Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pandora's World Domination

Pandora, Bad Rap alumni and Pit Mix extraordinaire, is a finalist in Dogster's "World's Coolest Dog and Cat" contest with the ever-happy muddy smile photo that I call "The Pig."

She is very pleased with herself. If not with being compared to a pig. She's nominated as a Jumper too, but Dogster doesn't aggregate votes for Best in Show.

Pandora would like to inform everyone that playing soccer with her head is a favorite pasttime, which is why she's both so muddy and so dang happy in this pic. Dirt + slobbery soccer ball = muddy, happy dog.

Funny thing about this picture: Dogster received complaints when it was first up that a "fighting dog" was one of the site favorites. Some people were mistaking the large amount of mud and grass stains for gore. The media sure has done its job getting "dogfighting" into the public consciousness every time the word "pit bull" is mentioned, now hasn't it?

UPDATE: Pandora did indeed score the honor of "coolest dog" in Dogster's online contest. While we all know the very coolest of dogs is ALWAYS the one that's sitting at our feet, Pandora is still very pleased to accept her important new title. She promises not to abuse her celebrity.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Being Off Leash Never Felt So Strange

It's a good thing our foster dogs don't know what email is. They can play and cavort without a care in the world, trusting that the humans will somehow make the magic to bring them food, warmth, fun and eventually, that new home they've been waiting for.

My mail program exploded yesterday. And with it, went messages from thousands of helpers, supporters, applicants, adopters, and even the notes from people who write to heckle us. Poof!...Gone. I'm trying not to panic and to be philosophic about the timing of this catastrophe: I'm sure the bully gods want me to get away from my computer during this holiday and enjoy my dogs instead of sifting through hundreds of messages.

So, in honor of this sudden quiet, we're bringing our little foster Taz - who's been waiting way too long for his perfect home - to a 'secret' place where we can have a Thanksgiving Day picnic outdoors while our dogs enjoy the rare freedom of being off leash. Doing rescue work can be hard on the heart and soul, so to recharge, we'll be counting all our blessings for a year of incredible blessings and opportunities to help the breed we love.

I think I'm going to like being off leash from my computer. Or at least I'll try. But I can't wait to get my mail program back.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! ~ Donna

If you've written to me recently, your email is officially gone. But please try again. I promise to get back with you once I've had a day to examine my navel - Thanks to the computer gremlins.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Slow news day?

Someone just e-mailed us an inane Reuter's article that makes the claim that "vicious dog owners may be vicious too," then goes on to cite some half-baked study that samples a whole 355 dog owners in Ohio (a BSL state), noting that "[a] study of 355 dog owners in Ohio showed that every owner of a high-risk breed known for aggression had at least one brush with the law, from traffic citations to serious criminal convictions."

I mean, honestly. *YAWN*

Now, I must admit: I have a pit bull and a mix. And - yes, it's true - I have recently obtained a parking ticket from BART police for parking in the permit area of the lot, because I didn't see the sign. I know, I know - my social deviancy should remain hidden for PR purposes, but here I am, outing myself as a sign-ignorant and serially unpatriotic criminal hellbent on reducing my eco-footprint by inserting myself in a metal tube and hurtling myself under the bay into San Francisco, rather than being a true law-abiding flag-waving American and driving some sort of gas-guzzling land yacht through traffic (while, of course, obeying all traffic laws) while blasting my A/C and drinking a Big Gulp out of a styrofoam cup. Oh, woe is me. I am indeed a criminal.

Now that we've established that the writer of this blog is a pit bull owner and unconscionable parking renegade (with the additional sin of a speeding ticket 10 years back - surely, I should be locked up), let's get back to Reuters and the various ridiculous things about this article.

We'll start with the fact that the study takes place in Ohio, a BSL-ruled state that criminalizes people just for owning pit bulls. Note to Reuters: lots of responsible pit bull owners out there would never move to freakin' Ohio, because the state has a lot of silly laws restricting our pets.

Then there's the 355 number, which is so laughably small and arbitrary that I'm wondering how anybody could call this a sample. (Hell, my dogs have more than 355 dog pals on Dogster. Pandora has over 2000 pals, and Gunther is hanging in at 1600.)

Let's revisit the pit bull overpopulation explosion, which makes the breed arguably the most populous breed in this country. Anyone who doesn't buy that pit bulls are the most represented breed in this country clearly hasn't been to a public shelter lately. With so many dying, it's a wonder they keep showing up in such numbers, but those breeders are awfully busy.

Reuters also mentions that the authors of this study "used public records to check on the criminal pasts of dog owners. They used agreed definitions of vicious dogs used in writing local ordinances. "A 'vicious dog" means a dog that, without provocation, has killed or caused serious injury to any person, has killed another dog, or belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog," they wrote in their report."


