March 13, 2010

Irrational and unjust

A few years ago, someone I know — a latina, a friend of a friend — was mugged by a black man in a mall parking lot. The attack transformed her. She began to speak of black people as n*****s. She considered her mugging to be proof of black people’s innate criminality, and she condemned them as a group: she blamed, and hated, all of them.

I suspect that when the victim and aggressor are from different backgrounds, this sort of emotional reaction to the pain and shock of a mugging may be fairly common.

It is also so irrational and unjust a response that most of us hope we'd never be guilty of it.

Dogs aren't people, of course, but non-human animals can also be the target of hostility and stereotyping. Writer Charles Leerhsen has anger to spare: his dog was attacked by a pit bull, he writes in The Daily Beast, and therefore we should get rid of all pit bulls.

I'm sorry Leerhsen's dog was hurt, and furious at the owner who not only failed to control his own pit bull, but through his lack of control put my good dogs at risk from hate-mongering like Leerhsen's. And I'm sorry it didn't occur to Leerhsen to pick up the phone and talk to the CDC or experienced dog trainers or veterinary behaviorists.

Because the truth is, no one knows whether pit bull-types bite at a higher rate than, say, shepherd-types [though the ACOs I know would beg to differ: they say shepherd-types win, hands down].

No one knows, because it is impossible to know the number of dogs of each breed or type in the general population, though we do know that "pit bulls" make up one of the most numerous types of dog in the country.
Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite. [From the American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions: A community approach to dog bite prevention.]

Leerhsen is agitated by "people, groups and Web sites that defend Pit Bulls from those who would criticize and legislate against them." He thinks we are hypersensitive. But we love our dogs as much as he loves his, and we know far more about our dogs than he does. We know that BSL — legislation based on ignorance, hysteria and urban legend — has killed tens of thousands of good dogs in places like Denver, Colorado and Lucas County, Ohio, and subjected law-abiding citizens to considerable anguish.

If he were a dog person, Leerhsen would know that breed specific laws are over-inclusive, in that the vast majority of dogs targeted will never hurt anyone, and under-inclusive, in that a great many dangerous dogs will be overlooked. As veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall has said, "Breed specific laws are not based in science. [Laws] banning breeds will not make you safer, and the illusion that they will do so is dangerous to humans and unfair to dogs."

As I've said, if Leerhsen were a dog person rather than a distraught man who loves one dog and knows very little about dogs in general, let alone pit bulls, he would be aware of all these things. But in his present state it doesn't matter to him that my dogs, like the overwhelming majority of the millions of pit bulls and pit bull mixes in the U.S., have never harmed or threatened to harm anyone. It doesn't matter to him that I love my dogs at least as much as he loves his. All that matters to him is that his dog was hurt, and in his grief and anger Leerhsen wants me and my dogs, and you and your dogs [provided their heads are broad enough], to pay dearly for his pain.

This exchange from the Daily Beast comments section deserves to be reprinted:

"Each dog is an individual and should be treated as such."


