Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Tipping Point

The Annotated Cultural Bibliography of Pit Bull Journalism

In six sections:

Argumentum ad misericordiam (forthcoming)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.