An open letter from Beth Clifton to:
Matthew Bershadker, president, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals;
Julie Castle, president, Best Friends Animal Society;
Kitty Block, president, Humane Society of the United States
Dear Matthew, Julie, & Kitty:
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, elementary school teacher, and veterinary technician.
I am writing in response to your roles, and the roles of your organizations, in rejecting the cries of thousands of politically voiceless animal and human victims, to instead take the side of the bullies, both human and animal, in the recent municipal election in Springfield, Missouri.
I was a pit bull rescuer & advocate
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.
Why pit bulls will break your heart
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, not just recently but in every 10-year time frame since 1833.
No pit bull would have been harmed
Had Question 1 passed in Springfield, Missouri, on April 7, 2018, not even one pit bull who had a home would have lost it. No pit bull would have been harmed. Every pit bull legally residing in Springfield would still have that home.
The sole effect of passing Question 1 would have been to restrain the breeding and importation of pit bulls, who are already occupying so much space in the Springfield animal shelters as to severely limit the ability of those shelters to serve other dogs in need.
Ever-present risk to the innocent
Question 1 would merely have allowed the Springfield pit bull population to decline through attrition, thereby reducing the ever-present risk to the animals and humans of Springfield from pit bulls who even momentarily escape from their humans’ control––like the two pit bulls who on July 18, 2017 either jumped or broke through a fence to attack Evy and Lane Atwell, ages four and three, respectively, as they played in a wading pool under supervision of their mother, Christin Atwell, in their own back yard. All three were injured, suffering at least 15 bites among them.
This was the incident leading to the city council resolution that eventually put Question 1 on the ballot.
Three deaths in 10 days
Just during the week of August 1-7, 2018, while ASPCA personnel were in Springfield urging the defeat of Question 1, a two-year-old boy was fatally mauled and his mother was badly injured by a pit bull in Philadelphia.
A four-year-old girl suffered multiple head injuries, including a skull fracture, inflicted by a recently adopted pit bull in Miamisburg, Ohio.
An 18-month-old girl also suffered multiple head injuries in Riverside, California, after being attacked by the same pit bull who mauled another child in March 2016.
A 57-year-old woman was killed by her own pit bull in Chicago.
Today a 66-year-old woman was killed by two pit bulls who escaped from their home in Lake Tillery, North Carolina.
Other animals are most frequent victims
Other animals, however, are the most frequent victims of pit bulls, at the rate of hundreds of deaths per week: far more than the numbers who are harmed in acts of direct intentional cruelty. Very few of these attacks are in any way provoked by any behavior presenting an actual threat to the pit bull. Seldom does the victim animal have even a chance of escaping injury.
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.
You have a responsibility to the public
Matthew, Julie, & Kitty, 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.
The facts scream aloud
I am further requesting that you support any legislation to prevent more births of pit bull-type dogs, such as Question 1 in Springfield, Missouri, and 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.
Tony Solesky says
Extremely well and powerfully written.this could even been useful as a guide where people are seeking a common sense understanding and resolution to the pit bull problem. What is your message for communities where common sense is not the rule of the day?
Lia Albo says
Thank you for your excellent letter.
It baffles my mind that these organizations don’t get it.
They get it. They do not care.
Best friends probably gets kickbacks from dogfighters since BFAS makes everything easy for them (pit hoarding, training, and trafficking.)
They have never cared about dogs or any animals, only the money they can make off of them, tax free (Tim Wyllie, Love Sex Fear Death, ex member of their cult.)
Ask their employees although BF employees and volunteers have to sign non-disparagement agreements so expect the answers to be anonymous.
Look on Glassdoor and Indeed and read the reviews that aren’t either fake or written by a very highly paid co-founder or thirty years younger married-in wife.
If that isn’t some nepotism I don’t know what is.
They hand CEO position off to one another and no one is allowed to see what’s actually going on.
A human resources woman had to quit because she couldn’t do her job with no access to records she needed.
The FBI and the IRS needs to be looking at Best Friends and AFF while they are investigating Universal K9.
Only a blind person could miss the criminal activities clearly going on.
They are murdering us with their “pit bull initiaves.” It doesn’t matter if it’s on purpose or not (and many people wonder,) that’s what they’re doing.
Karen Davis says
Two of my closest friends adopted a female pit bull they named Angel, who lived with them for many years, happy, friendly, and well-mannered, until she died of old age without any incident of aggression or of dangerous signs. But I understand and support, based on the evidence you cite in this Open Letter, your argument on behalf of legislation that would curb breeding these dogs. On what grounds did the ASPCA, HSUS and Best Friends oppose the proposed law in MO? I don’t understand why any “humane” organization supports any type of “breeding” of any dogs or other animals except that they must get substantial funding from dog breeders to ensure they support “responsible” breeders. Meanwhile, the ASPCA and HSUS run lengthy sad-hearted shelter dog ads on television that must yield a lot of revenue, but what do these groups actually do to help shelter animals find homes and to curb the “breeding” (an obscene word which I hate to use without quotation marks) of the animals in the first place?
Thank you for the information in your open letter to these people. Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns http://www.upc-online.org
Wow, Beth, this was certainly one of the most convincing letters I have ever seen pleading, not for the demonization of bully breeds, but for common sense to prevail.