Dear Mr. Leerhsen,
I think you might be letting your emotions get the best of you here. You obviously love your dog, and I am sorry that she is hurt. However you are incorrectly focusing on the breed more than the individual dog and idiotic, irresponsible owners in this case. Count me among the "PC Urban professionals" (I am a Pediatric Cardiologist) who in my lack of imagination and intelligence decided to go to the ASPCA and rescue a beautiful and sensitive pit bull puppy named Ace one year ago. He is 75 lbs of pure muscle, but uses his strength primarily for cuddling. If I were to drop his leash, all you or your dog would get is a wet kiss. He rarely even barks, let alone growl or bite. He goes to "doggie daycare" and gets along with dogs of all sizes, and once let a Yorkie chew on his neck to the point that the collar broke off. Most of the other pit bull owners I meet at the dog park have the same experience with their loving pets.
So why should is my pet less deserving of life and love than yours??
Do you know how judgemental and condescending your article sounds? You look down your nose at the rest of the world as "rednecks", insecure yuppies, or "unattractive" people from (gasp) somewhere other than New York. It must be easy to look down coming from such intellectual and moral high ground of Brooklyn, but the most scientific way you can gather statistics on how dangerous pit bulls are is a Google search? Do you think that there is a possiblity that a news story is more likely to make it to the wire if it contains a controversial phrase in it like "pitbull?"
Dogs are a product of breeding, experience, and responsible or irresponsible ownership. If a dog, whatever its breed attacks other dogs, it should be kept away from them. If it is hostile to people, it should be put down immediately. If a dog attacks a child, the owners should be thrown in jail as if they did it with their own hands. But to focus on the breed alone is to oversimplify the situation, as if Pit Bulls having some sort of collective conscience that tells all of them to attack everything that is alive. Its breed-racism.
My dog was attacked as a puppy at the dog park by a Golden Retriever-Labrador mix. He needed 4 stitches on his neck, but of course, I didn't run crying to the New York Times with a vendetta to get the two breeds exterminated.
I hope your dog Frankie recovers fast and well, and after you've had some time to let your anger disperse I hope you might be less encouraging of the killing/eradication/illegalization of my dog, Ace. I think he would appreciate you not convictging and sentencing him to death based on his race.

1:40 am, Mar 13, 2010



You claim to be in Pediatrics and making these statements about pits?? Here is something you can sink your teeth into before your pit does and it is from your fellow physicians. Bite_Injuries__A_5_Year_Review_of.28.aspx

Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-Year Review of the Experience at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

More than 30 different offending breeds were documented in the medical records. The most common breeds included pit bull terriers (50.9 percent), Rottweilers (8.9 percent), and mixed breeds of the two aforementioned breeds (6 percent).

Now do the math. If pits, rotties, and their mixes are doing over 66% of these attacks, that leaves 34% to be divided between 27 other breeds or about 1% or so per breed. Read it again, pits did over 50%, one breed. Seems your fellow physicians might disagree with you.

Believe it or not, there never has been a worldwide conspiracy to "get the pits". The media reports because of the severity of the attacks by pits. They would do the same if it were another breed and do.

Racism applys to humans, Doc, not to animals. Your version of racism is my version of saving human life. Isn't that what you are supposed to be doing?

4:47 pm, Mar 13, 2010



Its impossible to know if someone is who or what they claim to be when they are posting things on the internet, so I will put aside my initial reaction of anger to you questioning my dedication to caring for children. How could you know that I worked in an indigent medical clinic for 3 years before training in Cardiology or know that I was one of the first physicians on the ground in Port Au Prince after the earthquake? (send me your email, and I'll send you the pictures)
But let me bring focus back on my actual point, which is that each dog is an individual and should be treated as such. Why you think my pit will eventually "sink his teeth" into something is beyond me. A dog with a bad temperament who is aggressive to other dogs should be kept locked up, and a dog who is aggressive to people should be destroyed, whatever the breed. But taking a percentage of a small group of dogs (dogs who bite people) does not mean that that percentage applies to the total number of dogs of that breed. To dumb it down for you, if, for example, there are 10,000 pitbulls in the US and there were 600 dog bites with 50% of them being from pits, it would still leave 9,700 pit bulls that had nothing to do with the problem. Oh, and in the CHOP study that you site, 72% of the victims were African American in race. Does that mean that dogs like the taste this race more, or could it merely be a function of the catchment area of the hospital in downtown Philadelphia where the study sample was taken (as pointed out by the authors in the results section of the article)? Could this possibly mean that in a low income environment where dogs are less supervised and well trained and where aggressively raised pit bulls are a status symbol and therefore more prevalent? Nah, its easier to just read the abstract of the article and blame genetics. Of course,as a University employed physician, I have access to the full article and so I can read the authors describe the fact that "these types of dogs with aggressive reputations are popular in crime- and drug-ridden communities" and that "as guard dogs to the criminal element, these dogs may be selected or trained to be violent, bite-prone animals.Children living in these areas may therefore be at higher risk for bite injuries, and these breeds may be unfairly blamed for the bad behavior of their owners." So my "fellow physicians" might just be more advanced thinkers than you give them credit. Did you by chance actually read this whole article?? Again, send me your email address (or a fake one that you can check, whatever) and I will send you the whole article as a PDF. The article also cites a study done in Denver that cites Chow Chows and German Shepherds as the breeds most likely to bite, and an article from Austria cites German Shepherds and Dobermans as the culprits. My point isn't that Shepherds or Chows are bad, but rather that dog behaviors and bites are variables of communities, training, living conditions and owner responsibility and breed specific reactionism is over-simplification and arbitrary generalization. Breed-specific legislation and its "justification" of reasons that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs are pointed out in the article as being from a law journal rather than from a veterinary journal. I don't think there is any conspiracy to get the pits. I just know that my Pit Bull loves nothing more than to lay on his back and let Labs, Wheatens, French bulldogs, and daschunds jump and nibble on him, and I've also treated a little girl in the emergency room who needed reconstructive facial surgery from a daschund bite. I don't blame daschunds, I blame the parents who kept a mean daschund in their house allowed their daughter to, while unsupervised, bring the dog to her face. (See how that works? A horrible situation created by irresponsible humans). Gross generalizations of breeds are the product of simple minds who are looking for simple answers to complex problems.


