A Case Study In Dog Breed Libel

With 331 comments and still active, my 2015  post about the anti-pit bull site “Dogsbite.org” features the longest-running debate on Ethics Alarms. It isn’t much of a debate, really: on one side are people who know something about dogs and understand that the hysteria over “pit bulls”—really several breeds that dog-ignoramuses lump together–is utter, destructive, cruel nonsense, and opposing them are the hysterics, who give a vivid example of the brain malady defined by the statement, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts!” with every comment.

As explained in multiple EA articles, one of the primary reasons people who aren’t paying attention think there is a deadly monster dog called “the pit bull” is that police and journalists so frequently misidentify the breed of dogs involved in attacks on humans. Amazing as it seems to those of us who love dogs, most people have minimal knowledge about dog breeds: they call any large or strong dog with short hair and a broad muzzle a “pit bull,” including boxers, American bulldogs, and Mastiffs, as well as mixed breeds and mongrels. As I have related here before, my first Jack Russell Terrier, the kid-loving Dickens, terrified a woman when he was a seven pound puppy by happily bounding up to her toddler in the park. She scooped up the child as if death were imminent and started screaming, “IT’S A PIT BULL!!!!” I replied in kind with “YOU”RE A MORON!!!!” She was, sadly, more typical than not.

In today’s news is a revealing story of breed misidentification that, interestingly, does not involve defamation of pit bull breeds and what I refer to as dog racism. It’s  a nice change from the norm: for once, at least, another breed is being falsely blamed for an attack.

“Woman Mauled To Death By Great Danes In Ohio” is a typical headline about the death of Elayne Stanley, mother of three. Her ex-husband told reporters that the dogs had always been vicious, and that he “never wanted to have Great Danes.” Well, he didn’t have Great Danes. The two dogs involved in the attack are pictured above. They are obviously mixes, and not even mixes of the the same breeds. One appears to be some kind of St. Bernard mongrel, and the other looks like a Dogue de Bordeaux mix, the variety of mastiff that starred in Disney’s “Turner and Hooch.”

This is an uncropped Great Dane:

Oh, never mind: Great Danes, pit bulls, what’s the difference? Dogs don’t sue for slander and libel, and lazy journalists don’t think that properly identifying the dog breed in an attack is important, just as they usually don’t care why an attack occurred (most of the time they involve abuse or negligence of the dogs, and, as in this case,  pack behavior). Great Danes are among the gentlest of breeds, but any breed can be dangerous under certain conditions.  For example, here is a September story about a woman mauled to death by her coonhounds (another gentle breed) in New York—if they were coonhounds, You simply cannot trust these stories. If those dogs in the Ohio attack can be called Great Danes, then those coonhounds might be poodles.

10 thoughts on “A Case Study In Dog Breed Libel

  1. Wait, the two dogs at the top of the article were identified as “Great Danes”? Whatever they are, they are clearly not Marmaduke!

    The newspaper might say something like “According to the police report, the owners identified the dogs as ‘Great Danes’, the dogs appear to be mixed breeds however.”

  2. Dogs are animals sometimes behaving in ways unexpected by humans.

    Nearly all dog breeds or mixed raised by humans in a variety of environments and are conditioned to behave in particular ways by humans beyond their genetic nature.

    Most dogs of any breed are very intuitive and raised to be more or less loving companions. Those conditioned or environmentally encouraged to behave otherwise are the danger, regardless of breed.

    The owners are almost always to blame for their dogs bad behavior. Owners should be held responsible unless circumstance are genuinely beyond their control.

  3. We have a Dane, the burly European instead of anorexic American and it is the gentlest and dumbest dog we ever had. Over a hundred fifty pounds of Scooby Doo clawing the screen door to get back inside the nice, safe house because she’s afraid of the outside. She grabs the dog blanket and tries to give it to welcome people coming home, no barking for her. (we must have howled with laughter when a pup too long because she does it every time) The dauschund is the clever barking protector not the bigger dog. And she is very careful to step over and around the smaller dog or people’s feet. All she needs is to understand she hurt you if you make a pained noise, even by accident, like by putting a paw on a sunburned arm and she never does it again…

    But we’ve had people so scared they want inside shorthairs put outside into the snow because of fear for business calls. You really have to do something ‘special’ in a brutal kind of way to make dogs into menaces, and we know how speshial some people are. And our dane may just be smarter than the hysterics, book learning don’t matter at some levels of dumbth.

  4. Sorry I’ve been silent for awhile,l folks. Bee43n a bit under the weather. Cold or flu, or pneumonia, turbeculosis, maybe lung cancer. On the mend now, however.

    I’m sorry my late wife never met Nero. She always wanted a Harlequin Great Dane but I think she’d have loved Monster Mastiff.

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