An open letter from Beth Clifton to:
Gregory Castle, president, Best Friends Animal Society;
Matthew Bershadker, president, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals;
Wayne Pacelle, president, Humane Society of the United States
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this letter. My name is Beth Clifton. I am the wife of ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton. Briefly, I am a former Miami Beach police officer, animal control officer, and veterinary technician.
In 2011 I rescued, fostered, adopted and loved a pit bull puppy who I named Trooper. Three years later, it became necessary to euthanize him because of serious aggression issues.
Until that point I promoted, advocated, and publicly defended pit bulls, as well as volunteering with a local breed-specific pit bull rescue.
As a veterinary technician at a high volume, low cost spay/neuter clinic, I acquired a great deal of direct experience with pit bull-type dogs. In fact, I and another employee were the unofficial clinic pit bull response team when fights and other behavioral problems occurred.
You can read about my life and experience with raising Trooper in this essay that I wrote and published with the hope that I might help others who were experiencing similar problems or were considering the choice of a pit bull as a family pet: Why pit bulls will break your heart.
As a former law enforcement officer and ACO, I place a great deal of value on public safety. Based on my extensive experience with pit bulls, I came to recognize as clearly evident that these dogs were unique, in that they all seemed to share certain problematic personality traits and behaviors, and a very dangerous degree of instability.
As a veterinary technician I handled hundreds of pit bulls and found them to be consistently nervous and fearful. This behavior in any dog could predictably lead to a dangerous situation for both the vet tech and the veterinarian, but pit bulls are large, strong, and tenacious dogs, with documented history of having caused more serious and fatal injuries than all other dog types combined in every 10-year time frame since 1833.
I recently reviewed a video posted on Facebook of a pit bull who attacked a horse, a frequent occurrence, but in this case the video showed the entire incident. As the dog clamped down on the horse’s mouth and held on with his teeth, the horse was rendered defenseless.
The horse could not kick the dog. The horse could not run. All the horse could do was stand there as the dog ripped the horse’s face apart.
A horse, whose main defense against predators is to flee, could not out-run a pit bull who attacked without provocation or warning.
Gregory, Matt, and Wayne, I have written to the three of you because you head the three largest humane organizations in the United States. Your influence upon the treatment and safety of animals is evident, but you also have a responsibility to the public, and to the domestic animals who are victims of attacks by other domestic animals.
As a person who cares deeply for all animals and humans, I am publicly requesting that you review and reverse your present policies of promoting pit bull acquisition and proliferation, and that you, as leaders of the humane movement, cease turning a blind eye to the suffering of the thousands of innocent men, women and children, and many tens of thousands of pets and farmed animals who continue to be victimized by pit bulls.
I am further requesting that you support any legislation to prevent more births of pit bull-type dogs, and to acknowledge the necessity of stopping pit bull proliferation, which eventually and ultimately causes the suffering of the dogs themselves.
The facts scream aloud. To ignore the facts is a dereliction of duty to your supporters and the animals for whom you advocate and seek to protect.
Jim Johnson says
Thank you, Beth. Let’s hope they listen.
Mary Conner says
Me too, Beth C.
Sharon Yildiz says
In case any of the three are reading this, I wanted to add something. Around 70-80% of ads for shelters–on buses, billboards, shelter web sites, etc.–are photos of pit bulls. This fulfills the shelters’ goal of “normalizing” pit bulls, making them seem like regular dogs and desirable family pets.
At the same time, virtually every pit bull advocate claims that pit bulls are only aggressive because they were “badly raised” or “trained to fight”–that the pits’ temperament depends on how they were brought up. Any prospective adopter reading this will realize that all pit bulls in shelters have unknown backgrounds. What if they were “raised poorly” or “trained to fight”?
But since the shelter ads have successfully made pits look like ideal family pets, the prospective adopter decides that the pit bull part is a great idea. After all, aren’t they hero dogs, massively used as SAR and police dogs… with a sideline of posing for photos in tutus with babies? (per the pit bull advocacy’s misinformation). . . But instead of adopting an unknown quantity, the person goes the smart way and buys a pit bull PUPPY from a breeder instead. That way, the person can “raise it right,” expose it to children, give it lots of love… and nothing can possibly go wrong.
