First, it is horrible that KFC kicked out that 3-year-old girl due to people being “scared” of her face, if that’s indeed what actually happened. Other versions say that the child’s mother was actually causing a massive scene inside of the restaurant and that’s what initiated the KFC staff to ask HER to leave, not the child (it’s now been investigated twice and numerous sources state that the incident didn’t happen at all). But regardless, Time writer Charlotte Alter’s focus was clearly on disparaging Pit Bulls. So my focus will be pointing out the many problems in her article…
Problem #1: Alter provided no description of what led to the attack on the little girl, no circumstances (10 dogs, they were all running loose, the little girl was unattended), no details of the environment that the dogs were living in prior and during (9 of the dogs apparently were yard dogs), nothing whatsoever. Kind of relevant and important information if actually wanting to further the concept of public safety.
Problem #2: Alter claims that Pit Bulls “make up only 6% of the dog population,” which she has absolutely no way of knowing or confirming. Why not? Because there’s no accurate way to peg the number of dogs from any breed or “type.” Further, because there’s no specific or consistent definition of what a Pit Bull is or is not, quite the opposite. The reality of labeling Pit Bulls is subjective, ambiguous, vague and all-encompassing in nature, especially by those wanting to exploit a tragedy as a way to further their anti-Pit Bull agenda. That notion then needs to swing both ways when calculating any total number of “Pit Bulls” in existence, meaning: You can’t conveniently overreach in an effort to label every dog involved in anything as a “Pit Bull mix,” and then turn around and not use that same formula when calculating a total number of possible Pit Bulls or Pit Bull mixes. At least be consistent with your erroneous tactics.
Problem #3: Visual identification is not scientific, wrought with errors and inaccuracies, and these identifications are often made by unqualified people and then printed/reported in the local/national news, which is then used as “facts” for unsubstantiated claims.
Problem #4: Mixed breeds are not a breed at all.
Problem #5: Even if the 6% figure was true (which it’s not even remotely close), in a country of 75 million dogs that would mathematically equate to almost 5 million Pit Bulls. By any count, 99.9% of those dogs have never mauled or killed anyone.
Problem #7: Alter sources alleged percentages coming from Clifton, which aren’t based in reality, evidence or science, and are instead selectively chosen from unsubstantiated media reports. Total bias bullshit, a misrepresentation of the truth, and nothing more than arrogant claims being made when such claims aren’t even possible to ever accurately be made!
Problem #8: Alter tells the audience that the CDC stopped collecting breed-specific information but failed to mention WHY they stopped collecting breed-specific information… I’ll let the CDC explain:
A CDC study on fatal dog bites lists the breeds involved in fatal attacks over 20 years (between 1979 and 1998). It does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002% of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific policies exist and hold promise for preventing dog bites.
Problem #9: Alter references the NOT peer-reviewed 2011 Annals of Surgery study titled “Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs,” which has been thoroughly discredited. Why? Because it was done by non-animal experts who were looking at photographs of injuries and then concluding, based solely on the photographs and medical records, which breeds of dog caused which injuries. But 1 problem: They never saw any of the offending dogs! So not only did they skip the shoddy visual identification process, but they never laid eyes on the dogs. And yet, they were so arrogant as to breed-label the injuries anyways. Preposterous.
Problem #10: Alter implies that all Pit Bulls and their owners should be collectively blamed for what allegedly happened to the little girl at KFC. Wow, I wasn’t at KFC that day and neither was my dog! If she was treated in such a way then it’s the fault of the person that treated her that way.
Problem #11: Alter mentions the dog from Arizona named Mickey, but again provides no description as to what actually led to that attack, no circumstances, nothing whatsoever. She then proceeds to claim that more people were concerned about the dog than about Kevin Vincente, as if a person couldn’t be simultaneously concerned for both, or as if concern or thoughts about 1 cancelled out concern or thoughts about the other.
Problem #12: Where are Merritt Clifton’s sources supporting his asinine claims about “shelter dogs” that span 151 years going back to 1858? No nod to the obvious difference in technology and communication capabilities from the 1800s/1900s in comparison to today. No nod to anything, just a made up number that is utterly unverified but that’s being presented, both by Clifton and by Alter, as if it’s fact.
