Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Tipping Point

The Annotated Cultural Bibliography of Pit Bull Journalism

In six sections:

Argumentum ad misericordiam (forthcoming)

* * * * *

We have experienced near constant social upheaval over the last five decades.

The treatment of our canine companions is among the more obvious of the changes in the cultural gestalt. The change for one type of dog, pit bulls, is of a different order altogether than the changes for dogs in general.

Fifty years ago pit bulls were sometimes referred to by those who knew them best, the dogmen, as the Breed of Obsession. Within the last twenty years, pit bulls have morphed from the favorite dog of thugs and criminals to the Breed of Obsession of the HSUS, the APSCA, the AKC, the ALDF, the AFF, the AVMA, and thousands of other groups that favor the unregulated proliferation of pit bulls.1

Pit bulls are accorded a status that no other dog breed enjoys. Deep-pocket advocacy groups spend millions of dollars lobbying city, county, and state governments in their behalf. No other dog breed enjoys this attention; indeed, no other species in the animal kingdom receives this attention.2  Pit bulls are the fortunate recipients of this special status in spite of the fact that yearly they are responsible for nearly 30 fatal attacks on humans and thousands of fatal attacks on companion animals.

There have been at least four seminal events which helped raise the status of pit bulls during our lifetime. Any one of the four might have led to significant changes in the canine cultural gestalt.

* * * * *

1989: California BSL Preemption

After two years of trying to introduce state-wide BSL regulating pit bulls, California became the first state in the union to prohibit municipalities from adopting BSL in 1989. SRUV examined the tortured history of the legislation in Preemption. Since passage of SB 428 California has witnessed 37 known fatal pit bull attacks (through the end of calendar year 2013), more than any other state. California was followed by Texas, which also preempts BSL, with 35 known fatal pit bull attacks through the end of 2013.

* * * * *

2005: Hurricane Katrina

August 23 - 29, 2005. The PBS show Nature estimated that 250,000 animals were abandoned; one humane officer estimated that as many as 10,000 animals were rescued. As part of the rescue effort mounted by HSUS and other humane organizations, pit bulls from New Orleans found their way to every corner of the country. A colleague of this writer flew to New Orleans and returned home with at least two pit bulls. The hurricane also opened the floodgates for pit bull advocacy articles.

* * * * *

2006: Troublemakers

The publication of Troublemakers by Malcolm Gladwell (New Yorker, Feb 6, 2006). Gladwell is a brilliant cultural observer,3 author, and pit bull advocate whose New Yorker article has been monumentally influential. His argument that pit bulls are not human-aggressive is demonstrably false, though advocates continue to make the claim. Gladwell, like many writers since, ignored the fact or failed to acknowledge that pit bulls have killed more humans than any other breed, by a disproportionate measure. Many animal welfare advocates were convinced by Gladwell's primary argument: that pit bulls are stigmatized by profiling, just as some humans apparently are. Gladwell does not explain whether the dog suffers from feeling stigmatized; how could Gladwell know this? It is not clear but we must assume that Gladwell means the human companions of pit bulls feel "stigmatized" by their association with their pit bulls.

Gadwell's 2006 article reflects the cultural stresses of the first years of the millennium. Race and gender studies had entered the university curriculum in the previous decades. Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Studies were established at Yale University in 2001 (LGBT). Indiana created the first gender studies Ph.D. program in 2005. Diversity and Identity Studies was launched at Ohio State in 2006. Programs expanded to include Queer studies at Colorado (LGBTQ). These academic fields eventually became known collectively as Identity Studies, and Gladwell's Troublemakers is best seen as a reflection of the burgeoning influence of  this academic discipline. A review of recent dissertations in the Cultural Bibliography reveals just how closely aligned pit bull politics are with the politics of identity studies.4, 5, 6

What is a fitting response to Gladwell's claim that pit bulls (or their owners) are stigmatized? When an individual volunteers to become stigmatized, as pit bull owners clearly do, there are probably personal reasons for adopting the stigma.

