I went through all of these emotions after reading John Brant’s article in Runner’s World magazine titled, “Don’t go out in Those Hills. There are Dogs Out There.” Our hearts go out to the runners who were attacked. The story is truly horrifying, and no runner should ever have to face a similar situation. Many of us have encountered off-leash dogs while running and the fear is something many of us can relate to. ”Those dogs” that were referenced were a pack of aggressive ”Pit Bull” type dogs that attacked a group of runners in California. It’s a scary and tragic story. What is also scary and tragic is the agenda of the author, his fear-based opinion and the sensationalized “facts” sprinkled throughout the article.
Before we get into our feelings about the article specifically, it should be noted that the term”Pit Bull” does not refer to a “breed” of dog, but a type of dog. Animal Farm Foundation could not have said it better:
“Our words matter. In Maryland, dog owners are losing their homes because their dog is called “pit bull”. Dogs are being surrendered because they are called “pit bull”. When we assign a breed label to a dog or speak about “pit bull” dogs with the public, we owe it to the dogs to examine the language and labels we use to describe them. A label will stick with a dog for the rest of its life. A label can mean discrimination, losing its home, or even death. Labels are a problem for the dogs when we allow adopters, politicians, and community members to think that the label we assigned can predict who that dog is or will be.”
Quotes were taken from odd sources in this article. A plastic surgeon is quoted about the dog’s background and jaw-strength. A plastic surgeon? No disrespect to the cosmetic surgery field, but surely a vet or dog expert should should have been quoted regarding canine genetic history and physical characteristics.
A quick Google search tells us that Ronald Berman, the trainer who was quoted in the article, specializes in bite-case lawsuits and litigation. (“I see photos of people with their faces ripped off.”) Why didn’t RW interview a trainer that focuses on normal, everyday training issues, as opposed to one who is involved with lawsuits that involve a minuscule fraction dogs? Let’s face it – the VAST majority of dogs, of any breed, will never be involved in any sort of litigation. Berman has dealt with the worst-of-the-worst bite-cases, so obviously his views will be slanted toward aggression, negligent and abusive owners, and horrific stories/experiences. (Or perhaps he had more to say, and those quotes were left out.)
To balance out the article, RW would surely meet a friendly bully-breed pooch, right? The author has this to say after snuggling with a socialized, friendly and “affectionate” dog:
“A tail wagging sweetie, Madison has obviously been raised right. She was spayed before reaching maturity, Dr. Hoffler says, adding that the dog lays beside the vet’s small children when they’re watching TV or sleeping. Nonetheless, Madison weighs 85-taut, chiseled pounds. Her muscles bunch massively around her haunches and he eyes form flat brown buttons, appearing equally intelligent and pitiless.”
Note words such as “nonetheless.” He uses “pitiless” to describe this loving creatures eyes. The definition of pitiless is: “having or showing little or no pity or mercy.” Really?
And more on this encounter with a friendly, family dog:
“Sitting on the couch in the client’s waiting room, with Madison snuffling into your hand and her massive jaw resting in your lap, you can’t help but laughing at her precocious capacity for affection. But at the same time, her enormous strength – her capacity to inflict pain and destruction – thrums from every fiber of her body. Cuddling with Madison feels like hugging a short-haired howitzer.”
Ever hear someone say, “You never know when a pit bull will just snap!” Do you wonder where that type of fear comes from? The author throws the animal community a bone by describing how “affectionate” Madison is, then goes straight back to his bias by explaining just how dangerous she could be. He goes as far to compare her to a military weapon of war. A family dog is compared to a weapon?
Dog attacks are tragic; regardless of the breed involved. Any dog, regardless of breed AND background, has the capacity for aggression. Any dog, regardless of breed AND background, also has the capacity for love, loyalty and a lifetime of devotion. Runner’s World could have run a balanced piece about the attack, even while including the type of dog, without the author’s biased, fear-based opinions. Perhaps they could include more information on what to do if you run up upon a nervous/aggressive dog of ANY breed?
