Sunday, August 1, 2010

Media Bias in Two Recent Fatalities

Dog bite fatalities are exceedingly rare. We expect so much of our furred companions that we are shocked and outraged when, for whatever reason, they resort to acting like dogs.

How we react, though, tends to depend on the situation and, oddly enough, the type of dog involved.

Consider the two recent dog bite fatalities, both involving children.

The first occurred more than a week ago in Contra Costa County, California. Within days, the story was picked up by more than 300 agencies across the globe. Five dogs were on the property but between 1-3 were involved in the actual attack. It involved three dogs housed in a garage (their primary housing) and a 2-yr-old child who somehow unlocked the garage door. He was subsequently attacked by at least one of the three dogs and killed. One of the dogs had a history of aggression towards other animals and was always kept away from children.

If you were to look at the article titles, you would know immediately the type of dog involved. You would find the breed mentioned in the first line and throughout the article. Most of the comments would be along the lines of how awful this type of dog is and how they should be banned.

The most recent dog bite fatality occurred yesterday in San Diego in a military housing complex (where, correct me if I'm wrong, certain breeds of dogs are prohibited). The dog was about the same age as the other dog in the Contra Costa mauling. He had been with the family for 6 months. At some point in time, the mother fell asleep on the couch while her three children and the dog were alone. The dog subsequently mauled to death the 2-yr-old child.

If you were to look at the article titles, you would, with few exceptions, not know what type of dog was involved. You would not find the breed of dog mentioned in the first line. In many articles, it is relegated to the last several lines.So far, it has been reported about 50 times and all in California papers. Most of the comments are along the lines of "it's the dog, not the breed", "it's the owner", or my personal favorite "this must have been a mutt, purebred German Shepherds don't do this!"

Anti-pit bull zealots tell you there is no bias, that there isn't any rationale behind the notion that Pit Bull sells more than German Shepherd. This is utter nonsense, of course, and flies in the face of journalism 101 - sexy sells. Provocative sells. Getting people angry and irrational sells. Pit Bull does that better than German Shepherd. It's not rocket science, people, it just is.

Here's the positive truth: Most dogs don't bite. Most Pit Bulls don't bite. Most German Shepherds don't bite. When dogs do bite, for the most part, they inflict minor injuries. This is as true for Pit Bulls as it is for Great Danes as it is for Beagles. I am not stating that a Beagle who bites full strength is any way going to cause more damage than a Pit Bull or German Shepherd who bites full strength under similar circumstances. Laws of physics would call me on that crap. But the truth is when most dogs bite, they show an incredible amount of bite restraint. Severe maulings and fatalities are very rare. We live in a country with nearly 80 million dogs. Eighty million! Millions of them are Pit Bulls and German Shepherds. These are two very popular types of dogs. It is amazing we don't get bitten more.

My thoughts are with both grieving families. Losing a child is gut-wrenching, tragic, awful, heinous stuff. Knowing that it was an animal we welcome into our homes but, for whatever reason, didn't adapt to living by our standards is disheartening, I know. I'm not really of the mindset that these people should be criminalized - their guilt will eat away at their very soul far more than any jail time could. I just want people to be cognizant of the fact these are dogs. They have sharp teeth and claws. They don't act like humans, even though they have been domesticated to live amongst humans. Let's continue to do our best to keep our small, fragile children safe from our beloved pets - with a little bit of planning and consideration, we can eliminate these tragedies.

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