Miami, Albuquerque, and Charleston incidents illustrate the cost of pro-pit mendacity
by Merritt Clifton
Pit bull advocates will on October 24, 2015 celebrate the ninth annual “Pit Bull Awareness Day,” founded in 2007 by Jody Preis of the Tennessee pit bull rescue Bless the Bullies, and subsequently expanded by many pit bull advocates into an entire “Pit Bull Awareness Month.”
Well-informed pit bull awareness is long overdue, especially within the animal care-and-control, sheltering, and advocacy communities –– and that would take the pit bull issue in precisely the opposite direction from the mendacity, hypocrisy, and blithe indifference to the rights and well-being of other animals and humans demonstrated since the mid-1980s by organized pit bull advocacy.
De facto “Michael Vick Day”
“Pit Bull Awareness Day” was among the increasingly aggressive escalations of pit bull advocacy that followed the April 2007 arrest of football player Michael Vick on dogfighting-related charges, for which Vick was later convicted and served prison time.
Amid the burst of publicity accompanying the Vick arrest and trial, the Best Friends Animal Society and the American SPCA staged a media relations coup by “rescuing” 48 pit bulls impounded from the Vick property, whom the Humane Society of the U.S. had recommended for euthanasia. While some were eventually rehomed, at cost of about $20,000 apiece and years of rehabilitative effort, about a dozen remain in Best Friends ‘ custody, now in canine old age, and nearly half are unaccounted for.
Catching intense flak orchestrated by pit bull advocates, HSUS did a quick turnabout on the Vick dogs, embraced Vick himself as an occasional spokesperson against dogfighting, and joined Best Friends and the ASPCA in promoting pit bull adoptions and opposing legislation meant to discourage pit bull proliferation, as did the American Humane Association.
Shelter dog mayhem
In so doing, HSUS, Best Friends, the ASPCA, and the AHA embraced the “Pit Bull Awareness Day” pit-pushing message –– and abdicated their self-professed roles as guardians of the well-being of all animals.
Part of the price of that abdication has been that at least 41 dogs rehomed by U.S. shelters and rescues have participated in killing 38 people since 2010. The killer dogs have included 30 pit bulls, seven bull mastiffs, two Rottweilers, a Lab who may have been part pit bull, and a husky.
No shelter dogs killed anyone from 1858 to 1988, and only five shelter dogs killed anyone from 1988 through 2009, a time frame within which more dogs were rehomed than 2010-present. (Among the 1988-2009 killer dogs were two wolf hybrids, a pit bull, a bull mastiff, and a Doberman.)
Honoring high-risk behavior
In the case of the AHA, the oldest national child protection organization as well as the oldest national animal protection organization, founded in 1877, the abdication of responsibility for both human and animal safety was especially blatant. In 2009 the AHA even honored as a “Be Kind to Animals Kid” a six-year-old volunteer for Out of the Pits, an upstate New York pit bull rescue which had promoted pit bull adoptions and raised funds with pit bull kissing booths, in blatant violation of the AHA’s own guidelines for avoiding dog attacks.
Only days before the “Be Kind to Animals Kid” award was announced, a pit bull rehomed by Out of the Pits severely mauled a five-year-old.
33 years of logging the blood & guts
As it happens, the first “Pit Bull Awareness Day” was close enough to the 25th anniversary of my beginning to log fatal and disfiguring dog attacks by breed, in September 1982, that ANIMALS 24-7 can present detailed before-and-after data. (See also 32 years of logging fatal & disfiguring dog attacks and 773% rise in fatal & disfiguring pit bull attacks from 2007 to 2014.)
Critical to note is that this is not quite before-and-after pit bull advocacy data, but we have that too:
In the 30 years 1931-1960, dogs killed just fifteen people in the U.S., of whom nine were killed by pit bulls, two by Dobermans, and four by unidentified mutts. This was fewer deaths in 30 years, and fewer by pit bulls, than in any single year since 2004, when pit bulls killed “only” eight people, down from 13 in 2003.
Organized pit bull advocacy appears to date from July 17, 1986, when after 25 years of gradually increasing pit bull abundance and attacks, Andrew Rowan, as founding director of the Center for Animals & Public Policy at Tufts University, convened a workshop entitled “Dog Aggression & the Pit Bull Terrier.”
Rowan followed up on September 19, 1987 with a conference entitled “The Pit Bull Terrier Revisited: How To Break The Vicious Circle.” Rowan has since 2002 quietly furthered pit bull advocacy as an HSUS senior vice president.
