La Presse reporter Marie-Claude Malboeuf questioned face value of veterinary claims
(Part II of a 2-part series. See also Montreal & province of Quebec set to ban pit bulls.)
MONTREAL, Quebec––Reciting a position held by the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons since 1986, current Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons president Joel Bergeron addressed media in opposition to banning pit bulls as early as June 10, 2016, just two days after Christiane Vadnais, 55, was fatally mauled in her own back yard by neighbor Franklin Junior Frontal’s pit bull.
Quebec premier Philippe Couillard, health minister Gaétan Barrette, and public security minister Martin Coiteux responded with recommendations for excluding pit bulls from the province.
Vets briefly stalled legislative momentum
Not waiting for the Quebec National Assembly to reconvene on September 20, 2016 and pass a province-wide pit bull ban, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and the mayors of many other Quebec cities independently advanced ordinances against keeping pit bulls––always, however, with provisions allowing pit bulls already in each community to remain for the rest of their lives, if sterilized, vaccinated against rabies, and kept securely.
But the momentum to ban pit bulls briefly stalled after the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons recommended to a committee appointed to advise the Quebec National Assembly about the pending dangerous dog legislation that pit bulls should not be banned.
CBC Montreal exposes double cross
“If Couillard’s government elects to abide by the recommendations in the draft committee document, marked ‘confidential’ and dated July 29, 2016, there is no mention of a pit bull ban like the one Ontario, where pit bulls have been banned since 2005,” CBC Montreal revealed on August 7, 2016.
The Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons’ report, however, made heavy use of information provided by the pro-pit bull Animal Farm Foundation and the subsidiary National Canine Research Council, of Bangall, New York.
Reporter asked questions
That attracted the notice of La Presse investigative reporter Marie-Claude Malboeuf, who in May 2016––before the fatal attack on Vadnais––had already been instrumental in bringing to public attention the disproportionate involvement of pit bulls in fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
Obtaining hospital records from the Montreal area, Malboeuf found that as many as 13 times more disfiguring pit bull attacks may have occurred, at least in that region, as the ANIMALS 24-7 log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks has discovered.
Old invasion route
The Animal Farm Foundation is located more-or-less alongside one of the oldest transportation corridors in North America, running up the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, and Richelieu River into Quebec.
Quebecois have learned over the centuries to be careful about what comes up it.
Roger’s Rangers, for instance, traveled that route to attack St. Francis-sur-Richelieu in 1759, killing 30 Abenaki who sought refuge at a Catholic mission, a toll comparable to the Canadian dog attack death toll since 2000. Among the victims were 20 women and children, also comparable numbers.
Expedition leader Robert Roberts later volunteered to help fight for U.S. and Quebec independence, but soon defected to the British side.
Benedict Arnold meanwhile led an army up the Hudson-Champlain-Richelieu corridor to attack St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and Quebec City in 1775. Arnold then occupied Montreal for several months, but beginning in 1778 became a double agent for the British, like Roberts, and in 1780 was caught trying to sell the West Point fortifications and garrison to the British.
Because Arnold’s actions thwarted Quebecois hopes of winning independence from Britain at the same time the U.S. did, he is still routinely burned in effigy at Quebec celebrations of St. Jean Baptiste Day and the Fourth of July.
Quebec was invaded three times more through the Hudson-Champlain-Richelieu corridor during the next 100 years, by U.S. troops during the War of 1812 and in 1866 and 1870 by Fenian rabbles seeking to capture Quebec, then trade it back to the British to win Irish independence.
“Millionaire lobby promoting pit bulls”
But Malboeuf did not have to hark back to history to identify the threat to Quebec health and safety coming up the Hudson-Champlain-Richelieu corridor in the summer of 2016.
And Malboeuf and La Presse lost no time in identifying what she termed “activists funded by the millionaire lobby promoting pit bulls,” whose advice fueled “conflict of interest” in the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons’ recommendations.
