Pit Bulls Unleashed: Should They Be Banned?
The Fifth Estate with Mark Kelley
Pit bull advocates have been screaming bloody murder since the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last night, September 22, 2017, aired Pit Bulls Unleashed: Should They Be Banned?
The hour-long documentary, produced by the investigative news magazine program The Fifth Estate, the Canadian counterpart of the CBS news series 60 Minutes, amounts to the first major mass media exposé ever of what host Mark Kelley sums up as “a multi-million-dollar lobbying effort to rebrand the pit bull as a family-friendly dog so that more will be adopted out.”
“Why do pit bulls need lobbying?”
The focal question, asked repeatedly by Kelley of Best Friends Animal Society pit bull lobbyist Ledy van Kavage, is “Why do pit bulls need lobbying? Why do they need an organization? Why do they need a network fighting for them?”
Cornered, Van Kavage describes the ever-escalating numbers of fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks as “fake news,” then cackles nervous laughter as Kelley sets in front of her print-out after print-out of accounts of very recent pit bull incidents.
“I don’t know if the child was crying”
Asked specifically about the death of 14-month-old Daxton Borchardt in March 2013, torn from the arms of babysitter Susan Iwicki and killed by two pit bulls familiar to both of them, hand-raised by Iwicki from puppyhood, Van Kavage intimated that perhaps the attack occurred because the child was crying.
“I don’t know if the child was crying,” Van Kavage said.
Kelley’s look of incredulity that anyone might suggest a dog who kills a baby for crying is nonetheless a safe dog for children says about all that need be said, except to note that Van Kavage herself has no children, just an obese “American bully.”
A 30-year free pass
In truth, pit bull advocates, including Van Kavage and Best Friends, the pro-pit bull Animal Farm Foundation, and the subsidiary National Canine Foundation, have had almost a 30-year free pass from U.S. and Canadian major mass media, as demonstrated by “SRUV” blogger Thomas Mair in his 2014 Annotated Cultural Bibliography of Pit Bull Journalism.
Between 1985 and 1989, Mair found, major mass media responded to the early phase of what is now three decades of exponentially increasing fatal and disfiguring attacks by pit bulls with near-unanimous concern, including respect for the victims, both human and animal.
Ann Landers knew a pit bull from a wet noodle
“Nine deaths in past 18 months blamed on pit bulls,” banned the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 29, 1986, decrying a toll significantly less than the norm since 2007 of about 45 human deaths by pit bull per 18 months.
In 1987 alone, Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and the late syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers, on multiple occasions, devoted prominent attention to warning the public against pit bull proliferation.
Cities including Denver and Miami, the entire state of Ohio, the New York City Public Housing Authority, and many other jurisdictions and agencies responded with regulatory action to curb pit bull proliferation––and then neglected enforcement, while the major mass media who had monitored the growing crisis mostly fell asleep.
Media fell asleep
Twenty years of increasingly well-funded and noisy pit bull advocacy later, even as the numbers of pit bull-inflicted fatalities and disfigurements exploded, the April 2007 discovery of a dogfighting operation headed by football star Michael Vick made pushing pit bulls the fashionable cause of the ensuing decade among a generation of click-bait media “content providers” and pop culture celebrities.
These were and are people mostly too young to remember why pit bulls had been banned or restricted throughout much of the U.S. and Canada; too used to frequent pit bull violence to recognize it as completely uncharacteristic of normal dog behavior; and too poorly grounded in the traditional ethics of journalism to do the elementary research which would have quickly expose the “Big Lies” of pit bull advocacy.
Examples include the myth that pit bulls were ever “nanny dogs,” “America’s dog,” or anything else other than fighting and baiting dogs, the favorite dogs of the Ku Klux Klan, runaway slave-killing dogs, and the dogs set on Native American encampments before the likes of sometime dogfighter George Armstrong Custer closed in to kill whoever was left.
Two TV judges & three journalists against the pit bull army
Among major mass media during the past 10 years, only Judge Joe Brown, Judge Judy, Charlotte Alter of Time.com, Barbara Kay of the Canadian National Post, and Marie-Claude Malboeuf of the Montreal-based newspaper La Presse, published in French, have stood up against pit bull advocacy.
Except by Alter, Kay, and Malboeuf, advocates for pit bull victims, both human and animal, have relatively seldom even been quoted in items pertaining to pit bulls.
Before The Fifth Estate, and Kay and Malbouef excepted, no media larger than ANIMALS 24-7 have explored, exposed, and refuted the blizzard of bogus “studies,” false claims, misrepresentation of dog identities, and the rest of the pit bull lobby bag of tricks––or even looked more than superficially at the reality that most of the celebrities prominently endorsing pit bulls have had their own incidents, including trainer Cesar Millan.
(See What on earth was Cesar Millan thinking?, by Beth Clifton.)
While the endorsements are amplified by the Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society of the U.S., American SPCA, and others, settlements of victims’ lawsuits costing the celebrities and their insurers tens of thousands of dollars time and again attract only transient notice.