Apparently the authors of this study and Reuters (a news source, oh the irony) didn't hear about the Tellings case, which reversed the constitutionality of the state and local vicious dog laws. Most specifically to this study, the case concluded that:

"The trial court erred when it held that Toledo Municipal Code §505.14 and Ohio Revised Code §955.11 and §955.22 were constitutional because the statutes violate the defendant's rights to equal protection and substantive due process because there is no rational basis to single out the American Pit Bull terrier as inherently dangerous."

This case took place in Toledo, so I'm guessing that the sample/study took place somewhere else in Ohio, quite possibly somewhere that pit bull ownership is retricted. If that were the case, all the owners of pit bulls might de facto be having a "brush with the law."

In any case, is it really so hard to grab a small sample that's going to prove whatever you want to prove? I too could prove that most pit bull owners had criminal records if I chose my 'hood wisely. I could also prove that most cat owners made over 100k/year, if I decided to pick 355 owners from Darien, CT.

Here's the thing:

It's really no secret that bad guys are attracted to pit bulls. I mean, hello - watch MTV for 5 minutes, people. Sheesh.

But to take some small sample of people in a BSL-ruled state to try to prove that all owners of pit bulls are criminals is just plain silly. And this kind of argument is implying that it's the fault of the dogs.

I am sick and tired of lazy reporters and ego-driven media whores using pit bulls as a springboard to get a headline, a study, or their name in a journal. These kinds of articles and studies seem to always be authored by people who have no real interest in the public safety.

It's so much easier to use scare tactics and big bad monsters (oooh, the magic pit bull word) to make yourself look important and get a headline. I mean, really - what was the purpose of this study/article? It would seem that the entire point was to get an article or on the news - so congratulations to its authors! Mission accomplished: your lazy and meaningless study was mentioned on CNN.

Truly, I must now admit that this study has served the public good, because CNN has to make up news 24 hours a day, and Lord knows those poor downtrodden CNN employees must get tired of changing the color on terror alerts, simulating earthquakes and shoving rain-jacketed reporters into wind tunnels during hurricanes.

Here's the reality:

Pit bulls are a convenient and very marketable proxy, representing the shadow part of society that reporters, media-whores and polite society don't want to directly confront or discuss. Indeed, it’s much easier to transfer your fears and anger about overwhelming social problems onto a dog breed.

Don’t look it in the eye! Walk away slowly… now run! Phew. That was a close one.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go participate in the weekly Bad Rap carjacking so that we have a getaway vehicle for the bank heist.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pancake Breakfast

Someone we only recently met invited Tim and I over for a banana pancake breakfast this morning. How cool is that?

What did we do to deserve such a kindness? Well, we brought them a new family member in the form of Queen Beanie.

Beans, as I like to call her, is very special to me. She’s the ‘perfect dog'...the classically fantastic pit bull that I wish every dog family could enjoy at least once in their life. Utterly delightful, gorgeous, and, as our weekend Pit Bull Hall manager Kim describes, “all about positive energy.” I just love that damn dog. Saying good bye to beasties like her can be gut wrenchingly tough, but SO much easier when we can see the important role she’s going to play in her new people’s life.

When I did the home-check, I did the obligatory fence check, made recommendations about tie-downs and crates, and warned about stained carpets and chewed chair legs. But what stood out above and beyond anything I could mark on my checklist was the sweet collection of family portraits all over their house. This is the type of home that cherishes their friends and family --- Exactly where Beanie needs to be. The couple’s only child is a bright eight year soccer fan who sacrificed a prized stuffed animal to Beans during our breakfast meeting. DoG willing, he’ll enjoy his pet through the rest of his childhood all the way up until he graduates high school as a handsome young man. I can only hope that Beans teaches him lessons about friendship, tolerance and unconditional love, that she comforts him when he has his first heartache and that she mugs her way into new family photos on their walls.

You go Beanie; Do what you came here to do.

The pancakes were wonderful. The family was thrilled. And, I traded my beloved Beanie for that fabulously bittersweet feeling that keeps all of us who do pit bull placement hopelessly addicted to this work.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fun with numbers

A lot of people focus on numbers and statistics when it comes to pit bulls. Reporters, in particular, are fond of plucking numbers and stats out of various reports and using them, out of context, to support whatever sensationalized editorial happens to be selling papers that day.

There are many famous quotes about statistics - a lesser-known one is one of my favorites:

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than illumination." — Andrew Lang.

As we've seen, these kinds of uneducated critics point to the breed as “unpredictable” and “vicious,” citing popular myths as “locking jaws,” saying that the dogs just “snap,” mentioning an “inherent aggression” due to their historical roots as pit fighting dogs. This is often followed by citing out-of-context statistics to prop up such fallacies.

The good news: these critics are wrong. Plain uneducated, ignorant, and wrong. The bad news: pit bull popularity is on the rise, and the rash of backyard and plain over-breeding has led to an overpopulation crisis of epidemic proportions.

