In the early afternoon of November 20, there was a dog altercation on Kitsilano beach in Vancouver. An off-leash dog named Winston rushed up, barking, to an on-leash dog named Pandora. Pandora responded by pinning the smaller dog to the ground. Later footage of the pug would show small wound sites on the back of the head and ear.
Both owners agree that Pandora maintained her hold on the dog while there was some attempt to loosen it. But it wasn’t long before the pug owner decided he’d had enough and pulled out a knife. In broad daylight, he stabbed Pandora to death.
A family pet stabbed to death in public is certainly newsworthy, and it should come as no surprise that reporters became interested. But at this stage, all they knew was that Pandora was a pit bull and Winston was a pug. They knew there was an altercation and a stabbing. Neither the VPD or the SPCA was commenting on specifics, and neither owner was in a state to give interview.
So at that point, the story could have been framed in a number of ways. They could have focused on the sheer horror of a family pet being slaughtered in broad daylight. They could have talked to Animal Control about whether dog-to-dog altercations are common in the city, and how to deal with them if they happened. They could have simply stuck to the facts and waited for more information to come to light. But here’s what happened.
The first mention of the story was seen on ScanBC, saying only that a dog was stabbed on Kits beach.
HugABull representatives begin receiving phone calls and emails from reporters, asking us to respond to the incident. We pointed out that we have no involvement or information about what happened, and we didn’t support this becoming a “breed” story. At this point no one could even provide a credible source to say that the dog was, in fact, a pit bull.
Evening news reports begin airing. While there is still no information, the headlines begin to read as follows:
- CBC Radio News reports that a pit bull attacked a pug, and the pug owner was “forced to” stab the dog to death in order to loosen its jaws.
- Another CBC report claims that the pug owner was approached by the pit bull’s owner, and that the pit bull “suddenly clamped down” on the pug’s neck.
- CKNW also reports that the pit bull owner initiated the meeting, and that “after a brief introduction the pitbull clamped down on the neck of the smaller dog”. The man pulled out his knife and “put down” the pit bull – this last sentence a quote from the Vancouver Police Department.
- CTV runs a story headlined “Senior stabs pit bull to death to save pug.”
With little to go on, this still makes top story news and reporters are desperate to fill in the blanks. With the little details they have, there are a number of assumptions made:
- The pug and senior were the victims
- The pit bull was the aggressor
- The attack was so severe that the man was “forced” to pull out a knife
- The stabbing was a necessary action to defend and free the pug (although clearly Pandora was stabbed so many times she died on the scene)
Thursday, November 21
Media calls continued coming into HugABull representatives starting at 6:30am. Reporters tried to tempt us to comment saying that this incident had “renewed calls for a provincial breed ban.” Considering that there has never been formal discussion in Provincial legislature about a breed ban, and that this incident happened less than 18 hours ago, it seemed like a transparent attempt to ignite controversy.
Later that morning, an open letter one of Pandora’s family members was posted, and gave us a very different version of events:
- Pandora was on-leash and the pug was not
- The pug charged Pandora
- The stabbing was not a last resort, nor did it end when the pug was freed. The man continued stabbing Pandora, screaming “you deserve to die.”
Pandora’s owner, Samantha, began to make herself available for interviews. Up to this point, the family had been so deeply shaken by the incident that they wished to recover at home, but after witnessing the media coverage they felt that their voice was needed.
To give credit where due, the media did begin to shift their focus of the story. Samantha recounted her version of events and excerpts from the open letter were published. The coverage began to shift to responsible ownership and the incident could have been prevented on the part of the pug owner.
- Global TV’s Jill Krop interviews Samantha
- The Province quotes the open letter, including a photo of Pandora snuggling with a small child, and ends the article on a constructive note with tips on handling a dog fight
- The Globe and Mail runs a similar story
What doesn’t seem to play out in the coverage is the part that seems so horrifying to us. A family pet was stabbed, multiple times, killing it on site. The incident should have been avoided in the first place, this is true – but is anyone concerned that one of our community members is so readily able to pull out a weapon and repeatedly stab a living thing?
When we see footage of the pug on its walk the next day, wiggling and wagging with two tiny wound sites – no blood, bandages, cone, or drain tube in sight – doesn’t it force us to speculate whether the stabbing was a massive, gruesome over-reaction?
We tried our best not to make this a “pit bull story” but it’s hard not to ask a few questions. Would the man have been compelled to stab Pandora to death had she not been a pit bull? While the dog fight seemed scary at the time, the large-dog-pins-small dog scenario is one that happens in dog parks across the lower mainland, and people find ways to resolve these incidences without stabbing one dog to death.
Without 30 years of media sensationalism around the breed, would Winston’s owner have felt compelled to unsheath his knife so readily? “I don’t know if you’ve heard about pit bulls,” he says in a Global interview. “But they have, like, a vice grip.”
Would the police have been quicker to press charges?
Would the public be rallying for charges to be laid?
Maybe the story will change again as other people come forward. An Airedale owner describes a similar encounter with the same man years ago, which ended with the man beating her dog with a plastic ball launcher. Other comments on Facebook indicate the man was known in the neighbourhood for such behaviour.
On Sunday night, a man named Alex came forward, described as an eyewitness by Global TV, although he claims he ran over only when he heard the pug owner shouting. His description of the attack differs from previous ones (“biting and shaking” rather than “clamping down”) and he ultimately defends the pug owner’s actions.
We will all follow this in the days to come as the conversation continues and the SPCA report is made public.
We hope that justice will be served, and that we can move towards more constructive conversations about how to avoid violence between all species on the boardwalk. And finally, we hope that the media will practice due diligence and be a little more fair in how further coverage plays out, not to mention when the next dog attack happens, regardless of the breeds involved.
Pandora’s family has started a Facebook Page called In Memory of Pandora. “Like” the page to follow developments in her case and hear from the family directly. Volunteers are looking to organize a march in support of responsible ownership and ensuring that Pandora’s death is not in vain – keep an eye on the page for updates.