According to an Aug. 25 press release, the National Canine Research Council completed a study that it says demonstrates the media's bias against pit bulls when it reports on dog bite incidents. In the release, the Council cites four dog attack incidents between Aug. 18 and Aug 21 as evidence of the common media biases against pit bulls, compared to other breeds:
On Aug. 18, a 70-year-old man was hospitalized in critical condition after being attacked by a Labrador mix. When police arrived, the dog charged one of the officers and was shot. The incident was reported in only one article and just in a local newspaper.
On Aug. 19, a mixed breed dog attacked a 16-month-old child; the child died as a result of head and neck injuries. The attack was reported just twice and just in a local paper.
On Aug. 20, a mixed breed dog attacked a 6-year-old boy, tore off his ear and left severe bite wounds on his head. The incident was reported once and just in a local paper.
On Aug. 21, a 59-year-old woman was attacked by two pit bulls who entered her home through a dog door. The woman was hospitalized with severe injuries. Although certainly serious and not to be minimized, the attack was reported much differently that the other incidents. The Council found that the incident was reported in over 230 articles in both national and international papers. The story was also picked up and aired on major news networks, including CNN, FOX and MSNBC.
Using these four examples, Karen Delise, a researcher for the Council, concludes that "a fatal attack by an unremarkable breed is not nearly as newsworthy as a non-fatal attack by a Pit bull."
The Council also believes that people, including lawmakers, routinely get their "proof" that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs based solely on unfair and biased media reports. This "proof" then results in public policies and laws that unfairly punish pit bull owners and stigmatize family pets that have no history of aggressive behavior.
Owners of pit bulls as family pets and many humane societies agree. They point to state and local lawmakers who are blindly pushing horrible legislation that would ban or greatly restrict the ownership of all pit bulls, regardless of the characteristics or temperament of the individual dog.
In Minnesota, DFL State Rep. John Lesch is proposing that pit pulls be completely banned in the state - all following two high-profile pit bull attacks against children.
According to a MySpace blog, a Toledo, Ohio, municipal court ruled that state and local "vicious dog" laws and ordinances were constitutional. However, the ruling was appealed and subsequently overturned - but not before heartbreaking action was taken against a pit bull owner and his dogs.
As the story goes, Toledo resident Paul Tellings, owned three pit bulls prior to the local dog warden stepping in, after a health inspector doing a lead paint inspection reported Tellings had three pit bulls in his residence. Tellings was alleged to be in violation of a Toledo municipal ordinance limiting pit bull ownership to one per household. Owners were also required to carry liability insurance, which Tellings did not have. As a result, Tellings was found to be in violation of the "vicious dog" law, and his family and their pit bulls paid the price - one dog paid the ultimate price. The family was able to keep just one dog, and they gave away a second dog. The third dog was destroyed by county officials. Yet, none of the dogs had any history of either illegal or aggressive behavior, and all were family pets.
Tellings appealed, arguing that the law was unconstitutional. During a five-day hearing, several experts testified on behalf of Tellings, as well as on behalf of the state. When all was said and done, the appellate court ruled in March 2006 that the law was unconstitutional. The justices also made some interesting findings. For one, they found that no current statistics "since 1996 were presented to support the notion that pit bulls have continued to be involved in a 'disproportionate number' of attacks or fatalities," and the lower court had "improperly relied on an outdated, irrelevant, and inadmissible source of factual information to revive the 'vicious' pit bull sentiment" when it ruled against Tellings.
The appellate court agreed that it was a legitimate concern of the government that people and property be protected from injuries by dogs, but "this interest must bear a rational or 'real and substantial relationship' to the conduct being regulated by the statute, in this case the mere ownership of pit bulls. The state statutes and city ordinance were all enacted specifically to regulate pit bulls because of their allegedly inherently 'dangerous' temperament. Since the trial court found that the pit bull, as a breed, is not inherently dangerous or vicious, then the interest in protecting the health and welfare of citizens is no more rationally related to pit bulls than it is to any other breed which has a potential to inflict injury on humans."
In January 2006, a Commerce City, Colo., newspaper editor printed the addresses of every registered pit bull owner in the city. Many pit bull owners were outraged, and the act was criticized by others as possibly encouraging vigilantism.
On Aug. 9, a visit to the Martin County, Minn., Humane Society found two pit bulls on the premises awaiting adoption. A volunteer caring for the dogs warned that the bigger of the two, an intact male who, quite frankly, looked mean, was dangerous "only if you have a problem with being licked to death." The second pit bull, a young female named "Sugar," easily won the hearts of anyone who would pay attention to her. Although the agency doesn't get many pit bulls, they are happy to take them in, but are very careful about who they will approve for adopting them - not because there's a problem with the pit bull, but because some people will adopt a young pit bull for fighting or to use as "bait" if the dog turns out not to have a fighting temperament.
Going back to the Tellings case, the appellate court found that "a virtual encyclopedia of information, testimony and evidence, to discern truth from fiction" was presented by experts who "showed many of the beliefs and 'myths' about pit bulls to be simply untrue and unsupported by now accepted scientific, genetic, medical, or canine behavior principles." It was also noted that much of the testimony by the state's witnesses putting pit bulls in a negative light referenced "pit bulls which have been trained to fight and be aggressive." Tellings' experts and witnesses, on the other hand, presented testimony about the breed in general, pointing out that "the greater population of pit bulls in the United States are not used for pit fighting, but are well-trained, obedient dogs used in competitions and as family pets." Further, animal behaviorists testifying on behalf of both Tellings and the state said that a pit bull that's "trained and properly socialized like other dogs, would not exhibit any more dangerous characteristics than any other breed of dog."
Press release, National Canine Research Council Examines the Pit Bull Paparazzi: Fear vs. Fact; http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/8/prweb549276.htm