Malboeuf took the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons’ report to McGill University professor emeritus Barry Pless, whom Malboeuf introduced as “a Harvard-educated leading authority in pediatric trauma, epidemiology and biostatistics.”
Pless formerly headed the Clinical Research division at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and founded and for 40 years edited the international journal Injury Prevention, affiliated with the British Medical Journal.
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.”
Misrepresentations & omissions
Pless and Malboeuf identified numerous alleged misrepresentations and omissions by the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons in identifying and describing purported peer-reviewed studies of dog attacks.
Omitted from a 15-year study of dog attacks in Texas, for example, was the researchers’ conclusion that “Regulating pit bulls could substantially reduce death rates from dog bites.”
“Equality for pit bulls”
Also not mentioned, Malboeuf pointed out, was that the National Canine Research Council, whose claims the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons appeared to accept without question, “belongs to a pressure group, the Animal Farm Foundation, entirely dedicated to defending pit bulls,” under the motto “Equality for pit bulls.”
Animal Farm Foundation founder, heiress, and literary agent Jane Berkey “has contributed at least $6 million to the organization, including $2.85 million in 2013,” reported Malboeuf, citing IRS Form 990 filings. “It pays nine employees, including a director who earns more than $ 100,000 per year, and funds many groups that share its philosophy.
Advisors & consultants
“To produce studies,” Malboeuf continued, “the Animal Farm Foundation in 2007 purchased a private research organization, the National Canine Research Council, established by an animal care technician, Karen Delise. An ‘action fund’ allows the organization to lobby.
“The NCRC has partnered with various advisors and consultants,” Malboeuf added, including Animal Rescue League of Boston employee Gary Patronek and former Calgary animal control chief Bill Bruce, “who still occupied his official position,” Malboeuf noted, “when he agreed to join the NCRC.”
Best Friends Animal Society
Malboeuf also identified the longtime close relationship between the Animal Farm Foundation and the Best Friends Animal Society, which raises an annual budget of circa $60 million with the motto “Save them all.”
Best Friends’ senior attorney Ledy VanKavage, Malboeuf mentioned “serves on the board of the Animal Farm Foundation. The Best Friends Animal Society website says it has paid a former economist for the tobacco industry, John Dunham, to create a tax calculator meant to indicate how much would cost governments to ban pit bulls.”
The Dunham calculator estimated the alleged annual cost of enforcing the pit bull ban in effect since 1989 in Miami-Dade, Florida, at 65 times what it actually is, according to Miami-Dade county data.
Identifying pit bulls
Among the recurring themes of Animal Farm Foundation arguments in sponsored “studies” is the purported difficulty of accurately identifying pit bulls for legislative, law enforcement, and insurance purposes, even though the organization has no difficulty in identifying them for advocacy purposes.
“Delise revisited all fatal dog attacks committed from 2000 to 2009,” Malboeuf summarized. “According to her, the media identify the same breed of dog as the authorities in 83% to 89% of dog attack cases. She concludes nevertheless that they are right only 18% of the time.
“The animal care technician [Delise] has no evidence that the media are wrong. But for her, no dog can be identified as a pit bull, German shepherd, etc., unless purebred and officially registered with a club,” Malbouef wrote.
Commented Pless, “These distinctions as to the purity of the breed are nonsense! If the dog looks like a pit bull, behaves like a pit bull, and people recognize in him a pit bull, that should be enough to say that we are dealing with a pit bull,” a conclusion also repeatedly reached by both U.S. and Canadian courts of law.
Overlooked or understated by the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons were studies published by Injury Prevention finding that banning pit bulls had reduced the hospitalization rates for dog bites in Catalonia, Spain by 38% and in Manitoba by 18%. The Manitoba study, considered the best of the best by Pless, reviewed 20 years’ worth of data.
Vets fear client pressure
Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons’ spokesperson Michel Pepin told the Quebec National Assembly that veterinarians “fear a new law might force them to euthanize healthy dogs and make their work difficult,” Malboeuf summarized. “Customers are already asking them to falsify the records of dogs to hide that the dogs are pit bull. Others want veterinarians to certify that their dog is not dangerous – almost impossible to guarantee, even if only a minority of pit bulls bite seriously.”
