Friday, July 31, 2009

Lakewood police keeping the stupid alive

Crap, sometimes I have to admit I'm wrong. This is generally unfun. No one likes to admit their wrongenosity but sometimes you must get over yourself and just say Fuck it, I am WRONG.

Not Lakewood police or their animal warden, though. They have yet to issue a statement denouncing their earlier claim that this dog pictured is a pit bull when he is so clearly NOT A PIT BULL it isn't even funny.

It's been nearly a week since Lakewood police tasered a barking dog not once, but twice. KC Dog Blog has a good post about it, read it. Do it.

Anyway, back to how awfully stupid it is of Lakewood police/animal warden to keep claiming this dog is a pit bull. It isn't as awful as hearing the animal warden explain herself. She says something along the lines: "Oh, he might have Boxer in him. But he's so clearly got pit bull blood in him and maybe some American Bulldog blood in him. He's not a Boxer at all but obviously a pit-americano-bulldog-boxer hybrid from the DEPTHS OF SLOR."

She doesn't mention the depths of slor, but I feel her believability would have shot up if she had. Does she really think there are miniature pit bulls racing through this dog's blood or just the parts that go to, say, his left and right legs? What does anyone mean when they say a dog is "full-blooded" (I would hope so) or has "pit bull blood" - that does not make sense at all. My genetics professor would HATE YOU. Hate.

Now, new footage has been released in which you can see how incredibly dangerous this dog is what with his BOXER TAIL and BOXER EARS doing cute things like running around playing with a toy and wagging his butt and looking like he just found a big pile of goose shit to roll in. I hope the owner uses this footage as evidence of Sir Otis of the Boxer Clan's innocence - he's just a dog and he acted like a fearful dog might when surrounded by a buttload of heavily armed men. He barked.

So Lakewood, please just admit you are wrong and you are very sorry about all this nonsense. Just do it. You'll feel so much better for it.

Also, rescind your pit bull ban, you loonies you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Should I even bother?

I don't particularly want to wade into the Michael Vick debate for a few reasons. There isn't much for me to debate, so there's one. Everyone else and their mother's dog have blogged on this issue is another.

What I really only want to comment on is this whole "give 'em another chance, he's served his time" mentality from many comments.

I know a few ex-inmates. They aren't the people I hang out with, per se, but a couple have lived in the apartment complex I fondly refer to as a halfway house. I would wager their life experience is common amongst inmates. None of them fought dogs or gambled, but they did commit crimes that required prison sentences.

And I know how hard it is for them to find jobs. Really hard. They are not making millions of dollars nor is there really any question that they might. Their faces are not broadcast Sunday afternoon for children and beer-belly men and women to gaze upon. It's minimum wage, if they are lucky. It's hard, it isn't fun, there is no easy pass for an ex-felon or even ex-misdemeanor-er (invented by me, btw). And none of these people have killed dogs with their bare hands or gambled on illicit animal fights.

Michael Vick can get a job. It should be minimum wage. It should be out of the limelight. It should be the same kind of job with the same kind of treatment the average individual fresh out of prison receives.

I feel that way about all those football players who have dealt drugs, done drugs, raped women*, committed crimes - they should not be making that kind of money (no sports player should, but that's a whole 'nuther ball game, sports pun for the win).

And this is the only post thenceforth you will ever read on this blog about Vick.

*Except their penis should be lopped off as well. I know, I know, for shame on my part.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Those pit bulls are crowding our shelter!

The lead for this article sums it up well:

Leaders of the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society are disappointed to see pit bulls taking up so many of the shelter’s cages.
When your so-called animal advocates are ever disappointed with who is in their shelter, you know something is wrong in their thinking process. What kind of message does this send about pit bull type dogs? It certainly does not inspire one to rush out to the shelter and adopt one - I mean, even shelter employees are voicing their letdown. The message here is these dogs aren't worth it.

I don't agree with the sentiment, of course, but I'm not just the choir, I'm the choir's manager and biggest fan. What the general public learns is pit bull type dogs are not even worthy of support from the dog shelter. How unfair is that? Really.

