Among the posts on Ethics Alarms that still get comments regularly long after they were written is the 2015 designation of Dogsbite.org as an Unethical Website of the Month. That site is a pit bull hate nest, notable for its bad science, bad history, bad logic and hysteria. Even though the Ethics Alarms post and previous ones here explain in detail why the propaganda on Dogsbite.org is wrong, makes so sense, is pure fearmongering and does terrible harm, people keep writing in to Ethics Alarms, citing the same false statistics, the same debunked facts, and the same lies that too many municipalities have used to ban many dog breeds and mixes, essentially for looking like what people think are pit bulls. I don’t know that there is any other topic where the commenters are so immune to fairness and reason.
Well, other than the President, of course.
Now award-winning journalist Bronwen Dickey has written Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon , which just came out in paperback on April 4. Her goal was to take as objective and analytical look at the breed (and breeds) as possible, using genetic science, research, expert testimony and reliable data, neither sentimentalizing the dogs nor demonizing them. Dickey’s conclusion, already obvious to anyone who has had prolonged or extensive contact with them: Pit bulls are just dogs.
The author was recently interviewed in New York Magazine, which couldn’t resist adding a misleading title to the feature: “How Both Sides of the Pit Bull Debate Get It Wrong.” Talk about false equivalency: one “side” believes the dogs are demonic killers that should be wiped off the face of the earth, and the other mistakenly says they were “Nanny dogs,” when they were just called “the Nanny Dog.” See? Both ides are wrong!
There are no sides. Pit bull phobics are driven by fear and ignorance, while those who understand dogs try to mitigate the harm their lies do to families and animals
Bronwen Dickey would be in the latter category. I note that she owns a pit bull. She knows what she’s writing about. The hysterics will say she’s biased.
Tidbits from the interview, in which she comments on some of her findings…
- “[T]he best thing we could possibly do for these dogs, or any dogs, is to sideline the breed obsession and focus on what unites all people and all dogs, and what humans and dogs have been sharing for many thousands of years.
Our breed fixation is so historically recent. We’ve lived with dogs for 35,000 years at least, and this breed fixation only started in the mid-19th century. So we’re looking at this tiny drop of history, and the way our culture is now — with marketing and branding and sorting ourselves into tribes — the breed thing has become all-consuming.”
- “Pit bull” is such a huge category with so many millions of dogs. There are at least four pedigreed breeds, and then you have people lumping in the mixed breeds and the dogs that are just kind of stocky or whatever. Once the pool gets that big, you can’t generalize anymore. At this point, “pit bulls” are as diverse as Americans.
- “A lot of times when you see the “pit bull” headline, the dogs that are referred to as pit bulls are just mixed-breed dogs. It’s like we’ve come to use the term “pit bull” to mean “dog not otherwise specified.” So if it has a short coat and they don’t know what it is, there are many people who will just call it a pit bull. Or if it has a brindle coat, then that’s a “pit bull.”
- “Scientists have done studies where they take animal professionals— shelter workers, veterinarians, animal control officers, etc. — and show them photo arrays and video clips of dogs, and ask them to give their opinions as to which breeds are in which dogs. More than half the time, not only do the breeds they pick not correspond to what the dogs’ genetic tests say, but very often they can’t even agree with each other. That, for me, is the most damning thing about visual breed identification.
In answer to the question about whether breed-specific bans work, the author says,
- “‘No. In eight of the countries that have breed bans, they’ve studied whether or not they actually reduce dog bites and serious bite injuries, and they’ve found that they do not. Leash laws, containment laws, and holding reckless owners responsible are far more effective measures….We’ve known for a long time that breed bans don’t work. The laws are way behind the science at this point.”
She’s then asked, “People often say things like, “Pointers point, retrievers retrieve, and pit bulls fight,” implying that violence is in pit-bull-type dogs’ DNA. How does that hold up under scientific scrutiny?” Her reply…
- “It doesn’t. …That’s a very soothing and simplistic way of looking at the world, but it’s not really true. Pointers who have been highly selected for pointing will perhaps have a knack for pointing based on the breeder and the processes of selection and the particular line of dog and all these other choices that are being made (how the dogs are handled, how they’re trained, etc). Breeders know how to increase that likelihood, but as one of the trainers I interviewed in the book stressed, “There’s no such thing as a litter of winners.”
That’s true even for behaviors that are relatively simple, like pointing and retrieving, which are also highly advantageous to the dog. They help it secure food. But breeders who are trying to breed for fighting — which are extremely rare these days, with awareness so high thanks to Michael Vick —have a much harder uphill battle, because (a) fighting is incredibly complicated; and (b) it puts a dog at a disadvantage evolutionarily. Dogs are very social creatures; they live in groups. Fighting other dogs is not conducive to survival. The cruelty-investigators and the experts that I talked to stressed that if a breeder is rigorously selecting for those traits for generations and generations, it still is considered a very high success rate if they get one in the litter who has the fighting makeup.”
She also mentions that actor Patrick Stewart is having an impact by posting about his pit bull on the web. (I knew nothing about this.)
“I don’t think anything can [repair the pit bull’s image] single-handedly at this point,” she says, “but I love those posts and the fact that all the wonderful things he’s doing with Ginger are the wonderful things that anyone would do with any dog. The more people who see that normal, everyday human-dog friendship, the more we’ll all collectively get over our breed fixation and move on.”
None of this, of course, and nothing in her book, will have any effect on the anti-pit bull fanatics who comment on Ethics Alarms.