Pits kill four people in five years within 15 minutes of Pacelle’s family home, but he calls us insanely aggressive
A 10-year-old girl in Bridgeport, Connecticut will require multiple surgeries over the next several years to repair damage inflicted on July 18, 2017 by a family member’s pit bull. The pit bull first attacked a seven-year-old boy, who tried to jump out of an open first-floor window to escape.
When the girl tried to restrain the pit bull, she was mauled very nearly from head to toe.
There was nothing unusual about the attack, except that this case in particular reminded me of recent words from Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, born and raised in coastal Connecticut.
Since mid-1982, beginning about five years before I met Pacelle, I have logged fatal or disfiguring attacks involving 7,761 dogs in the U.S. and Canada, killing 685 human victims and injuring 4,782.
Of those dogs, 5,373 (69%) were pit bulls or close pit mixes, who over these 35 years have made up less than 5% of the total U.S. and Canadian dog population. Of the 4,364 human pit bull victims (91%), 2,087 (48%) were children.
Takes two dogs to equal damage from one pit
The difference between the percentage of victims injured by pit bulls and the percentage of pit bulls among the dogs involved in the attacks reflects two tendencies: that attacks by dogs other than pit bulls usually require two or more dogs to inflict comparable damage, and that dogs other than pit bulls sometimes join in attacks that pit bulls initiate.
Among the pit bull victims, 385 were much less fortunate than the 10-year-old Bridgeport victim: they were killed, mostly dismembered alive, including at least three of the four Connecticut dog attack fatalities occurring since October 2011. Police have yet to disclose what sort of dog killed the most recent Connecticut fatality, occurring in Redding, a Bridgeport suburb, in May 2017.
Connecticut does not have an unusually high rate of dog attack mayhem relative to other states. Indeed, the Connecticut body count, relative to human population, is just about average for the U.S. as a whole since 2007, when public sympathy for the pit bulls seized from football player turned dogfighter Michael Vick misled much of the national leadership of the U.S. humane community into embracing pit bull advocacy.
Misreading & misinterpreting Henry Bergh
The American SPCA had already leaped into pit bull advocacy in 1984. In so doing, the ASPCA leadership misread and misinterpreted the opposition of founder Henry Bergh to a specific piece of breed-specific legislation as a statement of philosophical opposition to any and all laws which recognize that dogs of varying breed require differing legislative approaches in response to their needs and attributes.
(See Dog Bite Prevention Weak.)
Bergh, beginning circa 1858, opposed legislation which erroneously identified the Spitz breed as uniquely susceptible to rabies.
Bergh took this position, alongside American Veterinary Medical Association founder Alexandre Liautard, because both understood that rabies is a transmissible virus, not a heritable condition, and that the discovery of rabies among a number of Spitz dogs in New York City did not mirror the circumstances associated with semi-simultaneous rabies outbreaks in other major cities.
Bergh did not allow his position on ill-informed proposals to fight rabies by banning the Spitz to interfere with his endorsement of other breed-specific legislation, which recognized that big longhaired dogs are better suited to life outdoors in winter than small shorthaired dogs; that big dogs are better suited to cart-pulling than small dogs; and that certain breeds of horse are better suited to racing, draft work, etc. than others.
Best Friends: dead wrong
The Best Friends Animal Society, founded to promote a no-kill sheltering philosophy already leaning toward pit bull advocacy out of misguided abstract idealism, followed the ASPCA into unrestrained pit bull promotion in 2005. Best Friends and volunteer members of the Best Friends Network had rescued hundreds of pit bulls from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, then struggled for years to rehome them.
Best Friends Network member Rebecca Carey of Decatur, Georgia, was killed by her own pit bulls in 2012 soon after helping to repeal a DeKalb County ordinance against keeping pit bulls. See Pit bulls kill seven, so Georgia pushes killing coyotes.)
That left the Humane Society of the U.S. and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among the largest U.S. animal charities, still encouraging common-sense recognition that pit bulls have for centuries been bred to bait bulls and bears; hunt and dismember fugitive slaves; drive Native Americans out of their villages; and most of all, to fight and kill each other, along with any other dogs, cats, other animals, or humans whom they happen to notice when they detonate.
Pit bulls have been bred for hair-trigger reactivity, along with “gameness,” meaning the willingness to attack any other animal regardless of size, and keep attacking even if the pit bull is killed in the effort to kill and dismember the victim.
