“Beyond the Myth”: Disturbing and Revealing Lessons About More Than Pit Bulls

Beyond the Myth

“Beyond the Myth” is a 2012 documentary that provides a vivid, troubling and often moving account of “breed specific legislation” in the U.S., which primarily involves states and municipalities banning “pit bull-like dogs,’ a.k.a. “vicious dogs,” though the dogs such legislation targets are usually not vicious and often are not even pit bulls.  If you are one of the misinformed who have been convinced by biased reports and public hysteria that pit bulls are any more dangerous or vicious than any other breed, you owe it to yourself, your children, and the dog owners in your community to watch this film, which is available on Netflix.

Long-time readers of Ethics Alarms know that the site has visited the issue of anti-pit bull cruelty and bigotry frequently, most recently here. For those who have read and absorbed what I have written and the references I provided, there will be much that is familiar in “Beyond the Myth,”; nevertheless, I found the documentary shocking. I had no idea how pit bull bans worked in cities like San Francisco and Miami, with Gestapo-like raids on private homes culminating in harmless and beloved family pets being confiscated and slated for death if a police officer concluded that they have “5 out of 8” physical traits identified with pit bulls. Nor was I aware of how many of these dogs were being euthanized—tens of thousands every year—for being born with a broad  head or a deep chest that meant they were legally branded as “vicious.”

The stories of the individual dog owners who have organized, lobbied, sued, and in some cases had to move out of their homes to protect a loving canine companion are also inspiring, if astounding. Wounded veterans have even had their service dogs taken from them. The most illuminating aspects of the documentary, however, are:

  • …how much the entire sick, cruel process evokes other episodes of destructive human ignorance, such as ethnic cleansing and racial persecution;
  • …the clearly delineated stages of mindless panic after a tragedy, with scapegoats being quickly fingered by authorities to quell public anger, and extreme measures being passed without proper regard for facts of rights;
  • …how frequently people who do not care about a particular issue or problem are willing to stand by passively and allow the rights and legitimate interests of those who do care about it be abused by authorities and public opinion;
  • ….the role the news media plays in abusing its power to misrepresent facts in the pursuit of sensationalism and their own agendas. For example, violent incidents involving alleged pit bulls are nine times more likely to receive media coverage than biting incidents involving other breeds.
  • …. dim-witted, pusillanimous, cringing and lazy attitudes of elected officials and public employees, whose lack of concern for fairness and whose blind fealty to whatever position is most likely to keep their jobs is as nauseating as it is familiar;
  • ….the waste of public resources in municipalities desperate to pay for basics like schools and fire departments, as hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars are spent on canine racism;
  • …finally, how much public policy is driven by ignorance, incompetence, hysteria, unethical journalism, cowardice and lies.

One more observation: anyone who isn’t struck by the parallels between the response to pit bull attacks in these communities and the national gun control debate in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting isn’t paying attention.



22 thoughts on ““Beyond the Myth”: Disturbing and Revealing Lessons About More Than Pit Bulls

  1. It’s pure racism, and media driven. Pit bull attacks by properly handled pets are LESS likely than attacks by boxers, cocker spaniels, German Shepherds, etc., but do these latter ever make the news? It is an entirely media-driven, ignorant bias against what are basically loving family dogs, another example of the media’s ongoing unwillingness to DO THEIR HOMEWORK on not only this issue, but others as well. With the help of thousands of people, Ohio rescinded its law which allowed policemen (!) to impound pit bull-like dogs, and euthanize more than 6,000 such dogs in one year! Unfortunately, this didn’t stop municipalities from passing their own ordinances against pit bulls — I’m not sorry that so many people moved out Cincinnati proper to be able to keep their beloved pets. (See also what San Francisco and Miami did to pit bulls over the years. Horrifying.) Lock up the people who abuse pit bulls and and other pets, not the pets themselves. (I’ve always thought that pet owners should have to be licensed, not the other way around…)

    If it’s pit bulls today, then what other breed will be next? And cats? The whole thing is pure hysteria, based on two or three pit bull attacks, owned by people who taught these dogs to be mean, or worse, fighting dogs. Michael Vick (now in jail) routinely killed hundreds of pit bulls who REFUSED to learn to fight… It isn’t in the breed’s nature; it’s taught to them.

    And after animals/pets, what? Slippery slope indeed.

    Hysteria created by the media; actions taken in response by moronic elected officials. Great world we live in.

  2. A woman in Japan was killed by a Tosa-ken, a breed of Japanese fighting dog, and comments on Japan Today are all about killing off ‘dangerous breeds’. Most of the comments appear to be from Americans on this issue. People seem to think it perfectly logical to wipe out an entire breed of dog because of isolated incidents.


