Friday, August 9, 2013

LA Times Opinion

or, The LA Times Unopinion  *
Revised: August 9, 2013, 22:53 GMT
Revised: August 10, 2013; 21:17 GMT
Revised: August 11, 2013; 15:09 GMT
Revised: February 24, 2014; 17:53 GMT

On August 25, 1987, the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times published an opinion suggesting that the traditional one-bite rule does not provide adequate protection for the public from pit bulls. In essence, the Times called for Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) before the term existed.**

On May 9, 2013, Pamela Marie Devitt was attacked and killed by four pit bulls 65 miles outside of LA in the Antelope Valley. On the following day, in an act of journalistic contempt, the Times published an article on the editorial page in defense of pit bulls. The same writer published a second article promoting pit bulls on May 16th and a third on July 10th.

The Times' journalists have provided stellar coverage of the attack on Ms Devitt and on the subsequent arrest of Alex Donald Jackson, the pit bulls' owner. Mr Jackson pleaded Not Guilty to the charge of second degree murder on August 8th. But the editorial writers have ignored the articles their colleagues in the newsroom published.

The Times Op-Ed page has now come full circle. In an editorial timed to coincide with Mr Jackson's August 8th arraignment and signed by The Times Editorial Board, the Times has fully repudiated the 1987 warnings against pit bulls.

The Times (and other advocates) are fond of mentioning that many pit bulls live without incident as gentle pets. These advocates ignore more salient facts. 321 humans have been killed or disfigured by dogs thus far during calendar year 2013; 316 of those attacks were by pit bulls. 16 of the attacks have caused human fatalities, 15 of those deaths were caused by pit bulls.***

California leads the nation in fatal pit bull attacks with 25% of the nation's total. To omit this essential information in an editorial opinion on pit bulls is tantamount to a lie of omission.

What does the Times suggest as a remedy? The editors of the editorial page urge stronger punishment for careless owners of aggressive dogs. This ex post facto approach to stopping pit bull attacks has been recommended by pit bull advocates for three decades, and the attacks have only accelerated. The intent is to focus attention away from the offending animal by implying that the owners are to blame.

The editors go on to say there are other ways, through guidelines and local ordinances, to identify and restrict potentially dangerous dogs of any breed. Have the editors forgotten that counties already have these dangerous dog laws (with various gradations of potentially dangerous, dangerous, and vicious dogs), and these laws haven't stopped the attacks? The only effect seems to be to delay and clog the courts before ultimately returning the offending pit bull to the safety and comfort of its home.

Finally, the editors note that the Department of Animal Care and Control performs "temperament tests" on all dominant dogs — pit bulls, Dobermans, chows and a few others — to determine how aggressive they are, as if these "tests" (observations are often by shelter workers, many of whom are pit bull advocates) would eliminate the danger. The editors ignore that such tests are unable to reveal the particular type of idiopathic rage that pit bulls are subject to. Nearly half of the people killed by pit bulls this year were killed by their own much-loved family pets, which had not previously shown aggression.

The editors claim that pit bulls, In the past, . . . have sometimes been bred for dogfighting. This statement would surprise the HSUS,  the ASPCA, and other animal welfare groups that struggle against dogfighting. Nearly everyone who has two arms and a nose is aware that dogfighting continues to plague the nation. Those who follow animal welfare news are surely aware of the recent and ongoing FBI dogfighting efforts, some of which result in arrests of extensive dogfighting rings. Nearly every pit bull that exists and is adopted out is one, two, or at most three generations from a fighting bloodline. This dogfighting statement from the editors demonstrates a blinding, willful ignorance.

For a lesson in courageous journalism the current editors could look to their predecessors of 26 years ago, who had the foresight to write:
Control animals and remove those that threaten public safety before they attack, not after. 

* * * * *

* We have been advised by the editors of LanguageLog that unopinion is acceptable usage. With thanks to Laurence Horn of Yale University.
** The 1987 opinion was published during the tenure of Anthony Day, who as editor of the editorial page led the Times to excellence. Among other encomiums in his 2007 obituary was the observation that he produced works of courage and unswerving honesty.

Are pit bulls a menace?
   (Opinion by the LA Times Editorial Board, August 8, 2013)
Biting back at pit bulls
  (Opinion by the LA Times Editorial Board, August 25, 1987)

Other Recent LA Times Opinions:
Michael Vick's prize pit bull, and how he became a loving pet
   LA Times, Carla Hall, July 10, 2013
Where my dog's at
   LA Times, Jessica Naziri, May 19, 2013
Hey haters, people love dogs
   LA Times, Alexandra Le Tellier, May 17, 2013
LA County's Dilemma
   LA Times, Carla Hall, May 16, 2013
The Gift of a great dog
   LA Times, Meghan Daum, May 16, 2013
Pit bulls in trouble again
    LA Times, Carla Hall, May 10, 2013

LA County beefs up response to vicious dogs
    LA Times, June 25, 2013

Related Posts:
Into the Wormhole (SRUV, May 20th, 2013)
Hotel California (Index of SRUV posts on California)
California Timeline (Recent pit bull attacks in California)

Related Material:
Animal People. Pg 9
Overview of "breed specific" laws, Kenneth Phillips, Dog Bite Law

*** Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here. This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

Information on euthanasia rates is from Pit bulls and Political Recklessness, by Merritt Clifton. Shelter  intake and euthanasia rates are published annually in the July/August edition of Animal People.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks