Thursday, October 25, 2007

Soundbite inhibition

Everybody loves to talk about dogfighting.

Heck, people who have never met a pit bull love to talk about dogfighting, especially if talking about dogfighting is going to get them on TV or bring in some donor money or make a headline or keep viewers watching an uninsipired television show.

We're not really sure why people love to talk about dogfighting so much, but in the wake of the Michael Vick case people keep on talking. And talking.

There was a big
fight bust in Missouri this week - and kudos go to the teams that made that happen. One nice thing about the initial article is that the reporter did include relevant and positive quotes by Stoddard County Sheriff, Carl Hefner, who noted about the dogs:

"They weren’t aggressive to us at all," he said. "You could walk up to them, and they’d jump up and lick you."

Those of us who work with pit bulls regularly - often rescued from abusive or neglectful situations, including fighting rings - are never surprised to hear that dogs from these circumstances are fantastic with people and grateful for some human attention.

What is a bit disappointing, though, is that people (especially reporters) tend to try to exaggerate a "bred to be fighters" angle, as though any dog can be specifically bred for a single activity and forget that it's a dog. This isn't new - but it's getting old.

Because we've had so much success living with dogs that have come out of horrendous circumstances - including fighting situations - imagine our chagrin when a
followup article came out about the Missouri situation that included inflammatory and just plain untrue quotes from the Humane Society of the United States:

"When we are talking about dogs that have been bred to kill other dogs, you can't really rehabilitate them," said John Goodwin, manager of the Human Society of the United States' Animal Fighting Campaign. Advertisement

And, Goodwin and other shelter operators say, don't let the Michael Vick case fool you.

All but one of the more than 50 dogs in that case have been tentatively spared, in large part because the millionaire NFL quarterback is paying for the dogs' rehabilitation as part of his plea agreement.


There are so many things wrong with these statements that it's hard to know where to start, so we'll just start at the beginning. And by the beginning I mean the very beginning.

Pit bulls are dogs, and dogs are domestic animals.
15,000 years of evolution cannot be undone because some random idiot and his friends decided to purchase or breed a bunch of dogs and abuse them. All pit bulls come from the same lineage, whether we're talking about Petey and the Little Rascals or the little tan dog that was photographed after a fight bust. This doesn't make them monsters or weapons, any more than the Jack Russel (bred to kill rats!) or the Ridgeback (bred to hunt lions, the King of the Jungle!) are monsters or weapons. They're just dogs, folks.

There is a difference between temperament and behavior, and that difference is the reason that BAD RAP and other pit bull rescuers and owners have had so much success rehoming discarded dogs as family pets.

We at BAD RAP specifically evaluate all our dogs on their core temperaments, and that includes dogs that come out of fighting rings or have obvious scars from incidental fights. By and large, we find that this resilient breed retains it's wiggly-butted-love-slut nature with people, and what that means is that sparking off with other dogs is something that will become less important to a stable, normal individual dog than pleasing its handler is.

This really and truly isn't rocket science, and it isn't "rehabilitation" either. It's simply a matter of understanding normal breed traits, evaluating individual dogs and their temperaments, and putting dogs into situations with handlers who can show them what's expected of them. They're dogs, not robots.

The other ironic thing about John Goodwin's soundbite is that he's made it without mention of HSUS's fundraising activities - including an
eBay auction of Michael Vick's apology speech - that brought in tens of thousands of dollars (if not considerably more) on behalf of the Vick dogs.

Thing is, the HSUS has nothing to do with the Vick dogs. So where is this money going? If money is the true concern of HSUS and it's the gating issue preventing them from stepping in to help the Missouri dogs, why not use the funds brought in by the Vick dogs to help out?

HSUS has a
fund that specifically states that it will:

  • Provide care for animals seized in animal cruelty and fighting cases. Without this assistance, police are often reluctant to pursue cases involving large numbers of animals.

HSUS also has
200 million dollars in the bank. $113 million of their money came from contributions, grants and bequests.

Somehow, money does not seem to be the real issue here. And that is because money is not the real issue here. BAD RAP has been operating on a shoestring budget since its inception, and we still manage to find wonderful homes for around 50 deserving pit bulls a year - some of these dogs have been in fights, others abused, still more neglected. The commonality: they all retain the solid pit bull temperament.

