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.

The “Dog Park Diane” Affair

This ridiculous story has apparently “gone viral” in some corners of social media, I suppose because it involves race (sort of), dogs, and sex.  I was blissfully unaware of the whole foofaraw until a friend sent me a link.

Here we go!

In Attleboro, Massachusetts, a dog identified as a pitbill mix belonging to African-American Franklin Baxley began doing what frisky dogs sometimes do to other dogs, human legs, and pillows, to a dog belonging to Grace Sandland, who apparently freaked out.  She demanded that he and his dog leave the park, and when Baxley refused, she called the police on her cell phone.

“Why are you calling the cops right now? Because I told you I wasn’t leaving the park?,” Baxley, 42, asks the unnamed woman in the video posted online. “Because my dog humped your dog?” Another women, identified as park staffer Carol Cobb, according to the Daily Mail. Cobb, took the side of the sexually assaulted dog;s owner, and is seen on the video telling Baxley that the pit bull’s  behavior was “inappropriate for the dog park.”

I swear, I’m not making this up.

Sandland told police that Baxley had “verbally assaulted” her, and that Baxley’s dog wouldn’t stop humping and assaulting her dog. Baxley said that he immediately pulled his dog off of hers, but Cobb said that his dog was breaking the rules: no humping permitted. Eventually an Attleboro police sergeant arrived to the scene. No charges were filed, but Baxley has been banned from the dog park.

But wait! There’s more!

Baxley claims that the incident was sparked by racial prejudice, and took to the news media and his Facebook page to make sure everybody knew it. “If I were not black, she would not have felt threatened by me talking to her and defying her orders for me to leave the park,” Baxley told the Daily Mail. “I am a responsible dog owner, and my dog is super friendly. Anyone who goes to that park regularly knows me and will attest to that fact. The dogs were living their best lives the whole time.” The news media quickly dubbed Sandland “Dog Park Diane,” emulating “BBQ Becky,” the sobriquet affixed to a white woman who called the police on a black family grilling ribs in a public park in California. Meanwhile, Baxley began a relentless attack on Sandland on Facebook, whipping the social media mob into a frenzy. The confrontation occurred five days ago, and Baxley is still writing about it, giving interviews, and doing everything he can to ensure that Sandland is labelled a racist for life.

What’s going on here? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/11/18: More On De Niro, A Censored Valedictorian, A Heroic Pit Bull, And A Popeye

Good Morning.

1. Still angry... Here are some prime comments from Ann Althouse’s blog (she posted on DeNiro before 6 AM, beating me to it.) I should have posted last night; it might have let me get some sleep:

  • I think the Democrats have just found their 2020 Presidential Candidate…and his campaign slogan. Speaking as a Republican I am quaking in my boots…

  • Well, no more Robert DeNiro movies or shows for us then. The magic of the screen, the verisimilitude, is shattered. You can no longer look at the actor playing a character and forget that he HATES you in real life. He has no longer any status as Actor since he decided to play on the Political Stage. Why can’t they just STFU? Are you an entertainer [actor/singer] or are you a Politician? Pick one. Choose wisely.

  • I’ve been around people in the arts, including actors, most of my life, and there are two things I’ve found that are true about them: (1) except for their craft and whatever arts they’re involved in, they tend to be fairly uneducated, and woefully ignorant about history and economics; and (2), although they see themselves as free spirits and rebels, they’re usually brainwashed tools of the “liberal” Hive, and fall in lockstep like so many Eloi when the Hive calls. The whole evening, from what I saw, was one big anti-Trump rally. Strangest to me were the Gays who were reacting as if Trump were loading them onto box cars and shipping them off to death camps. And yet as members of the Hive, almost certainly falling into line with the Hive’s goal of a bigger and more powerful State. Bad news, artistes: if you think you can have full freedom of expression where the State is omnipotent, think again. Maybe actually open a history book every once in a while.

  • On my way down to NYC today with my wife. I thought we might try to see a play if I can get some cheap tickets. Last night she was watching the Tonys in our hotel room. I was reading about the history of disease but could not avoid seeing/hearing some of it. I was reminded why THEATRE!!! has no interest at all for me. What a bunch of pretentious dreck. I’ve always liked Robert DeNiro as an actor. But FUCK HIM!!! as a person.