The biggest loser is the dog. Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society may not even adopt pit bulls to the public because? No logical reason is provided.

Articles like this start out bad and only get worse. First we have the lead proclaiming the sheer melancholy that is having dogs who look a certain way in a dog shelter. You know it won't get better for the dogs from there.

Just rush to the ending and see for yourself:
An 11-year-old boy was walking down Oil Well Road in Caledonia Saturday when four pit bulls attacked him.
I could be surprised this wasn't the opening line. I could be surprised that this so-called "attack" is included in an article about the big pit bull takeover at the local shelter (they do try to tie it into the shelter population dynamics, but it's really just a reason to say pit bull and attack in the same sentence).

If I were to ever be attacked by four pit bulls, I expect a proper mauling. Certainly isn't it plausible to expect more than one bite from four dogs in an attack? You would think so, but you would be very, very wrong. Like the earth is the center of the universe wrong.

The kid was bitten on the arm. Once. In Lowndes County, four dogs attacking equals one bite and thus all dogs are complicit in the attack and must be executed. Arithmetic and logic for the fail.

People wonder why we think there is a bias in the media? These kinds of articles paint a clear picture in favor of misguided reporting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

City Watch: Fear mongering one article at a time

I am not sure what inspired Ms. Chapman to pen this particular article. There's something in there about dangerous dogs and dog fighting and microchipping and, oh, did I mention dangerous pit bulls? I mean, dogs? Yes, well.

This is one of those articles that is best commented on by using excerpts and visual aids.
My son, having witnessed two pits kill a friend’s cat a couple of weeks ago, shifted uncomfortably, while he eyed the woman who, with great difficulty, tried to control the female canine with spitting yellow eyes and the face the size of a cow’s head.
Okay, so maybe the reason the dog is at the vet is because she has a face the size of a cow's head. I know the author is being hyperbolic or at least I hope so, because I've been around cattle and pit bulls and never have I met a pit bull with the head the size of a cow. Here is pictorial evidence of a cow head versus a pit bull head (poor Mina is all wth? at Howie who is also wth? but more "personal space" invading about it):

And, to be fair, here is a picture of Mina with another cow who is much smaller than Howie (who weight like 2,200 lbs)

As you can see, a pit bull's head is not the size of a cow's head.

What she means by "spitting yellow eyes" is anyone's guess.
Our dog, Boo, began to growl under his breath.
Wait a second! The entire introduction to this article is a veiled insult at this pit bull who appears to be nothing more than an overstimulated, excited dog with a swollen head and weeping eyes. The entire waiting room is stiffened in fear over this dog yet your dog is the one growling? Fascinating.
We all know this is a problem and something has to be done – because too often, these canines wind up in the hands of the wrong people – and sadly are trained to be weapons for dog fights and other menacing incidents.
Okay, first issue: there is a problem. Anyone who has told you that there is a "dog bite epidemic" probably thinks they could get you a sweet deal on the Brooklyn bridge. Dog bites have remained pretty consistent with a slight reduction since they started those nifty epidemiological studies. On average, 300-360,000 people require medical treatment at a hospital for dog bites of which, on average, 94-98% leave the same day. Very few require hospitalization. That's a tiny fraction of the population. Maybe 4.5-4.7 million people are nipped/bitten annually by the nearly 80 million dogs in this country. Maybe.

I don't say that to imply dog bites are a non-issue. They will always be an issue until the day we breed teeth and claws out of our dogs. It is the unwanted side effect of bringing a gregarious predator into our households and not always remembering that they are just that, social carnivores (or opportunistic omnivores if that's your preference). But dog bites are not an epidemic of epic proportions.

Second issue, "these dogs" - the problem isn't "these dogs" who are "trained" to be involved in "menacing incidents". People who get bitten are not generally bitten by "those dogs"; they are bitten by their own dogs. And they are bitten because they have done everything you probably shouldn't do with a social predator - chained them, socially isolated them, didn't teach bite inhibition, allowed them to roam/be territorial, etc. ad naseum indefinitely so on and so forth. Again, I'm not saying people who actively encourage aggression in dogs aren't a problem, I am saying they are not the root problem - dog guardians who ignore basic dog behavior pose more of a threat.

