Friday, July 6, 2018

The Pit Bull Problem. A Few Root Causes

Charles Danten, former veterinarian


Financial and Commercial Interests


Some people, such as Harvard's Steven Pinker, explain the current pet fad by a growing compassion for animals and humans. Others, like the author of this article, see in this animal madness erroneous beliefs dating back to the 19th century, when it was falsely believed, that a relationship with a pet could improve the moral and spiritual fibre of mankind. 


American child psychiatrist, Boris Levinson, the instigator of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), consecrated these false notions into “science” in the sixties. The pet industry, sniffing a golden opportunity to improve business used this pseudoscience to stimulate the demand for pets and the sale of goods and services. Their marketing campaign was a huge success. Today, one out of two households has one or more animals, and America, and most Western countries, have literally gone pet crazy. (1)

Just to give you an idea of the scope of this marketing success, in America, the pet industry is the eighth in importance of the retail trade; it is larger than that of toys, hardware, and jewellery. According to the American Association of Pet Products, its annual turnover went from 17 billion USD in 1994 to 63 billion USD in 2016. (2)




Veterinarians, Big Pharma, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, AAT researchers, animal protection NGOs, such as PETA, humane societies, pounds, shelters, animal rights' lawyers and jurists, animal media, film industry, steel industries that produce cans for pet food, agribusiness and fisheries who find in this outlet opportunities for their by-products, rendering plants that provide dead animals for pet food manufacturers, makers of pet paraphernalia, trainers, breeders, dealers, smugglers, poachers, groomers, dog walkers, five-star hotels and restaurants for pets, homeopaths, fortune tellers, wig makers, funeral homes, cemeteries, distributors, drivers, supermarkets, super-pet shops and dog shops whose “sole purpose is to sell animals and nothing  else, as if they were selling furniture,” jumped on the bandwagon behind veterinarians and pet food manufacturers, the big winners of this economic bonanza. (3)(4)




Knowing this, it is easier to understand why this industry is so scared of breed-specific legislation for pit bulls. If it should extend to other breeds of biters as well as to their crosses, this would be a terrible blow to the industry. In this business, profit is directly dependent on the size of the animal. Even if they are less numerous than cats... dogs – and the bigger they are the better – are indeed the most profitable of all pets. (5)


Veterinary bias


“The latest studies,” writes journalist Marie-Claude Malboeuf of the newspaper, La Presse“find one after the other that pit bulls are overrepresented among dogs responsible for injuries. However, the report of the Quebec Veterinary Association, cites four of the studies in question, but sometimes omits the most significant passages of the said studies. [...] The 2011 study - spanning 15 years, on the most severe cases treated at a Texas hospital - becomes almost contradictory. The surgeons, who wrote this study, state that pit bulls have proved more deadly than other dogs; caused more heavy or deep comas. And sent patients to intensive care for the longest time. ‘Regulation of pit bulls could substantially reduce the rate of deaths from dog bites, conclude these researchers.’ ”


Dr. Suzie Price, President of the Quebec
Corporation of Veterinarians

“But instead of stating the foregoing in their report to the Government, veterinarians write the following,” writes Ms. Malbeuf: ‘the proportion of victims requiring a surgical operation was identical regardless of the dog: pit bull or another breed.’ In this report,” continues Ms. Malboeuf, “veterinarians criticize ‘serious gaps’ in data compiled by the victims, but totally support false studies compiled by the paid-for-hire scientists of the National Canine Research Council on behalf of a millionaire pro-pit bull advocacy group, Animal Farm Foundation. “According to the report of the Veterinary Association,” concludes Ms. Malbeuf, “targeting certain breeds would only calm the population and would run counter to scientific and demographic studies carried out in recent years.” (6)

According to his professional oath of allegiance, the social duty of the veterinarian is firstly to do everything in his power to defend the interests of the public, and secondly, to relieve the suffering of animals. However, veterinarians currently working in the field of pets no longer fulfil their duty by putting their interests and those of their clients above those of the public. Needless to say, honest veterinarians, and there are many of them, do not condone this attitude and feel quite demoralized by it. 
Here is the Canadian veterinary oath: 
As a member of the veterinary medical profession, I solemnly swear that I will use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society. I will strive to promote animal health and welfare, relieve animal suffering, protect the health of the public and environment, and advance comparative medical knowledge.I will practise my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I will strive continuously to improve my professional knowledge and competence and to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards for myself and the profession.


