Open Letter to the Editorial Board of 24 Hours

Sent by email January 13, 2015

When you provided column space to Bill Tielemen last week to post gory statistics and stories in an attempt to argue for a pit bull ban, most breed advocates did not, in fact, send him emails laced with the F-bomb.

Most of us rolled our eyes and ignored him. Because this type of hysteria has been a mainstay of news reporting for 30 years and it’s far from new. The vitriol hurts, but it’s also self-evidently wrong to anyone who has been around dogs, has a shred of knowledge about dog behavior, or who has spent a few minutes doing honest research.

I’m not writing to “defend the breed” or to run through the common-sense arguments against this kind of hysteria. I could talk about the breed standard or temperament testing statistics. Or post any one of dozens of peer-reviewed articles about the predictive factors in dog aggression (hint: it’s never breed). I could give you background on the characters behind Dogs Bite Dot Org (the data source quoted by Tieleman) their research methodologies, and their general level of credibility.

I’m not going to go into that, because all of it is easily accessible to anyone who wants balanced information. There are also countless local experts on animal control and dog behavior in BC who could have been consulted on this matter and provided a thoughtful Op-Ed. Instead, we have fire and brimstone and opinion polls I can only consider “clickbait” – and clearly it worked, because Tieleman was given the opportunity for another go-round.

Every indication is that public perception of “pit bull” breeds is changing for the better. They are one of the most popular breeds in most urban centres, including Vancouver. They are owned by celebrities. Breed banning is becoming a thing of the past, with jurisdictions overturning these laws every year. In fact, 19 American states now have legislation making breed discrimination illegal. Do you know why? Because when you take the time for a sensible, evidence-based review, the rationale for breed discrimination falls apart.

Maybe one day 24 Hours, the media as a whole, or Mr. Tielemen will decide to live on the right side of history when it comes to this issue. I hope so. Until then, my readership and clicks and social media shares go elsewhere.

Sincerely,

April Fahr
Executive Director
HugABull Advocacy & Rescue Society

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Blog readers – did you miss the articles in question? Please don’t bother looking them up. This only feeds the phenomenon whereby sensationalized reporting draws valuable clicks and readership. For more information on this, read our previous blog post on Clickbait.

If it helps to have background on these articles, here’s a summary. Bill Tielemen’s first Op-Ed was published on January 5 and titled “Time to ban pit bulls in B.C.” It begins with a laundry list of attacks by alleged “pit bulls” followed by paragraphs of statistics from Dogs Bite Dot Org. (For background on this group, read this post by KC Dog Blog). Tielemen’s article was posted online along with a public opinion poll on banning “pit bull” breeds.

The second article was published on January 12, and began with a dramatic quote from another Op-Ed writer in the US likening the “pit bull” category of dog to “…a loaded gun with the safety off on the coffee table.” Tienemen then described insulting emails he received following the article, as well as the vast number of shares and online poll votes that ensued. He listed, very dramatically, a few more alleged “pit bull” attacks that occurred recently in the US before proclaiming that pit bull advocates were in denial and reiterating his support for a ban.

 

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