  • In 1936, the New Yorker ran a cartoon about some old rich white people. We know they’re elites because there is a butler hovering in the background. The caption: “Come along. We’re going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Roosevelt.” Our betters didn’t use the f-word so often in those days.

  • I’m calling my shot: Trump wins 40 states. My liberal friends seem resigned to the fact that he will get reelected, that is unless, how did one guy put it, “overwhelming evidence is presented.” They take it for granted that Trump must be guilty of something. He simply has to be. Trump’s ascendance to the presidency is an offense against their worldview. Its rather amusing because Trump isn’t really all that conservative. Hell, Bernie Sanders campaigned on controlling illegal immigration and reworking trade agreements in order to improve job prospects for Americans. I don’t bring that up with my liberal friends though. I just ignore their comments about Trump and change the subject. They probably think I can’t refute them, but I just don’t want to piss them off. 

  • Life imitates “A Fish Called Wanda”:

Archie: You are a vulgarian, aren’t you?
Otto: You’re the vulgarian, you fuck!

Continue reading

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

From The Ethics Alarms “It’s About Time!” Files: Iowa Strikes Down A “Dangerous Animal” Ordinance

Pinky was a happy, healthy pet dog  until March 2016, when a friend visiting Pinky’s owner let her into the yard unsupervised. The neighbor’s cat, Rebel, had wondered into the yard, and Pinky had the feline in his maw until her owner ran out and commanded her to drop it.  Rebel survived the trauma, but needed three dozen staples for her wounds.

Pinky was impounded after the city’s humane officer declared her a dangerous animal under the city ordinance. Of course, Pinky is a pit bull mix, so bias was already working against her. The Des Moines ordinance that bans the keeping of “dangerous animals” includes banning any animal “that has exhibited vicious propensities in present or past conduct, including such that the animal … has bitten another animal or human that causes a fracture, muscle tear, disfiguring lacerations or injury requiring corrective or cosmetic surgery.”

Such an ordinance could only be written by someone willfully ignorant of the behaviors of dogs as well as the vicissitudes of moral luck. Our wonderful and gentle English Mastiff, Patience, for example, once caused a bloody wound to my wife’s scalp when she gave the dog an unexpected buss on the muzzle. The dog jerked her head in surprise, nicking my wife’s head with a tooth. The wound bled profusely, and required stitches—and it was 100% my wife’s fault. Patience literally wouldn’t hurt a fly…indeed, she was afraid of flies.

As for Rebel, any cat that invades a dog’s home turf is asking for trouble. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/21/18: Ethics Observations As The Snowflakes Fall

Good Morning!

1 Moral luck.  In Great Mills, Maryland, a student with a handgun entered a high school and began shooting. He was brought down by a lone, armed and trained officer before anyone was killed. In the Parkland shooting, the equivalent officer chose to avoid a confrontation. There were other material differences: yesterday’s student shooter seems to have had a specific target in mind (his ex-girl friend) whereas the Parkland shooter was juts out to kill as many kids as possible. One student carried a hand-gun (which is very difficult for anyone to acquire legally in Maryland, which has among the toughest gun laws in the country), while the Florida shooter had a semi-automatic rifle. However, the primary difference was moral luck: if a competent and courageous officer had entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and shot Nikolas Cruz before he could inflict carnage, and Deputy Blaine Gaskill, instead of almost immediately entering the school and shooting 17-year-pld Austin Wyatt Rollins dead, had done a Scot Peterson impression and remained outside, the results in Parkland and Great Mills might have been reversed. In any case, the results would not have been changed by different gun laws or demonizing the NRA and lawful gun owners, only by different responses by human beings, and the vicissitudes of moral luck.

