"Pit n' Proud" fights back against KGUN9 news coverage
The organization says a recent KGUN9 story about pit bulls got it wrong
Laurie Fivecoat posted this picture advocating a more understanding attitude toward pit bulls
Jennifer Endres-Serrao posted this picture of her kids posing with their pal Ilio.
Cerise Wilson posted this picture of her dog Edison cuddling with a friend
The other side of the pit bull coin - this dog waits to be euthanized after an attack that killed another dog and injured a person. The owner never stepped forward.
If you haven't gotten enough of the Great Pit Bull Debate, viewer Raymond Serrao has written a response to the column presented below. You can find that response along with my comments at this link. - FC
Notes by: Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director
When it comes to pit bull owners, three things are apparent: they're passionate, they're not open to negative comments about their dogs, and they're getting better organized.
Since KGUN9 News ran a 9 On Your Side investigation last week entitled "The Truth about Pit Bulls," we've been hearing from all sides of the issue. Viewers have flooded us with comments and, for a few days, they pretty much took over our Facebook page (which is fine - that's what it's there for). There has been no consensus among those posting -- you can see pictures of cute, cuddly pits right alongside shots of snarling, slavering pits. But the pro pit bull contingent has been particularly vocal and critical of KGUN9 News' story.
That story was narrow in scope and sought to address one issue: are pit bulls dangerous, and if so, to what extent? The report represented comments from those who feel the dogs get a bad rap, and from those who don't. It presented stats showing the bald facts about what breeds of dog bite and kill the most people.
In addition to the flood of viewer comments, now KGUN9 News has heard from the local organization "Pit n' Proud," which sent us a three-page letter. The authors of that letter gave KGUN9's report no credit for having said anything in defense of the dog; Rachel Molyneux and Anthony Holcomb come out swinging, chiding KGUN9 for not representing "both sides" of the issue. They accused us of "misrepresenting" the pit bull breed, claimed that the story asserted that "every pit bull-type dog will bite without provocation;" attacked the views of one of the people interviewed as providing "speculation," not fact; called the story "simplistic," and so on.
The criticisms were very similar to other feedback we've been receiving from pit bull advocates. In many of those complaints, after blasting KGUN9's perceived "spin" and "bias," the pro-pit critics then seek to provide their own "spin" to explain away a basic fact: owning pit bulls comes with a certain amount of risk, as evidenced by a number of attacks on humans that is disproportionate to attacks by other types of dog. Attempts by critics in recent days to spin those facts in their favor have displayed some common tactics, many of which appear in the Pit n' Proud letter as well.
First, Molyneux and Holcomb object to KGUN9's decision to interview a law enforcement officer, which they say set a "negative tone for the piece." Notably, they didn't claim anything the officer said wasn't true, however.
Second, the authors decry the fact that KGUN9 News "did not show images of American Pit Bull Terriers doing positive things in society." We've been getting that one a lot. Check our Facebook pages from last week and you'll see that they were flooded with pictures of fully adorable pit bulls posing with stuffed animals, puppies and children. Some critics complained that we didn't bring on stories about pit bulls saving their owners from house fires, winning citizenship awards, providing therapy, working as service dogs and police dogs and so on. The problem with this complaint is that such images and anecdotes are not relevant to the question, "Do pit bulls pose a risk?" which was the focus of the story. They might be relevant to the question of whether pit bulls are worth the risk, but that was outside the scope of the story.
The authors go on to say, "The vast majority of pit bull-type dogs are balanced family pets." Without a doubt, that is true -- but again, that point is not relevant to the central question of whether and to what extent pit bulls pose a threat. Certainly most pit bulls never bite anyone. By the same token, the vast majority of lightning bolts never kill and only a small handful of sharks ever bite a human. But that does not prove that lightning bolts and sharks are safe. To answer that question, you have to look at the death and injury statistics.
There is no question that most pit bull owners love their dogs. Nicholas Cook certainly loved his. We know because he said so -- during the press conference he held to announce that his family had decided to euthanize their pit bull Butch for having killed Nicholas' father. I would venture to guess that many if not most families who've owned pits that turned on them or on others could show cute, cuddly pictures of the dog from happier moments earlier in the dog's life, before the tragedy occurred.
