Monday, July 14, 2008

Things that go bump in the night

When I was 12, I was bitten on the ankle by a medium sized brown and white dog when I stepped onto its owner's driveway. A cop was called and the owner of the dog had to show proof that the dog had been vaccinated for rabies - which it was. Nothing more happened and everyone, including myself, was fine with that.

Transplant that incident to present day and substitute that generic dog with a Pit Bull and it's likely that Pit Bull would be facing death followed by decapitation (to check if it has rabies). Isn't it wonderful to see how our society has evolved?

I'm reading this book called "The Pit Bull Placebo" which talks about the distortions created by the popular media throughout the last century and a half on the topic of dangerous dogs. The premise it brings up over and over is that the dangerous breed label is a fad brought on by the popularity of a particular medium to large sized breed in conjunction with the need to sell news copy (for obvious reasons, smaller breeds are exempt from the killer canine stereotype). It seems cyclical. A breed becomes popular because of certain traits (bravery, intelligence, loyalty, starring in major Hollywood movie, etc.), then there are more bites reported with the breed, then the breed is villified.

It's interesting to read about all the breeds which have been portrayed as either heroic or dangerous depending upon the decade. The loosely termed "Bloodhounds" of the late 1800's were known for their heroism because they pursued and caught criminal elements but then as their popularity with various law enforcement and security agencies grew and their human handlers started to encourage and train them to attack their prey, they became feared and villified.

When Newfoundlanders became popular in the early 1900's and people started using them as guard dogs, reports of Newfoundlanders ravaging people spiked. It's curious, though, that in many of the media reports back then concerning dog attacks on people, the newspapers would often cite the reason for the dog attack. In most present day media reports, the reasons for an attack are generally glossed over. It makes for better fearmongering when people read about attacks without provocation because then the evil can be attributed solely and directly to the crazy, vicious breed. The sense of ill will towards the breed becomes generalized, not focused on any specific dog, certainly not on the owner.

The list of the rise and fall of evil dogs goes on to include German Shepherds, Dobermans and of course the Pit Bull. In each case, as the bad rep of a breed was hyped by the media, the popularity of the breed increased amongst the most depraved and abusive of owners. They were used as status symbols of viciousness even though that viciousness originated from the owner, not the dog.

On the one hand, this book should give hope to those defenders of pit bulls that one day the media will shift its hysteria away from the L'il Rascal of dogs and onto the next great threat. On the other hand, it means we can always look forward to the demonization of one breed or another because of exploitation from its human handlers and the media's thirst for blood money.

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