YesBiscuit! said...

If all Pitbulls and Pitbull mixes were biters and potential killers, I think the number of people defending them would be miniscule. Since the number of people defending them is significant, I would hope the opposing side would at least consider our side. I consider theirs.

Anonymous said...

My HUMAN child was almost killed by a Lab-Shepherd mix when he was younger. The attack was unprovoked, sustained, and extraordinarily vicious, but not unprecedented. The dog had done exactly the same thing, with less severe results, some time before that attack.

I don't hate Labs. I don't hate Shepherds. I don't hate mutts. And neither does my son. (Although we both have a distinct preference for bully breeds.)

What I do hate are oversimplified, ineffective solutions like breed profiling, in part because that was a huge factor in my son's attack. If that dog's owners had taken their dog's previous attack seriously rather than assuming it was a fluke because it was a 'family friendly' breed, maybe my kid wouldn't have scars all over his face today. If that dog had looked like a 'pit bull,' someone would have done something about it before it had the chance to attack another child.

We need to stop focusing on pointless exercises like breed profiling and start focusing on the real circumstances and behaviors that predict dog aggression.

Luisa said...

As the good doctor said, "[D]og behaviors and bites are variables of communities, training, living conditions and owner responsibility and breed specific reactionism is over-simplification and arbitrary generalization."

Big giant amen.

EmilyS said...

I believe that comment from PitsR4Fools sounds like it comes from the vicious fingers of the proprietor of

Sally said...

Big amen to you for your post.

Anonymous said...

just stumbled across this. thought i would offer my 2cents.

I find it interesting that those who have drank the kool-aid often say pit owners are misguided malicious people who feel it's there god given right to own these so called "killing machines." When in reality, as this post proves, their normal people with normal screen names and offer calm well thought out responses. Where as the only one here who seems to be malicious has chosen "pitsr4fools" as his moniker allows his emotions get the best of him. I believe this is the same syndrome that plagues Colleen Lynn of She was bitten by one dog, one time, and has made it her mission to spread hate to anyone that will listen. Move on Colleen. Your arm has healed now allow your heart and mind to do the same. There is always someone else who has it harder than you do.

The only thing I think pitsr4fools is right about is that there is no media conspiracy - popular media has just trained the American public to focus on negative press. The phrase, "if it bleeds it reads" was not pulled from thin air. A lab attacking a child just doesn't sell papers or get ratings. it's simple economics. I should know, I wrote my dissertation on the subject. here's a great link which proves this -

This "pit problem" speaks volumes about the human condition. We chose to create these animals and when we fail them, they receive the blame. The day when people took responsibility for their actions has passed and it is beyond a shame. The greatest attributes these dogs possess is conviction, something we have willingly let slip from our vocabulary.

- Andrew
owner of one lab, pit, and chow/newfoundland. Also one very tough tripedal cat. All rescues and all amazing pets.