Journalist with good news story ends on a sour note

Some good news out of Ontario for two condemned young dogs.  They’ve been shipped to the SPCA in Fredericton, New Brunswick, who hopes to adopt them out in that province.

Had they stayed in Ontario, they would have been destroyed for being too young to be legal.

Here is the CBC story and the Daily Gleaner story.

It’s a shame that Shawn Berry from the Daily Gleaner felt it necessary to end the story by quoting from the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeals judges.

In my opinion, it is probably one of the most inaccurate and inflammatory statements ever put into print by a judge about “pit bulls”.  I’ll quote it here so I can discuss it.

“The total ban on pit bulls is not ‘arbitrary’ or ‘grossly disproportionate’ in light of the evidence that pit bulls have a tendency to be unpredictable and that even apparently docile pit bulls may attack without warning or provocation”, wrote the judges.

This “evidence”, which was supposedly about pit bulls in general, not about a specific incident, came from two sources.

The first was Tom Skeldon, former Ohio dog catcher who just recently lost his job as the Lucas County Dog Warden.  A man with a well-documented and well-publicized hatred of anything related to a bull breed of any type, he has singlehandedly been responsible for the destruction of more non-aggressive, unoffending dogs than any other person in North America and very likely the world, with the possible exceptions of Ontario’s Michael Bryant and Denver’s Kory Nelson.  Skeldon’s being doing it a lot longer, so I think the accumulated death toll from his extermination campaigns might be higher.

The second was Dr. Alan Beck from Purdue University’s Animal Behavior Clinic, part of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond.  Dr. Beck did an interesting about turn in his opinion on banning breeds just about the same time that the Ontario ban was being considered.  He was then touted widely by the Ontario government (and the media) as a scientific “expert” who agreed with breed banning, despite the fact that he admitted that he has no experience with pit bulls or with dog attacks.

Beck’s primary focus and the area where he has obtained the vast bulk of his experience is in the field of the human-animal bond, specifically how animals can help people feel better emotionally, mentally, and physically.  One of his latest projects is the study of robot pets replacing therapy pets, particularly for children.  I have a strong suspicion, both from the name of the Center where his clinic is located and from the apparent objectives of this latest project, that there may be some strong animal rights influences in Dr. Beck’s world.

Beck’s testimony was directly contradicted by numerous scientists, including those with more impressive résumés than Dr. Beck, scientists with actual experience in canine genetics, which is, of course, what the entire kerfuffle was all about.

Both of the government’s “pit bull behaviour experts” were convincingly discredited by lawyer Clayton Ruby and a host of animal behaviour, breeding, and genetics experts.

Unfortunately, it appears that the judges were persuaded by the graphic pictures presented by the attorney general’s office and by the horrific stories of a few individual attacks.  This was despite the opposing testimony of the mother of a child killed by a non-pit bull dog.  The government couldn’t produce any equivalent testimony against pit bulls, very simply because a pit bull type dog has never killed a child in Canada, ever.

Perhaps there are some “pit bulls” that are unpredictable and appear to attack without warning, although I find it hard to believe that they act outside of the normal rules of mammal behaviour.  I think this may be attributed more to a failure to read the warning signs, since I haven’t met any animal who didn’t conform to its species’ rules of behaviour, including specific warning rituals.  The only exception was a dog that I felt was actually mentally impaired, perhaps from birth, but that was one individual dog.

The use of the word “provocation” is a clear attempt to place human thinking and ethics onto a “dumb” animal.  In my opinion, every offensive or defensive action by an animal is provoked from their point of view.  Does that make it acceptable in our society?  Absolutely not.  But, what you have is an individual animal who either has not learned or cannot learn not to be provoked by things, people, or actions that we, as humans, consider innocent and harmless.

So, it appears that these words were written by people who actually had no understanding whatsoever of animal behaviour, who looked to the “experts” for advice, but who were ultimately hoodwinked by tabloid fear-mongering.

The biggest problem with the entire sentence is that it is constructed in such a way to leave a very strong impression that the judges received convincing, incontrovertible evidence that ALL pit bulls could behave this way.  I know that’s not what they said, but that is most definitely the tone of the statement.

Thus, uneducated readers, quickly browsing through the Daily Gleaner story, leave with the last two paragraphs on their mind, convinced that, if the Ontario judges were presented with this concrete evidence about pit bulls, it must be true.

Anybody with any experience or education in writing, especially journalism and speechwriting, knows that the last thing is what people remember.

Don’t you think Shawn Berry, the writer of the article for the Daily Gleaner, knows that, too?

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