Which leads to the next tactic of the pit bull defenders, also on display in this letter: denial. Butch's attack, some would have you believe, should not count as a pit bull attack because Butch was a pit bull mix; the other half was a lab. The problem with this idea is that it doesn't hold water. For one, Butch's family regarded him as a pit. For another, pit bulls are not a "breed" per se, they are a type. There is no such thing as an AKC registered purebred pit bull; the closest you can find are the Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Terrier. Even so, the landmark 2000 study by the Centers for Disease Control, the Humane Society and the American Veterinarian Association counted pit bull "types" both ways, listing "purebreds" and "crossbreeds." No matter how you slice it, the pit bull type out-bit and out-killed any other breed by a significant margin, followed by the Rottweiler. And finally - even a casual glance at our Facebook page, or at the Facebook page of "Pit n' Proud," shows that pit bull fans do not exclude mixes from their pit bull affection. Posted photos show a wide variety of pit bulls and pit bull mixes. The "Pit n' Proud" mission statement posted on its own Facebook page declares that it is dedicated to the defense of "the American Pit Bull Terrier and related breeds" (the italics are mine). Bottom line -- you can't embrace "mixes" and "related breeds" when they're behaving well but then turn around and disavow them when they kill someone.
Next the authors move on to the issue of training. They tout their training classes and point to a "100% success rate with American Pit Bull Terriers passing the AKC Good Citizen Test." The basic theme here is that training determines a dog's behavior. In fact, the Pit n' Proud overview statement doesn't even recognize the possibility that any factors other than training and handling might play a role, writing, "Pit n’ Proud recognizes that the reputations of the American Pit Bull Terrier and other related bully breeds have suffered greatly at the hands of irresponsible breeders and owners." This same theme is captured in the "Pit n' Proud" letterhead, which quotes an "Old English Proverb" as saying, "Give a dog a bad name and hang him. The virtues of a dog are his own; his vices, those of his master." Very pithy - but the proverb lacks the virtue of being completely true. If it is indeed an "Old English Proverb," it's a cinch that whoever wrote it was no geneticist. There is such a thing as a genetic trait for aggression -- and pit bulls were initially bred to reinforce this trait.
Next the authors move on to attack KGUN9's choice to interview Colleen Lynn of dogsbite.org, asserting that her theory that pits have a "lock jaw" just isn't true. In point of fact, Lynn did not claim in our story that pits have a "lock jaw" mechanism -- she said that the dogs have a unique biting style that includes a "lock" on the victim. Lynn's statement expressed an opinion, not fact. However, her statement is credible; the observation that pit bulls clamp down when biting, won't let go, and have to be physically pried loose from their victims appears repeatedly in accounts of pit bull attacks. This characteristic played a role in the recent death of Michael Cook. The pit biting "style" may or may not be unique among dogs, but it's certainly true that the pit bull's jaws are immensely strong and that pits are particularly noted for the tenacity and viciousness of their attacks.
Molyneux and Holcomb were also critical that in reporting on the Michael Cook killing, KGUN9 News did not step forward to provide a psychoanalysis of the dog -- talking to the family and examining what "warning signals or body language they may have missed that could have prevented the attack."
This continues the theme that if the dog misbehaves, the dog is not to blame. The idea that such attacks may be the fault of people who fail to notice "warning signs" or who in some other way don't conduct themselves properly around the dog is one we've heard from other writers as well. One viewer sent us an email from an "independent analysis" of a dog attack in which Colleen Lynn, mentioned above, was involved. The analysis said that when jogging toward the dog on a public path, Lynn approached from the wrong side. "She decided to take the shortest, not the safest route," the quote read. "Despite that choice, she failed to warn the dogwalker or Bull in any way that she was coming. Because of that, the dog was startled when she ran by. A predictable startle bite reaction was the result."
Let's get this straight - the dog might attack joggers, and under certain conditions, the attack is predictable. Do these authors really not get that in discussing a dog that might attack if warning signs are missed or if a jogger passes on the wrong side, they are describing a potentially dangerous, possibly unstable animal? Can they not see that under those circumstances, society at large has a stake in deciding whether such animals should be controlled or regulated?
That debate is not new, and passions are high on all sides. Hundreds of communities have banned pit bulls and related breeds. But twelve states have banned the bans. Clearly, pit bulls are controversial for a reason, but there is no consensus on the correct course of action regarding them. It's a given that one single story on KGUN9 News is not going to settle this issue. KGUN9 would not presume to tell you what to think. But recent events in our community suggest that pit bulls present safety questions that we should think about.
It was in that spirit that we offered our report. Facts do not take sides. Our story tried to present some of those, and our coverage will continue. Toward that end, KGUN9 News will extend the "Pit n' Proud" organization an invitation to tell more of its side of the story.
Meanwhile, you can add your voice here on our on Facebook page.