When these “raised right” pit bulls get to be about 18-24 months old, their 500-year genetic programming kicks in. They start showing serious aggression towards people or pets, and are surrendered to the shelter. Which then heavily advertises them and the other pits in the shelter as desirable pets, to get them off their hands… They do adopt out many of them, but also cause many prospective adopters to instead buy from breeders.
The more shelters adopt out and advertise pit bulls, the more breeders will keep cranking out more puppies, and the more adults will arrive at shelters. I think shelters already know this is happening, but they would lose their jobs if the flow of pit bulls into their shelters is reduced. I know from being on ordinance steering committees that shelters do NOT have the interests of dogs, or pet overpopulation, or of public safety in mind–only continuing the cash flow that gives them their job at the shelter.
For instance, in my city (Madison, WI) the excellent, super-well-funded shelter gets in a tiny number of local dogs–I’m guessing five a week. I was there yesterday (between runs “down south”), and only 3 of 50 runs was occupied, and two of those were “adoption pending.” This shelter has to make weekly trips to places like Alabama and truck in scores of pit bulls to keep the shelter from becoming completely obsolete. People in my city do not own or adopt pit bulls by choice, but only because they are about the only dogs available when they try to do the “right thing” and adopt a dog. Again, having this HUGE glut of pit bulls in an educated, high-income, very low-crime area is just normalizing pit bulls as a desirable pet… the every-dog that all of their neighbors also own (if the neighbors also adopted from the shelter). If the shelter was not trucking these dogs in and heavily promoting them in ads, I guarantee that the vast majority of Madisonites would by choice have hunting, herding or toy breed dogs, as they have for the past 100 years (before pits started getting brought up here from southern shelters).
Very nice and thoughtful reply. We seem to be encouraging the breeding of the poor dogs who will possibly come to a bad end. The welfare groups really need to address the welfare of these poor dogs that are being used. We seem to be giving permission to owners to toss them since we are implying that we will find them a home. How is that fair to the dogs? They are not for your average dog owner.
Joanna McGInn says
I’d bet they KNOW who you are and won’t listen. The next time my daughter and I are back in her ‘home’ town of Kanab, I plan on taking printouts of that and handing them out not only to the offices but to the ‘volunteers’ and visitors. Best Friends are NOT welcome in Kanab. They are trying to take over the local governments, and police department as well as the highway patrol which is headquartered in Kanab. There are signs in businesses to ‘leave the dogs outside’ as even places like the pharmacy they have had fights in stores. Since Best Friends did evolve from a cult that is diametrically opposed to the conservative town inhabitants. The money Best Friends makes off the pit publicity is going into other enterprises such a new hotels to bring in more ‘visitors’ and ‘tourists’ to only BF…as if they plan to overwhelm the over-100-year old historical town and impose their pro-pit establishment and governmental rule. This may be the most insidious of all the pit apologist groups. just sayin’ from having to deal with them when I was up with my daughter.
Julia Lewis says
Very well written, Beth. Great points you make.
Jill Campbell says
So well said! These organizations really need to hear it– Why do they promote such a dangerous breed? Sadly, those of us aware must forgo donating anything to them until they get some reality pills…….. Great letter, Beth!!
Carol Miller says
Standing ovation Beth! Thank you for speaking the truth.
Karla Ely says
Great article, Beth – we only can do “what we can do”…we cannot change the minds of those who have already made up those minds… but, collectively, we can keep shouting out this message, as it is one that desparately needs to be heard… thanks for leading the charge!
Brenda F Barnette says
My experience [with pit bulls] has been quite different than your own. I have worked with animals for over 50 years starting in veterinary clinics, owning boarding kennels and ultimately finding my way to animal welfare and the no-kill movement.
Beth, almost every breed has some history of very unfortunate behavior that led to serious injury or deaths of humans or other animal. It is not limited to pit bulls.
