Debunking the Myth that Certain Dog Breeds Attack Without Warning and Other “Pit Bull” Urban Mythology

By Editor
In Breed-Specific Legislation
Jun 20th, 2013
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[Warning: This post contains photos of a graphic nature and should not be viewed by youths or those who are sensitive to graphic imagery.]

Old-School politicos used to say that “As California goes, so goes the rest of the country.”  God help us if that’s true since there is an unusually large amount of disinformation coming out of Cali these days, at least as concerns dogs.  For instance, yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle told us that,

“When it comes to dogs attacking people, whether it involves stocky pit bulls or fluffy poodles, there is one main thing fans and foes of the animals seem to agree on: Often there are no warning signs until it’s too late.”

Anyone who knows anything about dog behavior knows it is patently untrue that dogs of any breed attack without warning.  For instance, the parenting section of a typical question-answer website informs parents of the common signs of an impending dog bite or attack — which can include stiffening, raised hackles, a standing tail, a showing of the whites of the eyes, and of course bared teeth and growling — adding,

“Dogs typically don’t attack without warning.  In most cases, dogs are sending subtle cues that signal distress before resorting to an attack.”

Simply because people may be ignorant of the subtle cues that a dog of any breed may give before attacking, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The article wasn’t done passing off long-debunked urban mythology as fact, adding,

“Victims’ rights groups [claim] that pit bulls are inherently aggressive, disproportionately responsible for fatal maulings – and bites from their viselike jaws are especially severe.”

Again, the urban mythology of the “locking jaws”/”more powerful jaws” of that non-existent “breed” “pit bull” has long ago been debunked.  So, doesn’t this kind of falsehood scream out for refutation?  Or better yet, why cite it at all?  The claim that “pit bulls” have locking jaws is about as absurd a falsehood as people who try to pass off ethnic stereotypes as if they were true, and about as archaic as racism itself.

And then, of course, as hit pieces often do, they parade out their “experts” to supposedly substantiate their fabrications, this time a veterinarian:

“Benjamin Hart, professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and an animal behaviorist, said…

‘It’s quite common for a pit bull to show no signs of aggression,’ Hart said Wednesday. ‘People will call it a nice dog, a sweet dog, even the neighbors – and then all of a sudden something triggers the dog, and it attacks a human in a characteristic way of biting and hanging on until a lot of damage is done’.”

Good God man, where did you get your degree, a gumball machine?  Again, to say that “pit bulls,” or any dog of any breed, don’t show warning signs before they attack is absurd (see comments above), as is that thinly-veiled “locking jaws” reference, which, as already noted, is long-ago debunked urban mythology.

Still, let’s see what a real Ph.D. worth his salt has to say about “locking jaws” and “gameness,” to which “Professor” Hart is not so subtly alluding.  I. Lehr Brisbin, Ph.D., who is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and an expert in training, handling, behavior and the anatomy of bulldog breeds has said that,

“The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of [American Pit Bull Terriers] show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any [other] breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of ’locking mechanism’ unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier.” (Source: American Dog Breeders Association, “Discover the American Pit Bull Terrier.”)

Additionally, in 2005 Dr. Brady Barr in a show for National Geographic called “Dangerous Encounters” conducted bite-force tests for several kinds of animals.  Also included in the tests were three breeds of dog: the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, and the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). [And while the APBT is an actual breed, it is unclear if this is the breed to which the media and others are referring when they use the slang term “pit bull” to describe bites/attacks, though APBTs are almost always one of the breeds named when breed-specific legislation is passed.]  Of the three, the American Pit Bull Terrier had the least amount of bite force, which was found to be well below the average dog’s 320-pound bite pressure.

Further, in testimony from the Toledo v. Tellings case in 2006, Dr. Brisbin also explained “gameness,” which many people incorrectly believe makes “pit bulls” more dangerous than other “breeds” of dog.  The court affirmed Dr. Brisbin’s findings that,

“Many pit bulls [which the court defined prior as meaning the American Pit Bull Terrier] may also exhibit a behavior or trait referred to as ‘gameness,’ which, simply stated, is the ability or willingness to continue doing an action once begun, i.e. ’stick-to-it-iveness.’ Gameness, in itself, is not a negative trait. For example, the ability to carry out duties or trained tasks, despite injury, distraction, or frustration, is desirable in [APBTs] which have been trained to be search and rescue dogs, protection dogs in the U.S. military, drug sniffing dogs, and therapy dogs.”

