MSPCA Helps Pit Bulls Get a Good Rap

A new documentary exploring breed discrimination showed at the Regent in Arlington to a packed house of pit lovers.

The in Arlington filled up with white-haired women and tattooed young men – and many people in between – last night to celebrate and advocate for a breed of dog they feel is maligned: the American pit bull. The occasion was the local premiere of Libby Sherrill’s documentary, Beyond the Myth, exploring breed-specific legislation and what Sherrill says is uncalled for discrimination against pit bull-type dogs.

In addition, a celebrity guest made an appearance in the form of Cherry, one of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring, who has since been rehabilitated and adopted.

The event was co-hosted by JP's (better known as MSPCA-Angell) and PittieLove Rescue, a volunteer organization that rescues and fosters pit-type breeds. PittieLove chooses to foster rather than shelter – they don’t even own a facility to shelter – because pit bull breeds can often go “kennel crazy." 

Unfortunately, the need for adopters vastly outreaches the volunteers at organizations like MSPCA and PittieLove. According to MSCPA-Angell’s Amanda Kennedy, director of the animal care and adoption center, “In Boston and other communities that have breed-specific legislation, we have great difficulty in finding homes for pit bulls. Currently the majority of the dogs in the Boston adoption center are adolescent pit bulls, where a landlord or insurance company has said the owners can not have them in the city limits.”

In Boston, pit bulls must wear muzzles when outside and their owners must comply with other regulations.

These volunteer groups echo many of the same attitudes Sherrill presents in the documentary. “We work with a lot of pit bull-type dogs at our facilities,” says Kara Holmquist, the director of advocacy at the MSPCA, “and we are quite aware of the reputation – and we think it’s not an appropriate reputation – that they have so a lot of what we do is try to change the perception about what a pit bull is. A lot of people’s perception is what they have seem in the media but that does not reflect all the pit bull-type dogs that live with happy familes. These are stories that need to be told as well.”

One of the first things Beyond the Myth attempts to clarify is that there is no breed known as the “pit bull.” Rather, there is one specific breed known as the American Pit Bull Terrier, as well as several other breeds with similar characteristics that all get incorrectly lumped together under the name pit bull.

Beyond the Myth travels from San Francisco to Denver to Cincinnati to Miami-Dade county, stopping in New Jersey, Nashville and more along the way. The laws differ by state, county and city – some require dog and owner registration (leading to one of the scenes that elicited the most laughs, when a particularly mild-looking woman explained she is now registered at her local police station as a “vicious dog harborer”), while other cities mandate spaying and neutering of the dogs and still others have ordered that all pit bull dogs must be relocated out of the city.

The most emotional story is in Denver, where a ban on pit bull-type dogs has been in effect since 1989. There, the government and police have been very active in enforcing the legislation, leading to the death of over 4,000 dogs since the ban began, according to research cited in the film.

The film is exhaustive with such statistics, often sandwiching emotional scenes with titlecards explaining relevant details. In addition, broadcast news stories and newspaper headlines or clippings play a big role in advancing Sherrill’s argument.

In fact, the media receives possibly the heaviest criticism from the film, which accuses media outlets of agenda setting, or influencing the public by habitually showing one side to a story over another. According to statistics quoted in the film, newspaper headlines are nine times more likely to mention the “pit bull” in a headline about a dog attack than any other breed.

The final message of the film urges viewers to consider the circumstances of individual dogs – particularly the treatment they receive at the hands of their owners – rather than focusing on breeds. Several interviewees suggest that local governments take the money being spent enforcing the bans and put it toward cracking down on irresponsible ownership and education about proper dog treatment. “Educate, not legislate,” is the message du jour.

Despite the turnout for the film, the director and host organizations agree that in some ways, they are “preaching to the choir,” Sherrill says. Most of those in attendance are already proponents of pit bull breeds, and many came decked out in t-shirts supporting their beloved breed.

“The unfortunate thing,” explains Sarah Habershaw, vice president of PittieLove, “is that the ones that are here are the ones that already know about it.”

One effect that Sherrill has been surprised by, however, is the passion the film has reignited in those that already fight against pit bull stereotypes and breed-specific legislation.

Josh Sellers, clad in a leather vest emblazoned with “Ask me about my pits,” is one of these reinvigorated pit lovers. “I saw the film in Connecticut,” he says.  “And the next day I bought this vest and started rescuing. It’s just two guys and four dogs right now, but we hope to expand. I watched the movie and it lit a fire inside me.”

Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 08:24 AM
A flash from the past....should I post a few that happened this week? http://www.gazette.com/articles/hospital-101610-monday-face.html "The dog, which was euthanized, tore through Meagan’s cheeks, exposing her teeth, bit off one of her nostrils and tore off so much flesh around one of her eyes that Riedel feared her daughter would lose the eye." What's morbid is that pit bull hobbyists will often admit that these things are happening regularly, but they still harbor this delusion that all the more popular breeds are doing the same thing unnoticed. No there is not an army of vicious labs that are shredding kids faces daily but being protected by a network of highly placed LEO, reporters, and politicians. Oh yeah, people will want to hear of maimings by labs, partly because it is so rare, so any major dog attack will be found in some media. At the least, nearly all police calls with some action are printed in the police blotter connected to online newspapers. I see them all the time. Clay Hund and others talk from their own personal, positive experience with this breed. Does a little girl's negative experience of a pit bull disfiguring her somewhat cancel out your positive anecdotes? Again, it seems you are a bit oblivious to learning from the experience of others. How many good times are needed so that the serious attacks are justified? You guys are the only ones who could answer as I'm of the mind to minimize all unnecessary risk to the innocent.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 09:22 AM
Crazy first few minutes of video helps to give pit bulls a good rap! http://www.wpri.com/dpp/news/local_news/providence/wpri-providence-pit-bull-in-custody-after-attack-jmq All the cool dogs are doing this, including yorkie-poos and irish setters. It's sweeping the nation!
DoggyEngineer September 22, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Wasn't a reference to spelling, of course. Sic can refer to errors in spelling, grammar, logic or fact (see you learn something new every day). In this case, it's referring to the fallacious assumption that this is some kind of contest that can be won or lost. But now I'm waaaaaaay off topic, and it's like a joke that needs explaining - kinda loses the point.
DoggyEngineer September 22, 2011 at 03:42 PM
See, that's just patently absurd. To compare a medium-sized domesticated animal to a large wild predator makes absolutely no sense. Would you rather be locked in a room with a starving pit bull or a starving mountain lion? The dog would probably sit at your feet, staring up with puppy dog eyes and begging to be fed. The lion would most likely feed itself just fine. Anyways, you seem to be running under the misconception that every pit bull wants to fight to the death. It'd be easy to set a scenario up - get two DA pit bulls together with nowhere to go, and encourage them to fight. The positive training and reinforcing behavior of the other dog would do it. I know a lot of pits that will snap at dogs for a variety of reasons (touching their toy, getting near their food or owner, playing too rambunctiously around them, etc), because in general they're a less dog tolerant breed, but I don't know any that would redline and go into a killing frenzy with no regard to their owners (or even other people's) commands. If you have a dog like that, then ya, you should put it down. If your dog is getting into fights because you are putting it in stupid situations though, that's your fault, not the dog's. The Jack Russell page you linked (http://www.therealjackrussell.com/breed/baddog.php) sounds basically like what you'd want to tell a pit bull owner, except there's far more variation in pit bull phenotypes and temperaments (because so many mutts are just lumped as 'pit bulls').
Jeremy McHugh September 22, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Just a quick post to get in my 2 cents- @Steve Carol- you state that pro-pitbull people would not agree with Doggyengineer's post about how to handle pitbulls with other dogs not well known to the owner or pitbull. IN my case, you are dead wrong. Doggyengineer is 100% correct, and what he/she describes is exactly the way all owners of large / powerful dog breeds should handle their dogs in public. I own a 6 year old rescue pitbull with fighting past, and you can call my experience anecdotal, but just plug it into your matrix somewhere as one more vote for the politically moderate pitbull lovers. That is, I don't deny the history of the breed, and I accept and embrace both the postitive and negative breed characteristics that are identifiable. That means I don't send my pitbull into dogparks with a bunch of unknown dogs. I have trained my dog in obedience and packs structure firmly, consistently, and strictly. I'm not saying the breed is for everyone to own- that's why there are 200+ other breeds out there. And yes, in the wrong hands a pitbull can be a disaster waiting to happen. But what is your endgame? This is just a hugely popular, and populous breed. If handled improperly, there are 20 other breeds that are just as dangerous, if not more so, than the american pitbull terrier. For example- fila brasiliero, dogo argentino, cane corso, german shepherd, airedale terrier, etc., etc.
Jeremy McHugh September 22, 2011 at 04:05 PM