It may be decades before we fully understand the cultural madness of pit bull advocacy. Troublemakers does not further our inquiry. Gladwell's article is over-the-top political correctness which has become advocacy gospel.

* * * * *

2007: Michael Vick

The arrest of Michael Vick as a result of a search warrant executed on April 25, 2007. Vick's arrest resulted in an explosion of interest in dogfighting by amateurs, coupled with a tsunami of pit bull advocacy by deep pocket humane institutions, including the HSUS. Dogfighters and animal advocates became unwitting bedfellows, both factions exploiting the Breed of Obsession for their own ends. This dynamic, following the events of the previous two years, created a dysfunctional advocacy juggernaut on a scale previously unheard of.

Since Vick's arrest thousands of pit bull advocacy groups have organized. Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS estimates there may be as many as ten thousand animal advocacy organizations. The great majority of these groups are devoted to pit bull advocacy.

* * * * *


1 The groups listed here would doubtless claim this is unfair hyperbole. We make this claim based on the fact that all of these organizations are opposed to breed specific legislation which mandat spaying or neutering of pit bulls.

2 With the possible exception of nearly extinct wild species such as elephants, polar bears, gray wolves, black rhinos, and the California Condor.

3 Gladwell is also the author of The Tipping Point (Little, Brown 2000), the bestseller about cultural change.

4 Gladwell was also a participant in the recent Emory University course The Dividing Lines: Pit bulls, Identity, and Community. See Emory at Risk.

5 See also Harlan Weaver, the current scholar at the Animals & Society Institute. Mr Weaver's dissertation is included in the Cultural Bibliography and his post-doctoral project, "'Dangerous' Dogs and the Fuzzy Sciences of Animal Profiling" combines animal shelter fieldwork, science and technology studies, animal studies, critical race theories, queer theories, and feminist studies.

6 SRUV would like to acknowledge Barbara Kay of the National Post for this observation.

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 32+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

Record 33 fatal pit bull attacks & 459 disfigurements in 2015

Pit bulls killed 24,000 other dogs & 13,000 cats in 2015

2015 Dog Bite Related Fatalities (Daxton's Friends)

Fatal Pit Bull Attacks

Today's pit bull attacks

SRUV uses the definition of "pit bull" as found in the Omaha Municipal Code Section 6-163. As pit bulls are increasingly crossed with exotic mastiffs, Catahoula Leopard Dogs and other breeds, the vernacular definition of "pit bull" must be made even more inclusive.

Sources cited by news media sometimes refer to "Animal Advocates" or sometimes "Experts." In many cases these words are used to refer to single-purpose pit bull advocates who have never advocated for any other breeds or species of animals. Media would be more accurate to refer to these pit bull advocates as advocates of fighting breeds.

Similarly, in many cases pit bull advocates refer to themselves as "dog lovers" or "canine advocates" and media often accepts this usage. The majority of these pit bull advocates are single-purpose advocates of fighting breeds.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Attitudes Soften

Revised: March 19, 2014; 02:22 GMT
Revised: March 19, 2014; 14:03 GMT

On March 11th, 2014, an article by Associated Press author Bill Draper appeared on the AP "Big Story" web page. Within days Attitudes and laws against pit bulls soften1 appeared in hundreds of thousands of news outlets.

While the article is a balanced presentation of the contentious issue of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and preemption, it gives the distinct impression that BSL is an anachronism. The article includes a number of misrepresentations and omissions which, had they been included, would have left a far different impression.

For example, the author quotes Lisa Peterson of The American Kennel Club:
Lawmakers are realizing that targeting dogs based on their breed or what they look like is not a solution to dealing with dangerous dogs.
It is our understanding that the AKC represents dog breeders. If the AKC were to parse the logic of their current policy of lobbying against BSL in any form, they would discover they are actually promoting back-yard breeders over their own paying membership of breeders. Over the last ten years, while the AKC has lobbied against BSL, the number of back-yard bred pit bulls has ballooned while the number of AKC registered dogs has declined precipitously.2 BSL would ideally lower the number of back-yard bred pit bulls. Pit bulls from back-yard breeders are the dogs which end up in shelters and are finding homes, many of them in place of the bred dogs that the AKC supposedly represents.3

One third of the pit bull population enter shelters every year. While many of these dogs are adopted out into family homes, nearly a million pit bulls are euthanized every year. The policies of the AKC (and others who lobby against BSL) contribute to the inhumane tragedy of mass euthanasia.