The article speaks of the “pervasive outlaw” community that raises and breeds “Pit Bulls,” but not of the hundreds of thousands of us who share our everyday lives with them. What of the dogs that are THRIVING as members of loving families? And what of the thousands of Pit Bull type dogs that are sitting in shelters, many of whom are on the euthanasia list because families are scared to adopt due stereotypes such as the one printed in this very article.
That image of a “Pit Bull” with bloodied sneakers is hard to forget. Runners who don’t personally know how “normal” these dogs are, will likely cringe the next time they see a dog that looks similar to the one pictured. And that can mean life or death to a dog waiting to be adopted. When people are fearful, they don’t adopt. When people don’t adopt (and dogs keep flowing in), the kennels at shelters fill up. When there is no space at shelters, dogs of all breeds are at risk of euthanasia. Misinformed, opinionated media, like the article RW published hurts the rescue community as a whole, not only the Pit Bull type dogs. When municipalities are fearful of certain dogs, Breed Specific Legislation initiatives are enacted (that don’t work.) When businesses are fearful of certain dogs, landlords reject qualified applicants, insurance companies drop law-abiding homeowners, families are torn apart, and innocent dogs end up in overcrowded shelters for no other reason than the shape of their head and their body type.
What of the Pit Bulls that are therapy dogs, visiting hospitals, retirement homes, schools and prisons? What of the bully breeds that are being trained as bomb-sniffing dogs? What of the Pit-Mixes that are masters of agility in formal competition? What of the hundreds of thousands of goofy, snoring, farting, ball-fetching, bundles of love that many of us share our lives (and run) with? What of the hundreds of dogs, that we, as a group of 300 volunteers, have run with over the last two years? What of the healthy, adoptable and social dogs that will be overlooked in shelters, when would-be adopters remember this article?
Let’s face it – as a group, we volunteer to run with shelter dogs. Most of our running buddies in Philadelphia happen to be some sort of a mix-breed dog. So we have a LOT of experience handling dogs from all walks of life, backgrounds and breed combinations. Why not include an opinion from someone who does not fear these types of dog?
Last year Runner’s World gave us two awards: The “why didn’t I think of that award” and the “Best Animal-Related Idea” award on their RW Daily blog. I hesitated even speaking up, because we don’t want to burn bridges with the most powerful running publication in the USA. But this article made me sick to my stomach, and on behalf of the thousands of shelter dogs who’s lives are on the line because of negative stereotypes, I knew that we had to to be a voice. I encourage the editors to come to Philly and meet with us. We’d love to introduce the editors and John Brant, to shelter dogs we run with, our running volunteer “Milers,” dog experts & trainers, and dedicated shelter staff who engage with Pit Bull type dogs on a daily basis. Consider this an open invitation. We’re only a phone call or email away. (Philly is about an hour from the RW HQ.)
We value the decades of information Runner’s World Magazine has provided the running community with, but this article is full of sensationalized, biased journalism. And this type of shock-journalism puts innocent dogs’ lives at risk. Our sympathies to the people who were injured, but the same story could have been written from a balanced perspective that respects the injured runners and the “breed,” while providing information to educate the running community about legitimate threats and safety. An aggressive, off-leash dog of ANY breed can pose a threat to runners. This article was written from a standpoint of fear, not objectivity.
Here’s a picture of my loyal running partner, Lola, who in some municipalities, would be labeled a “Pit Bull” (even though she’s likely some mix of a terrier/boxer/bully/who-knows-what). Thankfully, I live in a city that cherishes all dogs and treats them as individuals. In Philadelphia, we have an amazing network of shelter volunteers, foster families, advocates and local rescues/shelters that are educating the public about adoption and rescue. Lola is my best-friend, my protector, my pavement-pounding partner, my snuggle-master and the inspiration behind The Monster Milers. Does she look like a weapon to you?