Friday, May 11, 2012

Chinese Whispers

Matisse needs love and assurance from you. You must go and caress this dog. Go and caress him! He needs reassurance. Hug him! You have to really HUG him!

Dr von Zimmer, dog psychiatrist, Down and Out in Beverly Hills

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Revised: Jan 16, 2013;16:11 GMT

Last night we decided to enter a time warp, and found ourselves watching the 1986 Paul Mazursky film starring Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler. The evening's diversion relieved us of the tedium of the week's news (which we'll return to momentarily), and as a bonus we were treated to an evening in the company of the Divine Miss M.

In the movie, a dysfunctional family (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler) hires a dog psychiatrist, because their dog Mattise rules. Then Jerry, an alcoholic scoundrel played by Nick Nolte, moves in with the family and instantly bonds with Matisse, and there is no further need of the psychiatrist. The movie doubled as a working holiday, because we were curious to see if the field of veterinary behavior has advanced since the days of Dr von Zimmer.

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The next morning we returned to a harsher reality; we learned that two children have been attacked in recent days by pit bulls in the state of New Mexico, resulting in one death. The animal control and humane society officials repeated the usual banalities, identical to those uttered so often. So far everything is as expected. But then a sentence leapt from the page:
A golden retriever is capable of inflicting just as much damage as a pit bull.
This is a suitable response to the deaths of two children?

I instantly needed a brick wall to pound my forehead against. In a process similar to the parlor game of  Chinese Whispers,* the original pit bull / Golden Retriever equation (that pit bulls show no more aggressive tendencies than Golden Retrievers) has been repeated by dozens of US pit bull advocacy groups, and with each revision there is a new twist on the construction.

Tens of thousands of well-intended people, if not hundreds of thousands, have adopted fighting breeds into their homes as family pets. They have been convinced that fighting breeds are no different from Golden Retrievers.

It's a cruel deception for advocates of fighting breeds to argue that pit bulls are no different from other dogs.  And it is irresponsible for animal welfare professionals to promulgate this deception. All these deceptions lead to mayhem of the kind we've witnessed in New Mexico this week.

These deceptions would be intuitively clear to Jerry; it's Dr von Zimmer who anthropomorphizes, who doesn't understand the dog, and who misleads the family.

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News Source: Las Cruces Sun-News

See Also: Down and Out in Beverly Hills

* Chinese Whispers -- The game is also known as telephone, grapevine, broken telephone, whisper down the lane, KISU KISU (Tamil "grapevine") Развален телефон (Bulgarian for "broken telephone") gossip, secret message, Le téléphone arabe (French for "Arab phone"), Stille Post (German for "Silent Mail"), Gioco del Telefono (Italian for "Telephone Game"), Telefono senza fili (Italian for "Cordless Phone"), Telefone avariado (Portuguese for "Broken Phone"), Głuchy telefon (Polish for "deaf telephone"), Зламаний телефон (Ukrainian for "Broken telephone"), Глуви телефони (Serbian for "deaf telephones"), Telefonul fara fir (Romanian for "Cordless phone"), Сломанный телефон (Russian for "broken telephone"), Rikkinäinen puhelin (Finnish for "Broken telephone"), viskleken (Swedish for "the whispering game"), viskeleken (Norwegian for "the whisper(ing) game"), Tichá pošta (Czech and Slovak for "silent mail") and pass the message. In the United States, "telephone" is the most common name for the game.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks in the US