Problem #13: Alter sources Colleen Lynn from the anti-Pit Bull hate group DogsBite.org.
Problem #14: Colleen Lynn is not a geneticist, nor is she genuinely knowledgeable about dog behavior.
Problem #15: Merritt Clifton states that “not every kind of dog responds to neglect and abuse by killing and injuring people.” Um, just by the way that he phrases this statement he implies 2 utterly wrong concepts: That all Pit Bulls would respond by killing and injuring people and that all non-Pit Bulls wouldn’t respond by killing and injuring people. Way to be a simpleton, Merritt! It’s an obvious fact that dogs are individuals and not objects, sentient beings and not manufactured products that come off of a conveyor belt. Clifton must believe the opposite. 99.9% of all dogs from any breed or type HAVE NOT mauled or killed a person!
Problem #16: Clifton’s proclamations as to what makes a “good” and “bad” Pit Bull is nothing more than a soundbyte meant to blame the dogs and not the people that put them onto the chains he speaks of. Just because a dog is on a chain doesn’t make it a “badass” (vicious, fighter) anymore than Clifton picking up a water hose makes him a firefighter. What chaining your dog does do is isolate it, frustrate it, make it territorial, and take away its option of flight, among other cruel things depending on the circumstances. Some dogs subjected to this type of shit are no less friendly than non-chained ones, as each remains an individual and deserves their right to be properly evaluated. Point being, it all depends. But chaining a dog (any dog) CAN LEAD TO TRAGIC INCIDENTS, especially when involving unsupervised children. What’s also interesting is Clifton claiming there are “good” Pit Bulls, yet he makes his living off of egregiously exploiting them and pushing fabricated statistics onto politicians who then serve up ideas for bans and regulations.
Problem #17: Alter embeds a bar graph from the hate group, spells their website wrong, and then provides no further explanation as to where the numbers come from. I’ll tell you: It’s from Colleen and Merritt, using their tactics of cherry-picking through unverified media reports. Further, what’s the definition of “attack,” or for that matter, “maiming”?
Problem #18: Lynn goes all land shark rhetoric on everyone, threatening that there will be a “disfigured child” in every school. Total fearmongering nonsense. 5? 15? 25 million Pit Bull-type dogs in the country? The definitions become so vague that that latest number is not to be discarded out of hand. What I do know is that reality does show that we have a lot of responsible people and really great dogs out there. Try as you might to ignore this fact, it’s still a fact.
Problem #19: How in the hell does Merritt Clifton assume that 80% of all dogs are sterilized, but then that 80% of all Pit Bulls aren’t sterilized? There is quite literally no way to know this information. Is this silly guy the Oracle? Does he kick it on the weekends with Santa Claus? Does Santa take him down the chimney, notepad in hand? I mean, I’m sorry, but this guy is totally full of shit.
Problem #20: Alter writes as if Colleen Lynn actually cares to prevent having more Pit Bulls euthanized. Haha. Earth to Charlotte Alter: Colleen Lynn wants Pit Bulls ERADICATED by any means necessary. You’ve been played like the neighborhood jukebox. A little something from her Facebook page…
Problem #21: Alter sources PETA, who rules the roost on animal-related doublespeak and lobbies for both Pit Bull bans and “no adoption” policies for the Pit Bulls coming into shelters. They promote the ideology of “killing them to save them from abuse.” This is completely ludicrous and the fact that they are still being given a platform on this issue speaks to how lazily Alter’s piece was slapped together.
Problem #22: Holding Colleen Lynn, Merritt Clifton and PETA up as examples of compassionate advocates for the well-being of Pit Bulls (and bigger dogs in general) is like putting the head of the Ku Klux Klan in charge of African American reproductive systems.
Problem #23: You mean to tell me that no other organization wanted to comment for this article? Alter magically produced the only animal welfare organization in the United States that is pro-BSL, and yet failed to produce more statements from the hundreds that are against BSL? Wow, that’s awful convenient! This is probably to give the illusion that the debate is actually equally split. The opposite is true however, as damn near every professional animal/safety-related organization is openly AGAINST breed-specific legislation.
Problem #24: Pit Bulls are dogs, therefore they ARE like any other dog, no matter what Daphna Nachminovitch/PETA or any other demagogue wants to claim.