CONTINUED You can protest all you want against pitbulls, but there is no way you will ever eradicate the breed. So your energies would be FAR MORE PRODUCTIVE, in my mind, if you took a more moderate and respectful tone, and helped to educate the general public about the pros and cons of ownership of the american pitbull terrier breed, the american staffordshire terrier breed, the american bulldog breed, the bull mastiff breed, the presa canario breed, etc. etc. As it is, your "advocacy" is counterproductive. With your ad hominem, ad nauseum attacks on the logic and intelligence of those with whom you disagree, you will only further entrench their opposing opinions, and probably disgust some folks that already agree with you. Anyway, that's all for me and good luck with grad school.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 05:25 PM
http://www.hcphes.org/vph/Pdfs/RegionalVeterinaryPublicHealthChallenges.pdf read the part Dangerous Dogs-Scope of the Problem The report pretty much says that pit bulls are crap pets, without saying it aloud, and then does not recommend trying to discourage their ownership. Very interesting read, put together by a task force. It's obvious that not all of man's creations are created equal.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 05:33 PM
People just have incredible soft hearts and heads when it comes to dogs. I love my dog as well. I somewhat understand this, but to have a dog that can kill you if it likes and has a fighting past just makes no sense. The emotional motivation you have to do this is bizarre. A society of humans that live a little closer to the land (past or present) would have no idea what you are doing. "That is, I don't deny the history of the breed, and I accept and embrace both the postitive and negative breed characteristics that are identifiable." -I accept that antifreeze is poisonous but also tastes delicious. "I have trained my dog in obedience and packs structure firmly, consistently, and strictly." -I'd like to be a lion tamer. I guess I'll be be a Milan acolyte instead and use his methods based upon a misunderstanding of wolf pack structure that have been rebuked by real dog behaviorists that work at universities and people that study wolves. " I'm not saying the breed is for everyone to own- that's why there are 200+ other breeds out there." -Only special people like me should own one. "And yes, in the wrong hands a pitbull can be a disaster waiting to happen. But what is your endgame?" -Have I emphasized enough that I'm "special" and that my neighbors should trust that my pibble won't kill their dog? Now I think I'll throw in something that sounds intelligent like "endgame".
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 05:39 PM
"This is just a hugely popular, and populous breed." -I am not questioning whether it should be popular or not. I suppose the popularity of this breed is out of my hands, but I don't mind if people like Bad Rap promotes them. "If handled improperly, there are 20 other breeds that are just as dangerous, if not more so, than the american pitbull terrier. For example- fila brasiliero, dogo argentino, cane corso, german shepherd, airedale terrier, etc., etc." - I hope no one will notice that all these other breeds are very rare. Also, I hope no one notices that the two that aren't rare (GSD and airedales) that I slip in have kill rates that are dwarfed by the pit bull. Also, I hope people fall for my faulty reasoning. I hope they wrongly think that if B,C, and D are dangerous also then that somehow makes A less dangerous. I hope my smart stuff just confuses them. "You can protest all you want against pitbulls, but there is no way you will ever eradicate the breed." -I will guess what you want, total eradication, and try to discourage you. Also, I will try to prove that something not being feasible means it is incorrect. I think I'm doing well! I'm going to look responsible!!
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 05:48 PM
As far as your bit of condescending advice goes....... Where did you get that I'm in grad school? Listen, you don't get it. I am not launching fallacious ad hominem attacks. That would be "X is dumb so their ideas and decisions must be dumb". No, I'm saying "X's ideas and decisions are dumb and so this indicates they are dumb as well". If the fallacy is turned backwards, it is not a fallacy, it is just doing publicly what all people do privately (judge others based upon their ideas and actions). I am not being an advocate here particularly, I just can't stand dumb people that endanger others and would like a few more of them to know it. As far as entrenching the resistance of pit nutters, I have absolutely no hope that pit nutters will ever grow a clue. They are nearly entirely emotionally driven, so to influence them I would have to use emotional manipulation. This won't likely work given that they are now set on helping a canine misfit that they identify with. As far as disgusting people on my side. I don't care. I'm an anonymous person here on one website. Anyone who agrees with me and reads the pit nutter tripe (and is not a PC whack-a-loon that believes even idiots deserve their ideas to be heard with utmost respect and consideration) will likely not care that I treat you folks with contempt.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 05:54 PM
"See, that's just patently absurd. To compare a medium-sized domesticated animal to a large wild predator makes absolutely no sense." Did I not say "a step below"? Is it no more absurd to compare fighting breeds to most other dogs simply because they are both dogs? You are in fact like someone who wants to keep an animal near others that is particularly dangerous. In fact, you are that person.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 05:57 PM