But organized pit bull advocacy had barely begun to gain momentum by 1993, when my first decade of data-gathering showed that of 158 dogs participating in fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in the U.S. and Canada, 105 were pit bulls. They had killed 18 people, disfiguring 38.
In the 14 years from 1993 to the first “Pit Bull Awareness Day,” in 2007, 1,159 pit bulls and close pit mixes attacked 508 children and 380 adults in U.S. and Canadian incidents, in which 103 people were killed and 644 people were disfigured––a fivefold increase in fatalities, a tenfold increase in attacks, and a more than twentyfold increase in disfigurements.
Of all the dogs involved in U.S. and Canadian fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, pit bulls constituted 53%, though barely 3% of the total dog population, and inflicted 48% of the fatal and disfiguring injuries.
Just the start
But that was just the beginning.
In the not quite nine years since “Pit Bull Awareness Day” debuted, 2,793 pit bulls and close pit mixes have attacked 1,067 children and 1,189 adults in incidents in which 208 people were killed and 1,891 people were disfigured.
In other words, the rates at which pit bulls kill and injure humans have approximately tripled after the previous exponential increases.
Pit bulls, now 5% of the U.S. and Canadian dog population, have since “Pit Bull Awareness Day” debuted accounted for 80% of the dogs involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks, resulting in two-thirds of the deaths and disfigurements.
That 80% of the dogs involved have been pit bulls, while they killed and maimed “only” two-thirds of the human victims signifies the propensity of pit bulls to engage in pack attacks, in which two or more dogs dismember a single victim.
Attacks on other animals
The human toll is only the smallest portion of pit bull mayhem. Analysis of dog attacks on other animals in 2013-2014 indicates that of about 50,000 such attacks per year, pit bulls account for more than 34,000, killing more than 15,000 other dogs, 5,400 hooved animals, and 5,000 cats.
The numbers appear likely to be higher in 2015.
Truth is the first casualty of pit bull advocacy
Wrote Samuel Johnson circa 1758, “Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.”
Among the most grievous casualties of engaging in pit bull advocacy, for animal care-and-control agencies, animal rescuers, and the humane movement as a whole, is a rapidly accelerating and thoroughly deserved loss of credibility, in consequence of pit bull promotional tactics including:
• Lying to the public about the breed identities and behavioral histories of shelter dogs, including those who go on to wreak mayhem;
• Pretending to the public that pit bulls cannot be accurately identified, contrary to both numerous appellate court verdicts and research funded by the ASPCA, which found that shelter workers accurately identify pit bulls 96% of the time;
• Minimizing pit bull mayhem by pointing out that all dogs bite, overlooking that more than half of all recognized breeds have never been involved in a human fatality or disfigurement, and that only Rottweilers have been involved in even 10% as many human fatalities and disfigurements as pit bulls;
• Pretending that there is no genetic component to pit bull behavior (see also The science of how behavior is inherited in aggressive dogs, by Alexandra Semyonova);
• Pretending that temperament tests such as the ASPCA “Safer” test reliably protect pit bull adopters, their families, their neighbors, and their other pets, when dog after dog who has passed “Safer” and similar tests goes on to kill and maim (see also No one held to account for Asheville Humane Society pit bull adoption fatality and Pit bull from Asheville Humane Society kills six-year-old.);
• Contending that breed-specific legislation “doesn’t work,” when in fact no city that has actually enforced a pit bull ban to the letter has had a pit bull fatality.
Miami-Dade, on the other hand, whose 1989 pit bull ban was in August 2012 affirmed by 63% of the county electorate, has pretended that American bulldogs are not pit bulls, though they have been recognized as such by dogfighters for at least 120 years.
Failing to impound pit bulls reported by alarmed neighbors, on the pretext that they are “American bulldogs,” Miami-Dade had had two pit bull fatalities in two years: Javon Dade Jr., age 4 when killed by his father’s pit bulls in August 2014, and Carmen Reigada, 91 when killed by a household pack including a pit bull, a Rhodesian ridgeback, and a Labrador mix.
The depths of pit bull advocacy mendacity within the animal sheltering community were exposed yet again on October 1, 2015 when Albuquerque chief administrative officer Rob Perry announced that six-year Animal Welfare Department director Barbara Bruin would be replaced effective November 1, 2015.
Summarized Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild, “Three separate city investigations released over the past four months found the Animal Welfare Department adopted out or sent to other animal rescue groups aggressive or problematic dogs, despite the dogs’ histories of having bitten people or hurt or killed pets. The Albuquerque Office of Inspector General concluded that Bruin and the department violated two city ordinances in adopting out potentially dangerous dogs and, in Bruin’s case, failing to fully provide information about such dogs to Office of Inspector General investigators.
(See also Albuquerque city shelter released dangerous dogs, Albuquerque pound broke city’s own dangerous dog law, and Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department #2 and behaviorist allege neglect of public safety in pushing pit bull adoptions.)
“The Office of Inspector General also found,” Heild wrote, “that the department, in an apparent effort to get shelter pit bulls adopted, on at least eight occasions changed the name of the breed listed to other types of dogs, such as boxer, Labrador retriever, Australian cattle dog, Siberian husky and chow chow.
“A separate $23,000 private investigation commissioned by Perry quoted numerous department employees as faulting Bruin for overruling professional staff decisions on which dogs to euthanize, sparing the life of some dogs that were so aggressive or problematic they should have been euthanized.”
Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry on September 28, 2015 announced that Bruin would no longer be involved in making euthanasia decisions.
ASPCA & wrong turn at Albuquerque
But that same day, Heild reported, “Bruin ordered a troubled dog removed from the euthanasia list,” to be enrolled in a $206,000 behavioral rehabilitation program funded by the ASPCA.
“The next day,” Heild continued, “Bruin was walking the same American pit bull terrier at the city’s West Side shelter when it lunged at an employee,” shelter dog handler Rocky Sanchez, 29, “and bit him.”
Bruin told a Journal reporter that the dog gave the animal handler “a mouthy puppy bite. I didn’t even know he’d been bitten and found out later,” Bruin said.
But the difference between a “mouthy puppy bite” and a disfiguring mauling, when pit bulls and other bully breeds are involved, is often just a split second of reaction time on the part of the victim.
A comparably questionable incident occurred on September 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, when a foster dog described by Charleston Animal Society executive director Joe Elmore as a “boxer/Rottweiler mix” lunged without provocation at a three-year-old, bit him, and then, while police were investigating, lunged at and bit a second three-year-old, who required three surgeries to repair extensive shoulder damage.
Said Elmore, “It really astounds us because this dog has no history of aggression toward people or animals, and has gone through his assessments really well and veterinarians’ assessments well.”
All of this would be a bit more persuasive if Elmore and the Charleston Animal Society did not have a highly conspicuous history of promoting pit bulls, including in partnership with the Citadel Bulldogs football team.
At least 101 of the 231 dogs in the society’s kennels as of July 28, 2015 were pit bulls, Elmore admitted to Christina Elmore and Melissa Boughton of the Charleston Post & Courier.
No paranoid conspiracy theory needed
A paranoid conspiracy theorist might imagine that nearly 30 years ago a cabal of dogfighters and pit bull breeders devised a plot to keep themselves in business by turning the U.S. animal care-&-control and humane communities into the front line of pit bull advocacy.
The first step was to ensure that the pit bull sterilization rate, now circa 20%, would lag far below the sterilization rate of 70%-plus for all other breeds combined, so as to flood shelters with pit bulls even as other breeds vanished from the kennels.
Shelter personnel and volunteers would themselves carry out the second step, aggressively promoting pit bulls to avoid having to kill them.
All the dogfighters and pit bull breeders would have to do then is ensure that the animal care-&-control and human communities would respond like pioneering psychologist Ivan Pavlov’s dogs to any suggestion of “breed-specific legislation,” so furiously as to ensure that few would ever do the obvious and seek laws to mandate pit bull sterilization, so as to end the pit bull surplus.
Malice vs. stupidity
Ended with the surplus of pit bulls would be the pressure to rehome dangerous dogs who never should have been born.
Unfortunately the plot that could be imagined by a paranoid conspiracy theorist is in truth what actually happened, except that no cabal was needed, and no actual conspiracy.
As Winston Churchill put it, while keeping a fighting bulldog himself, “Never attribute to malice what may be attributed to stupidity.”
The time has come, indeed is long overdue, for authentic animal advocates and victim advocates to remediate stupidity on behalf of pit bulls by promoting accurate awareness of pit bull behavior and the consequences of pit bull advocacy.
This must be done not just for a day, not just for a month, but for as long as it takes to restore humane values to the humane movement, in place of the corrupted values introduced by dogfighters and pit bull breeders, now ubiquitously infecting and debilitating the very institutions which ought to have been the first line of defense for both animal and human pit bull attack victims.