Then there is the entire middle portion of the article devoted to the mindless rantings of, frighteningly enough, an animal control officer at a Los Angeles shelter:
Why would they subject their own children to such a danger leaves me wondering. I suspect that living on the edge and owning a pit bull may have some deep rooted psychological needs that equates to selfishness and a desire to show the world they cannot be controlled by society
Wow, talk about someone who may have some deep-seated psychological issues, also called "crazy".

There's a bunch of silly talk about microchipping to keep track of dangerous dogs, which I'm sure would be as successful as the licensing campaigns have been - you know, the ones where like 5-15% of the population complies.

Here's where I agree:
My belief: we can continue on at let the entire mess go to the dogs – as we are doing now with a bit of chewing continually on society’s fabric – or we come up with a compromise that protects everyone: the dog, the owner and the public.
Except for the silly notion that the mess has "gone to the dogs" and the fabric chewing (my dogs do not eat fabric, thank you), I agree that it's important to create an environment that is awesome for both dogs and people.

Thing is, there are already programs that work. Studies in Canada and Switzerland have shown that a simple thing called "education in the schools" has dramatically reduced dog bites in the areas in which these programs become mandatory. Dramatically. Having dogs come into the classroom with experienced handlers is a phenomenal and cheap way to create better understanding of dog behavior. That takes care of children and, well, I just think adults should know better. :) We don't need complex, expensive microchipping mandates, we just need simple common sense.

And we must stop making a mountain out of a mole hill. It is unfair and absolutely deadly for the dogs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ah, the joys of clicker training

This is Joan Jett and she can peck your hand faster than really fast things ------>

I was reading about Miss Inara's exploits as the recipient of learning how to perform a new behavior, specifically going to a mat on command but then thinking that "going to mat" means "going to mat when my mom is right there in front of me and not 2' away".

I like clicker training. I've tried it with pigs and chickens. If you ever want to refine your marking talents, teach a chicken to peck a target with a clicker. That is, if you can keep up with the supersonic speed of a chicken's beak. And pigs? Well, I really only attempted it once and then stopped due to the fact that when an 800lb pig wants the treat, well she gets the treat, clickers and my body parts be damned.

But dogs? They try so hard. Like ridiculously hard. Okay, not all dogs. Mina doesn't, that's for sure. She gets bored easily and if there isn't anything remarkably awesome in it for her, she's more likely to go lie down in the sun than learn stupid stuff like "battle crawl" (which she learned, just for giggles on her part, I think).

Celeste, on the other hand, is certain clickers were made by Treat Gods. She loves learning and she loves trying her best to figure out what on earth I'm trying to convey. Some behaviors she does generalize - sit, down and watch never required a lot of "re-teaching" in different environments. Stand is hard for her as is "beg" and wave and have required re-learning when she is put in a new setting. I think part of that is she doesn't really like stand or beg or wave, but she'll fling herself in a down with such wild abandon, it's amusing. Then there is the "drop" behavior which she's generalized the unwanted behavior of not dropping on command very well. She has trained me to require a second "drop" before she does it. So maybe she just thinks the release command is "drop, drop", I don't know. I'm more inclined to think she really likes her flirtpole and tug toys more than she does me rethrowing them.

<---Clickers are for losers.

Watching how different these two dogs' learn is fun. Mina is sassy, reactive on leash around other dogs and, quite frankly, disinterested in any attempts to modify that. It leads me to believe that, after acting this way for 10.5 years and with years of training that, well, she's just sassy and reactive on leash and maybe I just need to get over it. I have, actually, and generally see our walks as full of "watch me", "leave it", "crap, will you stop fricking looking at that damn dog", "sit", "for god's sake, that dog is a mile away". I've been told it's good to talk to your dogs on walks, so I figure me and Mina are on real good terms.


