Friday, December 20, 2013

November Outreach

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Revised: June 3, 2014; 13:47 GMT

On November 11, 2013, 56-year old Anne Murray of Wilton Connecticut was attacked by her 2-year old pit bull. During the attack Mrs. Murray lost one arm at the shoulder and her other arm below the elbow, and her entire body was covered with bites. News accounts which claim that Mrs Murray is recovering are an outrage: Ms Murray will not recover from a mauling which caused the amputation of both arms.

Within days the pit bull outreach effort was underway. The first article (by John Burgeson of the Connecticut Post) appeared five days after the attack, and included 33 glamour shots of pit bulls. Localized versions of the article appeared in Hearst newspapers across Connecticut through the remaining weeks of November.

While these articles were being published Burgeson and Eileen Fitzgerald (of the Danbury News-Times) were preparing for the big time. On December 7 the Associated Press released a version which was picked up by hundreds of newspapers across the country.

National Pit Bull Awareness Day was launched in 2007 by Jodi Preis of Bless the Bullys, a Tennessee pit bull rescue group. October was designated as National Pit Bull Awareness Month in 2011 and has already become an institution, now used primarily as a means of promoting the adoption of pit bulls. During the October outreach campaign animal shelters and humane organizations prevail upon malleable journalists to help promote their pit bull marketing campaign, as happened recently in Boston and elsewhere.1

It now appears that November is the month when those same shelters explain to the public that their facilities remain crowded with surplus pit bulls, despite the October campaigns.

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On December 5th the Chicago Tribune published a feature article by Robert McCoppin. The article gave extensive coverage to the problems of sheltering and adopting out the extraordinary number of surplus pit bulls in the Chicago area. Two days after McCoppin's article appeared two-year old Jah'niyah White died on Chicago's south side after she was attacked by her grandfather's two pit bulls.

The conjunction of Jah'niyah's death with McCoppin's article (as with the Burgeson/Fitzgerald article and the attack in Wilton) illustrates the complexity of writing about pit bulls. Inevitably there will be another attack, and it may happen while your article is going to press.

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The Connecticut articles, for the most part, attempted to present the issue fairly. Burgeson and Fitzgerald interviewed Colleen Lynn (of Dogsbite) at length, but they inevitably segued to comments by pit bull advocates gushing about the sweetness of pit bulls: She's the nicest, sweetest dog you could ever know. It must be next to impossible for journalists to avoid this honey trap.

McCoppin, on the other hand, makes no effort to present both sides of the issue, simply describing at length the efforts to adopt out pit bulls. The article ends with an account of plans by PAWS Chicago founder Paula Fasseas to build a new adoption center in Highland Park, due to open next spring. And closes, inevitably, with Fasseas saying, yes, and they're really sweet dogs.

 All of these recent articles explain only that our shelters are overcrowded, largely with pit bulls, which we've known for decades. (See Shelter Crowding, below.)

Neither McCoppin nor Burgeson and Fitzgerald explain how we arrived at this situation, nor do they suggest what we might do to alleviate the problem. The suggestion seems to be to build more shelters and adopt out more pit bulls. But the First Law of pit bull accounting, as we know from hard experience, holds that the more pit bulls we adopt out, the more pit bulls shelters will be compelled to take in. We could build adoption shelters on every street corner and we would only continue to make the problem worse.

There is a solution. First, we must recognize and accept that we cannot adopt our way out of the problem. An article written in 2011 sets out the problem:
. . . an effective response to pit bull overpopulation must target breeding, and must be legislatively mandated,  since pit bull breeders have proved intransigently resistant to any and all forms of gentle persuasion. . . . . 

“Anything that just brings a heap of dead dogs is another tragic failure – and is basically where we already are,”  ANIMAL PEOPLE editorialized in December 2005.  It is profoundly disappointing that six years later the heap of dead pit bulls is many times higher, while much of the animal advocacy community continues to promote the same policies and practice the same denial that for 25 years have contributed to manufacturing the pit bull crisis.

More adoptions will not end shelter killing of pit bulls;
Animal People, October 2011
Then we must apply the workable, realistic solution we've been avoiding:
Overwhelmed by the pit bull influx at the same time that public expectations have risen that shelters should be “no kill,” the humane community has made unprecedented efforts to avoid killing pit bulls, including promoting the very myths –– such as the fiction that pit bulls were ever used as “nanny dogs” –– that tend to lead to fatal and disfiguring accidents.

Mandatory pit bull sterilization, in effect in San Francisco since 2006, could prevent the impoundment and subsequent deaths of more than 900,000 pit bulls per year nationwide [and] end the desperation of shelter management to avoid killing pit bulls . . .

Stop dogfighting by addressing supply-side economics;
Animal People, November 20, 2013
* * * * * * * * *

Interactive map of Illinois fatal pit bull attacks, with supporting data,
courtesy of

For full details and larger map go to 
Illinois Fatal Pit Bull Maulings -

* * * * *
1 Rising Pit Bull Adoptions Reflect Breed's Changing Image 
   Boston Globe, October 7, 2013

We are grateful to for use of the interactive map of Illinois pit bull attacks. To view other interactive state maps go to Dogsbite's State Pit Bull Fatality Maps.

Sources: Wilton, CT
Woman loses both hands during pit bull attack
   WTNH News 8, November 12, 2013
Pit bulls dominate shelters
   Connecticut Post, November 16, 2013 (by John Burgeson)
   with 33 glamour photos of pit bulls
Pit bulls dominate shelters
   Stamford Advocate, November 22, 2013 (by John Burgeson)
   also with 33 photographs
   Norwich Bulletin, November 23, 2013 (By John Barry)
   NBC Connecticut, November 25, 2013
   Danbury News-Times, November 30, 2013
   By John Burgeson and Eileen FitzGerald
   Associated Press, December 7, 2013
   By Eileen FitzGerald and John Burgeson

Sources: Chicago:
A painful Christmas for family of child killed by dog
   Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2013
Pit bull overload floods shelters, strains rescuers
   Chicago Tribune, December 5, 2013
What about proposed animal control changes?
   Galesburg Register-Mail, November 22, 2013
Pit bull mix is euthanized after attacking pound worker
   Chicago Tribune, November 3, 2013
Animal Control Worker Seriously Injured In Pit Bull Attack
   CBS2 Chicago, November 2, 2013
64-year-old Chicago woman attacked by 3 pit bulls, may lose leg
   Allvoices, October 20, 2013
Woman, Chihuahua Attacked By Three Pit Bulls
   CBS2 Chicago, October 18, 2013
Man Critically Injured After Pit Bulls Attack
   NBC5 Chicago, September 1, 2013
Peorian recounts terror of pit bull attack
   Peoria Journal-Star, March 23, 2013

Shelter Crowding:
   American Statesman, May 14, 2012
   Animal Medical Center of Southern California
   Miami Herald, July 25, 2013
   Kansas City Star, June 26, 2012

Related Posts:
Pimping pit bulls
Index of Illinois Posts
Timeline of pit bull attacks in Illinois

Other Resources:
Pit Bull Attacks and Dogfighting in Illinois
Pit bull attacks: Chicago

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 in the US