Monday, November 18, 2013


On November 4th, 2013, an alarming article appeared in The National Review. The article by Charles C. W. Cooke appeared under a title sure to raise the blood pressure of anyone who has ever looked into the eyes of an adorable puppy: Puppycide. 

Cooke is one of the young Turks of the Libertarian movement. He makes regular appearances as a talking head on right-leaning TV programs and writes a column for The National Review. What could have motivated him (or the Editors) to devote valuable space in TNR to an animal welfare issue when he could just as well have been piling on the health care debacle instead?

Charles C. W. Cooke

Animals and politics often make strange bedfellows, but there is more to this story than meets the eye.

* * * * *

The origins of the article lie in the efforts by an obscure libertarian filmmaker to fund a film about the shooting of dogs by police. Patrick Reasonover, the producer/director/auteur of a proposed film with the working title of Puppycide, launched a fundraising campaign on the crowdsourcing service Kickstarter.1   Reasonover set a fundraising goal of $100,000 and the campaign was set to run for 25 days, from October 21 through November 15. If fundraising failed to reach the $100,000 goal the pledges would be returned to the donors.

News of the proposed film filtered out to libertarian blogs and the contributions dribbled in.  As the campaign clock ticked Reasonover worked the phones, email, and airwaves to speed up donations. The people given to wearing tin foil hats tuned in.2  Supporters posted notices like the following blog post on Living Freedom:
I received an email update from them today saying that anybody who donates $150 or more will now get all of these items:
  • This Just Announced Hoodie
  • Signed Movie Poster
  • Bandana and Frisbee
  • DVD of finished film
  • Bumper sticker
  • Digital download of the finished film
  • And campaign updates
* * * * *

The momentum began to build and several mainstream media outlets published stories about the fundraising campaign. Radley Balko pitched the film in the Huffington Post. A piece appeared in an online version of The Atlantic. As the campaign wore on Reasonover finally received coverage in the crown jewel of the libertarian media, The National Review.

You might ask yourself if there's more to this story than a libertarian perspective of animal welfare. The answer is yes: the story is really about pit bulls, cop haters, and a libertarian magazine called Reason.

Balko, who pitched Puppycide in the Huffington Post, is the author of two books critical of the police and is a former writer for Reason. He is also interviewed in the film. Riggs, the author of the piece in The Atlantic, is also a former associate editor at Reason. The Reason index shows dozens of articles about pit bulls, Breed Specific Legislation, and puppycide. At least five of the articles, about the shooting of dogs by police, use the following manipulative image as an icon:

Reason is an incubator for anti-cop journalists. The writers are willing to use any subject, including animal welfare, as long as it includes an anti-cop angle.

* * * * *

But are libertarians interested in animal rights? An analysis of the Reason articles shows that is far from true. Reason simply found a nascent issue which provides a platform for their anti-police posture, one which unfairly exploits the passion of millions of true animal welfare advocates. The Huffington Post and The National Review were both used, perhaps unwittingly, as platforms by the cop-hating fringe of the libertarian movement.

There is no recorded case of police shooting a puppy; neither The Huffington Post nor The National Review offered a clarification of this critical point. Their tacit acceptance of such an explosive term is reminiscent of the old days of yellow journalism. The libertarian publications failed to mention how often law enforcement officers are confronted by fighting breeds.
Proponents of laws requiring police and sheriff’s deputies to be trained in dog behavior note that U.S. law enforcement officers shot at least 210 dogs in the first four months of 2013, contending that many of the shootings were avoidable. ANIMAL PEOPLE confirmed 33 of the shootings, which targeted 31 pit bulls and two Rottweilers. The dogs had killed more than 70 other animals, and killed or injured 28 people. Among the injured were nine police officers, three animal control officers, and a police dog.3
Police have, on rare occasions, shot innocent dogs. Rather than treating these shootings as unfortunate accidents, and acknowledging the dangerous situations that law enforcement officers face, some libertarians have exploited the issue for their own political ends.

Puppycide is not an animal welfare film; it is an anti-cop polemic.

* * * * *

1 Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, content, or funding by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, especially from an online community.
2 . . . the use of the term has been associated with paranoia and conspiracy theories. The supposed reasons for their use include the prevention of perceived harassment from governments, spies or paranormal beings. (Wikipedia, Tin foil hat)
3 Excerpted from a comment in response to the article in The National Review. The comment was posted by Merritt Clifton on Monday November 4, 2013; 2:22 pm.

   The National Review, November 4, 2013
Kickstarter Campaign Seeks Funding for Puppycide Documentary
   Huffington Post, October 29, 2013
Is a Pet Dog Really Killed by a Police Officer Every 98 Minutes?
   The Atlantic Cities, October 24, 2013

Other sources:
Puppycide page at Kickstarter
Ozymandias Media; index of articles about police shooting of pit bulls
Dogs Shot by Cops, Animal Legal Defense Fund

Libertarian Media:
A call to action to end unaccountable shootings
   23hgold, November 17, 2013
Puppycide documentary moves forward
   Cato Institute, November 14, 2013
Puppycide Kickstarter campaign; the last three days
   Living Freedom, November 12, 2013
   Silver Doctors, November 11, 2013
Police shooting of thousands of dogs in America
   Liberty Rising Radio, November 11, 2013 (40 minute audio interview)
Puppycide: Can a documentary save lives?
   Police State USA, November 11, 2013
CA Residents Protest Puppycide
   The Lisbon Reporter, October 23, 2013
“Puppycide” Documentary Seeks to End National Tragedy
   NH Insider, October 22, 2013

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.