Celeste is totally different. She's not a HUGE fan of other dogs, but she's super sensitive to me and really looks to me for guidance. Except in the case of rabbits, in which case she looks to her inner wolf, thank you very much. Which I suppose is part of what makes her so good at clicker training and behavior modification - she's really focused, she cares about what I *think*, she's extraordinarily food motivated, and she wants to fill her little brain with anything that garners her attention and food.

Which I think has completely detracted from whatever point I was trying to make. I probably wasn't trying to make a point so much as talk about my dogs. And chickens, who I really love a lot (not as much as dogs, but surprisingly pretty close). There you have it, my meandering thoughts publicized.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

AR 2009

<---- This is Nicholas, he lives at the sanctuary where I work and he rules. Just so you know.

This past weekend (Th-Sun, really), I tabled at the Animal Rights conference in Los Angeles for work. I write this knowing most of you are probably not animal rights activist. You may even cringe at the term.

I've always found the acrimony directed at ar folks by dog folks, especially pit bull lovers, to be incredibly bizarre and fascinating. I find it sad too, considering that you would have found zero folks at the conference who hated pit bulls - zero, zilch, nada. And no, PETA was not there. :)

I regret that I did not bring Mina to the event - the hotel, Westin LAX, is dog friendly as is the conference. There were a few pit bulls at the event who got enough love to last twenty years. That's how much ar folks love pit bulls. Seriously, we love them.

For me, the event is a morale booster. I cannot emphasize enough how frustrating it is living in a country that slaughters ten billion land animals annually, another 32 billion sea animals and offers zero protections to these animals. The disconnect and ignorance surrounding who and where our food comes from is, at best, annoying, at worst an appalling ethical crime. Even more disheartening is federal and state legislation that labels protestors who commit not one single act of violence as terrorists. I mean how silly does it sound that the FBI has infiltrated vegan potlucks in search of "terrorists". Less silly is the fact that it has happened.

So it's nice being in a room full of people who get it, who get me. I don't need to wonder if I might say something that will accidentally offend the sensibilities of some meat eater or hunter or trapper or fisherperson. I can proudly state that I am vegan, that slaughtering animals for *our* gustatory pleasure is wrong, that all the ways in which we brutalize and exploit other species is wrong. I don't get weird looks or heavy sighs or invectives hurled my way. That's nice.

It's nice the same way that being in a room full of pit bull guardians is nice. There's a release, a relaxation, a lifting of shoulders. You are not judged, you don't judge, you are just part of a group that gets you and what you are about - even if you don't agree on all things. But pit bulls? Well, you agree on that and that's enough.

If you ever have an opportunity to mingle with "your people", do it. Most of you are pit bull lovers, so maybe find a pit bull meetup group (or start your own) and boost your ego a bit with every positive interaction with people who get you. It's a wonderful feeling to be accepted. :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I am not impressed

From my previous entry on the multi-state dog fight bust:

I think it's pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test. - Wayne Pacelle, CEO HSUS
And today, here is a slideshow put up by HSUS itself. Watch it.

Are you afraid of those dogs? Now maybe they will still fail a behavioral test, but it won't be because the dogs themselves are failures. It will most likely be because some behavioral tests set dogs up to fail. Behavioral tests are a useful tool, not a 100% determinant of a dog's success as companion.

I am not against killing healthy dogs for behavioral reasons. But not as a first choice and certainly not after one lousy behavioral test in a stressful shelter environment. I would love to see behavioral modification attempted first. I mean, I'm not talking spending $8,000 and your inheritance, I'm talking a couple consults with behaviorists or qualified trainers.

In any event, I can't say that, after seeing that slideshow, I'm all that impressed with the CEO of HSUS and his aforementioned quote. I give kudos for HSUS that they are providing daily care and monetary funds (they could pay for the dogs' entire care, really) but I would love to see their newsbytes be less "doubtful" and more "hopeful" - or, at least, more tempered.

The Humane Society of Missouri is asking for in-kind donations for the dogs. While I'm not a fan of what they too said about the dogs (lost cause, yada yada), the dogs don't care either way.

