The Challenge

January 16, 2011  

Millions of Dogs Needlessly Killed at Shelters

Of the 4 to 6 million dogs and cats still being killed in shelters each year, most – roughly 1.5 million – are pit bulls. The great majority of these are healthy, good natured and adoptable dogs.

Great strides have been made in bringing an end to the killing of homeless pets. Only 20 years ago, more than 15 million dogs and cats were being killed in shelters every year. People were afraid to adopt any shelter animals, just as they’re still afraid today to adopt pit bulls. Shelter dogs were thought of as dirty, unhealthy, aggressive and generally unsuitable as pets.

In the early 1990s, however, a grassroots “no-kill” movement, pioneered in large part by Michael Mountain and Best Friends Animal Society, began to sprout all over the country. Spay/neuter and adoption programs took hold, and very soon, animals once considered unadoptable, from three-legged dogs to one-eyed cats, were finding new homes. It soon became more fashionable to adopt a shelter pet than to buy a puppy or kitten from a store. It was a remarkable achievement.

Today, we need to do the same for pit bulls, because killing these innocent dogs is not the answer.

Just as public perceptions have changed regarding other homeless pets – from Chihuahuas to Rottweilers – the same can be done for the millions of pit bulls who are still being killed for reasons of fear and prejudice.

Our ultimate goal is to make our world one in which people no longer view pit bulls as a special category of dog, but as just a dog.

Demonized by the Mass Media

The mass media regularly:

Report any dog attack as being by a pit bull – even when it turns out the attack was by another kind of dog.

Exaggerate and sensationalize attacks.

Promote these dogs as gang mascots, exclusively created for dog-fighting, as in the Michael Vick case.

Fear trumps sympathy. While media coverage of the Michael Vick case, for example, generated sympathy for the dogs who were rescued, the net effect of all the publicity was that two years later people felt more afraid of pit bulls than before, not less.

When stories, language and photos all focus on depictions of animals being bred and trained to be violent, the message is inescapable: Pit bulls are dangerous.

It’s no surprise, then, that today most people instinctively cross the street at the mere sight of a dog who looks like a pit bull.

Pit bull stories make headlines. A story about a pit bull attacking someone can run hundreds of times. A story about a different type of dog typically will only appear in a couple of places – and often buried.

For example:

August 18, 2007: A Labrador mix attacked a 70-year-old man, sending him to the hospital in critical condition. Police officers arrived at the scene and the dog was shot after charging the officers. This incident was reported in only one article and only in the local paper.

August 21, 2007: A 59-year-old woman was attacked in her home by two pit bulls and was hospitalized with severe injuries. This attack was reported in over 320 articles in national and international newspapers, as well as on major television news networks, including CNN, MSNBC and FOX.

When stories, language and photos all focus on depictions of animals being bred and trained to be violent, the message is inescapable: Pit bulls are dangerous.

Breed Bans

As a consequence of media hype, anti-pit bull legislation is gaining momentum throughout the country. These breed bans are proven to be counter-productive.

After Sioux City, Iowa, imposed a ban on pit bulls in 2008, dog bites went up, not down. Nonetheless, in July, 2010, a timid city council voted to keep the ban in place.

Ironically, one of the members of the council who was pushing for the pit bull ban had a dog at home who attacked the mailman and was taken away by the city’s animal control department. That dog was a Labrador retriever.

Are breed bans really about the dogs?

In the 1930s, laws were passed that banned the sale of alcohol. But many sociologists note that these laws were not basically about morals and health. They were a way for the wealthier “WASP” classes to target working-class Irish Catholics, whom they feared, particularly in cities like Chicago.

Status politics, as these measures are known, are a form of discrimination in which a majority group displaces their prejudice onto something associated with the minority group they fear.

It’s not difficult to see status politics at work in the banning of pit bulls. While the bans in themselves do nothing to protect people, they take aim, once again, at an inner-city minority.

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One Response to “The Challenge”
  1. willowknighthawk2012 says:

    Pit Bulls are God’s creatures too! Killing them does not solve a damn thing! My neighbor has a pit bull, whio is the sweetest dog you would ever want to meet. Stop the HATE on these precious dogs. God created them, and He created you!