A couple of weeks ago, the government in Montreal made the decision to ban 'pit bulls' from the city. However, nearly immediately, a judge ordered a temporary suspension of the ban as, among other problems, the definition of what did or did not constitute a pit bull was unclear. At one point the judge told the City's lawyer that when defending the law that he needed to come up with better arguments, or better experts:
Judge says after hearing SPCA's arguments, he has real concerns. Suggests city's lawyer comes up with better arguments or experts #pitbull— Jaela Bernstien (@jbernstien) October 3, 2016
The two sides of the 'pit bull debate' in the United States are pretty lopsided. On the side of breed-specific legislation is bad policy, you have quite literally the entirety of every organization of professionals in the country -- including the largest collection of veterinarians in the country (AVMA), the largest collection of animal control officers (NACA), the Center for Disease Control, the American Bar Association, and all of the large animal welfare and professional dog training groups.
On the side in favor of breed specific legislation, you quite literally have Merritt Clifton, and dogsbite.org, neither of which deserves to be given anywhere near the credibility of the professional and government organizations that they oppose.
I've written a lot about these two people before (links below), but Radio Canada did an amazing job of dismantling the two entities -- and the Canadian media for reporting data issued by the two of them. The original article is in French (please click the link to show your support), but for everyone's benefit, I've run the article through Google Translate and will post in its entirety here. It will read a bit clunky, as translations often, but you will get the gist for sure. Here's the text from Radio Canada:
Pit Bulls: Anecdotal Evidence Frequently Quoted By the Media
Statistics on dog bites from anti pit bull groups are frequently cited in the Canadian and US media as reliable sources. These data are, however, very far from reality.
The two groups in question, Animals and 24-7 DogsBite.org militate openly to ban pit bulls. They regularly publish statistics on deaths and bites caused by dogs. However, their data represent only a small portion of severe attacks, and those of Animals 24-7 contain several errors.
A tiny portion severe attacks
The author of the site Animals 24-7, Merritt Clifton, publishes annual data on the number of attacks by dogs in Canada and the United States. The most recent report of the group claims to recognize almost all serious attacks between September 1982 and September 2016, a period of just over 34 years. Mr Clifton said he collects his data only from the media, but he claims to have a comprehensive picture of the situation.
The report of the 34 years studied, among all breeds, the report contains 7045 dog attacks causing serious injury, 4424 attacks that maimed or disfigured victim, and 675 deaths. The author defines serious attacks as those where the victim was killed, mutilated or suffered injuries requiring advanced medical care. According to these data, the pit bull type dogs were responsible for 64% of severe attacks, with 66% of attacks that maimed or disfigured the victim, and 51% of deaths.
So it would on average each year 207 serious attacks and 20 deaths in Canada and the United States.
But these figures are very far from reality.
According to a government agency of the US Department of Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2008 in the United States, nearly 9,500 people were hospitalized for dog bites, and forty died of their wounds or much more than the figures given by Animals 24-7. Of these, there were 600 fractures, 300 operations that required skin grafts, and 1100 operations on the muscles and tendons. This data does not specify the breed of dog involved.
However, in one year, more people were hospitalized for serious injuries by dogs that what counted Animals 24-7 in 34 years.
Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons going in the same direction. In 2015, the United States, there were 28,079 reconstructive surgeries for dog bites, and in 2000 this number was 43,089. It should be noted that the same person can undergo more surgery to the same injury.
This significant difference between the data and 24-7 Animals reality can be explained among other things that the majority of dog attacks are not publicized. The head of Animals 24-7, Merritt Clifton, said by email that it is possible that some cases of serious injuries have been missed.
The DogsBite.org site, meanwhile, regularly publishes figures Animals 24-7, in addition to holding its own list of incidents. The founder of DogsBite.org, Colleen Lynn, herself a bite victim, however, said her site does not purport to identify all serious bites of dogs, but she lists the majority of deaths. It also indicates that the site is not based only on media, but also draws its data from other sources, such as police reports, and sometimes his site publishes cases that have not been mentioned in the media .
Animals of 24-7 the data underestimate the attacks by other breeds as pit bulls. For example, according to this group, in 34 years, there would have been 66 serious attacks by chow-chows and 67 by Labradors, across the US and Canada. However, according to the Department of Health of Texas, in 2000, only in that State, there were 67 severe bites by chow-chows and 39 Labradors.
In the report of Animals 24-7, it happens that the same dog breed is found separated into categories or that different races are grouped into one category. For example, the author considers that the "presa canario" (Canary Mastiff) and the bull-mastiff as one breed of dog and it groups together in the same category. In fact, these two dogs have different backgrounds and even different physical appearance. The Canary mastiff originated in the 15th century in the islands of the same name, while the bull-mastiff appeared in the late 19th century England.