Ms Peterson's unsupported assertion that BSL is not the solution to dealing with dangerous dogs has been proven wrong over and over, wherever well-written breed-specific legislation has been enacted and enforced. It is time for the AKC to extricate themselves from this political no-win situation.

* * * * *
The dogs' foes complain that their message is being drowned out by a well-funded, well-organized lobbying effort in state capitols.
This statement from the article begs to be explained. It is inaccurate to label those who argue for BSL simply as the dogs' foes. Many of those who advocate for BSL are city, county, and state legislators who hope to improve public safety in their communities. Many are animal welfare advocates who would like to lower euthanasia rates by limiting the breeding of back-yard pit bulls. Many are animal welfare advocates who would like to reduce the number of pit bull attacks on our More Vulnerable Animal Companions, attacks which number in the thousands each year.

The industry which lobbies to overturn or preempt BSL has vowed to spend whatever it takes to win. The amount spent easily runs to seven figures, even without tallying the salaries of career pit bull advocates who serve as legislative liaisons, legislative analysts, staff attorneys, and IT experts dedicated solely to pit bulls. Some of the money comes from donations to humane societies, from members of the public who do not realize that their donations are spent advocating for fighting breeds. And some of the money comes from deep-pocket pit bull benefactors. Why is so much treasure and time spent on advocating for the type of dog that kills a human at least once every two weeks?  Suivez l'argent à la trace.4 The money trail might lead an investigative reporter like Seymore Hersh to a Pulitzer Prize exposé.

* * * * *
The [Missouri] state Senate is considering a comparable bill, as are lawmakers in Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Vermont and Maryland.
The author fails to mention that Denver has maintained their BSL for 28 years, despite numerous changes of city government and incessant, heavily financed campaigns to overthrow it. The author fails to mention that Miami-Dade overwhelmingly voted to maintain their BSL, in spite of a massive repeal campaign which was monitored on a minute-by-minute basis by Ledy Van Kavage. The author fails to mention that communities in California and Florida, both of which preempt BSL, have discussed amending the state laws, or defying them.

The author also fails to mention the consequences in states that do preempt BSL, and what Missouri can expect if the preemption legislation passes. California, the first state to preempt BSL, now has the highest number of fatal pit bull attacks. In addition, states which preempt BSL pay dramatically higher insurance costs. According to an article from Animal People,
State Farm Insurance on May 17, 2013 disclosed that California, Illinois, Texas, and Ohio rated first through fourth in insurance claims paid for dog attacks in 2011. State Farm paid $20.3 million to 527 victims in California, $10 million to 309 victims in Illinois, $5.1 million to 219 victims in Texas, and $5.4 million to 215 victims in Ohio. The numbers of victims in California were 30% greater in 2011 than in 2010. The payout in California increased 31%, State Farm spokesperson Eddie Martinez told Sue Manning of Associated Press. A rival firm, Farmers Group Inc., in February 2013 notified shareholders that it would no longer insure pit bulls, Rottweilers, and wolf hybrids under homeowners and renters policies in California.

Nationally, said Insurance Information Institute representative Loretta Worters, the insurance industry paid dog attack victims $479 million in 2011, up 15% from $413 million in 2010, and up by more than half since 2006.

The numbers of attacks and amounts of payout increased twice as fast in states that prohibit breed-specific ordinances.5
And finally, the author fails to mention that the reason so many states have passed preemption is because the advocates of fighting breeds realize that public sentiment is not on their side. Polls have consistently shown that over 60% of the public do not want to live next door to a pit bull. The advocates of fighting breeds cannot appeal directly to the electorate, but they have ready access to state legislatures, which are easily overwhelmed by the persistent, intimidating lobbying of pit bull advocates.