    My friend in Salem Ma was forced to get rid of her pit bull after complaints from neighbors. It was a persistent, coordinated harassment campaign. The dog had done nothing, but too many people were afraid of it in the same neighborhood as their children.

  3. Regrettably, none of these phenomena are new… and, as much as it pains me to write this, the fear of pit bulls is a comparatively — *comparatively* — harmless example.

    If you get the chance, there’s a book entitled Popular Delusions and the Madness of Krauts, published in 1841 (Krauts, in this case, is not a reference to Germany — history and spelling don’t always get along, and the cover of the 1852 edition used the correct, modern spelling). My copy is of a 1980 reprint (“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, with a forward by Andrew Tobias), which should give you some idea of why I call the book a classic. It’s highly recommended for some history.

    But… I’ll be sending you an essay on an issue related to a far less harmless example, one which I’ve commented on before on this blog… but not really on the *extent* of it.

  4. Jack, I respect your opinion, but please don’t use the term “racism” when discussing anti-Pitt Bull legislation. As an African-American, that is very offensive. Racism is a serious issue. The suffering experienced because of racism should never be diminished by using the word hyperbolically.

    I don’t like Pitt Bulls. I think the breed is unpredictable and has a propensity toward aggression. Sure, there are some “gentle” Pitt Bulls, but the breed is too frequently involved in fatal/near fatal dog attacks. Most of these attacks were unprovoked. Many involved children. Nations have banned the breed. It’s difficult for me to believe that they’re just prejudiced. I love dogs, but no way would I ever own a Pitt Bull. It’s not the dogs’ fault. They were bred to fight. That was cruel. The breed should be allowed to go extinct or cross bred with a less aggressive breed. Anyway, that’s my opinion.

    • If your are offended by it, then its is a non-rational reaction. It is instructive to make the comparison, because the mechanics of breed-bias and racial bias are not sort of similar, they are exactly the same. Conduct that neither tells us anything about group characteristics or individual proclivities is projected on both the groups and individuals based on flawed reasoning and ignorance. If someone’s being offended makes it harder to tell the truth, then that individual needs to learn not to be offended. Sorry.

      Your comments on pit bulls are simply based on ignorance and bias. You have clearly not read the posts, nor the data, nor the film. 1) There is no such thing as a “pit bull.” 2) The were not raised to fight. The breed, in fact, was bred as a caretaker dog, specializing in caring for children. Dog fighters train members of the breed to fight—it is not in their nature, and not dog authority, not one, says so. People will say that “it is in the nature” of African Americans to take drugs, break laws, have children out of wedlock and not work hard. You still don’t see the comparison with racism?

      I think the breed is unpredictable and has a propensity toward aggression
      . Well, think what you want, but you are demonstrably wrong. The “breed” has no propensity to aggression, any more than blacks have a propensity to committing crimes. Moreover, as I said and is simply fact, there is no “breed” that meets your description, but about 5 breeds commonly lumped together for no good reason other than the fact that people who are ignorant of dogs can’t tell the difference. None of them are any more aggressive than golden retrievers.

      Sure, there are some “gentle” Pitt Bulls “Sure, there are some good ones”…this is a quote from the bigot, Juror 10, in “Twelve Angry Men.” A disproportion number of blacks are convicted of violent crimes. What does this tell us about the “nature of the black man’? Zilch. A disproportionate number of various breeds mis-labelled pit bulls are trained and abused by criminals and thugs, thus a disproportionate number of the dogs are dangerous. Since any dog in the same situation would behave the same, attributing the conduct to the breed rather than the owner is simply bad and lazy reasoning.

      “…but the breed is too frequently involved in fatal/near fatal dog attacks.” Let’s see—five breeds or more compared to single breeds, publicity of attacks while other breed attacks don’t make the news; favorite breed of criminals and drug pushers…this all adds up to misleading data that has been flagged as such, and you are accepting it uncritically.

      “Most of these attacks were unprovoked.”
      Absolutely untrue. The worst attacks involve unsupervised children and toddlers invading a dog’s space or interfering with their puppies. In fact, almost all dog attacks are provoked in one way or another.

      “Many involved children.”
      How is that a justification for banning a breed that is, in fact, unusually good with children? This is the Sandy Hook argument. Misfortune to children justifies suspension of all common sense and consideration.

      “Nations have banned the breed.” “Everybody does it,” the most popular rationalization of them all. If enough people do something unjust and stupid, then it must be right. Nonsense.