So, a lot of people routinely write to us and ask for numbers after reading the kinds of editorials mentioned above, and after yet another concerned citizen read an inflammatory and ridiculous piece in the local paper and decided to write to us for numbers, I figured that today might be a nice day to share the ones I have on-hand, in the context of refuting the various random editorials written by people who've most likely neither met a pit bull, nor have ever visited a public shelter.

We, Bad Rap, have placed over 300 pit bulls in loving homes – an insignificant number given that our shelters are 60-80% full of pit bulls, most of which will not get out alive – but significant to us, and to those lucky folks who love and cherish their family pet.

With so many unlicensed dogs out there, it’s difficult to get a hard number on pit bulls. This is what we know:

  • The ADBA registers about 200,000 pit bulls a year. (I called and asked - they don't usually release this information, but I did get it from the source.)
  • The UKC registers about 300,000 dogs a year, and pit bulls are #2. Is 30-50,000 dogs a fair estimate? Probably. They're not talking.
  • HSUS estimates that 400,000 pit bulls are involved in illegal fight rings. (I got this directly from John Goodwin, Deputy Manager of Animal Fighting Issues for HSUS.)
So: counting just the registered dogs and the dogs owned by felons participating in fight rings, we have about 650,000 pit bulls. This is 2/3 the number of total AKC registered dogs, and adds up to more than their top 20 breeds combined.

Of course, most dogs flooding the shelter system are not from fight rings, and they're not papered either. The backyard breeding epidemic is what's leading to the overpopulation crisis. Last time I checked, Lawless links listed over 400 pit bull "kennels" - and those are just the ones who submitted themselves, i.e. the ones who have a website and chose to submit themselves to that particular directory. Sigh. (The page is down now, but a simple Google search found another random page with almost 400 kennels listed on it.)

Anecdotally, if you ask someone in the public shelter system what percentage pit bulls are making up of their intake, it's anywhere between 20-80%.

NYC also does population studies on licensed dogs (and, as we know, most of the dogs landing in the shelters are not licensed - NY is around 1%, last time I checked) and pit bulls are routinely in the top 5. The study results for 2001 and 2003 are online, along with licensing stats.

Of course, the dogs making newspaper headlines and being peddled off in the backyard are not papered, registered dogs. Furthermore, HSUS estimates that more dogs are euthanized in our shelter system annually than the total number of dogs registered by the AKC.

One thing is certain: as pit bulls have become the dog du jour for unscrupulous breeders, they have begun to show up in our shelters and our streets in alarming proportions.

At the end of the day, the only number one needs to know with regards to pit bull overpopulation is 2. Most of us have two eyes and two legs: march both sets down to your local shelter, and take a good hard look. Walk through an urban neighborhood. Check the number of classified ads in your local paper or online. If you have two good ears, talk to a Shelter Director or Animal Control Officer. We have; in our conference travels, we are often disheartened to hear that pit bulls are regularly streaming into the shelters in places as far-flung as Idaho and Nova Scotia. The vast majority of these dogs do not leave the shelter alive.

With so many exploited pit bulls out there, some skeptics might wonder at dog-bite fatalities with the breed declining steadily over the past two decades.

The reason: Pit bulls are among the most stable breeds out there with people. Critics are so quick to claim that the sexy, media-worthy "fighting dog" history causes a hardwired "aggression," but these folks aren't understanding the difference between dog aggression and human aggression (does a Jack Russel's predisposition for rat and dog aggression mean it's hardwired to eat people?), and they're conveniently forgetting that the breed was also specifically bred for unwavering bite inhibition towards people, in order that the trainers, owners, referees, and spectators of this unfortunate bloodsport be safe in the amped-up environment of a dogfight.

The pit bulls that make newspaper headlines share the attributes common to all breeds that have led various bite statistics over the years: unaltered, badly bred, overbred, and off-leash. The CDC’s report is often pillaged for breed-specific stats to fuel the fires of hysteria, but their own conclusions - right there in a box on the front page of the report - specifically note that dog bites are not a breed-specific problem. This conclusion was seconded in the AVMA’s 2001 “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention,” wherein the Task Force noted that singling out breeds “ignores the true scope of the problem,” and furthermore debunked dog-bite statistics as “not really statistics.”

It's easy to write an attention-grabbing article with the word "pit bull" in it - America loves its monsters - and grab some numbers and stats to create statistical lies that sound legit for the purposes of persuading JQP as to a headline-worthy conclusion. But it's disingenuous and harmful to the public discourse and the public safety.

Just remember this: Statistics 101 taught me that the average human being has one female breast and one testicle.

The root of dog bite prevention lies in responsible breeding and owernship. It is only when we as a community address the real problems that dog bite incidences will decline – and those problems stem from the human end of the leash.