Bet that got your attention!
Okay, it’s 2:00 in the morning and I’m way too tired to write intelligently, so I’ll keep this short although, as you’ll see below, I have problems keeping things short!
On February 26, the Toronto Star published an editorial entitled “Pit bulls are dangerous and Ontario is right to ban them“.
After reading that, I sat down and wrote a letter to the editor (in this case, editors, since the editorial is “approved” by the editorial board of the paper). Going off topic just for a second, I don’t for one minute believe that the entire editorial board of the Toronto Star wrote the piece of garbage that got printed, but technically, they’re all responsible.
The problem I have when I write letters to editors is I just can’t keep them short enough. I think they’re supposed to be around 150 or 200 words. I can’t do that!
I wrote the letter anyway and sent it off, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope that they’ll print the whole thing (or even part of it).
So, readers, you can have the pleasure of reading my letter instead, and maybe, if it gets passed around enough, more people will read it than the Toronto Star could reach anyway. Apparently, their circulation dropped 37% in four years between 2007 and 2010. No other major newspaper in Canada is losing readers at that rate. Maybe printing articles like the one above had something to do with that!
Here’s my letter (February 27):
After reading the editorial “pit bulls are dangerous” (February 26), I felt the need to respond with a little common sense combined with a few facts.
I would not normally be so quick to tell a group of experts in their field how to do their jobs, but have you forgotten the basic lessons of Journalism 101, specifically research?
If, as you put it, the deed is the breed when a pit bull attacks, then is this also the case when a retriever attacks or a German Shepherd or a husky or a sled dog or a sheepdog or a Rottweiler or a “farm dog” or a Border Collie or a number of other types of dogs? Why do I list these specific types of dogs? Because they have ALL killed children in Canada and because, in the twenty-nine years that we’ve been tracking these things, a pit bull has never done so. I repeat, at least thirty-five children have been killed in this country by at least eighty-five dogs , yet a pit bull type dog has never killed a child in Canada, ever!
(Author’s note and correction: My apologies for a slightly incorrect number quoted above. The total number of victims from 1983 to February 29, 2012, is 36, 33 of those being children under the age of 12. The statement about pit bull type dogs killing no children is still correct. More detailed info is here.)
As journalists, does this not make you stop, for one moment, and think that maybe, just maybe, breed is not the issue here?
In 2005, Michael Bryant, former Ontario attorney general, stood up in the Legislature and listed nine bite incidents supposedly perpetrated by pit bulls over a sixty-nine day period. He used these specific incidents as his justification for introducing the pit bull ban in the interest of public safety. NINE incidents.
According to the Canada Safety Council, as many as 33,000 people were bitten by dogs in Ontario during that same time period with as many as 5,500 requiring medical treatment and 250 of those requiring hospitalization, yet Mr. Bryant, in his zeal to drum up public support for his discriminatory law, conveniently forgot to mention these during his impassioned plea for public safety. Were all of these injuries perpetrated by pit bulls? Not according to the dog bite statistics from cities such as Windsor, London, Thunder Bay, Ottawa, Toronto, and Mississauga. In fact, it appears that pit bull type dogs were involved in incidents relatively proportionate to their population, just like other types of dogs, and they did not cause a higher percentage of hospital visits or medical attention.
Every single Canadian expert in dog aggression and dog behaviour, as well as worldwide scientists in similar fields, including the leading researchers in canine genetics, disagree with your editors’ assessments of these dogs. So, instead of simply buying into the hype and writing an undocumented, unresearched, and unproven piece of fluff in order to create controversy and sell newspapers, perhaps you should put some effort into your analysis and start asking yourselves (and then us) why every dog behaviour expert on the planet, people with far more experience in these fields than you or I, argues that you and the Ontario government are wrong.
A ban on a particular breed or type of dog is the proverbial killing of a gnat with a sledgehammer. Studies from both the United States and Canada estimate that only 0.01% of dogs cause serious injury to a human being. That leaves 99.99% of all dogs (including pit bulls) that somehow manage to live with us without turning on us when we’re not looking. It also appears that, based on the unprecedented number of reversals of bans that are happening worldwide, those types of discriminatory laws were not even preventing the 0.01%.
In the meantime, the ban in Ontario (and yes, despite your claims to the contrary, it is a ban) has caused the deaths of thousands of dogs each year, dogs whose only crime was to possibly look like some ill-defined, unprovable shape of dog that the government has managed to persuade the public (and obviously some members of the media) is dangerous. As a result of this ban, dog owners have lost their houses, their jobs, their life savings. Many dog owners, including myself, have left the province, sometimes at great sacrifice, in order to escape constant harassment and discrimination.
To give you some idea of the ridiculousness of this approach, look at these annual Canadian death statistics, courtesy of Health Canada 1996:
Car accidents: 2,900
Dogs (of all breeds): ONE*
* info courtesy of Dog Legislation Council of Canada and National Canine Research Council
I, and many thousands of dog owners, would greatly appreciate it if the editors of the largest newspaper in Canada would put a little more effort into separating accuracy and facts from hype and hysteria, rather than rattling off a piece of doggy doo to fill the page and create a stir.
Steve Barker (formerly of Toronto, left family and friends behind to move to BC from Ontario)