So, do “Doctor” Hart and the San Fran Chronicle want to recant? Because they’re provably incorrect in their statements.  In fact, if “Doctor” Hart was my vet, he’d get a good long lecture and a bad review on Yelp, because the falsehoods, hysteria, and the long ago debunked urban mythology he is espousing are an embarrassment to the field of animal behavior studies and to the veterinary community. (The mainstream media has long been an embarrassment where so-called “pit bulls” are concerned, but that’s well covered territory on this site, so no need to reiterate.)

Hart wasn’t done playing the fool.  He added,

“…pit bulls are responsible for about 60 percent of dog attack fatalities each year, which is “way out of proportion” compared with other breeds. Pit bulls make up less than 5 percent of the American dog population.”

It sounds like Hart is citing those now infamous CDC stats (and notice the article doesn’t cite his source, which is telling) that the CDC itself debunked.  For instance, the CDC very clearly stated that,

“…to the extent that attacks by 1 breed are more newsworthy than those by other breeds, our methods may have resulted in differential ascertainment of fatalities by breed.”

In other words, the CDC stats, which were based on media reports, are bogus because the media reports almost exclusively on so-called “pit bull” attacks to the exclusion of attacks committed by other breeds.  That, and the media frequently mislabels all sorts of breeds, mixed breeds, and lookalikes as “pit bulls,” which of course would skew any stats based on media reports.  Precisely because media reports are not accurate in their breed determinations, the CDC downplayed its own statistics acknowledging that “pit bull” or “pit bull-type dog” was obviously not a breed, and that as such, their own stats were all but meaningless.  The CDC further added that,

“…it is imperative to keep in mind that even if breed-specific bite rates could be accurately calculated, they do not factor in owner-related issues. For example, less responsible owners or owners who want to foster aggression in their dogs may be drawn differentially to certain breeds.”

In other words, the CDC is acknowledging that there are always mitigating factors when it comes to dog bites, and that is true of any breed.  They also imply that a Labrador in the hands of an irresponsible owner can be just as deadly as a Rottweiler or so-called “pit bull”  in the hands of an irresponsible owner, meaning it’s the owner, not the breed.

To put the CDC’s claim in perspective, the fatal mauling of 6-year old Nephi Selu in Union City, California, on Monday, June 17, 2013 — which prompted the embarrassment that is the San Francisco Chronicle article on which this post is based — was rife with mitigating factors.  For instance, the boy was autistic, so why was he allowed around an unaltered, male dog?  Those combination of factors alone are dangerous for any child and any breed of dog.  Was the child supervised?  The article mentions that the dog was typically kept in the backyard.  Was he socialized?  Was the dog ever let out?  Constant confinement can make a dog of any breed aggressive.  Was there an unaltered female nearby that could have caused the dog to be more aggressive?  The San Fran Chronicle argues that the Union City mauling was a “textbook example for much of what both sides claim in the ever-heated discussion.” No, all that the mauling of Nephi Selu proves is that children, especially mentally challenged children, should never be left unattended around dogs of any breed, particularly if that dog is unaltered.  

And while the San Fran Chronicle appears to be incorporating the CDC stats in its article without actually citing the source (and I would argue that the article omitted the source because once the public knows the article is incorporating the long-ago debunked CDC study, those false 60% stats are easy to refute, since the CDC itself refuted its own stats) the media and the doggy-killers alike should know that the CDC itself concluded that,

“Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous…From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or nonfatal dog bites.  An alternative to breed-specific legislation is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior.”

Dead_Denver_PBsDead_Denver_PBs_2

 

 

 

 

 

[Photo source: The Huffington Post]

What the CDC doesn’t factor in is that there is a very definite radical animal rights element that wants to end domestic animal ownership, and breed bans and breed-specific legislation are just some of the ways they go about accomplishing their goal, which includes the complicity of the media who write propaganda pieces to aid them in their agenda.  The falsities offered up as truth in the San Fran Chronicle hit piece are the kind of hysteria and hate-mongering that have seen innocent dead dogs piled up in Denver like cords of wood (see photos above) and with about as much indifference. 