So, from their website: To help us keep the dogs happy and occupied we are asking for donations of sturdy, hard plastic or rubber toys suitable for large dogs i.e. Kongs, Nylabones, 10“-12” hard plastic or rubber balls. Toy donations can be dropped off at our Macklind Avenue Headquarters, 1201 Macklind Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Is that a horse following me?

There is a time and place for everything and yesterday it was the time and the place for Celeste to meet horses for the first time. Mainly, it was the time and the place because, well, there were the horses and there was Celeste, sticking her nose through the fence to see the horses. Mina followed suit because Mina wanted to make sure Celeste knew that Mina knew whatever it was Celeste knew. That is how Mina rolls.

Of course, I must point out that Celeste did not actually go up to the fence because there were four large horse heads attached to four large horse bodies. She went over there because it smelled interesting. And when the horses snorted, her strange little ears perked up, she sniffed the air, and then BAM! realized there were four large horse heads attached to four large horse bodies three feet away.


After I took this picture, I told Celeste she was a ninny for being unafraid of horses but petrified a new dog might sniff her butt. She could not answer due to the fact she was sniffing noses with a horse and that was hard work, requiring the same amount of concentration one might give to, I don't know, understanding string theory.

Mina has met horses and cattle and goats and pigs and sheep - she feels they should be sniffed once and then ignored utterly and completely. So while Celeste acknowledged the horses desire for her NOT to be in the pasture with them, Mina thought they were all silly little equines. She walked behind their hooves, under them, in front of them, feigning utter disinterest in the presence of these 1,000 lb animals. I told the horses they were all very big and beautiful and please to not be minding the very small and demure pit bull lurking behind their left hooves. They were all very impressed with my speech, demanded more scratches and were considerate enough not to send Mina flying with those left hooves. I told Mina this was all a very bad idea, that she should perhaps choose another location to look adorable.

So she did. She wandered jauntily further afield. Truly, she jaunted. And if that is not an actual variation of jaunty, it should be added to the dictionary. One horse took it upon herself to act like she had in fact chased the mighty pit bull away and followed Mina at a measured, but leisurely stroll. The horse conveyed to me she was not strolling but was walking with purpose. I wasn't convinced. Neither was Mina who ignored the approaching mare in that special way she has.


No, I did not race across the field to save Mina. I feel a little bad about this but temper my feelings with the fact that my coworker did race across the field to, in his words, "defend Mina from that horse". That horse was easily distracted by butt scratches, which is how I often distract Mina and Celeste from doing inappropriate things like eating wood, grass, chasing squirrels (does not work), eating cats (also does not work), licking themselves, chewing on the table, chewing on what they thought was a toy but was actually my remote control, etc. ad naseum.

In any event, Mina and Celeste bonded with the horses. The horses bonded with me. I nearly bonded too much with a wooden post after one horse got angry over something and shoved the horse I was petting into me and thus into the wooden post. I shook my fist, which they ignored. I threatened them with my pit bull, who had by now returned to stand behind the left rear hoof of the horse who had me pinned to the post. And when this did not work, I scratched her butt. She had to lean a little to the right to appreciate the scratching, which gave me enough room to escape the wooden post.

And then Mina snorted and snorted and snorted and snorted. And I thought she was going to snort out her lung but realized she was trying to snort out a fox-tail. We abandoned the horses in favor of vets and ended our day with a $233 vet bill for the removal of a bloody, two-inch useless piece of grass.

And to answer the question, yes there is a horse following you. Scratch her butt and you will be okay. Watch out for wooden posts.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rehashing the bust

Everyone in the pit bull (and probably dog-loving) world has heard about the massive 6-state "fight bust" and the 450 pit bulls confiscated. The dogs will not be safe for possible placement until the disposition hearing, so for now, they will be - to put it nicely - stored at an undisclosed location (primary one being in Missouri, where 350+ dogs were confiscated).

