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Posts Tagged ‘Pit Bull’

Words matter when talking about pit bulls

Boxer/pit-bull close-up 2I came across a great post called “Pit bull awareness: words do matter” at the Love and a Six-Foot Leash blog (thanks, Meghan!)

It discusses how the words we use to support pit bulls and to try to educate people about them carry more weight than we often realize. People tend to hear what they already believe in other people’s words, and some of the words used to describe pitties have more than one interpretation.

You should read the whole post (go ahead, I’ll wait), but here are the highlights:

Don’t call them American Pit Bull Terriers.

Don’t call them bullies or bully breeds.

Don’t say “it’s all in how they’re raised.”

Don’t ascribe attributes — good or bad — based solely on appearance.

Here are my own thoughts on these points:

Most dogs now described as “pit bulls” aren’t pit bulls at all. They’re mixes of many, many other breeds.

For a very long time, I took the term “bully breed” at face value. I thought it meant that these types of dogs were more likely to be “bullies” in a schoolyard sense. That’s not what it means at all.

It’s not how they’re raised at all. It’s how they’re being treated right now.

Any dog can be the nicest, sweetest dog in the w0rld. Don’t judge a book by its cover, duh.

Photo: Boxer/pit-bull close-up 2 by bastique, on Flickr.

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Three Cheers for Austin Pit Bulls!!!

LokiI had the awesome and amazing privilege of attending Love A Bull’s Third Annual Pit Bull Awareness Day event this past Sunday, and to be their social media guy for the day. The weather was not as cooperative as I might have liked, but the park was full, the people were out with their dogs, and the dogs were phenomenal. I also had the honor to meet and hang out with Tim Racer and Donna Reynolds, the founders of Oakland, California’s BAD RAP, who rehabilitated many of Michael Vick’s dogs when so many other people just wanted them put down. I occasionally find myself at a loss for words, so I’ll just say this about them:

I have met a fair number of famous people, including politicians, actors, musicians. I have spent some time in our nation’s capital, and Capitol, and I have shook the hands of quite a few important people. Meeting Tim and Donna was a bigger honor than any of that.

Media coverage, as always, was a concern. Pit bulls are a popular target for people looking to score a few easy points for sensationalism and fear. Lazy journalists can just pop out a few scares about pit bulls for people who don’t know much about the breed, or who think that they know all they need to know because someone they know once got bitten by a pit or because they Googled “dog bite” and got 10,000 hits about pit bulls. As it happens, the day passed without incident in the park, although in a strange cosmic twist, a man on the hike & bike trail was bitten by a “pit bull type” dog, which could mean almost anything short of a chihuahua. How media outlets chose to focus its coverage is a good measure of how worthwhile those media sources are, as well as how worthwhile their reporters are. Here is my take on the stories put out by the media right after the event (please note these are my opinions, and mine alone):

1. Karen Brooks, CultureMap Austin. I name Ms. Brooks’ story on the event, and by extension Ms. Brooks herself, as the best coverage of the event by far. Her article, “With a face like that, what’s not to love? Pit bull festival celebrates a misunderstood breed,” has put the focus where it belongs: on the facts and figures from the people who know the most, and on the dogs themselves. After giving quite a bit of ink to the people and dogs enjoying the day, she drops this bit of awesome on us:

[Pit bull] critics trot out myths to back their vastly unresearched opinions, the most popular of which is the completely false one about pit bulls’ jaws locking on its targets and that unproven theory that pit bulls are ticking time bombs.

These people vigorously defend a mysterious willingness to decide that one highly publicized pit bull attack means all pit bulls are alike, much like the indefensible position that one undocumented immigrant from Mexico means that all Latinos swam the river to get here.

Among the most embarrassing and irresponsible factors in all this is the treatment of pit bulls by the news media.

We in the media like stories about bad guys, and we like stories that draw high ratings/hits/circulation numbers. Pit bull stories, unfortunately, make it easy to do both because they let us play on fear and ignorance while skimping on time and facts and increasing our audience.

But some stories simply don’t have two sides.

In covering Sunday’s festival, I’m not going to drag out the cursory anti-pittie quote from a victim because, frankly, while the experience was horrific, being bitten by a dog does not make them experts on an entire breed.

I’m not going to talk to your typical man-on-the-street because, frankly, while they may have consumed lots of stories about dog bites, simply watching TV does not make them experts, either.

And as a member of the media, I’m not going to be dragged into a CYA-inspired back-and-forth that gives ink to unsubstantiated rumors simply for the sake of appearing to be fair. This is a common trick of the media that occasionally fools even the most discerning viewer/reader/listener into thinking we’re actually being balanced.

(Allowing someone to parrot untruths unchecked is, actually, unfair and intellectually dishonest, and it’s time the media quit doing it. But that’s a WHOLE ‘nother essay…)

On Sunday, the story simply was that hundreds of beloved pit bulls and their proud owners turned out to show society that these dogs, like Justice, can be pure bundles of joy. And, with or without the audience, to just celebrate their dogs in a nonjudgmental environment.

2. Jim Swift, KXAN. With his article, “Pit bull lovers campaign for ‘underdog,’” Mr. Swift has done a good job telling Love A Bull’s story and showing how pit bull’s have become a victim of bad owners and stereotypes. He begins, alas, with stories of attacks by “pit bull-type” dogs around Austin over the course of several months, but he eventually gets to some good coverage of the event. Pit bull critics can read the first few paragraphs and then go about their business without having to challenge any of their previously-held assumptions. If I have learned anything, it is that some people cling tenaciously to Just Not Getting It (you might even say that pit bull critics cling to their arguments with their jaws locked down.) For those who care to learn, though, this is a good overview of Love-A-Bull and its mission to help pit bulls and their image. He extensively interviews Lydia Zaidman, one of Love-A-Bull’s founders, and Dr. Lynanne Mockler, an Austin veterinarian who knows these dogs well.

