Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pimping Pit Bulls

To: James Burnett, Doug Most, The Boston Globe

We are writing to correct a number of misrepresentations in your article, Rising Pit Bull Adoptions Reflect Breed's Changing Image (Boston Globe, October 7, 2013).

The fact that your article appeared during the MSPCA's annual "Pit Bull Awareness" month comes as no surprise. Similar articles appear routinely and they are written as a result of outreach on the part of the pit bull advocacy groups such as MSPCA. Your article has become part of that outreach.

There have been at least twenty documented fatal dog attacks on humans so far in 2013; pit bulls have committed 19 of the 20 fatal attacks. Disfiguring pit bull attacks, including those which cause amputation and other grievous injury, are estimated to run to ten times the number of those killed.

Despite these figures many of the humane societies, the SPCAs, and the major animal welfare organizations continue to advocate for fighting breeds.

A full explanation of why our humane institutions continue to advocate for fighting breeds is beyond the scope of this article. Briefly, these institutions are caught in a zero-sum game of adoption, no-kill, euthanasia, and the public perception of animal welfare. The history of pit bull advocacy is long and complex, and these institutions have been slow to correct their mistakes.

Lengthy articles about the changing image of pit bulls have been appearing in the nation's newspapers and magazines for decades, which makes us wonder how much more the image can be changed. This trend reached an apex with a recent article in Time Magazine.1 The article was graced with six billboard-sized studio photographs of pit bulls shot against pastel backgrounds. With your article The Globe has become part of this public relations campaign.

* * * * *

Among those interviewed in your article are Gary Patronek of Tufts University and Harrison Forbes, an author, canine behaviorist, and ardent pit bull advocate. Dr. Patronek claims he has
seen so many examples of non-pit bull attacks that he has been encouraging people for more than two decades to stop measuring dog behavior and risk by breed.
Dr. Patronek must be thinking of the countless routine bites which cause abrasions and sometimes puncture wounds, while ignoring the fact that pit bulls are responsible for 96% of the fatal attacks on humans this year. Dr Patronek's failure to make this distinction demonstrates a fundamental lapse of judgment.

* * * * *

You refer to two maulings by dogs other than pit bulls, apparently to prove that any dog can be as dangerous as a pit bull. The two examples you chose actually serve to undercut your argument.
1/ . . . a black lab in Denver nearly ripped a boy’s scalp off in what the boy’s father and dog’s owner said was an unprovoked attack
The source for this quotation is not cited and the source is in error; Denver hasn't experienced a fatal or disfiguring dog attack in nearly 30 years,2 since Breed Specific Legislation banning pit bulls was introduced. Some Denver suburbs have experienced disfiguring attacks, but none by black Labs in the past several years. There have been a total of six attacks by black labs since 2008, none of which occurred in Denver.
2/ . . . a golden retriever-Labrador mix fatally mauled a 2-month old baby in South Carolina
Your decision to mention the attack on Aiden McGrew in Ridgeville, SC, on Friday, April 20, 2012, is surprising, since little about either the attacking dog or the incident itself is known with certainty.

There were two dogs in the house at the time of Aiden's death, one of which was subsequently euthanized. Nine months after Aiden's death a second child of Quinten and Chantel McGrew, a two year old boy, was also mauled and received significant wounds. Circumstances suggest that the dog which attacked the two-year old in January of 2013 is the same dog which killed Aiden nine months earlier.

In the months between the two attacks on their sons the McGrews had their surviving children removed by DSS three times, and were charged in separate cases with negligence, pornography, and theft. Quinten McGrew, the designated babysitter at the time of the attack, was asleep in the house at the time of his son's death. The McGrews are not credible witnesses.

At the time of Aiden's death one of the dogs had been with the McGrews for only two weeks; the circumstances under which the McGrews had this dog have been variously explained as borrowing, babysitting, or fostering, all of which are euphemisms used by dogmen and dogfighters. Aiden was the third toddler killed by a dog in Dorchester County in recent years; the other two are known to have been killed by pit bulls. In May of this year a double-amputee, 80- year old Carlton Freeman, was pulled from his wheelchair and killed by pit bulls, making Dorchester County one of the most deadly pit bull counties in the country.

Advocates of fighting breeds are given to using unsubstantiated and incorrect accounts of attacks by breeds other than pit bulls, to somehow imply that other dogs are vicious. The Globe has fallen prey to promulgating this bizarre deception.

* * * * *

Your mention of these two attacks, both of which are said to have occurred outside of Boston and Massachusetts, and both of which are unsubstantiated, is bewildering. On the other hand, your decision to omit any mention of actual, verified pit bull attacks, many of which did occur in Boston,4, 5 must be considered an intentional deception rather than an omission. In addition, you cite several advocates of fighting breeds but failed to consult a single expert who could have presented a different perspective.

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In your article a great deal is made of the fact that we’re seeing more Coldwell families owning pit bulls these days.

Thirty years ago pit bulls comprised roughly 1-2% of the canine population, and only one human a year was killed in a fatal dog attack. Pit bulls now comprise roughly six percent of the canine population, and pit bulls have killed over twenty people a year for the last decade. The number of attacks by pit bulls nearly trebled from 2002 to 2011. Nearly a third of all pit bull attacks causing permanent disfigurements during the last three decades have occurred in the last two years.

The reason we're seeing more pit bulls in the suburbs is not because pit bulls have suddenly become safe to live with, but because of the intense advocacy and marketing efforts on the part of pit bull advocacy groups. Your article and countless others like it has enabled the proliferation of fighting breeds and will add to their legacy of grief and misery.

* * * * *


Time Magazine, July 22, 2013
The article goes by two different titles:
The Softer Side of Pit Bulls; A Reviled Breed Gets a Makeover, and
The Great Pit Bull Makeover; A Look at the Campaign to Redeem the Reputation of a Feared Breed

2 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.

3 South Carolina fatal pit bull attacks

4 City leaders outraged over law that allows pit bulls to be unmuzzled

5 Pit bull attacks have residents concerned

Other statistics:
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.

The Attack on Aiden McGrew
After recent dog bite, McGrew children back in State care
   Post and Courier, January 12, 2013
Another child of McGrews attacked by family dog
   Post and Courier, January 9, 2013
Father of infant killed by dog released on personal recognizance
   Post and Courier, May 2, 2012
Father charged in death of son mauled by dog
   Associated Press, May 2, 2012
Dogs in Ridgeville home where infant was mauled lacked vaccinations
   Post and Courier, April 28, 2012
Infant boy killed when mauled by family dog as father slept
   Post and Courier, April 21, 2912
Baby found mauled
   Summerville Journal Scene, April 20, 2012
Dog killed, dismembered SC 2-month old
   Associated Press, April 20, 2012

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks