In yesterday’s article, the fact that the designation of “pit bull” as “vicious” in and of itself was raised. One issue that was raised was the purported “study” conducted by Merritt Clifton. The reason this issue was raised was because it has long been cited as one of the “few studies” which impacted the anti-pit bull legislation. Because of the impact that this “study” has had on the public consciousness and supposed understanding of the “viciousness” of pit bulls, an examination into the credentials of Mr. Merritt Clifton was conducted. This is not intended to be a personal attack on Mr. Clifton but rather to demonstrate how, as stated yesterday, “a lie told enough times becomes fact” (refer to the Sociology of Knowledge literature for further elucidation). Academically speaking, if a statement cannot be verified to be true in a minimum of three independent and reputable sources, it cannot be presumed to be factual. Even then, incorrect statements become accepted as fact, as the widely told but totally incorrect story that the SPCA was the organization that intervened in the first child abuse case prosecuted that resulted in significant change in child welfare (e.g. the case of Mary Ellen McCormack, 1874).
The study in question, and which is cited in numerous venues as an example as to why pit bulls should be banned per se, is the “Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings”, U.S. & Canada, Sept. 1982-Nov 7, 2007. Mr. Clifton has, to this examiner’s knowledge based on searches through normal credential-checking sources, no peer reviewed publications, has not been cited as credible in any peer reviewed publication, holds no doctorate nor degree indicating the ability to conduct independent research, and has not been considered an expert by any academic body, only by the media. Moreover, lacking any kind of academic credential, this “study” was published in the magazine in which he is the editor (Animal People, co-owned by his wife, Kim Barlett). Without training in research methodology, the recognized ability to conduct independent research (e.g. an awarded doctorate from an accredited university) nor publishing this “study” in a peer-reviewed academic journal (but rather the one he owns), one is left wondering how such a blatantly incompetent “study” has impacted legislature. One needn’t wonder too long. The answer is obvious:
The so-called “Clifton study” fed into a particular agenda.
Different breeds of dogs have been villianized throughout history. Veterinarian Dr. Frank McMillan, of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (Kanab, Utah), gave a presentation in Cleveland, Ohio (at Case Western Reserve University) on how dogs have been demonized demonstrating that different eras had what he called their “demon dogs”. Beginning with hounds (ala The Hound of the Baskervilles), Dr. McMillan detailed how different breeds of dogs were vilified over the decades. These demonized dogs included German Shepherds (primarily throughout WWII), Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and today, Pit bulls. Ironically, German Shepherds, which were once a “demon dog” are now serving in our military, police and other law enforcement forces, while the Pit bull, which was the “poster child” for the U.S. Army at one time has now become the demonized breed.
In yesterday’s article, the problem of identifying a dog by its breed was made apparent, as 20+ dogs are often misidentified as a “pit bull”. And while it was stated that DNA testing is the only definitive way to determine breed, a closer look at DNA testing can also be problematic. While DNA testing has been firmly established, other forces also come into play – such as the expertise and experience of the laboratory facilities conducting the test. It was also stated yesterday that 76% of those dogs identified as “pit bull” at the Cleveland city kennel were destroyed simply for having been labeled a pit bull. Because of the impossibility of properly identifying a pit bull, one must challenge the logic in destroying an animal that was not SAFER tested for aggression but rather simply because it was viewed as a “vicious dog”. Which brings us back to where this perception of pit bull dogs as being “vicious in and of itself” arose in the first place.
The perception of pit bull dogs as somehow becoming vicious in the 21st century but was viewed as heroic (e.g. “Sgt. Stubby” from WWI, a pit bull who received a medal of honor) or as the perfect family pet (e.g. “The Nanny dog”) decades earlier is evidence to the power of redefining a reality. While Helen Keller had a pit bull as her beloved companion, owning a “bully breed” is reason to be denied becoming a foster parent in many communities.
Most troubling is that “pit bull as vicious” legislation was drafted largely due to the influence of a non-academic “study”, that was self-published in one’s own magazine, by where the author has no credentials nor expertise in animal behavior, animal biology let alone in conducting research, and that was based on unreliable, unverifiable, unreplicable and suspect data. If for no other reason, the fact that legislation was drafted and passed without real research, real expert testimony and without real concern for the rights of law-abiding citizens is unconscionable. Since temperament tests show “pit bull type dogs” to have lower levels of aggression than many popular household pet breeds, it is apparent that a ban on pit bulls cannot be justified on this fact. If bans are a result of “combating dog fighting”, then it must be recognized that those who wish to break the law (i.e. “dog fighting”) will break the law no matter what. If anything, banning the breed as a means to combat “dog fighting” is counterproductive. Just as with Prohibition, it only drives the behavior even further underground and actually increases the financial reward for those engaged in the behavior. It is basic “supply and demand”. Besides, dogs trained and used in fighting are DOG aggressive – NOT “people” aggressive. The only ones being punished with anti-pit bull (or any bully breed legislation) are the dogs and the law-abiding citizens who parent them.
The third part of this series will examine why breed bans are ineffective and do not provide for any greater community security but rather represent an expense that society cannot afford, particularly when issues such as housing, education, medical care and the economy should come first and foremost.