Pit Bulls: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Mary Haight on November 21, 2010

The week started with a guest “Cause of the Week” post I wrote for Be The Change for Animals. A Connecticut rescue is working to get pit bulls trained and adopted, requesting  help getting the word out to drive adoptions.  Some shocking statistics underscored the urgency: 1 in 600 pit bulls get adopted. The rest are killed, whether as a matter of animal control policy or BSL. Not even Bad Rap knows who to attribute this stat to, just that it’s oft cited.  But skeptical or not, you know the fate of most pit bulls at animal control facilities and open admission shelters.  News media hysterics and myth unite, making pit bulls an undesirable choice. 

Then a happy story appeared by Examiner Penny Eims of how a neighbor’s two pit bulls saved Buster, a Chihuahua mix, from being an appetizer for a coyote. Out for a potty break, the little dog was snatched from his own yard; the pit bulls gave chase. The coyote gave up his prey and the two pits stood by Buster until help arrived.  There are many stories like this, with pit bulls at the center of heroic deeds, yet they are not reported repeatedly nationwide, as are negative news and stories blaming “pit bulls”  for attacks or fighting only to later say they were wrong about the type of dog involved – when no one is paying attention.

Pit bulls seen in the context of fear comes up even while getting my hair cut – seems I talk dogs everywhere I go – but I know no matter what I say, it won’t make much of a dent in the knee-jerk reactions and fear I see in many. So it was with great consternation that I saw an ugly incident on a TV segment that was supposed to help get dogs adopted.

Allison Payne of WGN was conducting the adopt-a-pet segment, which is usually light-hearted and fun.  Apparently Payne is afraid of pit bulls, so things went south after the guests started talking about the positive history of the breed from WWI hero “Stubby” to the dog on Spanky and Our Gang. Payne seemed to take issue by saying that while the pit bull was once considered an ideal family pet, in the last 20-30 years they have been known as killers.  The reporter stated that her vet told her pit bulls have locking jaws.  After the guest organization attempted to refute that as misinformation, Allison responded that she would be taking her vet’s avice, then added that she would not even pet that dog. Damage done and more than enough said. 

I know in the course of an unscripted television conversation people say things and regret it later.  She may have been nervous just sitting next to the dog.  While I was very upset with the negative and false comments made – ok, I got angry and said so on their website, suggesting that if she is afraid of the dogs, someone else should have done the segment – after reviewing the video, I was somewhat mollified that her tone remained even and calm throughout the interview. At least there was no heat put into the words. Thanks to Steve Dale’s comment on the story I could review the video that got me so riled. I hope Payne questions her sources and personal prejudices, maybe sharing that experience with her audience at some point on another adopt-a-pet segment.

It was a week of pit bull news that ended with a thud, underscoring how and why this dog is always running uphill in the battle for public opinion  – one step forward, two steps back, the dance remains the same.

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27 comments
A. Millner
A. Millner

Ive never met a veterinarian who would conciously say something so ignorant- they study the physiology of the animals they treat and would know that the Locking Jaw debate is nothing more than ignorant twaddle. That any reporter would repeat something like that without verifying it with more than one reliable source, leaves me to question her character and come to the conclusion that She is not someone I would listen to. For those who do not know, a Pit bull's jaw muscles are incredibly strong, and they work the same way that an Alligator's jaw muscle works, the strength is in the downward motion and the locking that people talk about is nothing more than an ability to hold their jaw tight using those incredible muscles. How very sad for these animals that the humans who adored them for so very long have abandoned them over falicies and the actions of a few. I for one love my Pit Bull and so does my two year old daughter whom he plays with incessantly and protects bravely.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Sorry, I don't agree with you and think it odd you persist in an opinion that I somehow glorified a group I did not even name because I reported a story that needed reporting. What you seem to be suggesting is that no one should report that something went wrong if it involves someone or some group that is not someone's ideal. Looks like we will have to agree to disagree, Sarah.

sarah
sarah

Your post was about the group who tries to save the misrepresented dogs that got maligned by the uninformed reporter. You have condemned the reporter for her words, but also given press and adoration to the group who tried to set her straight. Sorry but I have read your post many times and you add to the play the victim role they are taking. Pitt rescues have a tough job, but giving any press or credence to a group that does nothing to educate, just sits by, and some might even argue add to myths of dog behavior you are just adding to the problem. Yes I am not a fan of the group, I have standards on what to expect from a rescue group and these people do not meet the standard by any means. It falls under the heading of " the road to hell is paved with good intentions" Don't care if they are trying to do good but they are still misinforming the public, plus if you do research this group does not even abide by their own standards of ethics, specifically read jones story, the code that is posed on their website you can see by this interview alone they violated their terms. BTW, i was not arguing whether or not you have friendships with specific groups or trainers and such, I know you do. Mine was to warn you that is very dangerous to.