My sister had a pit we all loved. Mikey always had a smile on his face, never attacked another dog and never showed aggression of any kind.
However, hold that up against the many crazy pits out there and what do you do??
You are eminently qualified to testify as you have, and I hope the ASPCA folks come down on the side of caution.
Jeff Borchardt says
Making a plee to these people is a waste of time. Deep down they know everything you just said to be true, Beth. They just don’t care.
Elizabeth Clifton says
While we often hear stories about pit bulls who are not known to have attacked anyone in X number of years, this reflects a unique inversion of what is normally expected of a dog. With practically any other dog, the only story would be if the dog had attacked someone, which would be completely opposite to what is expected of any normal dog.
Karen Benzel says
Beth, I totally agree with you. I rescued a pit bull from the side of a freeway in Oakland, CA in 1996. I knew nothing about pit bulls. Oakland was an epicenter of breeding and I saved the dog and learned a lot. After his recovery (he obviously was a pit dog – covered in bites and very underweight) he tried to eat the vet’s cat. I found BAD RAP and they placed him with a man who didn’t have other animals.
I have a horse and have heard of horses being attacked by pit bulls. But the lives of so many humans, and especially defenseless children and old people killed because of pit bulls just continues as so many defend this breed – until it happens to them.
I have felt very strongly that the inbreeding over so many years has made these dogs crazy. I would never, ever trust one. I don’t care how sweet they appear.
Jamaka Petzak says
An eloquent and heartfelt plea, backed up by ample evidence, from someone whose experience with these dogs and in law enforcement and education should certainly be respected. My prayers go up in hope that the addressees will read it in thoughtfulness and with open minds. They can do so much good. Or they can continue turning a blind eye to a huge and ongoing crisis.
Patty Bonney says
As expected, Beth, you wrote a powerful letter. Unfortunately, too many people prefer to accept the myths they have heard, the lies from the money interests, and a blind belief in what they want to believe over the facts. The lives they save might be their own if they would accept the truth and act accordingly.
Debra Boswell says
Beth, thank you so much for sharing your thought and experience. I have been director of an open admission shelter for 40 years. In the early years, we really did not see that many pits coming into the shelter. Back then, our problem dogs seemed to be Shepherds, Dobermans and adorable biting Cocker Spaniels. As times changed so did the shift of breeds coming in. So many pits and all the wrong people wanting them for all the wrong reasons. We handled so many from dog fight cases. Then we started seeing the numbers rise from those kept as pets and the problem of bites and attacks by pits being brought in by the various animal control agencies. At our shelter we do not place pit bulls for adoption and have not done so in about 15 or 16 years. Is the life of even one child worth the risk when we as professionals know the capabilities of these dogs? The only answer is no. Every time I look into the face of a pit being brought to our shelter my heart breaks. We hear the outrage about how many pits are brought to shelters and euthanized in shelter. What about the outrage that those of us in animal welfare feel about the cruel, senseless continued breeding of these dogs by persons who know the problems with the breed. The trail always seems to lead back to money! For us at our shelter, we wondered what we could do to help these dogs. We decided we would offer free spay or neuter for any pit bull or pit mix. Do we love these dogs that through no fault of their own are the center of such controversy? Yes we do….our hearts break for them. But the carnage against people and animals must stop. I do not understand why the leaders of some of the largest animal organizations can’t see this. The death and mutilations have to stop. How could anyone look into the face of a mother whose 7 year old little girl had just lost her life from an attack by one of her families dogs (she was almost completely decapitated & our agency took the dog)and say it was not the dog’s fault or she must have startled the dog or it just wasn’t socialized enough or it was an isolated incident? If you truly love your pit bull STOP BREEDING and stop telling anyone who will listen that your dog would never attack a person or another animal…..until it does….until it is too late…..until another child dies. Thank you again Beth for being a strong voice for not only those at risk but for the breed as well.
Something to think about. Because they see their cause as a life-or-death struggle, many animal advocates are desperate to find common ground and agreement from people. Pit bull ownership arguments are essentially just animal use industry arguments, so naturally they can court alliances and support from people and groups who would never support animal rights/welfare causes and in many cases would aggressively oppose them.
Some of this striving for commonality with the pit breeding/animal use world stems out of the human desire to achieve harmonious relationships with others, while another aspect of it is amassing as many donations and social media likes as possible.
Sherri G. Wattrick says
I thought I was going to be one of those to save a pit bull. I got her from a shelter. For three weeks everything was wonderful She got along well with my boxer mix. They were buddies grooming one another, playing. The three of us were in bed watching TV. They were playing with a rope when precious the Pitt attacked Lilly the boxer. It was all I could do to separate them before precious killed Lilly. Precious then turned on me. I have two bites to inside of each thigh, one bite to top of right thigh, a chunk taken out of right calf, two to right hand and one to left elbow. I had to twist her collar and choke her to stop the attack. I took her back to shelter. An officer went to my car to get her. When he got to the front door of the shelter she fought through a kennel with another pit bull. He pulled up back and she bit his leg.I will forever be scared of these dogs. I am truly traumatized.