I think Marjory Stoneman Douglas High has serious cultural and management problems that played a larger role in the massacre than gun policies. Today’s news certainly suggest that…

2. This is how puppies end up dead in airplane luggage bins…The headline that caught my eye was “Pit bull goes on rampage in elementary school.” What actually happened was that a pit bull -mix puppy got out of the yard and ran onto a nearby elementary school playground where small children were playing, they started screaming and running because their parents had either taught them to be terrified of dogs or never instructed them how to interact with them, the puppy chased the kids into the school, and began jumping and nipping, as puppies tend to do. I was taught not to run from dogs at about the age of four. The consensus later was that the dog was not aggressive, but was just stimulated by all the commotion and playing. A teacher calmed the dog. You know, dogs are a feature of our neighborhoods and communities, and failing to teach children basic dog-interaction skills is as irresponsible as not teaching them how to cross the street. Anti-pit bull hysteria doesn’t help either. “Rampage.”

Then, this morning, I watched an episode of “My Cat From Hell” on the Animal Planet cable channel. In the first segment, one of a family’s two cats was behaving aggressively, biting and scratching in response to any human contact. The reason became apparent to the cat therapist quickly: the family’s two little girls were abusing both cats, treating the more passive of the pets like a stuffed animal as the  parents laughed and took photos. The second segment was even worse. A couple had bought a Munchkin cat—which is an ethics issue itself, since these are deformed cats bred to have such short legs that they can’t climb or jump—

and apparently thought of the creature as a cute animated decoration. They had no toys or comforts for the cat, just a bare room and a litter box. “Have you ever played with your cat?” the therapist asked. “Play? Well, no, we’re both really busy,” came the response.  And the couple wanted to know why was the cat was behaving so neurotically… Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Chandra McKinnon

 

There is moment in my favorite Saturday matinee movie, “The Vikings”—okay, it’s tied with the original “Journey to the Center of the Earth”–where Ernest Borgnine as Ragnar, the Viking King, is about to be thrown, hands bound, into a pit of ravenous wolves by his Britsih captors, A Viking, we have learned, can only go to Viking Heaven, Valhalla, if he dies with a sword in his hand. Just as Ragnar about to be tossed, Tony Curtis cuts his restraints and hands  him a sword, and the Viking King, beaming, leaps into the pit with a victorious shout of “VALHALLA!” They didn’t have CGI back then, so we only got to hear the sounds of him killing snarling wolves left and right until he was finally mauled, but I always could picture Ragnar’s battle in my mind.

That’s also how I picture Chandra McKinnon, a Canadian law clerk, as she fights off the hoards of mindless anti-pit bull breed hysterics over at The Post That Never Dies, Unethical Website of the Month: Dogsbite.Org . which has over 5,000 Facebook shares and which has been attracting dog breed bigots regularly since 2015.

Chandra leaped into the pit shortly after I gave up trying to reason with these idiots. I finally added this to the post:

In the future,  comments to this post that consist of nothing but repeating the same disproven myths and ignorant beliefs about the various pit bull breeds will not get through moderation. Any serious, well-researched, civil comments presenting counter arguments and genuine statistics to the facts and expert opinion discussed in these posts are welcome. Citing dogsbite.org as authority will guarantee rejection. Lumping multiple breeds together as “pit bulls” proves laziness, bias and ignorance, and will also result in the comment being spammed. Dumb arguments like “You can’t prove they aren’t pit bulls!” will have the same results.

It is depressing how many people will hold on to a factually unsupportable bias despite every effort to enlighten them, but then prejudice against humans works the same way.

It was getting ridiculous. The commenters, sent my way in intermittent waves by the website’s defenders, are usually semi-literate and always immune to reality.  I have banned more commenters on that post than any three elsewhere on the blog. Here is part of a typical rant from one of them, since banned under the Ethics Alarms Stupidity Rule:

Mr Marshal, why is there a FB page titled Our Pets were Attacked by Pitbulls?… If pitbulls are no more aggressive than other breeds, then why are there no similar pages for other breeds?? Why no “Our Pets were Attacked by Poodles” FB page??…Because these breeds have never killed a human EVER, so most likely will not maul another dog!! …As an ethics person, do you think it’s ethical to prioritize the lives of one breed, the fighting pitbull, over the lives of numerous other breeds, and say well I don’t care about the lives of all those other breeds as long as we can own our pitbulls?? Doesn’t matter that pitbulls kill and injure multiple other breeds each and every day, as long as I fullfill my selfish want for a breed that has no purpose in today’s society since it was bred for a sick bloodsport, then I’m fine with that!! IS THAT ETHICAL???

Continue reading