Conversely, there is a category for "blue heeler", one for the "Australian blue heeler" and another for "Queensland Heeler," when it is a single race dog: Australian Cattle dogs. It also includes dog breeds that do not exist, as the East Highland Terrier.
Merritt Clifton also says on its website that the Cane Corso is a pit bull and mastiff cross, which is impossible, since the Cane Corso is an Italian dog that has existed since ancient Roman times, while the pit bull originated in England in the 19th century.
Also, sometimes when several dogs are involved in an attack, the incident is classified only in the category pitbull. For example, in 2007, a 18 year old man was attacked by 13 dogs, including a pitbull and 12 unidentified race, but this attack is still classified as a pitbull category.
Statistics from ads
In its report on dog attacks from 1982 to 2016, Merritt Clifton indicates what proportion each race represents in the total population of dogs. However, there is no census of dogs across the US and Canada, and mandatory registration imposed by municipalities is not always respected by the owners, so it is impossible to know the population of each dog breed in North America.
So to estimate the dog population, Merritt Clifton explains consulting small dog sale ads on various websites for the month of July 2016. He concluded that pit bulls account for 5% of dogs and considers that these figures are representative of the population of dogs across Canada and the United States over a period of 34 years.
Merritt Clifton replied that he had done that because there is no other database of dog populations. "In Canada and the United States, only 10% of dogs were registered in 1982 and is about 25% today. No American city has a higher recording rate to 40%, "he says.
Indirectly attributed dog deaths
The 24-7 Animals website sometimes considers a person was killed by a pit bull even if the dog was only indirectly involved. Such cases are classified in the same category as those where the dog bit the victim even when the coroner says the dog was not responsible for the death.
Here are some cases Animals 24-7 considers deaths from pit bulls:
In 2009, Wisconsin, a woman of 55, Louanne Okapal, died after being hit in the face by a horse. The horse was frightened by a pitbull.
In 2009, a woman of 48 years in Connecticut, Teresa Foss, died of a head wound after being hit by a pitbull. The dog had not bitten.
In 2010 a 64 year old man from Texas, Richard Martratt, stabbed a pit bull and shot a Catahoula, because the two dogs had attacked a border collie on his land. The man was not attacked by the dogs, but the authorities arrived, he collapsed and died of a heart attack.
In 2010, Georgia, a 14-year-old Miracle Parham, fled after being frightened by a dog that witnesses described as a pit bull. She was fatally hit by a car.
In 2013, a man of 63 years, James Harding, was struck by a car after trying to get away from two pit bulls.
A 6 year old girl was strangled by a chain to which was attached a pit bull. The year and place are not specified.
Another case cited on the site DogsBite.org concerns a 57 year old man from Tennessee, James Chapple, who was seriously injured by the hands of pit bulls in 2007. Four months later, he died of atherosclerosis and alcohol problems. Still, DogsBite.org accounted for as a death caused by pitbulls.
In contrast with the scientific community
Both groups are very critical of the scientific experts. The DogsBite.org website will even use the term "scientific whore" ( "Science whore") to qualify some experts. The founder of the site, Colleen Lynn, defends herself by saying that the term does not she just and has been used only three times since the creation of the site in 2007.
Moreover, contrary to studies published in scientific journals, statistics of these groups are not verified by independent experts to ensure its validity.
The researcher Karen Overall Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, analyzed all dog bite statistics from studies published between 1950 and 2000 worldwide. His research shows that the breeds responsible for the greatest number of attacks vary according to the year of the study area.
She is critical of the methodology used by the groups that are mainly based on the stories appeared in the media. "The reports by the media and the police are almost always incomplete, she said, and there was no independent confirmation of the breed involved. These publications use these reports as if they were infallible. "
Well done by Radio Canada in the breakdown of why these two sources should not be given any sort of credibility that competes with the professional organizations.
More on Merritt and Colleen:
Huffington Post: The Academic Imposter behind the Pit Bull Hysteria
KC Dog Blog: The Truth Behind dogsbite.org
Pit Bulletin Legal News: Multiple articles about dogsbite.org
Lassie, Get Help: "Dangerous breeds", dog bite statistics and the Merritt Clifton Report", Part 2, and Part 3
KC Dog Blog: Creating Fear in the Media and Politics
KC Dog Blog: Merritt Clifton - when the numbers just don't add up
KC Dog Blog: Why "statistics" based on media reports are invalid