National Post Barbara Kay: When pit bull defenders attack


National Post - Tuesday March 26th, 2019

A pit bull is shown in Montreal in 2016.

“Politics is downstream from culture,” Andrew Breitbart famously said. Rather less famously, but persistently, this columnist has always maintained that dog politics (which arouses more fervour than human politics) is downstream from human culture. Canine advocacy is permeated with the exact same tropes we hear from social justice warriors: “victims,” “equality,” “rights,” and — the canker that really gnaws away at logic and reason — “racism.”

At the heart of what I estimate to be 90 per cent of heated dog politics is the pit bull type dog.

There are two camps. I’m in the public-safety camp. Our concern is for the victims of a dog type that we know, based on irrefutable epidemiological evidence, is genetically programmed for elevated risk to humans and other animals. Researcher Merritt Clifton, who has been tracking media reports of dog attacks against humans for decades, has published data showing that pit bulls are responsible for a massively disproportionate share of attacks — in the period between 1982 and 2014, Clifton found that pit bulls accounted for more than 62 per cent of reported attacks causing bodily harm in Canada and the United States, despite making up less than an estimated seven per cent of the North American dog population. (Another three per cent involved mixed breeds that were at least part pit bull.) Pit bulls are responsible for more than half of dogbite-related hospital admissions, and their attacks are five times more likely to require surgical intervention. You don’t get these numbers because of “bad owners” or “poor socialization.” Our objective is phased-out breeding of the pit bull type dog altogether.

The other camp focuses on the pit bull as the victim of bias and a “bad rap” circulated by irrational fear-mongering pit bull haters and hostile media. To them the pit bull, as I have written elsewhere, is “the doggy equivalent to Anne of Green Gables, a feisty yet biddable child, seeking acceptance and kindness in a cruel world filled with stony-hearted people — like me — who have no use for their kind.”

There is a morality play going on in Montreal right now between the two camps. In the public-safety camp we have the launch of a new book (so far in French only), Attention Dangerous Dog: The tragic story of Christine Vadnais, killed by a pit bull, written by Lise Vadnais, the book subject’s sister. The book is an indictment of legislators and other elites who at first stepped up to the public-safety plate, but then retreated in the face of the well-oiled pit bull advocacy movement to water down constraints on dangerous dogs. Vadnais has become somewhat inured to the pit bull advocacy juggernaut, which (as I know from long experience), has intimidation of pit bull critics down to an orchestrated system.

Online abuse started when Vadnais gave media interviews after her sister’s death, and, she knows, will ratchet up again with her book’s publication. “It’s the pit bull first and foremost. It’s like brainwashing,” she told an interviewer. “If you dare to say anything that suggests the pit bull has a negative temperament, it’s like an insult, a total denial.”

Vadnais could have been describing well-known Quebec lawyer and media personality, Anne-France Goldwater. A pit bull owner herself, Goldwater, along with her son Daniel, has long been willing to defend the “rights” of pit bull-type dogs. In a Radio-Canada interview following the Vadnais killing, she charged my camp with “racism,” even likening our breed judgmentalism to the Nazis’ contempt for Jews. Such a feckless and offensive cross-species parallel is seriously unbecoming to an educated mind.

Last summer a pit bull-type dog named Shotto attacked six people, two of them children in the care of their grandmother. A municipal bylaw ordered it euthanized. Last week, Goldwater argued in court that euthanizing the dog contravened provincial animal welfare legislation. She asked that Shotto be shipped to a special refuge in New York where it would never be rehomed. That is, spare the dog the death penalty and send it to prison for life.

Some “life.” Humans know why they are in prison. Dogs don’t. That’s a meaningful difference. Humans can be rehabilitated. Dangerous dogs with attack baggage can’t be (although some “experts” promise they can). Euthanizing Shotto will spare him a desolate future and prevent harm to those tasked with handling him.

Goldwater’s argument comes down to dogs being “sentient beings” that have “biological needs.” This ridiculous strain of logic could, if taken seriously, turn us all into vegans by law, and end animal celibacy, the lot of most companion animals. Alexandre Paul-Hus, a lawyer for the city of Montreal, countered that Shotto’s case was not “borderline” or even legally “ambiguous.” Paul-Hus noted, “The act of euthanasia, if it is done in a fair and dignified manner … is not a murder. It is not a crime nor an infraction.”

Categorization is the basis of cognition. Animal welfare — diminishing animals’ suffering and optimizing their contentment in their allotted lifetimes — is something animals have a moral right to, and which should be regulated. But the moral right to humane treatment and the legal right to live a natural lifespan — a right based in natural law for human beings — are two completely different animals. A lawyer, of all people, should understand the distinction.

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