"but I don't know any that would redline and go into a killing frenzy with no regard to their owners (or even other people's) commands. " Would you like me to spend 30 seconds and make you a list of pit bulls that will and have done this? You are speaking with confidence about the impossibility of an as yet unobserved potential future event that has occurred in situations identical to your own current one. I bet Darla Napora did this too.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 06:00 PM
"Anyways, you seem to be running under the misconception that every pit bull wants to fight to the death." Really? Is this what stating that pit bulls are more likely to have dog-directed aggression means? I had no idea that my statements could be parsed into foolish universal ones could be disproved by a single counter-example. Gee...thank goodness for you special pit bull folk with your sharp minds.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 06:04 PM
You don't get it. To live a long life, avoid jail, live well, and die in your bed; it is recommended to not take unnecessary risks with yourself and others. That includes not owning the dog most likely to kill someone when other choices exist. If I had this type of fatal attraction, I would try to point my canine desires in another direction instead of trying to convince everyone that I made a good decision, or that I am responsible enough, or that it is none of their business. What you are doing is inherently irrational. Given what you've written, you seem to actually know this. But you just love your dog and are defending your ego. It's a very human thing to do.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 06:13 PM
To avoid being a "Poe". the last few bits are my translations of Jeremy's text into what he is actually thinking/saying.
Jeremy McHugh September 22, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Hi Steve- neither the style nor substance of your arguments is persuasive. So was I wrong about your grad schooliness? My apologies, if I was wrong. Good luck in your endeavors.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Clay, instead of asking me what scribd is, why don't you figure it out? It is somewhere online where documents etc can be archived for later viewing. You are dense.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Clay said.. "I say: Unproven theory with no canine experts that agree. Unproven theory isn't proven science, thus they aren't facts. they are the opinions of one person." Clay, you DO NOT UNDERSTAND science. You do not know a hypothesis from a theory from a law from a model from an observation, ok? You do not know that THINGS ARE NOT PROVEN in science. You are taking how you pea brain processes knowledge in an informal way and transferring that onto the scientific discipline. Google popperian falsification. AGGGHHHHHHH pit nutters are so dense. Plus you are simply using argument from authority again. Face it Clay, you do not have the mental ability to read a study and judge its validity. Therefore, if someone with a few fancy, if made up, letters after there name says it and you agree with YOU CLAIM IT IS PROVEN SCIENTIFIC FACT. Or if someone shows you a paper and tells you it means that, then you buy it too. Do you even know the difference between the writings of Karen Delise and something that gets into a peer-reviewed journal? You obviously suffer from dunning-kruger effect since you think you are even in this argument.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Clay said... "You are free to believe whatever you want Steve. I am not trying to change your mind. I encourage you to continue to post negative comments on news articles regarding pit bulls. The more controversy, the more the breed gets the spotlight, the more exposed the breed type is to the public. People like you stir it up so much with far fetched opinions and theories, yet you have ABSOLUTELY ZERO experience. You are an internet expert, with information overload!!!" No Clay, if you notice when you pick one of the many pit bull stories where they rip a kids face to shreds, most of the initial comments are very negative toward pits. Then know what happens? Pit bull advocates begin passing along the story among themselves and all of a sudden people start showing up and defending the breed. A few people will call them out on it, but often times they are swamped by the small but vocal group of which you are a part. I'm just stating what most people think about these dogs. You will never get people to abandon common sense just because you can remove the top of your skull and show them how cute the two crickets are that are dancing about where your brain should be. As far as me having zero experience and being an internet expert, I didn't know that being dumb enough to own the dog type most likely to kill you was a prerequisite for being able to judge them accurately. Heck, it seems more like a criteria for disqualification from this.
Steve Carol September 22, 2011 at 11:19 PM