3. Fox Austin’s byline-less article, simply titled “Pit Bull Awareness Day,” waits until the fifth paragraph of an eight-paragraph article to mention the event, but at least it describes the dogs as “calm.”

4. Steve Alberts of KVUE is last, and very much least. He wrote an article entitled “Man attacked by dog at the Hike and Bike Trail.” He will be getting his own blog post, because I want to keep this one positive.

Something I noticed that gives me a sense of hope is the near-total lack of negative comments on all but one of the stories. An online article on pit bulls invariably brings out a few people who will post comments, sometimes being generous with their use of ALL CAPS, explaining how pit bulls are impossible to train and cannot be rehabilitated because yargle blargle wargle lalalalalalala and so forth. Pit bull advocates, though surely well-meaning, always end up sinking to their level in responding, calling them “ignorant” and whatnot.

Here’s the thing, though: I only saw those negative comments on the Fox story, and the only commenter I saw really phoned it in: some guy named Cody really doesn’t like pit bulls or Rottweilers. It’s hardly even worth trying to argue with him. It seems, though, that if an article gives pitties a fair shake, the haters can’t quite muster the steam to spew in the comments. To that I say hell yeah.

Coming soon: I take on Steve Alberts, and I calmly explain why pit bull critics are wrong.

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National Pit Bull Awareness Day festivities in Austin

Texas-Sized Pittie PrideOctober 22, 2011 is National Pit Bull Awareness Day! In celebration, Austin pit bull education and advocacy group Love-A-Bull is hosting the Texas-Sized Pittie Pride event on Sunday, November 6, 2011 in Republic Square Park in downtown Austin. They will be looking to set a record for the world’s largest gathering of pit bull-type dogs. I was there last year and can affirm that it was a great time with some amazing people and the most wonderful dogs in the world.

The night before, they will host a VIP Kickoff Party at Austin Speed Shop, 1414 S. Lamar. More information and tickets are available at Love-A-Bull’s Meetup page.

Special guests at the Pittie Pride event and the VIP party include:

Here’s a sample of John Shipe’s musical stylings:

Here are a few of my own pictures from last year’s event:

Pit Bull Awareness Day, November 7, 2010 Pit Bull Awareness Day, November 7, 2010
Pit Bull Awareness Day, November 7, 2010 Pit Bull Awareness Day, November 7, 2010
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Success stories of pitties

If you need a pick-me-up, I recommend the success stories from Love-A-Bull, an Austin-based pit bull rescue, advocacy and education organization. (Full disclosure: I have some connections to their board of directors. Just sayin’.)

Here are some of our successful adoptions. There are many more, and many more that will come. This page is dedicated to Tyson. For you big happy, goofy boy, we will always save pitties. You are our inspiration. We will always love you. We are so sorry your life got cut short. We will always remember the happy moments, and wish with every ounce of our heart that they were longer.

Tyson in the Grass

Tyson enjoying a beatiful day in the sun.

Tyson with his Toy
Tyson playing with a favorite toy at his foster mom’s home.

Tyson’s story is heartbreaking, but at least it has inspired a lot of good.

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“People should understand that their dog should mean something to them”

Here’s a short feature on Project Unleashed, a California organization that “offers students at-risk and incarcerated youth the ability to train homeless rescued dogs, giving the dogs the training and socialization they need to increase that dog’s chance for adoption” (h/t Cynthia):

Project Unleashed from Calamari Productions on Vimeo.

It looks like a great organization doing good work. I believe the only way to possibly stop animal abuse and dogfighting is by changing people’s minds, even if it can only be done one person at a time. Seeing just how sweet and friendly dogs, particularly pit bulls, are and want to be is the most important part of that. My favorite quote is from the young woman who says: “People should understand that their dog should mean something to them.”

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Bad lawyers! Bad!

This is an old story, but it just caught my eye:

Two lawyers who used a pit bull logo and displayed the phone number 1-800 PIT BULL in their television ad have been disciplined by the Supreme Court for violating Florida Bar advertising rules.

The court overruled the recommendation of the referee in the case and found the ad was not protected by the First Amendment. It approved a public reprimand for the lawyers and ordered them to attend the Bar s Advertising Workshop within the next six months.

The lawyers involved, John Pape and Marc Chandler of Ft. Lauderdale, say they plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court an won’t seek a rehearing from the state’s high court.

“I don’t believe that we are going to seek a rehearing. From a practical start it was a unanimous decision; there was no equivocation. I don’t think it would be very fruitful,” Chandler said. “We are going to appeal.”

The court ruled unanimously in the November 17 opinion, holding that the ad violated Bar rules because the image of the pit bull objectively had nothing to do with the type of services being provided by the law firm and improperly described the law firm’s services.

The full decision of the Florida Supreme Court is available online (PDF) should you care to check it out. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, according to the lawyers’ own account of the case. Note that they still use “800-PIT-BULL”as their web address, and they have kept the logo available for viewing:

Many commentators have described out [sic] logo as “ferocious” or ‘fierce.” Please click here if you want to see the logo and determine if it is “ferocious” or ‘fierce [sic].

Photo by harminder dhesi photography on Flickr

Photo by harminder dhesi photography on Flickr

I’ll skip over an analysis of their spelling and punctuation skills. I think I have made my feelings about pit  bulls clear by now. I think they are awesome. Mistreatment and misrepresentation of these wonderful dogs just makes me angry. The ad in question is also a caricature of ridiculous lawyer marketing, which played a role in the court’s decision. I don’t really want to get into the First Amendment argument supporting the ad. These guys have received support from some “free expression” advocates. For me, the guiding principle here is that just because something can be said does not mean it should be said.

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