No sooner had I finished writing that last sentence and I scrolled down in the San Fran Chronicle article and sure enough, there is a quote from Denver assistant city attorney Kory Nelson of Denver doggy killing fame who claimed,

“Since 1989, when that city instituted a pit bull ban, ‘we haven’t had one serious pit bull attack,’ said Kory Nelson, a Denver assistant city attorney. His city’s assertion that ‘pit bulls are more dangerous than other breeds of dog’ has withstood legal challenges, he said.

‘We were able to prove there’s a difference between pit bulls and other breeds of dogs that make pit bulls more dangerous,’ Nelson said.”

While claiming that Denver hasn’t had “one serious pit bull attack” since the ban passed, Nelson conveniently leaves out the part about how if you kill all the dogs you erroneously call “pit bulls,” there will hardly be any dogs left, period.  Former Lucas County, Ohio Dog Warden Tom Skeldon used to make the same claim about Toledo’s “pit bull” ban until it was revealed in a Toledo news article that 54% of the dogs Skeldon had killed were dogs he called “pit bulls.”  Yet court testimony determined that,

“[Skeldon] acknowledged that even if a dog was 50 per cent pit bull, if it did not ‘look like a pit bull,’ the owner would not be charged. On the other hand, if a dog did look like a pit bull,’ it would be classified as a pit bull and the owner would be subject to the ‘vicious dog’ laws. No definitive description of a ‘pit bull’ was presented. The warden also acknowledged that there is really no way to tell if a dog is or is not a ‘pit bull’ and the determination is made by his or a deputy’s subjective judgment.”

In other words, Skeldon and other ACOs were just arbitrarily killing dogs, and lots of them.  Like Kory Nelson, Skeldon also used to say that Toledo’s BSL was upheld in court, but Skeldon omitted the fact that there were public accusations of evidence tampering during the trial.

As the above court testimony shows, Skeldon was unable to discern what was and was not a “pit bull” as defined by Toledo’s own ordinance.  Likewise, Mr. Nelson conveniently leaves out several instances where Denver’s ban didn’t hold up in court for the same reason.  For example, in the 2004 case of Margolius v. The City of Denver, it was shown that Mr. Margolius’ due process rights were violated when Denver’s own Animal Control Officers could not discern what was and was not a “pit bull” as defined by their own ordinance.

Denver violated dog owners’ due process rights again when the Denver Daily News reported that in January 2011 (and in 2009) Denver’s Animal Control officers could not tell the difference between a Boxer mix and what Denver’s ordinance defined as a “pit bull.”  The findings in these cases are a wake-up call for those who claim that Denver’s “pit bull” ban has been successful. Why the courts continue to uphold this obviously flawed and unconstitutional breed ban is a mystery, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the courts ruling on Denver’s breed ban didn’t share something in common with Ohio’s kangaroo court, the findings of which resulted in a public outcry of evidence tampering.

Men like Skeldon and Nelson cold-heartedly dismiss the fact that the dogs they erroneously call “pit bulls” are some of the most abused animals on the planet, and so they cannot see, nor will they ever see, that there are always mitigating factors in dog bites/attacks, particularly for the dogs they call “pit bulls.”  The San Fran Chronicle article mentions one of those mitigating factors in the Union City dog mauling incident — the fact that the mixed-breed dog in question was not neutered — but the article only mentions this, one must assume, in order to push breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter laws in target cities and perhaps even on the state level in California.  So who is left to advocate for these misunderstood and slandered dogs?

The mainstream media often criticises the alternative media, like bloggers, and claims that bloggers shouldn’t be given any credence for their claims.  In other words, to the mainstream media who is trying to justify itself, there can be no other truth than the mainstream media.  But when the mainstream media acts as a mouthpiece for the lies and disinformation proliferated by people who claim to be “experts” but who are really a front for the radical animal rights movement who has clearly stated their end-goal is to end domestic animal ownership, what choice do we have?  We must tell the truth about them, not only to save these much maligned dogs, but to save our Constitution and our way of life, both of which radical animal rightists and their ilk could seem to care less about.  So the next time you see the mainstream media maligning a blogger, remember why bloggers came into existence in the first place.  If the media was doing its job in investigating and reporting the truth, then bloggers wouldn’t need to exist to set the story straight.  And where “pit bulls” are concerned, bloggers must tell the truth that the media isn’t.

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