Problem #25: Breed-specific sterilization for Pit Bulls is not done for overpopulation purposes or to help shelters kill less animals, although those are 2 obvious ends that might eventually come out of a move to incrementally eliminate 1 of America’s most popular types of dog. The truth? It is done as a secondary move when banning dogs by breed or type is not supported by the community or viewed as being unfair or too extreme.
My dog Murray and I were taking our usual amble through town the other day, when we came upon a puppy we hadn't seen before. I don't know a lot of my human neighbors, but I've got a pretty comprehensive roster of all the dogs around town. We stopped to get to know this little golden bundle of wiggles, but her owner snatched her off.
"I don't want her playing with pit bulls," he said to me, dragging the puppy away.
The thoughts that went through my head directly after this encounter are not printable in a family publication. Here are the thoughts that are:
1. It is truly astonishing how many otherwise progressive people consider their prejudice against pit bulls to be perfectly reasonable, when the data shows it isn't; and
2. Given that Murray isn't even actually a pit bull, this encounter highlights one of the major reasons that prejudice against pit bulls is extremely problematic: it's really hard to tell which mixed-breed dogs are even actually pits.
Pit bulls are subjected to an almost unimaginably cruel world, in which they are subjected to every kind of violence -- and then, at the end of it, are euthanized in shelters at shockingly high rates, because families are afraid to bring them home, landlords won't rent to the families who do bring them home and localities impose restrictions on their ownership, despite ample evidence that these restrictions do nothing to improve public safety.
The newest comprehensive examination of dog bite statistics, put out in December by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, looked at what factors tended to lead to fatal dog bites. These include a dog not being spayed or neutered, dogs being "kept isolated from regular positive human interactions," away from the rest of the family, and dog owners having histories of abusing their pets.
Some pit bulls bite, of course, just like some of any breed of dog will bite. And the media may be more likely to report a pit bull's bite, or the person bitten may be more likely to think the dog that bit them is a pit. What the JAVMA study shows, though, is that breed is specifically found not to be a factor in the likelihood of a fatal dog bite.
I still understand why you might be scared of pit bulls and pit bull type dogs. These are the vast majority of dogs identified by the media, shelters and nearly everyone as pit bulls: they're dogs that look like pits -- they've got the blocky heads, for example -- but we don't actually know their actual genetic makeup.
Maybe you haven't been reading the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Or maybe you have been reading the near-constant stream of scary newspaper stories ginning up your fear.
A recent article in Time magazine called "The Problem With Pit Bulls" is among the worst of them. Charlotte Alter, the author of the Time piece, goes so far as to say that pit bull attacks are on the rise because of Hurricane Katrina, which is both a silly claim and a preposterous one: there's no evidence that pit bull attacks are on the rise at all.
Even Alter notes that the CDC, which conducted the most-cited older study, no longer collects statistics about which breeds are involved with dog bites. What she doesn't note is that the lead author of the CDC study is one of the researchers responsible for the more recent JAVMA report, which more or less does in the earlier report.
Some of them were eager to tell me their thoughts.
Here's Scotland Haisley, founder of the Animal Rescue Corps, who has worked in animal welfare for 25 years, is responsible for rehabilitating 11 of the worst-off dogs rescued from Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels, and actually rescued dogs from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina:
The prevalence of incomplete information, inaccurate statistics and unsubstantiated theories has created a widespread prejudice against the pit bull type dog and only perpetuates the stereotype that aggressive behavior in dogs is a breed-specific problem.
Public wellbeing is compromised and innocent lives pay the price when legislation wrongly incriminates a majority due to the actions of unaccountable and thoughtless individuals. Breed specific legislation is reactive, ineffective, and fails to make accountable those truly responsible. Solutions must be proactive and strike at the root of the problem, preventing the potential for dangerous situations to occur by promoting responsible pet guardianship, providing mandates and resources for spay/neuter of all companion animals, and properly staffing and funding those agencies charged with keeping our communities safe and managing homeless animal issues.