* * * * *

1 Attitudes and Laws Against Pit Bulls Soften; Bill Draper, Associated Press, March 11, 2014. The AP url address bar carried the phrase US pit bulls rethinking bans.
2 AKC bred dogs now represent only about 15% of the canine population. See American Humane Assoc. Pet Population Fact Sheet.
3 See The AKC Self-Destructs
4 Follow the money trail.
5 Animal People, July 22, 2013

Preemption and Insurance

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks


Monday, March 10, 2014

A Cultural Bibliography

The Annotated Cultural Bibliography of Pit Bull Journalism

In six sections:

Argumentum ad misericordiam (forthcoming)

* * * * *

Revised: March 13, 2014; 21:31 GMT
Revised: March 13, 2014; 22:56 GMT
Revised: March 17, 2014; 18:05 GMT
Revised: April 25, 2014; 04:04 GMT
Revised: July 2, 2014; 20:48 GMT

From the start of our lives together, our relationship to dogs has told us something about ourselves: what we have valued, how we have behaved, and our connection to the natural world and to our animal selves.
   ~Sue Halpern, What Makes Dogs Dogs
      New York Review of Books (March 21, 2013)

The fierceness and impacted rage in some of these disputes suggested to me they were about something else, and they are: the politics of dogs are a reflection, distilled and distorted, of the politics of people. They're surrogates for our own conflicts, being fought by conservatives and radicals of many stripes, all trying desperately to put their own ideological stamp on the future of dog.
   ~John Homans, What's A Dog For?

* * * * * 

Mork and Mindy arrived from Mars in the early 1980s.1 They stayed a few years, read the newspapers and magazines, and learned about the Earthlings. Then they returned to the planet Ork.

During the years Mork was on Earth our country experienced the first wave of fatal pit bull attacks. In the 1980s newspapers and magazines published a steady stream of articles that warned America of the dangers that pit bulls presented to the public. Health professionals and legal analysts contributed to the knowledge base. The written record shows that our country was coming to terms with the plague we had brought upon ourselves.

If Mork had returned to Earth a generation later, in the early years of the new millennium, he would have found a very different situation. Newspapers continued to publish articles about maulings, and increasingly, of fatal pit bull attacks. But through the first decade of the new millennium (and continuing to the present) there was also a rising chorus of articles which defended pit bulls, articles that described how wonderful pit bulls are with children, how they are gentle, misunderstood dogs and are disliked only by uninformed, biased haters.

The journalists, veterinarians, and legal scholars writing in the early 80s, when fatal pit bull attacks never averaged more than one a year, warned the public of an impending public safety crisis. Fatal pit bull attacks now average 30 a year and many journalists, veterinarians, and animal legal scholars are seemingly unaware of any danger.

* * * * * 

Throughout the 80s, while the first articles began to warn the public about pit bulls, a nascent pit bull advocacy campaign was also taking shape. Best Friends Animal Society was founded in 1984, and ultimately became a determined advocacy group. Animal Farm Foundation, with a mission devoted to improving the image pit bulls, was also founded in the mid-1980s. was launched in 2005. The NCRC, arguably the nation's premier pit bull advocacy organization, was founded in 2006 and purchased by Jane Berkey of the Animal Farm Foundation in 2007. Suddenly nearly every community had its own pit bull advocacy and rescue groups. Money appeared as if from nowhere to defend pit bulls involved in attacks on humans or on our companion animals.

The new century saw an explosion of pit bull advocacy articles. Despite the ongoing attacks our journalists, our legal scholars, our humanists, and not least of all our legislators, were suddenly writing and talking about how wonderful pit bulls are. A back story was created, which told of the pit bull's exceptional patience and gentle behavior with children. Eventually the advocacy campaign, which effectively worked as a political campaign, overwhelmed the reality of what was actually happening.

Victims of pit bull attacks were aghast to learn that the dogs which mauled them were often returned to the safety and comfort of their own homes, while the victims themselves were left with soaring medical expenses and often, with no legal remedy. Many pit bulls considered too dangerous to rehome were given comfortable lives in sanctuaries.