sarah
sarah

I realize that you Mary will delete this because it will in your eyes malign your friends, (and i am well aware of the friendship you have with the two from don't bully )but the responsibility lies solely in the mouths of the so called advocates that were on the stage. How can you possibly call yourself someone who fights for the pitt bull but get so caught off guard by the statements posed by the reporter. The are common misconceptions, and as someone who advocates for the breed you need to be well versed in answering, not just " no its a myth" you need explain. Not to mention just common facts that the two stated on the show were complete falsehoods themselves. From my knowledge the non- profit has played the " oh its so awful, we were attacked and caught off guard" act so well, they have now gain much in donation money, which makes me question how caught of guard the two were in the first place. Seriously if you want to help animals in general, look in the mirror and who your allies are. The reason chicago animal welfare is so bad is not everyone else, it is people like you who glamorize and idealize some of the worst most uneducated sneaky people I have ever met in my life.

EmilyS
EmilyS

Has anyone asked her who her vet is? Someone needs to have a talk with him/her...

Eric Goebelbecker
Eric Goebelbecker

Wow. I hope that reporter eventually finds a vet that knows canine anatomy.

veryvizsla
veryvizsla

What I find interesting is that the reporter claims that a VET told her that pitbulls have locking jaws. WTH is going on there?! Since pitbulls are a "popular" dog in the shelter system, it was pretty inappropriate to have a reporter that is afraid of pitbulls to handle the story.

Chris Dignan
Chris Dignan

I saw the interview too. Fear and assumptions rule when it comes to Pitbulls. People like Allison will forever speak and act out of ignorance if we don't take the time to challenge and change their thought processes. People that can be inspired to change can sometimes make the best advocates for the things they once feared. I wonder if she would be up for spending a few days with some good Pitbulls? Then she would have an opportunity to report on the good qualities of that type of dog and not just speak from a place of fear and ignorance. Thanks for the post.

Kristine
Kristine

It makes me sad that Wayne's vet, an expert who should know better, gave her this information to support her fear. I don't really understand why a professional would do that. If my vet ever said anything against a specific breed like that, I think I'd be looking for a new one. My childhood dog was once attacked by a pit bull while I was walking her. It was scary but luckily we all emerged unscathed. After that I admit to being cautitious around dogs with a similar appearance but over the years I have realised where this fear is coming from and who is truly responsible. It wasn't the poor dog's fault he felt he needed to attack, it was his owner's for not feeling the need to restrain or train him. I really hope more people can understand this but programs like this make me pessimistic.

Jana Rade
Jana Rade

I think this is going to be a long uphill battle as long as people will look for blame everywhere else than where it belongs - with people.

@dogloversdigest
@dogloversdigest

The term canine profiling comes to mind. In the media and in movies and TV especially, Pit Bulls are owned by drug dealers and thugs. They are not owned by normal families with children. The public perception follows that these dogs are reflections of their owners and are dangerous and not to be trusted. And so the cycle continues. I once heard that in war you should be have to meet your enemy personally, before its okay to kill them. If only we applied the same logic to all animals.

Edie
Edie

Thanks for this balanced post. I appreciate that you modulated your gut reaction -- which I can completely understand -- when you saw Steve Dale's response to the clip. I waited until after I read what he said to view it and thought that, while the interviewer might have "recused" herself based on her fear, she let the two women talk and didn't push the "I think my vet knows best" points. What's with that vet anyway? I loved Steve Dale's comment about the alligators being the only creatures with locking jaws. Gila monsters have locking jaws too, so I suspect it's a reptilian thing!

@KelleyDenz
@KelleyDenz

I agree with you if she's afraid of dogs they need to replace her with someone who is not. I would have been very angry if I had seen the segment. Pit Bull's can be very sweet dogs just like any other dog, it's all in the way they're treated. My brother has a Pit Bull when his girls were little. They would pull on his tail, his ears and hang off of him and the Pit Bull (wish I could remember his name) didn't care at all. In fact he was always happy when Stephanie, Michelle and Jennifer would come outside to play, he'd run up to great the girls as soon as he saw/heard them.

Helen
Helen

I have to admit that I, like most of the public, have a knee jerk reaction to shy away from Pit Bulls. However, recently as I have become more dog conscious I am finding I really have no idea what I am talking/thinking about when it comes to pit bulls. I am shocked when I am at the dog park and meet a particularly loving, friendly dog and their owner tells me it's a pit bull. I am trying to open my mind to the breed but the knee jerk reaction is still there, I just have to choose to ignore it. I cannot believe WGN allowed Allison Payne to do this interview and that she, herself, did not put her foot down with the station saying she could not rationally conduct the interview.

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