It almost seems that if I were looking I could make this a weekly column, but this one is too bizarre to pass up, and given that I've seen the latest piece from Merritt quoted in a couple of places already, I suppose I might as well nip this in the bud.
In the latest issue of Merritt's self published "newspaper" Animal People, Clifton takes aim at the state of Rhode Island with an article "Laws pre-empting breed-specific ordinances pass - but polls tilt the other way".
In the article, Clifton calls out Rhode Island (which has since passed it's law prohibiting laws targeting specific breeds, which is what he refers to as "pre-emption") and why he thinks the law is a bad idea. While most of the article is filled with mistakes, and attempts to mislead (much of it relying on Ed Boks' foolish blog post), there is a paragraph that I've now seen quoted a couple of times that is so full of errors and mis-information that it needs to be addressed in full.
Here's the snippet:
The Nevada, Connecticut and Rhode Island bills, like the similar bill passed in Massachusetts in 2012 were rushed into passage in the last days of their respective legislative sessions, with minimal publicity and debate. Fifteen states now ban breed-specific ordinances, including California, Illinois, Texas and Ohio.
State Farm Insurance, on May 17 2013 disclosed that California, Illinois, Texas and Ohio rated first through fourth in Insurance claims paid for dog attacks in 2011. State Farm paid $20.3 million to 527 victims in California, $10 million to 309 victims in Illinoi, $5.1 million to 219 victims in Texas and $5.4 million to 215 victims in Ohio."
Not only is Clifton's information largely erronious, is is purposefully so in an attempt to mislead people into fearing prohibition of breed-specific laws. It's a desperate grasp for something, anything, that would lend support.
State Legal Process
For all four states that have passed prohibitions on breed-specific laws in the past 12 months (yes, that's FOUR in 12 months, and very noticably trend), all went through the usual process for state laws. The laws were introduced at the beginning of the legislative session. They were sent to committees and discussed, and then, once passed out of committee they went to the House floor, were voted on, then went through the same process in the Senate, and eventually signed into law. Because of the lengthy process of the committee structure, most bills are passed very late in the session.
In Nevada, the bill passed both houses of the legislature with only one dissenting vote.
In Connecticut, the Senate only had 4 dissenting votes.
In Massachusetts, the bill spent 5 full months in the democratic process before being signed, so it was hardly a rush job.
But really, the reason that the bills had less debate than others was because NO ONE OPPOSED THEM. Really, in a world where absolutely no professional support for breed-specifc laws, state legislators were met by knowledgable advocates and organizations in those states that helped pass the laws. This wasn't some rush job. I was a no-brainer based on the fact that there is almost no support outside of Clifton for breed-specific laws.
First of all, let's set the record straight. Ohio does NOT pre-empt breed-specific legislation. Ohio law is a breed-neutral, dangerous dog law, that targets dogs based on behavior, not breed. However, the state law does allow local juristictions to pass breed-specific laws.
So this information from Clifton is just flat wrong. But wait, it gets worse.
Up until February, 2012, Ohio was actually the only state in the US that targeted specific breeds. This law was overturned in February, 2012.
Now, keep in mind, that Clifton was using Ohio's high bite numbers (and payouts) as a reason why pre-emtion was a bad idea. However, Clifton was basing this on 2011 data -- a time when Ohio actually TARGETED specific breeds of dogs. So not only is Clifton wrong in trying to use the data to prove his point, in doing so, he actually makes a case against himself.
Oh, but it gets worse for Merritt.
Keep in mind that Clifton is using only one insurance company for his data -- State Farm. State Farm has a policy that doesn't allow them to insure "Vicious" dogs. Because of the way the Ohio law was written (pre 2012), State Farm WOULD NOT insure pit bulls because state law declared them "vicious" because of breed. So based on this policy, it is unlikely that ANY of the 215 victims and $5.4 million in payouts Clifton attributes to Ohio victims was due to a pit bull bite. None. Further demonstrating how his falsifying of information here is actuall working against his point, not in favor of.
California, Illinois and Texas
So what about these other states? In their case, it is true that they prohibit breed-specific laws (although California allows for breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter laws). Why did they have so many bites?
It's a simple answer: Math
If you look at the total number of people in each state in the United States, the following are the 7 largest states based on total population:
1) California -- 38 million people
2) Texas - 26 million
3) New York - 19.6 million
4) Florida - 19.3 million
5) Illinois - 12.9 million
6) Pennsylvania - 12.8 million
7) Ohio - 11.5 million
Two things jump out at me on this list:
#1) All 6 of the 6 most populous states in the US have laws prohibiting laws targeting specific breeds.
#2) The best correlation among states with a lot of people bitten by dogs is that these states have a lot of people, and dogs. (New York would appear to be the exception here, but New York actually way under-indexes on dog ownership because such a large percentage of the population lives in New York City where high-rise living is less conducive to dog ownership than in most other parts of the country). So where you have a lot of people, and a lot of dogs, the likelihood of someone getting bitten increases. There's a reason why Maine, which also prohibits breed-specific laws, is not on the list.
This is rocket science.
So it appears that the number of people, and dogs, is the likely cause here, not the laws in place. Except Ohio maybe, which actually TARGETED breeds of dogs, and jumped several states with much higher population than them. Hmmm.
Inadvertently, Clifton then destroys his own data
Over the years, a lot of space has been dedicated here, and elsewhere, to breaking down Merritt Clifton's dog bite data.
Essentially, Clifton has a report of dog bites, as reported by the media, that he has tracked for 30 years now of severe dog attacks in the US.
The errors of the report are plentiful, from the total reliance on media reports, to increasing the number of pit bull attacks during a three year window by more than the total number of attacks, to his not understanding that his discovery of Google caused 20% of all of the bite cases in a 29 year report to have appeared within a 19 month window.
Now, I periodically get Clifton's reports just to keep tabs on things, so I don't have an exact window for 2011, but on Dec 22, 2009, Clifton had 2,694 "attacks causing bodily harm" in his report.
On December 26, 2011, the number was 3,498 -- an increase of 804 (this was during his period of mysterious increase in bites).
So if you consider this 2 years worth of data (which it essentially is), then we can divide by 2 and say that average number of dog bites "causing bodily harm" for the two years is 402. So it appears that Clifton recorded 402 dog attacks in 2011.
However, based on the numbers he reported in his recent story, one, singular insurance company, State Farm, paid out insurance payments to 527 victims JUST IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA THAT YEAR. According to insurance market share reports, State Farm carries roughly 25% of the Property Insurance Policies in the state of California. So based on this, we can estimate that there were nearly 2100 insurance payments for dog bites -- just in California.
And yet, Clifton's report only notes 402, for the entire country. So again, his own data if making his biggest source of "fame" completely invalid for it's utter incompleteness because the media does not report all major dog bite incidents. The media doesn't (nor should it), and without a complete report, Clifton's data is useless and now, self-contradicting.
Inaccurate info, data out of context, and attempts to mislead
And this is where the last gasp is coming. States continue to take the leadership role in prohibiting breed-specific laws. With all credibility slipping away in favor of listening to real experts, Clifton, and the handful of other haters out there are finding themselves quickly on the wrong side of history. In a last gasp effort, they are flinging out inaccurate and misleading data in hopes of scaring people into not doing what's right, and effective, to try to scare people into being afraid of pit bulls.
It's not working. In response to the letters, and the fear mongering, the Governor of Rhode Island signed the bill prohibiting breed-specific laws in his state into law.
Knowledge and truth are winning.