Some communities recognized the public safety threat and protected their citizens with ordinances restricting pit bulls. But due to the intense advocacy campaign, for the most part our country failed to perceive the threat and we developed a cultural amnesia about the dangers of living with pit bulls.

* * * * *

Our Annotated Cultural Bibliography is divided into four distinct periods:
  • The Dark Years -- This era was dominated by underground magazines affiliated with dogmen and dogfighting. Among the many publications are The Dog Fancier, Game Dog Journal, Game Dog Fancier, Game Dog Post, and others which competed for market share. The Sporting Dog Journal was probably the longest-lived, under several different publishers.2
  • 1980s -- The Golden Age of Pit Bull Journalism
  • 1990s -- The Years of Forgetting
  • 2000 through the Present -- The Great Pit Bull Makeover (the title is taken from a July 11, 2013 Time Magazine article by Paul Tullis).

The current period is dominated by at least five forms of pit bull advocacy writing:
  • Dissertations for degrees from veterinary schools. An early example of this genre is the 2002 dissertation by Andrea Steinfeldt titled Fighting Dogs: History, application, attitude problems.  Ms Steinfeldt's conclusion states that there are no fighting breeds. (See Fighting Breeds.)
  • Dissertations for animal law degrees, a disproportionate number of which are sophomoric arguments against Breed Specific Legislation.
  • Major pieces in newspapers and magazines about the desirability of pit bulls as family pets; these are often accompanied by studio photography which attempt to make pit bulls appealing. This category also includes coffee-table bibles like I'm a Good Dog: Pit bulls, America's Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet,  by Ken Foster. (See review.)
  • Web sites hosted by animal welfare groups, SPCA's, humane societies, animal legal defense organizations, animal shelters, pit bull rescues, and other pit bull advocacy groups.
  • Social media and pit bull chat rooms

* * * * *
The lists on these page represent a partial bibliography of pit bull articles published during the years during the years indicated. Relevant legislation and notes are included. Books, as well as philosophical and scientific articles are for the most part excluded.

The editors would like to thank Colleen Lynn of The Dogsbite archive of historical articles is the source for a number of these citations. We encourage corrections and additions to improve this bibliography.

1  Full disclosure: Only Mork came to Earth in his tiny capsule; Mindy was an Earthling living in Boulder, Colorado, who befriended Mork. Mork and Mindy visited the American TV audience from 1978 through 1982.
2 The Sporting Dog Journal was published for many years by John "Jack" Kelly of Jefferson, GA. The magazine enjoyed a paid circulation of about 10,000 and was sold by Kelly to James Fricchione in 2001. Fricchione was successfully prosecuted in 2004. See the It's Inhumane dot org page on James Fricchione.

James Fricchione


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Trojan Horse in Albany

A Trojan Horse is revealed
in proposed Breed Specific Legislation

Johanna Falber, the founder of Atlanta-based Stubby’s Heroes, rode into town in early February to instruct the Albany City Commission on their proposed Breed Specific Legislation. Ms Falber informed the Commission that BSL doesn't work and she warned the Commission that the city faces possible litigation if it moves forward with the proposed legislation.

Johanna Falber (Pinterest; accessed March 2, 2014)

It is not known if Ms Falber was present in Atlanta two weeks after her lecture to the Albany Commission, when Angela Rutledge, a suburban Atlanta (Fulton County) resident, came to the Capitol to talk about the pit bull that killed her son Beau. The pit bull, Kissy Face, was the Rutledge's much-loved family pet, which they had purchased as a puppy eight years before, and which had never before shown aggression. Neighbors recall the family walking through the well-manicured cul-de-sac with Kissy-face every evening.
His neck was almost severed from his body. He was laying in his blood, and I was sliding in the blood, it was squirting everywhere. I was sliding in the blood trying to call 911. I kept dropping the phone because I was so shaken.
Jeremiah Rutledge, Beau's father, was so distraught when he arrived at the scene that law officers found it necessary to subdue him. Both Angela and her husband were taken to hospitals for observation.

