase
  • grab-bite
  • kill-bite
  • dissect
  • consume

Community dog problemSuch behaviours fall into the ethological category – modal action patterns (MAPS) and these are behaviours that are not learned but fully expressed in the presence of triggering stimulus such as a high-pitched squeal or a sudden movement. Such behaviours can be modified by learning, but they only require a trigger to be expressed. Breeders of hounds select for search behaviours, herding dog breeders want the stalk and chase, but usually not the grab-bite and certainly not the kill-bite and dissect. A dog’s motivation for hunting is separate from his motivation to eat. The fact that optimally raised dogs of any breed can attack suddenly and without prior warning is a testament to the “trigger.”

I strongly suspect that a great many breeders of pit bll type dogs are not breeding for appearance or quiet demeanor. There are many unscrupulous breeders who have bred the most aggressive of their dogs, so other behaviours have not been significantly randomized across the breed. Therefore, we have clustering of negative behaviours in pit bull type dogs. Dogs that are bred specifically for aggressive characteristics and for use in negative functions are abusive to the dog and a nuisance to the general public.

While dogs generally engage in “ritualized” forms of aggression when they come into conflict (growling and posturing but no real damage) when pit bulls fight they engage the grab-bite/kill-bite part of the predatory sequence with often fatal or near fatal results. There is seldom time to intervene to rescue the other dog (or human) before serious damage is done. It hardly helps that pit bulls are often the most abused dogs – they are often emaciated, chained, or forced to wear prong collars. Quite often they are intact. They are occasionally kept in multiples and are often active in breeding for the financial gain of their owners. Dogs maintained in this manner often do not exhibit the same level of sociability as dogs who regularly interact with humans on a daily basis. So there are often other risk factors involved.

The ASPCA describes the characteristics of a Fighting Dog:

  • Ignores signs of submission from other dogs
  • High level of endurance, agility, aggression towards other dogs
  • No warning prior to attack
  • Fight to the death
  • Gameness
  • High pain threshold

PBAM advocates SHOULD be cognizant of these variables, but if they are, they don’t let on. If love and training are all you need, and if aggression isn’t a heritable trait, why do we have such variation amongst breeds? Why is it that we can’t use just any large breed dog as a police dog,  or any dog as a guide dog?

Better examples of PBAM “logic” are rarely seen than in the Animal Farm Foundation’s “Best Practices” Manual for placing pit-bull type dogs. (The countervailing and more commonsense opinion on pit bulls in shelters, written by the ASPCA, can be found here. The ASPCA document acknowledges that the pit bull aka Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a relatively newer breed. As such, it has a much shorter history of being bred as pets).

Eschewing all common sense and reason, the AFF makes the following inflammatory statements:

“Avoid blanket restrictions, such as: No first time owners, breed experience required, fenced yard required, no renters, no adopters under 25”   Whatever could be wrong with adopting a pit bull out to someone without no prior dog experience and without a fenced backyard?

“Like dogs, children are individuals. Let parents decide what’s right for their children and what challenges they are comfortable taking on as a family.” These vapid idiots really do not understand that the whole point of public safety measures is to protect people from themselves.

Avoid blanket adoption policies, such as extra applications, mandatory dog training classes, background checks” Because you don’t care if gangbangers adopt pits so long as it gets them out the door…

If a dog is highly aroused or reactive in his kennel, hang a sheet or other barrier on his kennel door (high enough to block his view, but low enough for adopters to see in). Hang a cheerful sign on the cage that says “I’m friendly, just enjoying some privacy” And if a dog is highly aroused or reactive in his new home, it’s no longer your problem, because you’ve allowed the parents to decide that a highly aroused or reactive dog is somehow right for their children. Pit bulls do have the tools to inflict some serious damage. Plus it seems that most dog owners don’t sufficiently train their animals so everything goes along just fine until the house is full of people and the dog reaches an unnoticed stress threshold.

“Just recently, Nevada Humane decided to partner with NASCAR’s TJ Bell to promote “pit bull” dog adoptions” So the absolute worst person to get a pit bull can get another one.

Rather than focus on why a dog wound up at the shelter, their medical history, or what behaviors they need to work on, keep the information upbeat and focused on what the dogs enjoy doing with people. Disclose all known facts to the new owner, including information received from the previous owner” This second statement seems to be contradictory to the previous statement directly above.

There is not a single reportable appellate opinion in which an animal shelter was found liable for a bite by a dog that it did not own” So, transfer ownership of the dog fully to the new owner before it has a chance to bite anyone while under the care, custody, and control of the shelter.

Dolce and Gabbana

Dolce and Gabbana were two Chihuahuas up for adoption in New Mexico; despite over 900 Facebook shares, they were euthanized due to shelter overcrowding. They had never bitten anyone.