We know things have changed since Vick's dogs were given a chance at adoption and none of them managed to eat anybody (yet, some might opine). Things had to change - no longer is it perfectly acceptable to kill dogs without, at the very least, giving them an evaluation. That isn't to say shelters and authorities across the country aren't killing healthy dogs from fight busts, they still are, but now the public seems to want accountability.

This is good, of course. But.

First, the "authorities" and I'm sure you've seen these quotes spattered about (I don't know if they were taken out of context or are true excerpts):

From the Humane Society of Missouri's press release comes this sound-byte:

It is a tragedy that because of mistreatment by humans for financial gain and so-called sport, many dogs used in animal fighting may not ever be able to be placed in a home situation. - Debbie Hill, vice president of Operations for the Humane Society of Missouri

I might buy this if the confiscation of puppy mill dogs also garnered these types of statements. Puppy millers breed for profit and arguably mistreat their animals. Yet these dogs, who often have debilitating or life-long health problems and are often aggressive or fraught with behavioral problems seem to get a free pass into a new home, no questions asked. It's almost implied dogs from puppy mills will be adopted. But another group of dogs who have been mistreated and used for profit are somehow exempt because? (And I'm sure plenty of people can come up with plenty of reasons why puppy mill dogs are somehow more worthy of a nice home than fight bust dogs).

And then there is the HSUS who supposedly was modifying their stance of kill, kill, kill when it comes to fight bust dogs.
I think it's pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test. - Wayne Pacelle, CEO HSUS
Pretty certain? Like there is some magic scientific study somewhere that states unequivocally fight bust dogs cannot pass a behavioral test? Few fight bust dogs have been given the basic chance AT a behavioral test. I'm not one to argue fight bust dogs are at a disadvantage. It is not because I think fighting is, in of itself, a reason to kill a healthy dog. I think the social isolation, prolonged chaining and strange (by my dog-loving standards) relationship with humans creates a dog who has a harder time relating to the world outside the yard.

Photo: Associated Press
Okay, so the ones pulling the strings, "saving" these dogs from further fighting, we can see that their big picture is stopping dog fighting not so much as saving dogs (and I won't argue that that is inherently bad). They seem to have a very jaded view of these dogs even though every picture I've seen shows tail-wagging dogs being easily handled by their rescuers (hardly a menacing threat).
<-- Evidence of very dangerous dogs! (okay, look above)

Then there is the part of me who sits down to write this post and thinks, who the hell is going to adopt these dogs? Are there 450 homes who want a potentially unsocialized, potentially fearful dog (assuming the evaluations permit for appropriate fear)? Are there 450 homes available nearby that can even have a pit bull? Your normal, run of the mill, happy go lucky pit bull has a slim chance at adoption under normal circumstances. Even slimmer when you have shelters and rescues who either require special assessments for pit bull adopters or who just don't want to adopt out our mush-headed canine friends, for whatever reason.

So even if these dogs pass with flying colors, even if half of them succeed - who is going to incorporate them into their programs? 200+ dogs is a lot. I mean, a lot. Factor in the possibility that, at this stage, some or many will be too reactive around other dogs to be housed together and you require either the same setup they came from (tie down yard) or individual kennels or a bucketload of foster homes...of which there are few. The realities of this type of confiscation, as it pertains to the dogs, is a mixture of hope and, for me, a grim reality.

That is not to say those in charge should just pass the buck, claim it's too much work and therefore the dogs should just be killed (or God forbid, claim none of the dogs passed the evaluation). I suppose I shouldn't even think about any of that until the evaluations occur and the number who pass become public.

*sigh* Well, on a happier note, here's Mina with a horse, who she feels are as interesting as a tree stump and thus unworthy of her undivided attention. The horse was slighted.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On media framing and priming

I was reading this article which discusses how the media frames information regarding environmental issues and then how they prime their audience. The study published in Latin Journal of Social Communication wanted to know how the media would portray a 2007 environmental summit held in Bali. News outlets focused primarily on the discussion of highly provocative events, like natural disasters increasing along with abstract/vague solutions like economically or politically fixing the problem. According to one researcher, even though everyday activities comprise 20% of the problem, media outlets refrained from framing the summit on how individual behavior exacerbates the problem.

