Take pity on the pitty
The Author Responds
Thank you everyone, angry, agreeing, or otherwise, for this incredible response to the April 23 cover story, “You Love Me Now, but Will You When I’m Four?” I have learned a lot. And I recognize that, for most of you, these objections to my story come from a place of love, for the fellow creatures we have allowed to live this life with us.
Now, I’d like to make a few points in reply.
Firstly, I did not write this to avenge Mr. Whiskers’ death and make all pits look like natural born killers. Or start a war between cat lovers and dog lovers. I know Whiskers was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was his killing that got me interested in pit bulls.
Second, to everyone who says it’s just as unfair and “racist” to target a breed of dog, as it is to single out people of one race or religion, please. I understand how tempting it is to make that comparison, and the love of dog that makes people go there, but here’s the (huge) difference: Dogs are dogs. They are not humans. To compare the two, is to disrespect the immense history of suffering that people have inflicted on other people because of their race, religion, whatever. It is a fact — undisputed by all sides in this debate — that pit bulls were — and still are — selectively bred by humans to favor characteristics like strength, intelligence, loyalty, antagonism towards certain other animals.
For pits, back in the day, it was mainly English and Scottish farmers who did this, looking to increase aggression and courage in their dogs so they wouldn’t flinch from attacking much larger animals like bulls and bears when facing them in “the pit.” The American pit bull is a continuation of that process, further bred up in size. In the South today, pits are still admired for their willingness to go for wild boars.
Fact: What pits have become is the result of our deliberate selective breeding. So you have to take into account the breed’s genetic characteristics as well as individual dogs’ personalities.
The statistics are hard to ignore, no matter whose figures you choose. Dogs in the general pit category attack more humans than do other dogs. Forty-two Americans died last year (2014) from dog bite wounds; 27 of their attackers (64 percent) were pit bulls. Rottweilers were the second-most lethal, being responsible for 4 human deaths. Over the ten-year period 2005-2014, pits have killed 203 Americans, rottweilers have killed 38. And yes, these are figures put out by Dogsbite.org, but they source them so you can backtrack and make up your own mind as to how reliable they are.
You have to ask: Why have the U.S. Marines, USAF, and other military branches banned pit bulls on-base and in base housing worldwide? You certainly don’t think of Marines as wimps.
For sure, the pits that killed 203 Americans in ten years may not have come from good homes, and nurture is as important as nature. But both are elements. I notice that most comments seem to come from pit owners, not so many from people who, say, live nearby, or walk past pit-owner yards on their way to school or the market.
Attack by Chihuahua? Certainly as common. The crucial difference is size. Chihuahuas are not powerful enough to kill you.
Third, I’m not saying we must ban pits, or exterminate them, or make people hate and fear them. I am quoting people who think that with the apparent expansion of the pit population, the percentage of dangerous pits has reached a threshold where all should be covered by regulation; that owners should carry specific insurance policies to cover any eventualities; that pits, if they are to be members of society, need to be subject to the same rules as everybody else. Rights of the dog, of the owner are one thing. The right of citizens to walk their city without fear also needs protecting. In the story, pit enthusiast Tom Campbell says pits are not for everybody. “It is so important for people to really truly understand the breed that they’re involved with.”
The answer? Perhaps to do what the British did in 1835, after they banned bear and bull-baiting. As Baltazar Macías mentions in the story, to save the bulldog after that year, the Brits bred the propensity to violence back out of them, just as their forefathers had bred it in. A gentler bulldog now thrives across the world. If they could do that in the 1800s, they certainly could do it now with pit bulls, wolf hybrids and others that are not needed for police work or guarding.
But that doesn’t mean I’m saying families living with current pits should live in terror. People who read the whole story through will have seen the quote from the National Center for Health Statistics, who reckoned that your chances of being struck by a bolt of lightning are 8 times greater than your chances of being killed by dog bite.
Please read the story again.
For the Love of Dog
I have always enjoyed the diversity and open-mindedness that the San Diego Reader has had when covering topics, especially those with sensitive subjects. As soon as I saw the cover of the latest issue as I was walking into work early this morning, I knew I had to grab it and read it immediately; a pit bull puppy on the cover looking cute with the words, “You love me now, but will you when I’m 4?” I instantly thought to myself that this article was going to be great, and promote responsible dog-ownership as well as proper education about bully breeds.
I was wrong. I was appalled by the content that you chose to print in this issue. While I realize and respect that these were honest recollections from people who have had such awful/negative experiences, it is not fair nor just to showcase these without following up with proper information and research. When I read the article I felt that it was very biased against this breed of dog, and was not written in a manner to allow the reader to make their own decision. If a reader was to skim over this article, all they would see would be the multiple negative statements that were large and bold throughout the article; not one positive statement was spotlighted.
All that I feel was accomplished by this article was to reinforce negative stereotypes and give the people of San Diego another reason to fear these animals.
Those of us who are responsible pitbull owners work so hard every day to educate the rest of the population about bully breeds and battle the stereotypes and misconceptions that our dogs, and we as owners, encounter every day. No, their jaws don’t lock. No, they are not born aggressive. Just like any other dog, bully breeds are a product of their caregivers; you can raise them to be well-behaved or not, it’s that simple.
Before allowing an article of this size and magnitude to hit the stands, please do your research, and for the love of dog, be objective! There are so many pit bull advocates and amazing organizations that would jump at the opportunity to be given a voice the way that the people in this article were given. We want to educate the public, and encourage people to do research and formulate their own opinion, based on facts, not horror stories and biased articles.
