On Monday, our local NPR station ran a little feature on their daily radio program "Central Standard" about Breed Specific Legislation entitled "Bully Breeds in the Kansas City Metro". It's about a 40 minute long segment.
As a part of the program, they brought on two 'experts' -- each representing a different side of the argument for and against pit bulls and breed bans.
For the "Pro ban" argument, they interviewed Don Bauermeister -- the Assistant City Attorney from Council Bluffs, IA who has been involved with dogsbite.org for quite some time. For the other side, they interviewed Anthony Barnett. I'm not going to begin to go over Anthony's resume, and in full disclosure, Anthony and I are good friends, but I will note that through a variety of Anthony's experiences in working with school kids on dog safety, with service dogs, shelter dogs, and doing police work with SWAT, I have found Anthony to be one of the more knowledgable people out there in terms of canine behavior.
One of the things that continued to strike me over the course of this segment was how annoying it is that the two sides on this conversation got equal time. One of the common misnomers of journalism is that it should provide "equal time" to "both sides" of a debate. While it is true, Journalists should always seek different points of view, or angles of a story, it also has a moral obligation to seek truth. And sometimes the two "sides" are not equally represented. Thus is the case with Breed-Specific Laws.
I think we can start with this reality. On the "BSL is not the right approach" side, KCUR was able to find a local expert. There are a lot of folks here that could have done a very good job with this interview, and would have shared much of the same information that Anthony shared on the radio -- and all would have had a fairly similar point of view.
Meanwhile, for the ban pit bulls side, they had to go to Iowa to find someone to speak. Kansas City straddles a state line, you'd think somehow they'd find a leading "expert" in a two state area to speak on that side, but there weren't any. So they had to go to Iowa to find someone to speak on the matter. That should be your first clue. Bauermeister's arguments seemed indicative of someone who got their canine behavior knowledge off the internet instead of having actually worked with dogs.
The interview took a lot of interesting turns. So in this post, I'm going to give a few highlights from the interview, clarify a few mistruths spoken by Mr. Bauermeister, and add onto a couple of the things I wish had gotten said.
- Bauermeister starts off by trying to articulate what a "bully breed" is. It's important that he notes that the definition of bully breeds varies from city to city and jurisdiction to jurisdiction based on whoever is writing it. This is part of the reason the laws are nearly impossible to enforce because the definition is very vague. He notes that in his own community it is a "majority of the characteristics" of being a pit bull as designated by 3 different sets of breed standards by the AKC and UKC. I think the ability to determine "majority" based on three different sets of breed standards is setting up virutally any type of dog to being included. Anthony did a nice job of pointing out that they seem to only recognize the breed standards based on appearances, but completely ignored the behavior standards which is contradictory.
- The host noted that according to the KC Police Department, the breed they most encounter in their bite reports were German Shepherds (actually the type of dog Bauermeister owns) and not pit bulls. Bauermeister then decided he'd "go out on a limb and guess" that it was because there were more German Shepherds in Kansas City, MO than pit bulls and that higher number of bites happen with breeds that are most common. It's pretty clear from this statement that Bauermeister has never been to Kansas City. As someone who lives in KC, and helps manage the KC shelter, it is pretty obvious that Pit Bulls outnumber German Shepherds, based on what I see on the streets and in the shelter by at least 5 to 1. I mean, it's not close. But Bauermeister ventures a completely uneducated guess to try to justify his position. This is what happens when you have to rely on out-of-state "experts" -- who seem completely content making up data to support their pre-conceived opinion.
I also think it's interesting that Bauermeister used the term "proportionality" in noting that certain types of dogs have higher number of bites than others because they're more popular, and yet completely dismisses how this plays a role in 'pit bulls' being attributed to bite incidents given that the popularity of pit bulls in the US has grown 47% over the past 10 years, and one of the top 3 breeds in 47 of the 50 US States (and this gets even larger if you cast a very wide definition of pit bull like Bauermeister does). In his statements, Bauermeister continued to cling to the myth that 'pit bulls' make up less than 5% of all dogs -- a statement that hasn't resembled truth for more than a decade.