Media bias is not new. In a meta-analysis of 77 studies involving 15,000 participants, researchers found a strong tendency for poor body image based on viewing ultra-thin women on television. The results showed women were more likely to modify their eating and dieting habits in order to achieve what they felt was the "norm" or "ideal" look. What is interesting about this study isn't the results but the persistent notion people retain that what we see on television does not affect our behavior or perceptions. From the researcher: "Grabe believes many people still resist the idea that a societal influence, like the media, can have a real impact on how women view themselves."

This relates to dogs in the most obvious way, I think. If you ever read articles on pit bulls, invariably anti-dog (they claim anti-pit bull) folks will always chime in with "There's no media bias and you are absolutely stir-crazy for thinking that, you conspiracy theorist, you". Always. There is only two studies, so far as I know, that tackles the issue of media framing and dogs and, of course, I cannot find it for the life of me. One is out of New Zealand, the other Australia. So you're just going to have to take my word on it (and if you can find me the studies, you win). The results were that severity of the reported bites were about the same for all breeds, but that the media reports tended to identify "severe biters" as pit bulls even with evidence to the contrary.

While less scientific, I can come up with two cases of over-reporting. In Lorain, Ohio, 70 dog bites in a year were reported, five from pit bulls - only ones that were reported. In Victorville, CA, the 1st pit bull bite in three years was also the only dog bite reported - the other 70 dog bites never warranted a news byte (the attack involved one dog who bit a 15-yr-old twice on the arm).

This isn't rocket science, people. When you have a city with 100 dog bites a year, where people are bitten severely in some of those cases, and when the ONLY dog bite that is reported is the "pit bull attack", you have a clear case of the media choosing to frame an issue a certain way. And when it comes to "dangerous dogs", the media has primed its audience to associate "pit bull" with "dangerous" and then frames the issue of dangerous dogs as a breed issue.

And this isn't just true in Victorville and Lorain. Look at any major city - many of them will have news stories where they happily flaunt dog bite statistics, sometimes even with details on severity. Then go through their archives. See if you can find out about the Labrador Retriever who broke a kid's hand or the Beagle who bit out an eye. You might find them if the Lab is owned by the Chief of Police wanting to ban pit bulls or the Beagle was adopted out three times by a local shelter. Most likely, though, you won't hear about either. Instead you'll hear about the pit bull who was allowed near a baby. Seriously, the subheading reads "Couple in Pawtucket had dog near baby". Or maybe you'll play musical news titles, like in this story where a dog goes from mastiff mix to st. bernard mix to pit bull in three seconds flat. Or maybe you'll read how a pit bull scratching a child turns into a full blown attack.

You can even do a side-by-side comparison of dog attack titles and stories, like in this case where a husky attack is compared to a pit bull attack. The result? All the news titles for the husky title omit the breed. Only one omits the breed in the pit bull case. They're both similar stories of loose dogs attacking a child with the sibling then bravely stepping in to interfere...yet one warrants mention of breed, one doesn't.

I can't make this stuff up. Time and time again, the editors of newspapers and tv news outlets make choices in what they report and how it will be portrayed. Anyone who thinks the media is blameless in the furor over pit bulls is living in a glass bubble on Saturn's moon, Titan. And while I'm fine with fairness in reporting (ha), it seems disengenuous to argue such a thing when you report a pit bull pinning a dog to the ground (seriously) but won't report any other dog bite.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On people who compete with their dogs

<---- How my dogs compete

My fantasy used to be doing some competitive activity with my dogs, showing the world their skill and strength and agility. They would win ribbons upon ribbons; I would have an entire room devoted to their winnings. Visitors would hear their escapades, riveting tales of weekend trips to anywhere but here and great heroic feats performed by Mina and, later, Celeste. It would be Epic.