Beau Rutledge; d. April 24, 2013

Jeremiah Rutledge now says that pit bulls cannot be domesticated. Ms Rutledge, who for eight years believed that a pit bull raised in a loving home would be a safe, reliable dog, has become an eloquent speaker about the dangers of living with pit bulls. Would Ms Falber insist that Beau's death was the result of irresponsible owners?

* * * * *

The legislation that brought Ms Falber to Albany is currently tabled but will be reconsidered later this summer. The ordinance in its current form requires registration of pit bulls, requires owners to carry $100,000 in liability insurance, and requires that the animals be confined in specific enclosures. All of these provisions are found in hundreds of breed specific ordinance across the country. There is agreement among the Commissioners that the ordinance will pass with minor revisions.

But there is lingering doubt about identifying pit bulls. According to WALB,
The city will bear the burden of proof against owners, and will need to conduct DNA tests to prove if the dog is a pit bull, a definition set by city leaders. Each test will cost $75, and some worry it will be a drain on the city's budget.
This red herring has been encouraged by pit bull advocacy web sites1 but identification has never proved to be a major problem in the cities with existing BSL. Legal definitions of pit bulls have survived court challenges up to the Supreme Court.2

In related incidents, there have been at least three deaths attributed to bullmastiffs in the US in recent days;3, 4, 5 two of these deaths were children killed within the space of three days. Back-yard breeders have been crossing pit bulls with bullmastiffs, and it is evident these dogs pose a new and unusual threat to public safety. To insure that cities do not become involved in endless litigation, the definition of a pit bull must be expanded to included those dogs which are often cross-bred with pit bulls, including bullmastiffs.6

But the Trojan Horse the Commissioners must confront is the suggestion that the city will bear the burden of canine DNA testing; this presumption, encouraged by advocates of fighting breeds, is baseless. There is not a single responsible humane official who believes that DNA tests can identify a pit bull. MARS Veterinary Panel, the leading provider of canine DNA tests, is unambiguous on this point:
Due to the genetic diversity of this group, we cannot build a DNA profile for the Pitbull.7
Written legal definitions of pit bull type dogs, based on AKC and UKC breed standards and allowing for the cross- and interbreeding of pit bulls with other breeds, have effectively served hundreds of American cities, for decades. The Albany Commissioners should do no less for their own citizens.

* * * * *

1 For example see Bless the Bullys (January 15, 2014) and others.
2 Duhaime Legal Dictionary
3 Klonda Ritchey, Ohio; Feb 7, 2014; killed by 2 pit bull/bull mastiff mixes
4 Kenneth Santilla (13 yo), New Jersey; Feb 28, 2014; New Jersey cops identify boy killed by bull mastiff
5 Baby Doe (2 yo), Killeen, TX; March 2, 2014; Bull mastiff attacks and kills 2-year old
6 View or download the Omaha NE legal definition of a pit bull
7 View or download letter from Mars Veterinary Panel

Albany City Commission decides to table pit bull ordinance
   Albany Herald, February 27, 2014
Pit bull ordinance stalls
   WALB News ABC10, February 25, 2014
Albany City officials defend need for pit bull ordinance
   Albany Herald, February 18, 2014
Victims rally at Georgia Capitol for pit bull ban
    Atlanta 11 Alive, February 18, 2014
City leaders prepare to vote on controversial pit bull law
    WALB10 ABC, February 18, 2014
Mother fights for vicious dog ban in Georgia
   CBS Atlanta 46, February 17, 2014
Albany City Commissioner tries to take the bite out of city ordinance
   Albany Herald, February 12, 2014
Albany City Commission continues discussion of pit bull ordinance
   Albany Herald, February 4, 2014
Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta maneuvers to hold up pit bull ordinance
   Albany Herald, January 14, 2014
Albany City Commission to consider pit bull legislation
   Albany Herald, January 11, 2014

See also: Baby Beau Foundation

32 years of logging fatal & disfiguring dog attacks
   Animals 24-7; September 27, 2014

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks