Contradicts rhetoric of trend toward removing breed-specific labels from shelter cage cards
LOS ANGELES, PRETORIA––Few voices anywhere might be considered more rabidly pro-pit bull than the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa, a self-described “breed-specific show organization” whose declared “main goal is always to portray the American Pit Bull Terrier in a positive light.”
Yet the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa took a sharply different direction from most other pit bull advocates worldwide––and scarcely for the first time––after the November 1, 2017 fatal mauling of six-month-old Callum Stols in his car seat in Johannesburg by a previously trusted family pet.
Callum Stols was at least the 47th human fatality inflicted by a pit bull in South Africa since 2004, the second highest known total of any nation. The U.S. has had 322 human pit bull fatalities over the same time frame, but has approximately six times the human population of South Africa.
Much of the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa statement contradicted the October 24, 2017 testimony of Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette to the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission.
Subsequent to Barnette’s presentation, the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission passed a resolution which, if ratified by the Los Angeles City Council, will allow the city animal shelters to stop identifying impounded dogs and dogs offered for rehoming by breed or predominant breed type.
Said Barnette, “We believe that we have an ethical responsibility to be honest with the community by not providing them with false information about, and creating false expectations of, the dog they are adopting. To do that we propose eliminating breed labels on our cage cards, online profiles and anywhere that breed labels have previously been used.”
27,000 pit bulls identified
Apart from the question of how Barnette imagines that concealing the identity of pit bulls is either “honest” or not “providing false information,” Barnette has prominently advocated by pit bulls for more than 20 years.
Barnette has presumably considered herself able to identify pit bulls all the while, beginning in mid-level management at the San Francisco SPCA, and continuing through stops as executive director at Pets In Need in Redwood City, California, Tony LaRussa’s Animal Foundation in Danville, California, and the Seattle Humane Society, before taking the top position at Los Angeles Animal Services in 2011.
In Los Angeles, Barnette and her staff have identified more than 27,000 pit bulls admitted to the city shelters since July 1, 2012, rehoming nearly 18,000 of them while euthanizing more than 9,000, according to data posted on the Los Angeles Animal Services web site.
“Difficult to take seriously”
Commented Los Angeles AnimalWatch blogger Phyllis Daugherty, “It is difficult to take seriously Brenda Barnette’s disavowal of the ability to identify breed characteristics in dogs, considering she was an American Kennel Club representative and dog breeder, along with her daughter Mary Alice Davis, an employee of the Best Friends Animal Society.”
A Best Friends Animal Society web page entitled “Removing Breed Labels from Adoptable Pets” promotes the notion that pit bulls cannot be accurately identified, thanking Maddie’s Fund for backing the campaign.
The Animal Rescue League of Boston quit identifying pit bulls as such in 2008, followed more recently by the Arizona Animal Welfare League in Phoenix, the Indianapolis Humane Society, Memphis Animal Services, Orange County Animal Services in Orlando, and Rochester Animal Services, in Rochester, New York, among many other major U.S. and Canadian shelters.
Shelter workers accurately identify pit bulls 96% of the time––but 41% would lie to rehome a pit bull
The trend toward rehoming dogs without breed identification coincides with a surge in fatalities and disfigurements by former shelter dogs. No Americans were killed by former shelter dogs from the first adoptions, done in 1858, until 1988. Five Americans were killed by former shelter dogs during the next 20 years, two by pit bulls, two by wolf hybrids, and one by a Doberman.
But since 2008, 48 shelter dogs have killed Americans, including 35 pit bulls, eight bull mastiffs, three Rottweilers, a husky, and a purported golden retriever appearing to be at least part pit bull.
Meanwhile, a 2013 study done at the Richmond SPCA in Richmond, Virginia, directed by Emily Weiss of the American SPCA, found that shelter workers can accurately identify a pit bull or close pit mix 96% of the time. And a study published in the March 27, 2014 edition of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that 41% of shelter workers are willing to lie about pit bull breed identification to try to rehome more pit bulls.
“The dog owner of ordinary intelligence”
Both studies confirmed the opinion of the Ohio Supreme Court, rendered in Ohio v. Anderson, 1991, that “the dog owner of ordinary intelligence” not only can recognize a pit bull from physical traits,” but can also recognize “certain distinctive behavioral features which differentiate [pit bulls] from other dog breeds,” including––as found in Vanater v. Village of South Point, 1989, “grasping strength, climbing and hanging ability, weight-pulling ability, a history of frenzy, which is the trait of unusual relentless ferocity or the extreme concentration on fighting and attacking, a history of catching, fighting, and killing instinct, the ability to be extremely destructive and aggressive, highly tolerant of pain, great biting strength, undying tenacity and courage and they are highly unpredictable.”
Blamed mother of the dead child
These are all traits acknowledged by the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa, whose statement issued one day after Callum Stols was killed by his mother Ané Stols’ pit bull opened much like many other statements from pit bull advocates, by blaming one of the victims of the fatal attack.