Wow, a lawyer who thinks he is right and will say about anything to make others think so as well. I've never heard of such a thing. At least Jeremy can represent himself if his dog flexes her DNA. One reason folks like Jeremy exist is that before or after getting their wiggle butt they did not actually read accounts of pit bull attacks by victims and eyewitnesses. Why? Well it is media and pit bull orgs say the media, when it is not being charitable to pits, is against them so that they can slam a big iron bar across, you know, the main way we get information. PIt bulls gravely injure adults in ways that someone familiar with normal dogs would not find possible. We're talking sustained attacks that others cannot stop that lead to scalpings and limb removal. It's relatively common. Find me another breed that has scalped and caused amputation in even a fraction of the number of people. Then there are the pit bulls that break windows to attack people or that jump out of 2nd floor windows or can't be stopped by several grown men with baseball bats or that are shot but then try to attack again and must be shot multiple times or.....I could go on. Jeremy knows his dog though, even before he knew her when he was making the decision. He also knows that breed genetics is not useful to predict future behavior, even though it actually is.
Jeremy McHugh September 23, 2011 at 02:40 AM
Good luck in your future endeavors Steve Carol, grad school or otherwise.
Em September 23, 2011 at 03:41 AM
Wow, crazy comments. I'm not a pit owner or lover, but I think the issues with the breeds in question has a lot to do with the owners. I think it's wrong to condemn certain breeds as a whole and shame/insult those who own them. Not only is it obnoxious, but there won't be a winner. Go back and forth all you want posting links (just because it's posted online doesn't make it true), there's no right conclusion to this conversation. I also think it's unfortunate that a feel-good story has to be bombarded with hateful comments. Why not allow those doing positive work in the world continue it? Whether you agree or not, are you really making a difference with empty arguements and insults? No.. You aren't. That being said... It's nice to read a story about people who care about animals and who want to help change their negative reputation. It's easy for humans to demonize animals, but they're just that - animals. They aren't aware nor do they care about this entire thread.
Jeremy McHugh September 23, 2011 at 03:45 AM
go get er stevie
Steve Carol September 23, 2011 at 07:55 AM
Steve Carol September 23, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Bill September 23, 2011 at 08:39 PM
I'm not even getting into the debate about good dogs/bad dogs -- there's a good and bad side of almost every mammal on the planet. In my personal experience -- nose-to-nose and hand-to-snout -- pit bulls aren't normally violent dogs. In fact, they tend to be big, friendly dummies if not taught to be aggressive. A main issue seems to be when they do get aggressive over turf or mating, these dogs are extremely strong and hard to stop. The term 'bull' is entirely appropriate. Otherwise, I think that CHOWS are the most evil-tempered, unpredictable fur-bags man has had the misfortune to own. Miserable creatures that wag tails one minute and lunge the next. Ah, but we don't hear about chows. Michael Vicks didn't own chows and they don't have the negative ghetto associations. Google chow attacks sometime...
Steve Carol September 25, 2011 at 05:56 AM
Chows kill many fewer people than pit bulls each year. I agree though that chows are bad breed to own. I was child in the late 70s and early 80s and was taught certain breeds to be wary of by all adults around me. There was no PC environment to fight as I lived in a working class area of WV where people expressed common sense to children to keep them safe. Guess what? The breeds that were mentioned over and over are the exact top killers.
Derek Whitaker September 28, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Wow. An enormous thread filled with sensible people arguing against a troll who obviously has *nothing* better to do than respond ad nauseum to every single poster. Steve Carol, we know where you stand. As a person who had an incredibly sweet pit bull mix as a kid, and whose best friend currently has two adorable rescues, I say YOU'RE WRONG and obviously there are lots of people here who agree. I think it's safe to say you've attempted to make your point and we know where you stand. We don't have to agree, just recognize that there are lots of us who don't share your biased view.
Steve Carol September 29, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Typically, the most deceived are those like you with an obvious bias as well who points out the bias in others. You admit that your beliefs are based upon encounters with some nice pit bulls that you like. Fair enough, those are emotionally-charged anecdotes but have a smidgen of legitimacy. How many attacks are required to cancel out a nice pit bull story? If people defend this breed based upon experience with their nice dog, literally half of all pit bull owners could be killed by their dogs tonight and the other half would defend the breed tomorrow. It is telling to ask someone "what would change your mind about this breed as far as their average tendencies and companion animal suitability?". Most true believers will say it is a bad question or not be able to answer.
Bill September 29, 2011 at 04:02 AM
For all this carrying-on, let it be noted that much of the same could be said of human beings. Some nice, some not so much so and some violent -- mammals is mammals is mammals. At some point in out barbaric history there were people who behaved like these dogs...


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