Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mendacity at the Highest Levels

There actually is no such thing as a pure-breed pit bull.
 It's not a breed of dog.

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Revised: Mar 10, 2013; 17:28 GMT
Revised: Dec 26, 2013; 20:40 GMT

On April 26 2012 the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a ruling which established a strict liability standard in respect to the owning, harboring, or control of pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls. On August 21 the Court issued a revised ruling, which deleted any reference to cross-breds, pit bull mix, or cross-bred pit bull mix.

Shortly after the revised ruling was issued a blizzard of misinformation about pit bull breed identification appeared in the press. Dozens of papers published misleading claims by pit bull advocacy groups. We have belatedly identified the genesis of the rumors. On the same day that the Court issued its revised ruling (Aug 21) an article appeared in the Baltimore Sun. The article, which analyzed the ruling, included the following lines:
"There actually is no such thing as a pure-breed pit bull," said Cory Smith, a senior director with the Humane Society of the United States. "It's not a breed of dog."
  -- Cory Smith, Senior Director Pets for Life, HSUS
Ms Smith's claim would surprise the United Kennel Club, which registers pure bred pit bulls (as the American Pit Bull Terrier). It would also surprise the American Kennel Club, which also registers pure bred pit bulls (as the American Staffordshire Terrier). Proof that these two breed names refer to essentially the same dog, and that both names are equivalent to the generic term pit bull, can easily be verified by checking  pit bull breeder web sites, where numerous dogs are cross-registered in both clubs. It is not unusual for a single dog to be registered with the UKC as an American Pit Bull Terrier and with the AKC as an American Staffordshire Terrier; and the breeders call them pit bulls.

In addition, animal welfare advocates themselves across the country refer to pit bulls, whether pure-bred or cross-bred, as pit bulls. Owners, shelters, and rescues all refer to these dogs using the generic term pit bulls. The people who own them or write about them call them pit bulls. The people who fight them call them pit bulls.  HSUS itself uses the term pit bulls hundreds or thousands of times, to refer to pure-bred and cross-bred pit bulls without distinguishing between them. Ms Smith is mendacious when claiming that pit bulls are not a breed.

In the last two months a pit bull has killed a human every 9½ days (see below). For attorneys and legislators and animal welfare executives to sit behind desks and dissemble while mayhem goes on outside their doors is insanity.

A Google check of Ms Smith's claim demonstrates how the phrase gained traction and reverberated through serious journalism as well as the blogosphere. This idea gained such wide currency that SRUV titled our collection of Maryland articles State of Denial. That a Senior Director of the HSUS would resort to false claims in support of fighting breeds serves as an indictment of the HSUS at the highest levels of management.

Though Ms Smith is first quoted in the Aug 21 2012 Baltimore Sun article, neither the Sun nor any of the dozens of other publications which subsequently carried her claim provide a context for her remarks. Was it offered in Senate or House hearings? Was it originally in a HSUS press release, circulated to journalists and advocacy groups? The journalists who first published this claim (Michael Dresser and Jill Rosen of the Sun) deserve an apology and an explanation from Ms Smith. The public has a right to know the origins of this falsehood.

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This post is one of a series on the Maryland pit bull conundrum. To view the index of all Maryland posts click here.

*  In a recent 57 day period (Jan 8 through Mar 6, 2013) there were six fatal pit bull attacks, all of which were committed by family pit bulls. See Fatal Pit Bull Attacks

Statistics are from Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here.

Pit bull bill compromise unravels
   (Baltimore Sun, March 8, 2013)
Court partly backs off pit bull ruling
   (Baltimore Sun, August 21, 2012)

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks

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