We must recognize the large number of pit bulls and pit mixes who have been and are loving family members.
Merritt Clifton says
Brenda Barnette heads Los Angeles City Animal Services. She formerly held leadership positions at the San Francisco SPCA, Pets In Need, Tony La Russa’s Animal Foundation, and the Seattle/King County SPCA.
Under Barnette, Los Angeles City Animal Services has––unlike almost any other major animal control department worldwide––published separate monthly statistics for pit bulls and all dogs cumulatively.
From this data, it is possible to see that during Barnette’s tenure, pit bull intake has declined by 74%, while total dog intake has declined by 16%.
The decline in total dog intake is close to the national norm; the decline in pit bull intake contradicts the experience of practically every other major animal control department which has not begun reclassifying pit bulls and pit mixes as almost anything else, in hopes of rehoming more of them.
Also during Barnette’s tenure, total shelter killing of dogs has dropped from 25% of intake to 13%. Total shelter killing of pit bulls has dropped from 55% of intake to 26%. Pit bulls were 45% of the dogs killed in 2010-2011, and 46% in 2015.
With Barnette’s considerable accomplishments duly acknowledged, her comment as originally submitted, before editing, expounded at considerable length on her two factually unsupportable contentions above.
First, of all the recognized dog breeds, including at least one of those continuously ranking among the top 10 in popularity since 1900, 42% have never figured in a documented fatal or disfiguring attack on a human being.
Pit bulls, on the other hand, never amounting to more than 1% of the U.S. dog population before 1982, and now amounting to barely 5%, have accounted for half or more of all the fatal attacks in every 10-year time frame since 1833, and have accounted for 54% since 1982, along with accounting for 73% of the disfigurements.
Second, over the past 30 years nearly a third of the total U.S. pit bull population has entered animal shelters each and every year, at an average age of about 18 months.
What this means is that on average, half the total adult pit bull population is flunking out of homes and landing in shelters.
Pro-rated over the average dog lifespan of about 10 years, a pit bull is more than three times as likely to be surrendered to a shelter as to die of old age as a “loving family member.”
Barnette also attributed dangerous behavior by pit bulls to the practices of dogfighters. In point of fact, only three of the 400-odd pit bulls known to have killed people since 1900 are known to have ever belonged to dogfighters.
But indeed, dogfighters breeding pit bulls gave us the whole pit bull crisis. The failure of much of the humane community to recognize that pit bulls are inherently unsafe because of the traits bred into them to make them instinctively “game” subsequently multiplied the crisis exponentially, and continues to do so.
Michael Grant says
I would guess that the data on the euthanasia of HEALTHY pit bulls is even more telling — with the vast majority of the pit bulls being healthy, intact dogs. They are most likely euthanized because of the threat they pose. Has anyone considered legislation that would force the shelters to take out liability insurance for the damage that these dogs may do?
Sharon Yildiz says
Well said, Merritt.
Darcy Gray says
Finally a voice of experience and reason! Thank you for speaking candidly!
Jamaka Petzak says
I am both a supporter and admirer of/advocate for Best Friends (for its CAT programs and its care of other animals) and 100% in agreement with you, Beth. If there were a petition we could sign as an addendum to your letter, I would certainly sign it.
Charlene Inglis says
YOU ARE NUCKING FUTS! Stop with the pit bull bashing already! We already know your head isn’t screwed on straight; just don’t make us believe you belong in an asylum!
Marc Paulhus says
Charlene, my friend, I disagree. And I have the personal experience and wounds to back it up. It is not unreasonable for people to look upon pit bulls as victims of man’s senseless inhumanity. But it is not reasonable to dismiss public health concerns that are so well-documented.
This is a discussion that must be divorced from sentimentality as we search for a solution that protects all animals and people.