But there will soon be a verdict, if it has not already been rendered, against the Bount County Animal Shelter – accused of not advising a family of a dog’s bite history. The dog delivered life-threatening injuries to a young child. In addition to that case, recently, the Stamford Animal Shelter announced that shelter manager Laurie Hollywood had been fired for rehoming dogs with a bite history. Essentially, she did not do her due diligence in disclosing that history to the adopters. Perhaps she was focused on rebranding the image of pit bulls and the history of the dogs she placed was merely an untidy detail that she felt she could overlook. After a dog was surrendered upon having bitten a child, Hollywood adopted him out without disclosing the bite history. He then proceeded to bite the child in the adoptive family. Not once, but twice. In another incident with a different dog, the dog went on to bite the adopter’s wife. In all these cases, Hollywood did not take a bite report nor did she impound the dogs that attacked humans and other animals over several months.

Pit Bulls represented 32% of US shelter inventory in June 2014.

In another rebranding effort gone wrong, Second Chance Rescue minimized a pit bull’s aggressive traits before handing him over to a New Jersey man for adoption. The dog ended up attacking his two young children. The dog chomped down on his daughter’s leg and nearly tore his son’s nose off just ONE DAY after they brought him home. Seems like the Animal Farm Foundation’s “Best Practice” for allowing the parent to decide prudent exposure to dogs isn’t so great after all, especially when the dog’s history is concealed. As for having your nose almost ripped off, I know what it feels like, and I can hardly wish it on anyone, especially a child.

The rebranding of the breed continues to come at a cost to innocent people. As it gains momentum, it becomes obvious that there is an unhealthy obsession in trying to preserve truly aggressive dogs. Not only pit bulls, but other dogs – a German Shepherd with a demonstrated history of aggression, found himself in a North Carolina animal shelter and was scheduled to be euthanized. Although the dog bit a shelter employee twice, the shelter agreed to adopt him out to a local trainer. Sadly, less than two weeks later, in a public park, he seriously attacked the adopter and two other people before he was fatally shot by police.

pit bull bites

Glad a child lost his ear? I didn’t even want to conceal this person’s identity – their comments are THAT loathesome.

Cesar Millan wanted to save the mastiff cross-breed that killed Diane Whipple. Fortunately he was declined. He also wanted to work with the dog who attacked a small boy in Bakersfield, California. I can only assume that in Millan’s case that ego is the predominant driving force, since most people utilizing a scintilla of reason would probably concur that the most serious of dog attacks against people should result in humane euthanasia for the dog.

And why are aggressive dogs receiving so much attention from people who want to save them, when there are thousands of friendly – or at the very least safe and rehabilitatable dogs dying in shelters every day? I admire people’s dedication to animal issues, but these types of efforts seem so misplaced to me. Mickey is a pit bull mix who first killed a puppy, and then cracked a child’s jaw, eyesocket, and cheekbone, requiring the boy to have months of reconstructive surgery, Despite this, more people were concerned with saving the dog than helping the child. There were over 60,000 people pressuring the shelter for his release. Shelters may feel that they are saving lives, but if the dog kills another animal, there is no net gain in saved lives. If the shelter re-homes a dog that they strongly suspect is dangerous, then they are in effect saying that injury or death to other pets or people is preferable to humane euthanasia.

The epidemiology of dog bites is also widely critiqued by pit bull activists.

The most recent USA survey of dog bites conducted by CDC researchers concluded that in 2001, 2002 and 2003 there were 4.5 million American dog bite victims per year. 885,000 bites per year (all breeds) – almost one out of every 5 – are serious enough to require medical attention. Dog bites send nearly 368,000 victims to hospital emergency departments per year (1,008 per day).  In 2012, more than 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs. (Centers for Disease Control, quoting from American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 2012 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report [online]. 2012. [cited 2013 Oct 24). In a study on Mortality, mauling, and maiming by vicious dogs, the authors state that: “…attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs. Strict regulation of pit bulls may substantially reduce the US mortality rates related to dog bites.”

Most victims of dog bites are not intruders, but children or respectable adults. While most dog bites are not serious, pit bulls are disproportionately represented in serious mauling cases. A innocent child killed by pit bullsCDC report on dog-bite fatalities from 1978 to 1998 confirms that pit bulls are responsible for more deaths than any other breed (the CDC no longer collects breed-specific information). Merritt Clifton has also collated volumes of actuarial information on pit bull bites, and his findings reveal that attacks by pit bulls and their closest relatives still outnumber attacks by any other breed no matter how you spin the data. These are simple facts, and police, public, press, and politicians know it but PBAM elitists can’t or won’t accept statistics for pit bull damage. One of their primary defences is to claim that, unless a dog comes with pedigreed papers or is the known offspring of pedigreed dogs, it can’t possibly be assumed that all these stats reflect injuries by pit bull type dogs. They don’t want you to trust dog geneticists or dog behaviourists either. Definitely don’t trust newspapers.  Oh, and don’t even trust your own critical reasoning skills.