      “It’s difficult for me to believe that they’re just prejudiced.” It’s always difficult to overcome comfortable biases based on misinformation. The facts, on the other hand, are unequivocal. If you have a hard time believing the truth after actually reading the data, then it’s because you don’t want to believe it.

      Sounds like racism to me. This is how all the racists I’ve met reason out these things.

    • Your opinion reflects facts and science. I too, find it greatly offensive when people compare breed discrimination to racism. That is an insult to people and denies the fact that dogs have been selectively bred for years for particular traits and/or tasks. Human beings have not been. Funny how many will not deny genetic traits among retrievers (they retrieve) or border collies (they herd!) but when it comes to pit bulls – WE MUST TREAT THEM AS INDIVIDUALS!!! – absolutely no acknowledgement of what they have been bred for. Unfortunately, there exists a very powerful pro-pit lobby in this country and it has influenced even the most intelligent of folks. And the writer of this blog is either complicit or has bought into the propoganda. Repetition principle: We believe what we hear most often.

      • Yours is an articulate justification for bigotry, but still a justification for bigotry. The real principle at work here is conformation bias. I most often hear the old, ignorant mantra you just repeated, from people who have had no experience with any of the so-called ‘pit-bull” breeds, and scant understanding of dogs at all. Dogsbite is simply a collection of false data: if you want to convince anyone who isn’t dog-phobic, then deal with the first and undeniable point I began with: there is no such breed as a “pitbull.” It is a general category including several breeds, and lazy, irresponsible sources like the website persist in treating them all as one variety of dog. Start by dealing with that. You disqualify yourself by using “pitbull.”

        All of those breeds were also bred for different purposes, but long ago. Most dog breeds were bred for different functions than they typically serve now, and their temperaments have followed the evolution. Irish Wolfhounds were bred to chase down and fight wolves, and a gentler, less aggressive dog would be difficult to find.

        Of course all dogs must be treated as individuals, and no one who has had a dog would ever argue otherwise. In short, you’re advocating regarding a topic you know nothing about. Stop, and get educated.

  5. By way of disclosure we have a ‘pit bull’ (most people would call her, a mix like most). She’s a wonderful dog. We love her very much.

    Coretta, your impressions about ‘pit bulls’ are not correct and not a matter of opinion. There is no science which supports the idea that dogs described as ‘pit bulls’ are any more likely to be *human* aggressive or ‘unpredictable’ than any other general type of dog (‘pit bull’ in common use is not a breed but a vague general category, but it’s not true even if applied to just APBT’s, either). Studies which have compared dogs in similar situations have never found this. Essentially no one in veterinary science believes this. It’s isn’t true.

    On comparison of breedism and human racism, that is a matter of opinion and you’re entitled to yours. But with all due respect, the fact that you are African American is irrelevant. Your opinion is worthy of respect like anyone else’s, but has no more or less weight because of your race. If we said it did, that would by definition itself be racism.

    I don’t consider wrongs committed against dogs to be as serious as the same wrongs committed against people. I agree with you to that extent. However, I think the author is correct that a lot of the patterns of thinking of the individuals, the public collectively, and politicians who practice breedism are eerily similar to when people promote racism (or sectarian or ethnic prejudice, etc). The same illogic, hysteria, ‘fear of the other’, search for scapegoats, opportunism, etc. It’s pretty striking. Even if we agree human come before animals as victims, it’s still apparent, to me, that the same bad tendencies in the human character are at work in both cases, on the part of the perpetrators.

  6. @Jack & O’John,

    We will have to agree to disagree about this breed of dog (dogs). I would never own one or encourage anyone to select it as a pet. The objection to calling anti-Pitt Bull sentiment and legislation racist stands. I equate it to Peta comparing the slaughter of chickens to the Holocaust. It’s offensive! It’s offensive because it trivializes human suffering. Dogs aren’t sentient. Racism is the belief that one group of human beings is inherently inferior/superior to another. It has real implications on real human lives. Sorry, animal suffering is not equivalent. Jack, I like your blog. I learn a lot, but on this issue I’m not persuaded.

    PS. I’m a dog lover! Also, I don’t blame the dog. I blame the cruel history which used it to rat, bear and dog bait

    • I can’t agree to disagree because the nature of the pit bull breeds isn’t subject to disagreement—the facts are clear, uncontroverted and not subject to informed dispute. As the quote goes, you are welcome to your own opinions, but to your own facts. Your statement amounts to “my mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” That’s also the essence of bigotry.