The Fifth Estate has long been known for doing sound investigative research. The six months or thereabouts of research that went into producing the documentary episode Pit Bulls Unleashed: Should They Be Banned? were no exception.
One self-evident starting point for The Fifth Estate investigation of pit bulls was an extensive interview done in 2014 by Dogsbite.org founder Colleen Lynn with Jeff Borchardt, father of pit bull victim Daxton Borchardt and founder of the victim advocacy organization Daxton’s Friends. Lynn also interviewed babysitter Iwicki, who was herself seriously injured while trying to protect Daxton.
Several other self-evident starting points for The Fifth Estate were ANIMALS 24-7 exposes of:
- Pit bull trafficking from the U.S. into Canada (see Rollover crash reignites controversy over dog rescue traffic from U.S. to Canada);
- The role of the Best Friends Animal Society in promoting pit bull proliferation and eroding legislation meant to protect the public from fatal and disfiguring attacks (see HSUS & Best Friends throw puppy mill pups to pit bulls and Best Friends, the ASPCA, & HSUS: rethink pit bulls!);
- Our statistical research of the past 35 years (see Three pit bull attack deaths in one day mark 35 years of logging the mayhem);our exposés of how newly rehomed pit bulls of problematic but concealed history went on to disfigure a child in Iowa and kill a 90-year-old woman in New Jersey (see How multi-state effort to save the pit bull Blue led to Code Blue for Margaret Colvin and Anatomy of a disfigurement by a misidentified shelter pit bull);
- And a brief mention of how many other animals pit bulls kill each year, most of them beloved pets (see Record 32,550 pit bulls killed or badly injured other animals in the U.S. in 2016.)
But neither Dogsbite.org nor ANIMALS 24-7 is mentioned or credited in Pit Bulls Unleashed: Should They Be Banned?, nor should we have been.
Though The Fifth Estate may have followed up the information we had already researched and published, their own team personally re-investigated every detail.
Months into the work, after much of the videotaping had already been done, Fifth Estate producer Lisa Ellenwood contacted us to verify some information, but this amounted to little more than our forwarding to her some web links and tables.
The Fifth Estate on-camera interviews with Van Kavage and a coterie of other pit bull advocates reveal both disingenuousness on the part of those who are paid for it and alarming disregard of precautionary principle on the part of those who are not.
Examples include those who take pit bulls into crowded, busy public places while claiming the dogs are something else, and young mother Chantal Campau, who allows two small children barely older than Daxton to swarm over a newly adopted pit bull only minutes after the pit bull––of completely unknown background––has arrived in Calgary after a “rescue” flight from California.
The Fifth Estate on-camera interviews with Iwicki, Jeff Borchardt, former animal control officer Brandi McNeely, Emily Vadnais, daughter of Montreal pit bull victim Christiane Vadnais, four-year-old British Columbia victim Emily Cranford, and Trehlan Credit, who in 2013 had part of his scalp ripped off by a family pit bull in Little Rock, Arkansas, are moving and informative.
Asks Iwicki, “Who wants to admit even for a second that their family pet could kill one of their family members?”
But perhaps the most influential Fifth Estate source will be Michael Golinko, M.D., now director of plastic surgery at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, formerly at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a project of Emory University.
In July 2016 Golinko published Characteristics of 1616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution, based on his Atlanta experience. Golinko then followed up with a parallel study of 540 pediatric dog bite injury cases in Arkansas.
Summarized The Fifth Estate, “In the two studies [Golinko and colleagues] found incidents involving pit bulls were 2.5 times more likely to involve bites in multiple locations on a child’s body than those involving other dogs.
“The depth and the severity of the bites as well as the number of tissue types injured was also different.
“They found those incidents involving pit bulls could also involve bites that went through bone or ripped off a part of a hand or scalp.
“The Atlanta study also found that if a child required an operation, 50% of the time it was following a pit bull bite. The Atlanta study and multiple other studies have found that children were bitten by family dogs or dogs known to the family in up to 85 per cent of the cases.”
Golinko favors banning pit bulls outright.
Seat belts & air bags
Says Kelley, “He remembers when no one wore a seatbelt. Then seat belts were required. He compares the situation around pit bulls to that.”
“For a little while,” Golinko recalls, “there was a little bit of pushback, but at the end of the day, you have way less fatalities because of air bags, because of seat belts.
“I’d much rather be on that side of the argument, advocating for a child’s safety than for the right to own a pretty dangerous animal at the end of the day.”
Takeaways for Canadians
The takeaways for The Fifth Estate’s mostly Canadian audience are that there is an urgent need for Quebec to pass and enforce the provincial ban on pit bulls now pending in the Quebec National Assembly; for Ontario to begin seriously enforcing the pit bull ban already in effect there since 2006; and for the rest of Canada to stop allowing the entire nation to become the dumping ground for pit bulls who have already flunked out of homes in the U.S. for undisclosed reasons.
Takeaway for Americans
A takeway question for concerned U.S. citizens, raised also after exposés about exports of U.S.-made pesticides such as Compound 1080, which is banned here, is why we allow pit bull advocates to export a known threat to public health and safety.