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.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/21/18: Comments, Clarkson, Bitter Hillary, And Weiner Dogs Amuck

Good morning, all.

1. Housekeeping note: Some commenters are expressing displeasure that I suspended a regular participant here following what I consider to be excessively disrespectful discourse toward me. Well. when they try moderating an ethics blog read by educated, passionate and verbally adept people for nine years, I’ll pay more attention to that displeaure. The task is much like that of a lion-tamer in the circus: as I learned when I read the autobiography of one who survived until retirement, the big cats growling is fine, and even the occasional swipe for show is tolerable, but when they start being disrespectful, you either show who’s boss quick or you get gang-mauled and eaten.

In about two weeks, I have to fly to Boston—on my own dime, of course— to ask a judge to dismiss a $100,000 defamation lawsuit from a banned commenter here. Am I bit inclined to be less than charitable to rude commenter outbursts aimed at me right now? Yes. The matter at issue right now involved flat-out, unambiguous personal mockery and derision, and the Comment Policies, accessible for years on the link above, specifically designate “6) Mockery without substance”  as commentary conduct that is not appreciated, , and also notes that a commenter risks be discipline for “…Insulting me, in particular by questioning my integrity, honesty, objectivity, intentions, motives, qualifications, or credentials.”

The commenter who was suspended can return to the wars at any time he chooses, after offering an acceptable apology.

2. Breaking my vow already…to eschew writing about the aftermath of the latest school shooting, I have to mention that Lelly Clarkson’s emotional speech at last night’s Billborad awards was played this morning on CNN and Headline News—and I assume elsewhere—as if she actually was saying something of substance. She wasn’t:

Is the news media going to keep on trying to steer a policy debate with complex social, legal, constitutional, cultural and practical factors into this emotion-flooded, intellectually useless dead end? Apparently so. I’m sure Kelly is sincere, but “moment of action” is nothing but another way of saying “do something,” which itself is just another form of screaming at the sky. What action, Kelly? Unless you make a relevant proposal that addresses the event you are crying about, your statement is worse than useless.

We should not keep pandering to this invitation to turn off our brains regarding guns, yet that is what the news media is actively campaigning for us to do.  They are irresponsible to do this.

But we knew that. Continue reading