“We will not be defending the responsible owner,” said the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa. “We stay firm in our belief that should a dog kill a human being, the owner should be charged with culpable homicide.”
But instead of going on to urge that more people should adopt pit bulls, the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa said next, “It is our firm belief that 99% of pit bull terrier owners should not own a pit bull and that these dogs are owned not because the breed is loved by their owners but because of the standing owning this breed gives the owners in society.”
The Pit Bull Federation of South Africa statement cited specifically people who have “acquired a pit bull for the wrong reasons, more often than not to guard property, and the owner who has the most ridiculous expectations of the breed and the owner who could not care less but knows everything.
“There are breeders who are breeding dogs who are human-aggressive,” the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa alleged, “and the show community in their bid to own the next weight pull ace, the next high jump or long hang champion, will buy these dogs’ progeny, and they will then go on to breed them when they become champions.”
The Pit Bull Federation of South Africa “will now be discussing the option to ban the owners of dogs who show human aggression from showing those dogs indefinitely,” the federation threatened, “and then declaring the incident at the police station nearest the show grounds and publishing the name of the dog.
“Temperament is over 60% inherited”
“Temperament is over 60% inherited and you cannot remove a dog’s genetics,” the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa emphasized, opining that “A human aggressive dog should be euthanized. They should not be sold, or re-homed, or given away. If you are knowingly breeding with dogs who have human aggression issues and selling them, you have blood on your hands. If you are buying dogs who are known man biters you are complicit in the death or mauling of innocent people.”
After ripping pit bull breeders who ignore dangerous behavior, the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa “noticed a trend in South Africa,” actually evident worldwide, “where every Tom, Dick and Harry is now a pit bull rescuer. These people have absolutely no breed knowledge, they refuse to acknowledge this breed’s history, [and] they insist that love, socialization and care will remove a poor and dangerous temperament. When logic and reason are thrown their way, they bad-mouth, they go crazy, they lie and they fight.
“How dare they risk the lives of innocent children?”
“Recently a well-known rescue organization adopted a pit bull out who mauled a child’s leg off,” the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa charged. The founder “appeared on a well-known radio station and the presenter hailed the shelter owner as a hero. Is this what society praises and condones? The irresponsible re-homing of a dog who mauled a child so badly that she lost her leg?
“When called into question by qualified behaviorists, experienced pit bull owners and experienced rescuers, this organization’s supporters and staff went on a tirade and abused those calling for sense and sanity. How dare these people who know nothing about this breed place it at risk? How dare they risk the lives of innocent children?
“The Pit Bull Federation of South Africa receives at least three e-mails a week from concerned members of the public and welfare fraternity about dogs who are being re-homed, yet they have a bite history,” the federation continued. “These shelters are conning the public into adopting, yet they are not disclosing the dog’s bite history.
“There is no such thing as ‘the nanny dog’ and there never was,” the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa raged on. “It is a myth, a dangerous myth. Photos of children sitting on dogs and babies sleeping on dogs are not cute.
“Pit bull owners are notoriously famous for being lazy dog owners,” the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa added. “They skip what is probably the most important part of training, which is early and ongoing socialization.”
The Pit Bull Federation of South Africa did not explain in detail what it considers to be proper socialization, if tolerance of children is not part of it, but mentioned that “Socialization does not mean the dog is taught to be friends with all dogs, as the pit bull is not genetically engineered to be his fellow canines’ best friend.”
American bulldogs, Ambulls, American bullies
While the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa appears to believe that “American pit bull terriers” are easily identified, and always should be, it does not recognize “American bulldogs,” “Ambulls”or “American bullies” as bona fide pit bulls.
However, an affidavit dated October 17, 2005 from John D. Johnson, who developed and promoted the “American bulldog” as known today, leaves no doubt that “American bulldogs,” “Ambulls,” or “American bullies” share every significant aspect of “American pit bull terrier” history.
Testified Johnson, “Originally, my dogs were registered with the National Kennel Club as ‘American [Pit] Bulldogs,’” but Johnson later split with the NKC and began registering his dogs with the Animal Research Foundation, formed in 1947 by Tom D. Stodghill (1903-1989), of Quinlan, Texas.
“Developed them even larger”
Wrote Johnson to Stodghill’s Animal Research Magazine in 1980, “The American Bulldog is the same dog that was developed in England in the 12th century by the meat packers, to catch large bulls to kill for meat… Then they started bull baiting with them, and they then were called ‘Bull Baiting Dogs.’ Later, they were registered as ‘English Bulldogs.’ They also were ‘pit’ fought over there [England], against each other, badgers, lions, and anything that would fight.
“They were brought over here [America] in the 17th century…In the 18th century, England outlawed all types of fighting, and they were no longer needed in their present form, so they bred them down in size…We kept our bulldogs in the [original] large state, and I have developed them even larger.”