Mary C says
Sorry, just read the news. These dogs are causing problems everywhere they are…
Tony Solesky says
I cannot help but observe that it is those who are opposed to pit bulls that are either naive, misinformed or both. There exists today, on behalf of animal rights, an animal law bar. Members of the animal law bar are no different from defense attorneys for humans, who put on the best defense they can for their guilty child molester or rapist or murdering clients. Likewise, animal advocacy groups are not chartered to strike a social balance, but to get the best outcome solely for that sector whose welfare they represent. Looking to these organizations as any sort of moral authorities or sources of ethical leadership reinforced the illusion, or delusion, that we could inform them they are overlooking or missing something. If one reads their charters and observes their actions, it is clear they not only know the issues, but believe that saving pit bulls at the expense of others (humans and animals alike) is their mission. It is time for a real and fair balance group and movement to command the platform that truly is dedicated to the best interests of all living beings. As an effective appeal to these groups, that they might see the light, I do not give this letter high marks. As an open letter for all to see and provide an opportunity to have the matter considered objectively, I think it is another in a series of typically brilliant articles by this author.
very powerful and heartfelt appeal for public safety. Thank you Beth!
AJ Schepis says
I’ve never seen a better open letter to the right people, for the right reason at the right time…NOW! Beth, you and Merritt are the forces of reason, analysis and purpose to be reckoned with. Flawless articulation as usual.
Jeff Borchardt says
“I am publicly requesting that you review and reverse your present policies of promoting pit bull acquisition and proliferation, and that you, as leaders of the humane movement, cease turning a blind eye to the suffering of the thousands of innocent men, women and children, and many tens of thousands of pets and farmed animals who continue to be victimized by pit bulls.”
Here’s me, holding my breath………………………
Mary C says
Me too Jeff. Apparently, these folks. Don’t read the news.
Marc Paulhus says
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courageous stand against the senseless promotion of pit bulls and “pit bull type” dogs as ideal pets. I have a long, long professional experience working with this breed – including years spent in undercover operations involving dogfighting, then later as as a executive director of humane societies with animal control contracts.
I have been personally attacked by pet pit bulls – even losing the tip of one finger last year to a 10 year old foster pit bull during an unprovoked attack she initiated on another dog at a public dog park. And my horses have been chased and bitten in my pasture a few years back by stray pits whose vicious and relentless aggression ended only when the horses ran to me for protection (with one pit still hanging on the wild mare’s back leg).
The numbers speak for themselves with pit bulls responsible for more 2/3 of all human fatalities and a huge number of disfiguring injuries to innocent children and adults. No one keeps accurate statistics on the numbers of pitbull attacks on dogs, cats and other animals, but I know from personal experience that, once again, pit bulls by breed are far and away the number one culprit in unprovoked animal attacks.
Years ago I foolishly took the position that only those pit bulls with a direct lineage to dogs intentionally bred for fighting were the problem. I was wrong. Too often, pits that we assessed to be emotionally stable and were adopted to loving homes eventually exhibited the hyper-aggression that was characterized by the original intent of people who bred dogs for fighting bulls, dogs, hogs and bears.
A most tragic situation occurred in my own hometown some few months ago. A adult pit bull recently adopted from a nearby humane society attacked and killed a 6 year old boy. This child had days earlier played with dog in the owner’s fenced yard. But when the boy approached the fence from an adjoining yard to pet him, the pit jumped up and dragged the child over the fence into his yard. The owner’s were not home. The child was not only killed but partially eaten. Bear in mind that this was a dog that had been cleared for adoption by shelter personnel following the precise evaluation protocols set forth by national animal protection groups.
The pro-pit bull adoption movement has taken on powerful advocates among whom are people who simply refuse to acknowledge the disproportionately aggressive nature of some, too many, pit bulls and pit bull types including those bearing the breed label of Staffordshire terriers.
Like Beth Clifton, I long opposed breed-specific dog ownership laws. And like Beth, I also believe we have to reevaluate our positions on this issue based on painful realities.
Mary C says
With you guys all the way, Mary C
Julie Graham says
After reading your article, I can honestly say that with all my heart ~ I hope you drop dead. Soon.
Robert Cronk says
I agree.. would rather see them sent to prison though… then die
Marc S Paulhus says
Aside from the unwarranted hate implied by your reply to this article, have you any meaningful data or even informed conjecture to provide? This is a place for thoughtful discourse. Please state your case, Julie, and defend it without malice toward others.
