by Barbara Kay
[Montreal resident Barbara Kay is a columnist for The National Post, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.]
On November 5, Montreal’s mayoral election produced a surprise upset, and by a significant margin, for incumbent Denis Coderre. The new mayor, Valérie Plante, is a relative newcomer to urban politics. Plante is a genuinely nice individual, and her amiable personality was an important factor in her win, especially set against Coderre’s imperial style.
But for one particular subset of Montreal’s population, the nicest thing about her was her promise to immediately revoke the breed-specific features of Coderre’s Dangerous Dog Act, legislation that would have reduced the numbers of pit bull type dogs on the island through a ban on breeding and importation, and would have muzzled those who remained.
Opposing views on Montreal pit bull ban
No one could have been more disappointed than I was to see the Dangerous Dog Act go down in flames (except, obviously, the family of Christiane Vadnais, the Montreal-area women attacked in her back yard by her neighbor’s invading pit bull, and whose horrific death inspired the law). I have been promoting strict regulation for pit bull type dogs for many years, and had taken great satisfaction in Mayor Coderre’s unwavering determination to see his law enacted despite intense controversy and widespread personal vilification.
On the other hand, no one could possibly be happier at this turn of events than Douglas Anthony Cooper, the Huffington Post’s resident pit bull advocate. Doubtless adding greatly to his pleasure, the timing of the Montreal repeal coincides with the recent release of Galunker, Cooper’s children’s book about a pit bull rescue dog whose tough appearance and breed stereotyping belies his fine character.
Pushing toddlers toward pit bulls
Two years ago, the announcement of Galunker’s imminent publication (it was for various reasons long delayed) caused me deep perturbation. Adults can make up their own minds about the advisability of introducing a pit bull into a home, but this book is aimed at pre-school children. The story is touching; the illustrations are beautifully rendered and very beguiling. It’s easy to imagine credulous children falling in love with this adorable dog and begging their parents to adopt their very own rescue Galunker.
But when I looked at the cute illustrations in Galunker, all I could think of were the many child victims of dog-related maulings which, as hospital studies show, are overwhelmingly linked to pit bull type dogs as the severity of the injuries escalates.
Based on excerpts published on the Galunker website and on an email exchange with Cooper in which I unsuccessfully pleaded with him to reconsider the project, I wrote a quite scathing review of the book, arguing that the marketing of a dog type with such an unsavory epidemiological history was unethical.
Dismissing epidemiological evidence
Of course, I know that my opinions cut no ice with Cooper, because he considers the sources for my evidence untrustworthy. For example, he waves off any statistics that come from longtime investigative journalist Merritt Clifton and ANIMALS 24/7 as allegedly unreliable, Clifton being in his opinion a “quack” (a charge I have refuted in the Huffington Post, at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/-barbara-kay/pit-bull-merritt-clifton_b_5900736.html), even though Clifton’s data mining strategies are considered sound according to a McGill University epidemiologist to whom I submitted Clifton’s methodology, which you may judge for yourself here: Three pit bull attack deaths in one day mark 35 years of logging the mayhem.
Cooper is a highly intelligent and often insightful political writer, and I am sure there are many subjects on which we could find common ground with mutually agreed-upon sources. But I despaired of finding that special mutually respected source in our pit bull dispute until, by happy coincidence, I fell upon an astonishingly candid press release issued by the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa on November 2, 2017.
“You cannot remove a dog’s genetics”
Following on the mauling death of a six-month old baby by his grandmother’s pit bull, the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa announced that it was “going to go openly on record to state that this time around, we will not be defending the responsible owner and we will not be showing both sides.” Acknowledging that their “beloved breed is in trouble,” they had decided to “publish the ugly truths happening within the pit bull community.”
Most startlingly for me, as it accords with my own beliefs and contradicts the standard line of the pit bull advocacy movement, the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa declared, “It is our firm belief that 99% of pit bull terrier owners should not own a pit bull” and “Temperament is over 60% inherited and you cannot remove a dog’s genetics.”
What would the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa think?
It was gratifying to have these statements from a group whose love for the pit bull cannot be disputed by anyone, even by Douglas Anthony Cooper. What then, I further wondered, would the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa think about Galunker?
To find out, I sent the PBFSA a media query, along with the Galunker website and certain problematic comments extrapolated from email exchanges between Cooper and myself.
I expected at most a cursory statement in response. To my surprise, I received a long, forthcoming and thoughtful official email.
“More damage to the reputation of pit bulls than good”
Because of the moral authority it bears, and because I care so deeply about the potential for harm Cooper’s book harbors in its misleading content, I want to share the pith of the November 5, 2017 Pit Bull Federation of South Africa response as regards Galunker:
“With regards to [Galunker], we do not agree with the message this book will be sending [not only] to young children, but also to their parents who will be reading it to them. It is this kind of dangerous ‘advocacy’ that places many children at risk for being bitten.
“The comment made by the author [to you, that pit bull bites are no worse than bites by other large dogs] is untrue. One just has to see the photos of pit bull mauling victims to realize that this is inaccurate; they do extensive damage, very quickly.
“This kind of misinformation, along with the book stating that Galunker ”is as dangerous as a marshmallow,” lulls parents into becoming complacent…It is the opinion of the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa that this kind of irresponsible, so-called ‘advocacy’ is causing more damage to the reputation of the American Pit Bull Terrier than good.
“No interest in breed history”
“Something that we have found in South Africa, and speaking to concerned members of the public in other countries, is that everyone now is a pit bull advocate and rescuer. These people have no interest in learning about breed history, they refuse to accept that these dogs are capable of causing extensive damage, and a common trend within these communities is that they do not work with accredited behaviorists. They believe that love and socialization cure all problems.”
Much of the rest of the letter reinforces the themes and statements taken up in their press release and in other published articles regarding pit bull lobbyist misinformation and the special management issues demanded of pit bull owners.
I have no wish to enter into further combat with Cooper. I have had my say, and I am well aware that I haven’t made a dent in Cooper’s firm conviction that the pit bull type dog is an unfairly maligned victim of a witch hunt springing from ignorance and baseless moral panic. There is a moral panic around pit bulls, but it is not baseless, as the PBFSA’s own words attest.
I am more than happy to retire from this particular ring, and allow Cooper to duke it out with the PBFSA, if he should feel so inclined. How he will find the words to tarnish their credibility on the subject of pit bulls, I cannot imagine. I must admit I am extremely curious to find out.