-- Bauermeister also noted that a lot of cities were currently looking toward Mandatory Spay/Neuter laws for pit bulls. It's interesting that he'd mention that as Kansas City was one of the first places to pass Breed-specific Mandatory Spay/Neuter. The law has had zero impact on public safety in our community.
-- Then, in a truly bizarre exchange, Bauermeister went into considerable detail about how his German Shepherds would go about protecting his property and the series of warning signals they would give before they bite. Instead of using this as an opportunity to educate people on dog behavior, dog warning signals and reading behavior, Bauermeister then went on to say that 'pit bulls" don't exhibit these warnings signs and attack without warning noting that "this is second nature, everybody knows this. It's documented in the writings."
The quote here, to the best I can tell, is originally attributed to Randall Lockwood -- who made the statement in 1986 or 1987 during the height of the dog fighting controversy when he worked for HSUS. At the time, HSUS was trying to create additional fear about pit bulls and dog fighting in order to help them in their fundraising efforts to help combat dog fighting. The statement has been recirculated "in all the writings" of people like Bauermeister, Dogsbite.org and Kory Nelson for decades. However, the factual accuracy of the statement has been debunked by virtually every dog traininer, handler and behaviorist in the nation in the 25 years since, and even Lockwood himself has noted that he wished he'd never said it because it was untrue and had been misused.
- Then, in maybe the most bizarre part of the show, the host of the show goes on to ask Buaermeister why he thinks it is that 17 states have now PROHIBITED breed specific laws. Bauermeister then goes onto talk about what he calls "The pit bull propaganda machine" and about how this "well-oiled machine" which is "possibly funded by dog fighters" is responsible for this. He even specifically implicated the AKC as being funded by dogfighters.
Um, ok. Hysterical much?
In Anthony's commentary, he notes the famous line by Menken "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong".
In this case, the 'solution' to combat the problem of dog bites by targeting specific breeds is simple-minded, and wrong.
Breed specific laws are opposed by virtually every one involved in a professional field associated with canines. The National Animal Control Association, AVMA, multiple dog training groups, HSUS, ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, No Kill Advocacy Center, American Kennel Club etc ALL oppose breed-specific laws. It's important to note that many of these organizations spend a fair amount of time disagreeing with each other, but the fact that they all agree that targeting breeds is ineffective is notable. And the idea that dog fighters are funding their efforts (particularly when several of the groups actively seek out opportunities to fight against dog fighting) is, well, just laughable. If you have to make up a conspiracy theory (based on absolutely zero evidence) to support your viewpoint, maybe you should change your opinion.
- Later in the show, the host asked Bauermeister if he thought breed bans created a false sense of security. Bauermeister of course disagreed and pointed to how his own community, Council Bluffs, IA had virtually eliminated pit bull bites. Yes, if you exterminate an entire type of dog in your community, you will be fairly successful in eliminating bites by that type of dog.
However, if Bauermeister were being honest, he would note that overall public safety has not improved in the communities he's impacted. In Council Bluffs, total dog bites increased when they passed their ban in 2004 -- what changed was the breeds involved and all of a sudden people were getting bitten more by "Labs" and "Boxers" than "pit bulls". In Omaha(a neighboring community to Council Bluffs), dog bites have also gone up considerably after passing their breed-specific restrictions -- and the flippant "but they're bites and not attacks" argument has also been exposed as severe bites have not declined. Bauermeister has also acknowledged online that he is in contact with city officials in Sioux City, IA (who also has a ban), and was even laughing "lol" when a story came out about Sioux City's bite numbers increasing when they passed a ban also.
Let's set the record straight. Breed bans are an ineffective means of trying to control dog bites. All three communities Bauermeister has been involved with have proven that. Behavior based laws CAN be proactive when they allow authorities to put restrictions on dogs (and dog owners) who show themselves (through behavior) to need these restrictions -- such as their dog acting aggressively, roaming at large consistently, etc. These are, in fact, the type of laws that all of the national organizations with expertise support.
It is important for the media, and for politicians, to consider their sources. It only makes sense that when it comes to dog laws, that you would consult the experts in the canine training field, veterinary field, shelters, breeders, animal control officers etc. Why would you not? And when it comes to the media, they have an obligation to seek truth -- which does not mean giving equal time to people who are pushing fringe agendas just beause they're the only ones out there supporting another side.