Robert Cronk says
There are well over a million pit bull type dogs in homes that never cause an incident. The chance of being fatally mauled by a dog is less than one half of one one percent. You have as much chance as being mauled by a dog as you doing being executed for a capitol crime. Yet Merritt and his cult would like to see all pit bull type dogs killed.
Merritt Clifton says
Inasmuch as there are about 3.5 million pit bull-type dogs in homes at any given time, Robert Cronk has acknowledged above that a pit bull is about two and a half times more likely to be dangerous than safe. Further, if as Cronk alleges, “the chance of being fatally mauled by a dog is less than one half of 1%,” that puts the odds at about one in 200-plus. This is astronomically risky compared to, for instance, being killed in an automobile accident, which runs higher than one in 37,000. Finally, persons are executed for capital crimes after allegedly committing those crimes, being tried and convicted, and losing repeatedly in an extensive appeals process. People are killed and disfigured by pit bulls often without warning, sometimes without even knowing they are near a pit bull, with no opportunity for appeal of their fate.
Mary C says
Elizabeth Clifton says
Why wouldn’t you like to see the welfare groups advocate for fewer deaths of the dogs that are disposed of with no regard? Why wouldn’t you want to see the poor dogs being used as breeding stock given a respite? Why wouldn’t you want to see the pups being sold at flea markets and in front of stores at 6 weeks of age protected from a bleak future? I wish the Pit Bull lovers would try to attack the problem at the source.
Classy. As always.
I’ve always figured that because pit bulls have been selectively bred to participate in blood sports, many criminal or otherwise anti-social people will be attracted to them.
This validates that. What kind of person wishes people to drop dead over their views on a dog breed?
Glenda Beatty says
I am still so totally amazed that a man of Merritt Clifton’s stature and integrity would keep bashing the pit bull the way he has. Just because his wife happened to have a dog that had aggression issues. I do agree that some pit bulls can be dangerous and I would hope that we would responsibly put them down, but Merritt and Beth Clifton you have totally ignored the fact the the pit bull is the most abused dog in the history of this earth.
Merritt Clifton says
In point of fact, Beth & I had each become well aware of the threats pit bulls pose to humans, other animals, and themselves long before we ever met. Beth, as she explained in her open letter to the presidents of Best Friends, the ASPCA, and HSUS, learned the realities of pit bulls through her work as a police officer, animal control officer, and vet tech, as well as through her own experience as a former pit bull advocate and rescuer. In my own case, I had been logging fatal and disfiguring dog attacks by breed since 1982, finding that pit bulls accounted for more than half of the total in each and every year. I had also documented, publishing my data since 1993, that pit bulls account for more than 20% of all the dogs impounded in neglect cases; more than 20% of all the dogs impounded in violent abuse cases (exclusive of use in fighting); and about 15% of the dogs involved in bestiality cases, until recent years, when the incidence of pit bulls in bestiality cases soared. This is relevant to the risks that pit bulls pose to other living beings only to the extent that high-risk dogs attract acquisition and use by high-risk people. The attack data shows there is no discernible relationship between pit bulls having documented histories of neglect or abuse and their involvement in attacks. As Jan Smith has demonstrated through her separately compiled attack logs, about two-thirds of the pit bulls involved in fatal attacks on humans have been kept as household pets throughout their lives, never subjected to either neglect or abuse. About a third of the remainder were shelter or rescue dogs, who passed behavioral screening before adoption, and went on to kill someone nonetheless.
I don’t think Best Friends will change, because they have found their niche market and are playing it to the hilt, and no doubt getting quite a bit of cash in doing so. BF is now essentially a non-profit lobbying arm of the dog breeding industry in that they travel around to state legislatures fighting any restrictions on dog breed ownership. As per their membership magazine, they even support the ownership of pit bulls by felons. That’s their thing, and I don’t think they are going to stop.
ASPCA and HSUS may change, if only because in the past they recognized these dogs as special cases. However, I don’t think they will move toward that direction until there is a significant change in societal thought regarding the issue, just like with factory farming. That won’t happen for awhile. Someone with deep pockets clearly got to them. The trouble is, even while they court the pit enthusiasts they don’t seem to realize that pit fans almost universally hate ASPCA and especially HSUS. This is partly because these groups didn’t always hold the position they do now, but primarily because ASPCA & HSUS are more about animal welfare than the “right to own” animals, and pit fans are usually far more concerned with the latter rather than the former.
Get rid of all the pitbulls then. Kill them all you Haters. Just go ahead and try. I think you people have nothing better to do with your time. You know damn well that not all pitbulls are evil murderous dogs,but you don’t care, someone’s paying you to hate on some dogs. You can’t kill them all pitbull Hitlers.
Merritt Clifton says
At least one pit bull in 107 per year, nationwide, kills another pet or farmed animal. Pro-rated over a normal dog’s lifespan of about 10 years, that equals a more than 100% risk that any given pit bull will kill another pet or farmed animal sooner or later. About one pit bull in 10,000, per year, disfigures a human being; one in 100,000 kills a human being. The ratio for all other dogs combined killing people is about one in 50 million.
Concerning who is paying who to believe what, the Best Friends Animal Society, American SPCA, and Humane Society of the U.S. had combined revenue of $362 million last year. The sum of the budgets of all of the advocacy groups representing pit bull victims, combined, would not pay the salary of the president of any one of those organizations for even six months.
“At least one pit bull in 107 per year, nationwide, kills another pet or farmed animal. Pro-rated over a normal dog’s lifespan of about 10 years, that equals a more than 100% risk that any given pit bull will kill another pet or farmed animal sooner or later.”
Did you mean to say ~10% over a normal dog’s lifespan?
Thank you for your diligent research on this issue. I am a scientist and am not impressed with arguments put for the by the pro-pit bull lobby. They regularly employ the 5 characteristics of scientific denialism: 1. Conspiracy theories – It’s the media’s fault 2. Fake experts – owning a pit bull does not make you an expert on their behavior 3. Cherry picking data – but a golden retriever once killed a kid. 4. Impossible expectations – there is no way to identify a pit bull either by genetic testing or visual ID 5. Logical fallacies – I own a pit bull, there is no such thing as a pit bull.
Marc Paulhus says
Correct, 10%, which is horrible enough to provoke serious consideration. In my experience, the numbers of pits that show unprovoked aggression towards other animals, including other household pets. is far greater than the number of pits that attack people, and more likely to be underreported. Pit bull aggression is a serious concern regardless the victim.
I’d never heard the five characteristics of scientific denialism. Interesting. I can see its application to creationism, climate change and even the feral cat debate.
Um, why would they have to be killed? Why just not stop breeding them through mandatory spay/neuter? Yours is a strawman argument.
Thanks so much for this article. It’s good to see the rational articles on pit bulls that are published on this site.
i certainly do not advocate the euthanasia of people’s pet pit bulls (with the exception of ones that have displayed dangerous behavior), but I honestly believe that this breed needs to be the subject of a extensive spay/neuter campaign. Given that pit bulls have been bred for various blood sports, I do not understand why people who supposedly love dogs continue to breed them. I understand that not all pit bulls are going to kill a person or another dog, but many of them do and it’s nearly impossible to tell which dogs will someday display their fighting and killing instincts. In addition, the fact that pit bulls were (and still are) bred for fighting means that a lot of irresponsible or outright criminal people will be attracted to them.
The video of the pit bull attacking the horse is disturbing The dog in the video is ultimately doing what it was bred to do – grab and grip onto another animal. No one needs to own a dog that does that to another animal.
This is not to mention the huge number of pit bulls that are euthanized in shelters because there are way too many of them. There’s no reason for any one to breed these dogs. I know that a lot of pit bull owners are going to be enraged at my comments, but I’m not asking anyone to euthanize their pet pit bull but to at least put an end to the carnage by spaying/neutering the animal.