Animal shelters “fear for their structure and their already precarious financial health” if they register “a phenomenal increase in the number of abandoned dogs,” the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons said, according to Malboeuf.
“Dr. Pless hopes the government will not forget to check simultaneously the surgical costs incurred to save the faces, the hands – and sometimes the lives – of victims of bites,” Malboeuf wrote. “Not to mention the indirect costs. How much is a lost eye or a torn face worth? Paying for prevention is nothing compared to what we save.”
The Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons recommended that Quebec should adopt non-breed-specific legislation modeled on that of Calgary, Alberta, but did not mention that bites at the most severe level in Calgary have in recent years increased at a rate of as much as 20% per year.
Malboeuf found that 48% of the dog bites reported in the Montreal suburb of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve from 2011 to 2015 were by pit bulls, who also inflicted 60% of the reported bites in nine other Montreal suburbs in 2010; 69% of the reported bites in Rosemont in 2015; and 32% of the bites reported in Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, where Christiane Vadnais was killed.
After Malboeuf published her findings, Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons president Joel Bergeron beat a quick retreat from some aspects of the veterinarians’ report on the CBC Montreal radio program Daybreak.
Vets “lack rigor & transparency”
Editorialized the Montreal Gazette on August 15, 2016, “The committee struck by the public safety minister tabled a preliminary report that recommended against a breed-specific ban, but suggested more general measures for dealing with dangerous pets. This proposed course of action relied heavily on a study submitted by the Ordre des médecins vétérinaire du Québec [Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons] that concluded pit bulls are no more vicious than other kinds of dogs.
“But as La Presse has revealed, the veterinary body cited five studies out of about 50 that were funded by the pit bull lobby, such as the National Canine Research Council, without disclosing their origins. At the same time, the veterinarians listed four recent medical studies on the gravity of injuries suffered from dog attacks, but downplayed the role of pit bulls.
“At best,” the Montreal Gazette said, “the expertise of the Quebec College of Veterinary Surgeons lacks scientific rigor and transparency. At worst, the veterinarians’ group is in a serious conflict of interest.
“The time has come to ban pit bulls in Quebec”
“The order’s president now says he recognizes those studies funded by pit bull defense groups should have been excluded or properly nuanced. He says there was no intention to minimize the risks posed by the dogs. But the veterinarians’ credibility has been damaged.
“The time has come to ban pit bulls in Quebec,” the Montreal Gazette concluded. “The shoddy work of the order of veterinarians only underscores the urgency of decisive action.”
Jeff Borchardt says
I love the “Can you identify Santa?” meme, Merritt. Josh Liddy was too stupid to realize he was just educated like a 9-year old with that comment and later posted it on his YouTube channel and blogs as a victory.
Heather Clemenceau says
“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.”
This. The pitbull lobby also bears a lot of similarity to the anti-vaxx lobby, as you have previously pointed out Merritt.
Congrats to Marie-Claude and other traditional investigative reporters for exposing the wildly misleading statements made by AFF, Best Friends, and other lobby groups who play fast and loose with public safety.
Sheridan Conisbee says
Under “Nonsense”, ” … banning pit bulls had reduced the hospitalization rates for dog bites in Catalonia, Spain by 38%”. To my knowledge pit bulls aren´t banned in Catalonia, they are just one of the breed types on the Dangerous Dogs list. Catalonia has added an extra 6 breeds to the 8 already on the Spain-wide list with restrictions but not bans. I can see the need for BSL, and for a review of the Dangerous Dogs Act in UK where there are bans, but more and more exemptions, turning the Act into an ineffective farce. Staffies and an American Bulldog (neither banned under the Act) have been responsible for the 3 most recent attacks resulting this month in two deaths – one adult, one toddler. It is difficult, though, when taking a view on the rights/wrongs/effectiveness of BSL to find reliable, honest data – and that´s the only reason I´m commenting now with an amendment to the statement in your informative report.