Ask Ann Landers
Aware of those realities, the Humane Society of the U.S. as of 2007 had for more than 50 years sought to discourage pit bull proliferation, albeit with inconsistent legislative positions. Though opposed by others, several senior staff had encouraged the passage of bans on the breeding, sale, and possession of pit bulls in Denver, Miami, Toledo and elsewhere, to help suppress dogfighting.
The late advice columnist Ann Landers had relied on data from HSUS senior personnel in her often voiced support of breed-specific legislation to prevent dog attacks.
But all of that went out the window in 2007, two years after Wayne Pacelle succeeded to the HSUS presidency and saw what a publicity and fundraising bonanza the ASPCA and Best Friends were enjoying by rallying support for “saving” the Vick dogs (only a few of whom were ever actually rehomed).
The HSUS dog behavior experts had already advised that trying to rehome pit bulls of known fighting lineage was at best a highly risky proposition, but Pacelle and HSUS senior vice president Andrew Rowan, on record as a pit bull advocate at least since 1986, abruptly reversed the HSUS position and shoved aside the underlings who had urged caution.
From Bridgeport to New Haven
The Bridgeport pit bull attack of July 18, 2017 occurred just half an hour’s drive from New Haven, where Pacelle spent most of the first 20 years of his life, and just a short distance from where I first met Pacelle, circa 30 years ago, as news editor at a long defunct magazine covering the animal rights movement, for which Pacelle had been hired as a cub reporter.
On one public occasion around half a dozen years ago, during a book promotional tour, Pacelle somewhat surprisingly introduced me from the podium as one of his oldest friends.
Though introducing me as one of his oldest critics who nominally shares similar humane values would have been more accurate, we have been acquainted for long enough to have tossed snowballs and baseballs at each other in alleys and parking lots as much younger men, whenever our paths crossed––and on almost every one of those occasions I told Pacelle several truths he did not want to hear.
Pacelle praised David Wills as “bang-up” reformer
Time and again, what I had to say contradicted what was politically and socially convenient for Pacelle to say and do, during his ascent from student activist at Yale to the presidency of the richest, most influential animal advocacy organization that ever existed.
Among those contradictions were my many warnings to Pacelle about then-Michigan Humane Society president David Wills, whom Pacelle praised in a May 1988 profile as a “bang-up reform” movement leader. Decades of dodgy history and a 1996 conviction for embezzling from HSUS later, while serving as HSUS director of investigations, Wills is facing trial in Texas for allegedly trafficking a nine-year-old girl for purposes of sexual exploitation.
Squelched exposé of Wills
Pacelle as much and perhaps more than anyone else should remember with deep embarrassment how he, by then board president at the magazine where we both had worked, pulled every string he could to prevent publication of my January 1990 exposé of Wills.
That material, and much more, finally appeared in the series of exposés archived here at ANIMALS 24-7, the first several of which reached print during the three months before HSUS fired Wills and prosecuted him.
Meanwhile, Pacelle and practically everyone who was anyone within the animal rights movement continued to lionize Wills, whose actual record, as opposed to his ability to talk a good ballgame, had been questionable since the mid-1970s.
Hello Mary Lou
Wills was scarcely the first bad apple I had warned Pacelle about, nor would he be the last. More than a year before I first mentioned Wills to him, I pointed out, to no avail, the paid infiltrator and agent provocateur Mary Lou Sappone, whom Pacelle had embraced as vice president of the Connecticut Animal Rights Alliance, an organization then Pacelle headed. Sappone was famously “outed” ten months later when she turned out to have orchestrated a botched “bombing attempt” in the name of animal advocacy, but actually as a media stunt meant to discredit animal rights activists.
Patricia O’Brien & Jocelyn Winfrey
None of this had yet returned to mind when, on July 4, 2017, 78-year-old Patricia O’Brien of New Haven, reportedly an experienced former pit bull owner, went to pet a pit bull belonging to a tenant and was mauled into critical condition.
The O’Brien attack came just two and a half blocks from where 53-year-old Jocelyn Winfrey was fatally mauled by two pit bulls on June 27, 2016. Both attacks were within less than a mile of Pacelle’s family home, where he grew up and where his elderly parents still live. Winfrey had apparently attended the same high school as Pacelle, at the same time. I was probably first to notify Pacelle of both attacks.
