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