Hopefully, in the future, you will consider running an article that can offset the one you just released; one that serves as a voice for the breed that can’t speak for itself.
- Alicia R. Nord
- North Park
Apologize to Bully Owners
I am deeply saddened that what I considered up until now to be a forward-thinking news source has completely lost my support.
The first thing I take issue with in your article is the statistic you quote from dogsbite.org. It doesn’t take much research to see that the entire Dogsbite website is geared towards inciting fear into the reader and using people’s emotions to guide their decisions. If you’re going to publish a cover story as sensational as this, at least use a more reputable source when quoting dog attack statistics.
A dog’s breed is not the determining factor in deciding whether or not it is dangerous or will attack. You can’t isolate the breed from other factors and point solely at the breed as the cause of aggression. Not every dog is going to do well at a dog park, with other animals (including cats), or even other people. This doesn’t have to do with the breed, it has to do with socialization, early upbringing, exposure, and hundreds of other factors.
The second issue I have is the personal anecdote from the author, Bill Manson. I empathize that he lost his cat. I understand losing a pet is difficult, especially when it came about violently. However, anyone who has any experience with animals knows that sometimes, simply, cats and dogs do not get along. This is not breed-specific. The cat approached the dog, and the dog reacted. The fact that the dog was a pit bull is extraneous. The dog could have been a Lab, a boxer, or a golden retriever.
The third issue I have is the interview with Rina Kelley, the dog-owner who was “attacked” by a pit bull on the beach. She was throwing kelp balls and “the balls landed by a woman who was walking her pit bull.” Anyone who has experience working with animals knows that introducing dogs to each other for the first time is supposed to be done without the presence of food, water, or toys, which is what I classify the “kelp balls” as.
No doubt, if four dogs ran over to one dog, and they all want to play with the toy, there is going to be some resource guarding and fighting over who gets to play with the toy first. This, again, is not a breed specific trait. This is something all dog owners should be aware of. I’m not justifying the attack. However, blaming the attack on the dog’s breed is irrational.
Lastly, I take issue with Manson quoting Kelley’s suggestions for political action to be taken. Demanding an immediate ban on “...Pits, Rots, Dobermans and Shepherds from City Beaches” is ridiculous and purely based on fear. When are we, as a community, going to shift the blame from the dog’s breed to the owner, who is the real irresponsible one? If you know your dog doesn’t get along with other dogs, don’t bring it to off-leash areas!
As a volunteer of the county shelter I see potential adopters walk by great dogs every day, simply because they don’t want to deal with the breed-specific issues. It’s difficult enough to find housing with a bully breed, and now Kelley suggests we don’t allow these breeds onto public areas? The answer is not to punish the breed, it’s to educate the public on responsible dog ownership.
This is a huge setback for the rescue community. There are many more productive ways to help the dog-loving community become a safer one, but breed-bashing is simply put: sensational, irrelevant, and completely irresponsible.
I am asking for a public apology to be published, directed to the thousands of responsible bully breed owners in the San Diego area. I do not take lightly the judgment of these dogs, as I’ve worked hard to get mine well-socialized. I know I speak for countless others when I say the article you allowed to be published is irresponsible and damaging to the community.
Another Reader Lost
As of yesterday, you have lost me as a reader. I was incredibly disappointed to read such a negative and hateful article, “You Love Me Now, but Will You When I’m Four?.”
I am a pit bull-type dog owner, and a dog trainer. As a trainer who dedicates my time to understanding dogs as a species and working with dogs and their owners to improve the human/animal bond, I found this article to be extremely offensive, ignorant, and biased.
Dogs are dogs. There are good dogs and bad dogs of any breed. Any dog can show aggression, and any dog can and will bite in certain situations or circumstances. Where is that information in your article? Since when is it okay or appropriate to vilify an entire breed of dogs, many of whom live long, peaceful, and happy lives without incident — you don’t hear about that in the news.
Where are your tributes to pit bull service dogs, or pit bull family dogs who have alerted parents to a child’s medical issues or house fires? If you’d like to read some of those articles, I would be happy to pass them along.
Suggesting that San Diego should impose discriminatory laws such as banning “aggressive” breeds from dog beaches or dog parks is ridiculous and unfair. Again, there is no such thing as an aggressive breed or inherently dangerous dogs. Are there aggressive dogs? Yes. Are some pit bulls, German shepherds, Rottweilers, etc. aggressive? Yes. But there are also aggressive Chihuahuas, Labradors, and golden retrievers.
BSL and other discriminatory laws such as these do a huge disservice to responsible owners such as myself (and there are a lot of others out there like me), and well-behaved dogs of any breed that deserve an equal chance.
Anyone who takes their dogs to a dog park or dog beach knows there are risks involved because there are so many different personalities, temperaments, sizes, and ages, as well as owners who may or may not supervise or use good judgment in taking their dogs to these locations.
Weeding out one breed type or another from public, off-leash places is not going to change the fact that there are risks of dog bites, fights, or incidents that can happen, regardless of breed, in these environments.
Also, if you do your research, you will see that dogsbite.org is an unreliable source. Sadly, it is referenced a lot for statistics since they have a lot of people keeping track of bites. However, what they track are bites that they assume are by a “pit bull” based on newspaper articles — and you know how reliable those sources can be.
The day that a news reporter becomes a dog-breed expert is the day that those of us in the dog profession will start to lose our jobs. Anyone can create a sensationalized article like this awful one that you published, and find a handful of “nightmare” stories to support it.
I would have much rather seen the San Diego Reader publish an article that serves to educate the public on dog safety and how to read/understand canine body language. That would truly be worth reading.