Here's the more-colorful comedian Rebecca Corry, whose own dog, Angel, was abused by previous owners, and who organized the recent pit bull march on Washington -- called the One Million Pibble March, pibbles being the affectionate term for pits:
Next they'll say pibbles are responsible for world hunger and global warming. I would like the "reporter" to look [at] Angel (a rescued pit bull who was horribly disfigured and abused for many years) or any of the millions of abused and/or euthanized pibbles killed daily, in the eye and tell them "they are the problem." If the breed is the problem then perhaps this "reporter" and [anti-pit bull activist Colleen] Lynn, can snuggle all night long with the human monsters that abused these dogs, the inherently dangerous and sociopathic killers. Sound like fun ladies? Errrrr....
Best Friends Animal Society supports safe and humane communities for people and pets.
Some of the statistics cited in the Time article have been disproved by more recent research done by Dr. Gary Patronek, and a team of researchers who analyzed fatal dog-related incidents from 2000-2009 and found that breed was not a factor. Indeed breed could only be identified in 18% of the cases and a variety of breeds of dogs were involved. The focus should be on the behavior of the dog and the behavior of the owner. Period. Reckless owners should be prohibited from owning any breed of dog. Innocent dogs shouldn't be penalized for being born into a certain breed. All dogs are individuals.
Amiee Stubbs, a Nashville photographer and animal advocate, said she'd been "so worried" ever since she "saw that a pit bull attack was the reason the girl in KFC had been injured":
In my work as the photojournalist for Animal Rescue Corps, I have been on the scene as we rescued over 60 pit bulls from two dog fighting operations. Every single one of those emaciated and abused dogs greeted rescuers with affection, tails wagging. Additionally, as a pet photographer, I have photographed hundreds of pit bulls. In all of my experience, none of these pit bulls showed any aggression toward people. If the Time magazine article was accurate, this would not be the case. The problem is not the pit bulls, nor is it specific to any one breed.
The problem is that there is little consequence for being an irresponsible dog owner. Journalists giving credence to questionable statistics and sources just exacerbates the problem.
While the media continues to dig for blood filled stories, myself and thousands of other advocates will keep doing what we do to protect this misrepresented breed, we will eventually win this fight and the Mike Vick legacy will eventually fade just like his mediocre football career.
We all want there to be fewer dog bites. The evidence shows that blaming pits isn't the way to get that.
Let's stop barking up the wrong tree, and look instead at the factors that actually matter here -- like spaying and neutering, and treating animals like they're part of the family instead of keeping them isolated outside. We should also make more effort to teach kids about dogs, and use more visual cues, like yellow leashes, that'll let people identify dogs who don't like being petted.
This seems more productive than working people into a lather over a group of dogs who can't help what they look like or what's been done to them, and who aren't in the end any inherently different from their sleeker-headed fellow canines.
By the way: Murray, my sweet baby, is a rescue, so -- as my husband puts it, possibly plagiarizing Dave Barry -- he's the result of many generations of unregulated dog sex. The group we got him from listed Murray as a border collie, which -- given that he's never, ever, herded anything -- is the only kind of dog we're sure he's not.
We've never had him genetic tested, and we don't know for sure what kind of dog he affirmatively is. Part pointer, maybe. Or possibly part Lab.
Or maybe he is part pit bull, even. Our neighbor hates him based on nothing more than the shape of his face, after all. And he does look so very good in hats.
UPDATE: KFC now says the story that prompted the Time piece -- about the little girl who was attacked by her grandfather's dogs, then kicked out of KFC because her injuries upset the other customers -- was a hoax.
The bizarre story concerns three-year-old Victoria Wilcher, who was reportedly mauled by pitbulls belonging to her family, leaving heavy scarring on her face. Her family said last month that she was asked to leave a Jackson, Miss., KFC restaurant because her appearance disturbed other customers. That claim, initially floated on a "Victoria's Victories" Facebook page that appeared to have been taken offline Tuesday, ignited outrage on social media, prompting an apology from KFC on June 15 and a promise to spend $30,000 on Wilcher's medical bills.
But KFC said Tuesday that it no longer believes the incident actually took place.
"Like the rest of America, the KFC family has been moved by the story of Victoria's injuries and recovery," KFC spokesman Rick Maynard said. "After the alleged incident was reported to us, two investigations took place, including one by an independent investigator. Neither revealed any evidence that the incident occurred and we consider the investigation closed. We are honoring our commitment to make a $30,000 donation to assist with Victoria's medical bills. We hope everyone keeps Victoria in their thoughts and prayers. She will certainly be in ours."