Then I learned this was all a lot of hard work. You had to take a lot of classes. I mean, a lot. Like three or four times a week, I would be dragging my dog(s) to training and rally and agility classes. There would be classes on hand signals and clickers and classes on how to move left and move right appropriately. After a hard day at work, I would spend another four hours working on weaves and stands and other such important stuff. Um. No thanks.

Even taking my dogs to training classes proved, how do I put this without sounding whiney, boring. I liked them, especially the pit ed classes for Mina (because she was a hit and was sassy). The one for Celeste proved far below her skills, considering I had already ingrained in her stuff like sit, watch, down, stay, stand, shake, come, heel.

I admire folks who spend any amount of time getting their dogs to compete. Mina is anti-competitions because she believes she is #1 so why bother with all the hoop-la? Celeste would probably excel at something or other but mostly she just wants to chase things (I have yet to find a lure coursing club who accepts nondescript mixed breeds with blue eyes). When I have more money, I am going to be the person on the block with her own continuous loop lure system. It will be a big hit and I will have children see if they can keep up with Celeste.

And that will be the extent of my dogs' competitive streak - a $1,200 pulley system.

Wait. $1,200? Perhaps Celeste will just continue on her love affair with the flirt pole.

Friday, July 3, 2009

On dogs who go out of their minds

I like to torture myself with news stories involving pit bulls. They're rarely positive. Millions of pit bulls go about their daily business without ever making it into the newspaper. That is not a feat worthy of reporting.

I'm reading this story* about two dogs who apparently checked their minds at the door and went on a, I dunno, liver-induced rampage.

Two things get me.

#1: "Two dogs that were "out of their minds" attacked a city woman Monday night" - There are many things that increase the chances of teeth on skin. Going "out of your mind", while a fun newsbyte isn't generally one of them. A less thrilling prospect is the dogs had low-bite thresholds, were easily aroused and intent. Couple that with lack of exercise and you have frustrated, bored, easily aroused, biters. Dogs who cannot effectively calm themselves (or be calmed) when in an agitated state are dangerous - they often redirect that energy into behaviors we really don't like, like eating us. That is why arousal training is SO vital, even with dogs who appear dopey and dorky.

#2: ""They were on the borderline of a pit and not a pit," Jordan said. "They had more of a distinct bulldog look, certainly a mix." - I'm sorry, huh? There are many things a dog can and cannot be, a "borderline" breed is not one of them. A dog can have mixed lineage. A dog can have not so mixed lineage. I'm glad he covered his tracks with the "certainly a mix" comment but he sort of ruined it with the initial "maybe a pit, maybe not a pit - borderline pit". Because that is what people read and soon this becomes a story about two massive pit bulls who ate a woman.

More importantly and this is why people are stupid when it comes to dog breeds...this is the dog in question. And this is when I link you to the better of the two articles - "Woman mauled by daughter's two dogs" - This article calls them bulldog mixes and shows a fat, scared mixed breed.

If you watch the news story, you'll hear that the owner (daughter) has received three citations for having dogs at large. The dogs apparently have a history of aggression towards people as well.

So now we know the dogs were owned by someone who let them run loose. They were not exercised properly as evidenced by their weight (which could also be a side effect of thyroid problems, which can also affect behavior). They have a history of acting aggressive towards people. And while "maul" is way too extreme of a word (she had multiple lacerations and cuts, but not significant enough to warrant an admittance to a hospital), the dogs obviously were intent on using their teeth.

To say these dogs went out of their minds is unfair. They were owned by people incapable of properly exercising, training or caring for their dogs, people who let them get loose and who put them in situations where they were allowed to put teeth on skin of other people. They were owned by people who were ignorant of bite threshold and arousal levels.

And now one is dead, shot by animal control. The other will be killed after ten days. A woman is probably in pain and may be scared of dogs. Which is all so unfortunate...but none of it has to do with whether the dogs were borderline pit bulls or not.

*Which is titled "Dogs chewed thru 2 doors to attack" which left me wondering why they spelled "chewed" but not "through" or "two" or just said "NOM NOM, DOOR!" but that wouldn't be pc, I guess.