Wishful Thinking


If lack of training, inadequate or insufficient training has a lot to do with biting, especially if biting inhibition is left out of the training scheme, inadequate care or surveillance also has a significant impact on behaviour. 

Badly socialized and poorly fed animals, those that are left alone for much of the day, those that lack exercise, those suffering from boredom and various psychological and physiological pathologies caused by domestication, such as the diseases stemming from the emotional dependence (separation anxiety) are real time bombs. 

Quebec's law B-3.1 (art.8) requires that owners of a dog provide the latter with “stimulation, socialization opportunities, or environmental enrichments that suit its biological needs,” but who is responsible for enforcing this law? Do we have the personnel and the technical means required to enforce it in every house, street and Park? Not likely.  (7) 

In the end, these recommendations full of good intentions amount to wishful thinking or as skeptics would say, "the price vice pays-to virtue." While we wait for the change that will finally wipe out dog bites, sometime in the far future, at an unspecified date, it's business as usual. 


Discussion


The elimination of the fighting pit bull works. Don’t believe those who claim otherwise. It is also false to claim that breed-specific legislation does not work because banned dogs will be replaced by another dog breed just as aggressive as soon as they are taken off the market. Pit bull bylaws exist since the 80s and no dog, wherever these laws exist, has even come close to replacing this ultimate killing machine. A pit bull can shred to pieces and tear apart a 200 lbs. mastiff before you know it. No other dog can do this. In other words, it is wrong and dangerous to let these born killers off the hook on the pretext that others will follow anyways. We don’t do this for humans and we should not do it for dogs either. 

Statistics are meaningful and we should strive to compile them with more accuracy for all dog bites, but what makes them so meaningful is their capacity to bring forth the extreme severity and extent of the injuries caused by the pit bulls and the unpredictability of their attacks. This should be one of the main guiding principles when deciding if a breed should be banned, even more important than the frequency of bites. 

It is essential to collect valid data on the population of breeds, the number of bite incidents, the severity of the bite injury, as well as the breeds responsible. To do this, we need to lift the professional secrecy of veterinarians in order to oblige them to report the aggressive dogs they see in their practice. It should also be mandatory for owners to register their pets and their breed without exception when they buy a pet, sign a lease, buy a house or fill in their income tax form. All veterinarians, doctors, police officers, and other stakeholders everywhere should be required to report bites and to identify the breed of the biter with a cell phone picture. These statistics must be available to the public on demand at any time or posted on a website for all to see.


Knowing all along that regardless of the measures taken, it is impossible to eradicate biting dogs without addressing the root causes listed above and in the other articles on this blog. 

Society must choose between lying for business and ideological reasons and telling the truth in order to protect the public, animals, and the environment. 

About the author

Dr. Charles Danten has university degrees in agronomy (BSC), veterinary medicine (DVM), and translation (MA). Dr. Danten worked as a veterinarian for 18 years, 10 of which in his own practice.


Further Readings


Danten, Charles (2015). Slaves of Our Affection. The Myth of the Happy Pet. Available on Amazon. Debunks the pet culture and the claimed benefits of pets. 

Ewen, Stuart  (2001). Captains of Consciousness. Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture. 25th Anniversary Edition. How traditional family ties were destroyed for commercial reasons.

West, Patrick (2002). Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes It Really Is Cruel to Be Kind. Civitas. The price vice pays to virtue.

References


1. Charles Danten (2015). Slaves of Our Affection. The Myth of the Happy Pet. Amazon.

2. Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics. American Pet Products Association.

3. Jean-Luc Vadakarn (1998). Parle à mon chien ma tête est malade. Albin Michel.

4. Stuart Ewen (2014). La société de l'indécence. Publicité et genèse de la société de consommation. Éditions le retour aux sources.

5. Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics. Article cited.

6. Marie-Claude Malbœuf. La Presse

7. Patrick West (2002). Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes It Really Is Cruel to Be Kind. Civitas.