$450,000 buys a lot of whitewash
There are other prominent pit bull advocates who have had multiple people put into critical condition by pit bulls within a mile of their family homes. John P. Colby, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, the 19th and early 20th century dogfighter who rebranded pit bulls as “Staffordshires” and began selling his culled pups from “gamebred” litters as pups, had at least two disfiguring maulings and a fatality occur, in separate incidents, practically on his doorstep.
But Pacelle is the only pit bull advocate with such history who ever was paid upward of $450,000 a year to represent humane values on behalf of all animals, and children––a job he has done quite well in many other respects, notably in advocating for farmed animals and wildlife.
Pacelle––and Andrew Rowan, still in a senior role at HSUS––are also among the best-paid pit bull pushers ever who have never, as best we can tell from the public record, ever kept pit bulls themselves, or allowed their small children to frequent places where pit bulls might appear.
“Unsafe at any speed”
Certainly, between Pacelle and Rowan, and probably among the entire board and upper echelon of HSUS staff, they have not handled as many pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other dangerous dogs as my wife Beth, in her multiple capacities over the years as pet keeper, police officer, animal control officer, veterinary technician, and pit bull rescuer.
Beth, about six months before we met, came to her personal recognition, after years of denial, that pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other dogs into whom dangerous traits have been inbred, are––as Connecticut consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote of Chevrolet Corvairs––“Unsafe at any speed.”
“I prefer little dogs”
Pacelle, however, already knew that, and knew it long before he reversed the HSUS policy on pit bulls in pursuit of popularity over principle.
Reported Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Brody Mullins on November 7, 2006 from Dublin, California, less than a year before Pacelle flip-flopped, “Wayne Pacelle marched up to a one-story house last week, hoping to persuade the two Republicans inside to vote against incumbent Republican Rep. Richard Pombo.
“‘Beware of dog’ read a nearby sign as Pacelle knocked on the front door. Suddenly, a pit bull charged from inside the house. Pacelle stumbled backward. The dog slammed into the door. A screen was all that separated the growling beast from the chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States.”
Said Pacelle to Mullins, “I may be with the Humane Society, but I prefer little dogs when I’m canvassing.”
Intensive lobbying to undo safety legislation
So what did Pacelle say when I e-mailed to him about the O’Brien attack and solicited his response?
Reporting about the David Wills arrest and arraignment on federal charges distracted me for a few days from the New Haven pit bull attacks. The Bridgeport attack, however, brought Pacelle’s response back to mind, especially in light of how HSUS under Pacelle has poured intensive lobbying effort in recent years into passing state-level legislation pre-empting cities and counties from protecting their citizens, and their citizens’ animals, with breed-specific ordinances.
Such ordinances may either exclude pit bulls entirely, the approach Ann Landers favored; mandate that pit bulls should at least be spayed or neutered, the approach that has helped to suppress pit bull attacks in San Francisco since 2006; or impose extra liability insurance and fencing requirements on people who choose to keep pit bulls.
The latter approach had gained favor in Connecticut before an HSUS-backed bill blocked the passage of breed-specific ordinances in 2013. This was two years after pit bulls killed 20-month-old Nevaeh Bryant in West Haven, less than 15 minutes’ drive southwest from the Pacelle family home, and one year before a pit bull killed Rita Pepe, 93, in Branford, about 15 minutes away to the southeast.
“Your position is an outlier”
E-mailed Pacelle on July 9, 2017, “I don’t get your obsession on the pit bulls, Merritt. How the incidents in New Haven tie into HSUS is a pretty insane stretch. You may not like it, but our position is the same as the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, and just about every animal group out there. Your position is an outlier one. It would be one thing if HSUS were taking on the movement and prevailing and preventing policies from being adopted. But it’s a widely embraced position, with a lot of back-up. I am not looking to debate it, but your aggression on this is unwarranted.”
Much as U.S. appellate courts have repeatedly found that a person of ordinary intelligence can accurately recognize a pit bull, despite pit bull advocates’ contention to the contrary, we at ANIMALS 24-7 believe it is of note that the two times breed-specific ordinances have been put to the public for a vote, in Miami-Dade County in 2012 and Aurora, Colorado in 2014, more than 60% of the voters upheld the ordinances despite intensive and well-funded campaigns to repeal them, endorsed by HSUS.