      And you undermine the cause of battling racism by refusing to acknowledge the exact parallel in the logic supporting breed specific legislation and human racism. Logic is logic—if it works in one case, it works in another. You are embracing the precise logic of human racism in your group condemnation of dogs by virtue of physical characteristics—what they look like, rather than what they do. Dogs, like humans have individual personalities, abilities, strengths, quirks and weaknesses. There is no difference, none, between condemning a 21st century dog with a broad forehead and a straight whip tail to death because it was used in the Middle Ages to fight bears—Jesus Christ—and pronouncing a black man unqualified to lead a corporation because his ancestors were “bred” for manual labor in the 17th Century. Both are equally ignorant, cruel, illogical and stupid. If you think one makes sense, you are in a weak position to oppose someone who thinks similarly with the other.

      • I am going to have to disagree with you here, even if it is a quibble of sorts.

        Depending on how you look at it, there are either one or two major differences between the canine and human scenarios you list above. The obvious difference — the one with two major implications — is that you are, in one case, condemning a dog to death; in the other, you are condemning a human.

        The first major implication of this is in the ethical valence of the act. Most people regard homicide (or killing people, etc.) as worse than the act of killing a dog. Without getting into things like duties (which vary from ethical system to ethical system), this tends to impact ethical analyses of the situations rather severely.

        The other major implication is in the fact that dogs can’t — for obvious reasons — speak out about their experiences, organize into political movements, or generally seek (except in the most basic ways, such as running off or attacking a threat) to protest or prevent their treatment.

        This has tremendous consequences for what we should do about the matter. Human and civil rights movements generally work best when spearheaded by the demographic they are intended to benefit. Indeed, movements which attempt to do otherwise almost inevitably degenerate into a giant morass of extremely serious problems. The model of a civil and/or human rights movement, accordingly, is one of the oppressed demographic standing up for themselves and breaking away from oppression.

        In my own field of activism (disability rights work), this is a major issue — it is a common source of dehumanization and oppression, and disability ethics reflects this. Without getting into the details and the reasons why (it is a massive tangent and not really immediately relevant), it is considered grossly unethical to rely on proxy representation in the structure of a disability-related organization.

        However, in this case, we *must* use proxy representation. Dogs, to be blunt, can’t vote. They can’t write memoirs about their experiences. Pit bulls can’t lead anti-breedism organizations.

        And this, in turn, leads to *major* differences in the practical dynamics of the issue. Models are — and must be — used which would be unethical (and even harmful) when dealing with humans. The people speaking out against the injustices of breedism aren’t pit-bulls. They’re the owners of pit-bulls. And, in condemning pit-bulls to death on the basis of breedism, the voters you will be attacking aren’t the pit-bulls themselves.

        It’s the people who love them.

  7. Jack, I’ll do some additional research on this breed from reputable sources without an agenda and get back to you. Let it not be said that mine is a mind of prejudice. I’m always willing to change an opinion based on facts. I’m not myopic. I do still object to calling anti-Pitt Bull sentiment and legislation racist. I adhere to the traditional definition and meaning of racism. I take the phenomenon seriously. I use the word sparingly and become angry when it is used to stifle dissent. I concede that, yes, the vilification of an entire breed of dogs could be called racist, but I think Pittaphobia is better. Pittaphobia, what do you think? An aside: An old roommate has a 14 1/2 year old, Pointer/Lab. I’m having to get use to the idea of Sweet Pea not being in the world. My heart will break when she finally crosses into doggie heaven. I love that dog!

  8. Wonderful post. This is mob hysteria at its worse. Take out the words “pit bull” and substitute any other object or group, (large sodas, guns, blacks, Jews, Catholics, the mentally handicapped, sex offenders etc etc etc,) and you can see how this has happened in the past and will happen again in the future. First the politicians, or some crusader, identifies a object , then they vilify it, then they whip the crowd into a frenzy against it and against anyone who opposes their goals, and then they attack it and destroy it regardless of how ineffective or misguided their actions were.

  9. I have not yet watched this film but I certainly plan to now. In my experience, the people who are anti pit bull will not change there view point on pit bulls on facts alone. What they need is to have a positive interaction with a pit bull themselves. My neighbors used to be afraid of pit bulls until they met our pit bulls and saw first hand what a pit bull really is. They have recently gotten their first dog, a red nose pit bull mix. Of course, their extended family was afraid of pit bulls, until they met the family’s pit bull and their view points on pit bulls also changed. Im so glad for Animal Planet’s shows, Pit Boss and Pitbulls and Parolees, for it depicts pit bulls in a positive light. I have seen many people’s perspectives on pit bulls changed by viewing these shows. Its amazing seeing how even on these shows it shows people’s perspectives about pit bulls changing because of a positive interaction with a pit bull.I find it sad how people base their pit bull beliefs based upon what they hear or see in the media. Really? Just because the media says it means its true? What as a society have we come to?

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