Monday, August 20, 2007

Over at Salon: Pit Bulls are Innocent

I have an essay over at Salon right now: Pit Bulls Are Innocent.

Actually, the original title was "Pit Bull, Mon Amour" but the headline was revised when it became the cover story. And, there is a bit of a heated debate raging already in the comments section.

Some further thoughts:

This was actually supposed to be a 1500 essay; it is running at 2500. I wrote about 5000. What I really want to do is write a whole book on the subject. One of the fascinating elements of the whole pit bull debate is that illustrates the ways in which we live in a society that wants easy answers. Things are good or bad, right or wrong. But reality is always somewhere in between.

Since the tone of the piece was personal, and space was limited, I didn't have time to include all of the research that I've read in the past couple of years. Some people have taken issue with this. But, I did make a point of including a number of sources. For example, it is pretty easy to go to the ASPCA website and download their policy paper on BSL. Or to find Karen Delise's books, which include "Fatal Dog Attacks," a book that covers over thirty years of statistics and concludes that these are the factors that need to be addressed for safety: function of the dog (ie. guard dogs, yard dogs, etc.), socialization, tethering and confinement, reproductive status. These are the factors in over 90% of all dog attacks. Most communities have laws that address these things but the laws are never enforced.

Also, the reason that BSL is wrong is not simply that it is illogical. It is that it doesn't make anyone safer. I'm all for laws addressing responsible dog ownership. I'm all for dog registration and even for standards for breeding--because one of the big problems is that there are too many dogs, period.

And, finally, I should reveal this: I was attacked by a dog several years ago. It was in a public park, charging at my own dog, and when I went to my dog's defense the other dog first grabbed my leg, then my arm. There was blood. Bystanders called the police. The dog's owners did nothing until the attack was over, at which point they said, "It has been a while since he's done this." The dog was a beagle. BSL wouldn't have stopped that attack. Since the dog had a history of this behavior, the owners should have made the decision to not unleash him in public. But like many owners of many different breeds of dog, they decided it couldn't happen again. For a while I was reluctant to go near another beagle--but at the same time, I also knew that this response was illogical.

And, finally, for people who wonder what my position is on gun control: there are some major differences between dogs and guns, particularly in the case of handguns, which are designed for only one function: shooting people.


Elizabeth Crane said...

You should definitely write a whole book Ken. Now that I have a dog, and I'm out among many other dog owners, it's even more clear to me how much the owner is responsible for the dog's behavior.

Jackelyn said...

Please, Please write a book on the subject. I know you can highlight the plight of the pit bull and do so much to educate the public and fight the myths. Your book, "The Dogs who Found Me" was so wonderfully written, so engaging. As a pit bull rescuer, I want to thank you for your work, thank you for your voice, and your dedication to all the wonderful dogs who deserve love. I truly appreciated your Pit Bulls are Innocent peice. Wonderful. Thank you. Perhaps I'll see you at Powells...maybe I'll introduce you to the "pit bull who found me"

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work Ken! This is my own personal crusade on a very local grassroots level, basically anyone who will listen to me. I cannot get over how deamonized pit bulls have become. The press coverage, much of inaccurate, contributes heavily to the breeds scarlet letter. Pit bulls seem to have lasted much longer in the spotlight as the 'bad' breed than any other breed that I can think of in the last twenty years (german shepards, dobermans, rottweilers, mastiffs, etc.). Continue the good fight.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! Reading the letters in response to your article make me also vote that you write a book specifically about pit bulls, as there are still so many silly - and sad - misconceptions about the breed. Responsible owners know we must be breed ambassadors and educators, and the more well-reasoned, well-written books we have, the better. The breed is in the spotlight right now, even if it is because the despicable actions of Vick and his ilk, but the backlash against dogfighting is momentum we can use. Karen Delisle's "Pit Bull Placebo" is a new book which I'll be passing around (along with your book, of course). For people not familiar with the breed, after they meet my well-trained and socialized little butt-wiggler, they are often quite amazed at what they thought they knew from media hype, and the truth. Yes, we get the looks and the comments, but our boy never seems to mind - he loves any audience for his tricks and has never met anyone whose face didn't need a hearty lick or two. Ken, thank you for writing about us "real" American Pit Bull Terrier owners and our "real" dogs -
please don't stop!