A buzz is sounding in Cleveland. Or is that a bark? Plain Dealer reporter Donna Miller describes in an article posted early this morning that HB14 will seek to remove the “pit bull” from Ohio’s vicious dogs designation. House Bill 14 was reintroduced earlier this month by Republican Assistant Majority Leader Barbara Sears. The issue surrounding the designation of pitbulls as “vicious dogs” has been hotly debated, with pit bull advocates armed on the one side with empirical evidence challenging the dogs’ stereotype while on the other hand, those resisting the removal of the designation are armed with media accounts of horrific attacks. While certainly polarized, the two sides are on the same page relative to one thing – the adamant stance taken relative to their position.
There are several social processes going on here…..and some social scientists may suggest that each side is making their argument with a “different brain”. The empirical evidence (logical brain) supporting the removal of the “vicious designation” is arguably clearly on the side of the pit bull advocates (to be discussed are reasons why media accounts are notoriously unreliable). The emotional side (emotional brain) of the argument can be felt, and heard by the heart, on the anti-pit bull side who describe the pain and suffering experienced by people who have been attacked by dog(s) identified as pit bulls. Ironically, the two sides do not have to be polarized as it is possible to recognize the pain and suffering experienced by people who are bit by dogs “period” while not discriminating against any particular breed.
First, let it be stated that there will be no attempt to deny or refute that people have been hurt, maimed and even killed by dogs. Nor will their pain or suffering, or the pain and suffering of their families, be minimized. However, perspective needs to be taken since literally the lives of millions of dogs lie in the balance. Additionally, the lives of families torn apart when they were told that their pet was not welcomed in a city (e.g. Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL, that exists in cities throughout Ohio) and they had to choose to relocate or rehome or even euthanize their pet must also be appreciated.
Due to the dearth and wealth of information that is available and the fact that legislation will be re-examined by the Ohio Congress and that it effects all Ohioans, this article will be part of a series addressing the “pit bull debate”. This legislation will have a particularly strong effect on Clevelanders, because, as Donna Miller reported, the Cleveland city kennel euthanized 968 pit bulls of the 1281 that were impounded. That is to say 76% of the pitbulls that were taken to the city kennel were destroyed for no other reason than their breed.
One “study” that has been oft-cited by the anti-pitbull group is that written by Merritt Clifton. This report, called “Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings” (US & Canada, Sept 1982-Nov 7 2007) is based on newspaper articles describing individuals who reportedly sought medical care following a dog-related injury. Because the incidents are based on newspaper articles and an individual’s PERCEPTION of the breed of the dog that allegedly attacked them, the breed information must necessarily become suspect. Clifton does state “this table covers only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry, as designated by animal control officers or others with evident expertise, who have been kept as pets” (p1). A quick look at the job description and requirements for animal control officers quickly places this “expertise” into question. If one were interested in becoming an animal control officer the description and requirements include:
“Most animal patrol officer positions require a high school diploma or GED and a valid driver’s license for entry-level jobs. The National Animal Control Association (NACA) offers two levels of training to federal, state and local employees responsible for animal control and to those who are interested in a career in the field. Students in the training academy earn NACA certification after satisfactory completion of two 40-hour courses. The NACA offers courses all over the country, covering topics such as animal first aid, animal behavior and capture methods; a list can be found on the NACA site (www.nacanet.org). Applicants can expect mandatory drug testing and a series of background checks to qualify for an animal patrol officer position. Some officers are required to complete law enforcement training, depending upon the location where they seek employment.”
No where in that description is it specially stated “breed identification”. That should be cause for pause in and of itself. No mention in Clifton’s article is made relative to training nor years of experience. Additionally, because the source of the presented information came from newspaper reports, there is no way of knowing whether or not an animal control officer had even identified the dog. Additionally, Clifton’s phrase “or others with evident expertise” is problematic. This expertise is neither defined nor validated. Even IF a person had “20 years experience” there is NO WAY of knowing that they can identify a dog’s breed simply by looking at it. Was a DNA test conducted every time a person identified a breed to see whether or not they were correct? If not, then there is no validity.
A simple fact remains: there are 20+ different breeds of dogs that resemble the pit bull, including the American Bulldog, Dogo Argentino, Dogue De Bordeau, Fila Brasiliero, Presa Canario, Boerboel, and even the Black Mouth Cur. The reality is that without DNA testing, there is simply no way to know the breed of a dog.
What happens is that a person bitten by a dog may incorrectly believe that they were attacked by a pit bull simply because the dog has a stocky build and square head. This occurs because of mislabeling of their own (or neighbor’s) dog(s) and their inability to discern breed in addition to having heard in the media that “pit bulls are vicious”. A media feeding frenzy occurs as “pit bull bites person” story becomes front page news. Incorrect (or unknown) information is given credibility simply because it is “reported”. Therefore a lie becomes institutionalized using the mass media as its mechanism. That is to say, based purely on the breed’s perception by the individual who was bitten, the media turns around and tells the public, “pit bulls are vicious – news at 11” or “read the story in today’s paper”. The next time someone is bitten by a dog with a stocky build and square head, they say “I was bit by a pit bull” (without knowing that to be true sans DNA evidence and because they now “know” pit bulls to be vicious) and the media again reports the story – given further credibility to a statement that is made that is not known to be true.
Additionally, it is suggested here that any statement that is made enough times “turns” that statement into a “fact”. A “fact” is “known” by everyone to be “true” and then is no longer questioned. And a lie that is repeated enough time becomes “true”….. It has become engrained in the subconsciousness of the public (for those interested in the manufacture of knowledge, they are referred at this time to read in the discipline of “Sociology of Knowledge”).
Any “study” that relies solely on newspaper reporting must necessarily be suspect. The fact that there is no mechanism by which to access the news accounts that were reported by Clifton to replicate the findings is troublesome. And lastly, the lack of validating the news accounts with hospital data is nothing more than worrisome. To be truly considered a study, a report must be reliable, validated and replicable. The article written by Clifton is none of these. Professionally speaking, the methodology is so weak and fraught with so many problems, that it should not be considered anywhere near “academic” or “empirical”. Any policy that is based citing a study which is horribly methodologically weak and that is neither valid nor replicable should be rescinded.