Neither sane, well-informed, responsible, or humane
Thus it is anything but an “insane stretch,” or an “outlier” position, to point out that pushing the repeal of laws which might have saved four human lives in five years within a 15-minute radius of Pacelle’s family home was neither sane, nor well-informed, nor responsible, nor even humane in any sense of the word.
Indeed, in five years of logging fatal dog attacks on other animals, ANIMALS 24-7 has confirmed that pit bulls kill more than 85% of all the animals killed by dogs in the U.S., now upward of 30,000 per year, including upward of 13,000 other dogs.
To put this into context, pit bulls now kill more dogs than any U.S. animal control agency.
Pit bulls & fox hunting
Pit bulls kill more animals per year––by far––than, among other cruelties Pacelle has recently blogged about, the sum of dogs killed in the entire history of the Iditarod dog sled race; animals of all species killed in Zimbabwe each year by American trophy hunters; wolves killed by hunters, trappers, and USDA Wildlife Services; animals known or suspected to have died through the use of fireworks; bears killed by U.S. hunters; animals killed in the whole 200 years of U.S. traveling circuses; whales, dolphins, and sea turtles caught each year in drift nets; dolphins killed at Taiji, Japan, from 2005 to 2014; the actual number of animals sacrificed every five years at the Gadhi Mai festival in Nepal; and foxes killed per year in British fox hunts.
The deaths of foxes, ripped asunder by packs of foxhounds, most closely resemble pit bull mayhem.
If standing against ignoring that sort of cruelty and suffering means being “outliers,” ANIMALS 24-7 is honored to be among the “outliers”––and those condoning, defending, and ignoring it when done by pit bulls, while pretending to be “humane,” are dishonoring and degrading the entire concept of being kind to animals.
Neuter/return feral cat control
Just on the personal level, Pacelle has known me to take many “outlier” positions in opposition to “just about every animal group out there” over the past 30 years, including HSUS and the ASPCA, among others.
Many of those positions Pacelle himself later adopted––once it was politically safe––and incorporated into HSUS programs and policy.
Pacelle should particularly well remember that I stood up in support of neuter/return feral cat population control, even before Becky Robinson and Louise Holton founded Alley Cat Allies and Alley Cat Rescue, helping Robinson and Holton to resist intensive pressure from HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA.
While Robinson and Holton were just getting started, I helped to direct a 320-cat demonstration project in Connecticut that validated the efficacy of neuter/return, with vaccination, as a rabies control method.
Flipped on feral cats fifteen years later
Pacelle, then national director for the Fund for Animals, played politics to shut the project down, and arranged for me to be fired, apparently unaware that the essential data had already been collected.
Fifteen years later Pacelle made endorsing and encouraging neuter/return one of his priorities upon becoming HSUS president.
Pacelle should likewise remember that I was an “outlier,” and an extreme “outlier” at that, in strongly urging U.S. animal advocacy organizations to stop collectively bashing India, China, South Korea, and many other nations in Asia and Africa over cruel practices continued by tiny minorities of their citizens, and instead work to strengthen their own animal advocacy movements, so as to become able to stop the cruelty through political persuasion from within.
Pacelle moved HSUS to pursue a similar strategy after I had already investigated and reported about animal issues in more than 40 nations––albeit that HSUS campaigns, including Pacelle’s blogs, continue to do a lot more to amplify whatever claims get the most media attention, as opposed to the actual facts on the ground, including which individuals and organizations are doing the heavy lifting.
(See Supreme Court of Nepal orders end to Gadhi Mai massacre, Gadhi Mai sacrifices stopped, and Ignoring Thanksgiving massacre, HSUS president Wayne Pacelle denounces animal sacrifice in Nepal; Dogfight over HSI/HSUS dog rescues in South Korea; and Rumored Yulin dog meat festival cancellation still unconfirmed.)
Wearing the top hat
The best rejoinder to Pacelle about being an outlier, however, came from none other than Henry Bergh.
Bergh, a tall man to begin with, always wore a top hat, even when top hats passed from vogue. He explained that this was so that everyone could see where he stood, in opposition to cruelty, so as to stand with him.
This is where ANIMALS 24-7 stands on pit bulls, on behalf of the victims, animal and human, and indeed on behalf of pit bulls themselves, who could neither be fought, abused, neglected, nor inflict suffering on others if effective breed-specific legislation ensured that they were no longer bred.