by Beth Clifton
A tribute art memorial entitled “Out of the Blue,” honoring 30 recent victims of fatal dog attacks, was unveiled on September 24, 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Wyoming, Michigan resident Joan Kowal as an entry in ArtPrize, an annual outdoor art contest attracting upward of 1,500 entrants and more than 400,000 votes from viewers who select the award-winning entries.
Each victim was portrayed on a cross, along with information about how the person was killed. The killer dogs were identified. About two-thirds were pit bulls, as were 140 of the 216 dogs to have killed Americans since the beginning of 2010.
Displaying thoughtless solidarity, poor social judgment, and some of the cruelest behavior by fellow humans I have seen short of actual physical violence, pit bull advocates flocked to this sacred memorial, bringing their dogs, to protest that the pit bulls were identified as pit bulls.
Many of the victims were killed by pit bulls from their own households. The information about those pit bulls, including photos of some of them, came from the victims’ grieving families. The pit bull advocates’ protest was simultaneously an exercise in trying to suppress the truth and in disrespecting and bullying the families of the dog attack victims for having shared their painful stories. The phalanx of demonstrators and pit bulls barely controlled on chains blocked vistors’ view of the information on the crosses for hours.
Apart from the sheer nastiness of the demonstrators, their actions illustrate why pit bulls are the dogs most often abused, neglected, and otherwise exploited, to fight and intimidate. This was an act of provocation comparable in rudeness to the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly rallying in the largely Jewish city of Skokie, Illinois, with the difference that Ku Klux Klan members are not notoriously inclined to attack each other and fight to the death without offering even a warning gesture first. These pit bull advocates put their own dogs at risk by bringing them into lunging distance of each other, as well as putting themselves and the public at risk, to try to score propaganda points at a memorial for the recent dead.
This is who is supposedly defending and protecting pit bulls. So long as this sort of behavior characterizes pit bull keepers, pit bulls will continue to be overbred, continue to suffer at the hands of people who claim to love them, and continue to die prematurely after failing repeatedly in homes––and humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife will continue to be victimized by dogs bred for no purpose other than to kill.
As a close friend to many survivors of pit bull attacks and surviving family members of some of the dead whom Joan Kowal memorialized, I have witnessed endless egregious acts of cruelty thrown at them by pit bull owners and advocates. As if it were not horrible enough to experience and deal with all that comes with these attacks, fatal and non-fatal, emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually, there are some very disturbed pit bull owners who have made an around-the-clock mission of maligning and hurting my friends who have lost children, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers to pit bulls.
Pit bull advocates even distribute false information about victims and survivors to their employers, seeking to get them fired from their jobs.
I am not speaking of just a few pathological individuals, but of scores of sociopaths who claim to be defenders of the pit bull, who engage in systematic, organized cyber-stalking and telephone harassment. Many aggressively blame victims and survivors for attacks which typically came either from pit bulls who previously were trusted family members, or pit bulls who rushed out of open doors, leaped out of windows, or jumped fences to attack people who had no idea before that their assailants even existed. Each time the ‘pit bullies’ mystifyingly determine that it is not the dog’s fault that the dog tore off a limb, tongue, or ear of the victim, and allege against the weight of the evidence amassed from more than 5,000 fatal and disfiguring attacks that all dogs do this type of damage.
The self-help networks formed by dog attack survivors and friends have become a very strong united front. Support offered by victims to fellow victims has so far prevented tragic outcomes such as suicide, which often occur in other post-traumatic stress situations where the victims feel alone. But many of the pit bull advocates behind the ceaseless barrage of bullying and personal attacks make clear that they hope for the deaths of victims who speak out, and for the deaths of anyone who amplifies their voices. ANIMALS 24-7, for instance, received this message just last night: “I hope you and your whole family contract the Ebola virus!”
As the list of pit bull attack victims grows exponentially, so does the support network. Survivors around the world are helped to channel their grief, frustration and anger in positive ways to strengthen public awareness.
Meanwhile, as bullying by pit bull advocates escalates, few if any appear to be offering more than platitudes in response to the overbreeding, lack of owner accountability, and increasing frequency of pit bull maulings, which have increased tenfold since the Michael Vick dogfighting case in 2007, more than doubled in 2013 alone, and are close to setting a new record in 2014.
Just a couple of years ago I too was deeply involved in pit bull rescue and advocacy, as described in Why pit bulls will break your heart. But even in my own fiercest days of pit bull advocacy, when I was transporting, fostering, and speaking on behalf of pit bulls, I would never have dreamed of hurting another human being to defend my dog or any other pit bull. I also campaigned under my own name.
The pit bull fanatics we are dealing with today often conduct their activities anonymously or under false names, like many of the dogfighters and nightriders who produced and perpetuated the breed for decades before most people knew that pit bulls existed. These people know that attaching their own names to the poison they spew would bring rejection from most of civilized society.
That such individuals form a large part the crowd promoting, defending and protecting pit bulls explains in large part why so little is being accomplished to end the suffering of not only humans, pets, livestock and wildlife victimized by pit bulls, but also of pit bulls themselves.
More surprising, though, than that hostile people who keep hostile dogs behave in a hostile manner is that these are the people with whom much of the humane community elects to make common cause.
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