The other commonality: there are people around willing to do something for the dogs - and that can-do attitude can start with a single shelter worker, administrator, or volunteer.

So: what about those Missouri dogs?

We recognize based on our experience with these types of cases that it would be very likely that dogs in that Missouri group may be quite fine around other animals. Every dog deserves to be evaluated as an individual, and America has said so much by making large donations to groups like HSUS on behalf of the victims.

Wouldn't it be great if those donations could be used to actually help the victims? Perhaps then, we would be able see something good come out these tragic situations.

Soundbites make newspapers, but action makes a difference.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Unfortunately, no amount of criticism will change the minds of the HSUS. The Director's/Manager's paychecks and the organization's reserves (as illustrated in their annual report) are more important than the animals they *claim to help. I really wish they'd just bite thier tongues when gearing up to comment on issues they clearly know nothing about - and put thier money where their mouth is! Ah, the American Government, corrupt even in the Animal Welfare sector. It's sad. Really sad.

jan said...

Thank Dog for groups like yours that does such wonderful work with deserving and misunderstood dogs on such a small budget.

I'm hoping that the public will soon understand that the HSUS is not a friend of dogs or dog owners. They use the donations the public thinks will go to dogs to promote their own agenda.

Anonymous said...

Each and every day, I am growing increasingly tired of hearing such ignorant media reports that are based upon ratings rather than actual facts about pit bulls. Enough already!! We ALL need to SPEAK UP each and every time we hear such absolute nonsense and biased reporting / negative comments. It's high time that people wise up and learn the truth about pit bulls. They would undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised to find out how wonderful these dogs are, IF ONLY, they would open their minds to accept the TRUTH! Pit bulls are just dogs people!

spongebrooke said...

The Vick dogs are special circumstances? I beg to differ. In July in a town nearby, 36 dogs of varying age were confiscated due to dogfighting. It was stated by the Sheriff to be "the largest seizure of dogs in the history of the state of Illinois." They were all kept in crates in a barn and rented out to whoever wanted to fight them. This was not a celebrity's house, their "rehabilitation" was not funded by anybody but the shelters involved. They were evaluated on a case by case basis much like the Vick dogs and lo and behold several of dogs are now up for adoption. Shall I not let this case fool me as well? -.-;

Anonymous said...

It's reaching the point where I want to turn off radio and television totally and forever.

Case in point. I'm driving and I'm listening to WHYY, our public radio station here in Philadelphia. PUBLIC RADIO, think NPR...not the usual junk, right?

News comes on: 'Today, a policeman was injured when he knocked on a door to make an arrest in North Philadelphia and the owner's pitbull bit him'.

EVERYONE who reads this blog knows....if the dog had been a lab, a beagle, even a dobie perhaps, the breed would not have been mentioned. Instead, the reporter would have said that 'Today, a policeman was injured when he knocked on a door to make an arrest in North Philadelphia and was bitten by the owner's dog'. A breed would not have been mentioned. BUT, all media know now...say the word 'pitbull' and people sit up and listen and they won't change the channel.

I expect this type of crap from CNN, KYW and other outlets...but I DO NOT expect it from a public radio station. I will be sending back their donor envelop to them this weekend, empty, and will be telling them EXACTLY WHY I will not be supporting them, this year or any other, until they stop targeting this breed.

And HSUS? Another PETA in the making!

Dina from the 'Lab' neighborhood in the Philadelphia burbs

Anonymous said...

Here's another sad story (see link) from the East coast concerning dog fighting. I volunteer at the shelter (Liberty Humane Society) that has custody of the dogs. I volunteered to foster one of the dogs, while he recovered from his injuries but it looks like it probably won't happen.

How can we stop this? We can lobby for stiffer penalties, but I'm afraid it may drive dog fighting even more underground. Maybe offer rewards for turning in people who fight and abuse animals is another option.

Anonymous said...

all the pit bull rescue groups should get together and ask HSUS for some of that "help fighting dogs" money.

cornies said...

Bravo. Excellent article. Thank you, BAD RAP, for speaking out for these wonderful creatures when they can't speak for themselves.

Hugs and Kisses to all Bullies.

Cornelia & PB's Misty & Buddy
Lodi, CA

Jackelyn said...

Disappointing, but not surprising.

Thank you BadRap for always being the voice of reason where our beloved pitties are concerned. Your actions ARE making a difference.