Last night (September 22, 2017), the Fifth Estate (CBC) aired an episode about the “pit bull debate”.
We watched it so you don’t have to. Seriously. It’s a confusing mess of an episode and you gain nothing by watching it. You’ll only be giving CBC the clicks and advertising revenue they are counting on by choosing sensationalism over journalism.
We have posted an outline below and will be publishing a media critique in several parts over the next week. It's important to deconstruct this sort of coverage and hold reporters accountable. If you did watch it and are aching to respond, please read yesterday’s #BSLbyte and some additional notes in the comments.
This episode was prefaced with a viewer discretion warning. Which was appropriate due to the prodigious use of gory injury footage.
It should also come with instructions on how to make a tin foil hat.
You see, based on the previews, we had expected another profile of the so-called debate over “pit bulls”. Usually there is a slide show of horrific injuries, usually to children, and people calling for them to be banned based on their personal (and often tragic) experiences.
Then they will show an advocate and a short-haired dog with a baby draped over it, arguing that “pit bulls” are lovely and snuggly and misunderstood.
This is the same conversation that has been happening for 30 years. It is pointless and leads only to emotionally charged conversations on either side. CBC played on some of that, but it also spend considerable time exposing a dark conspiracy. Are you ready to hear about it? Tin foil hat in place?
It’s the pit bull lobby. Described as "powerful", "US-based", and even “million dollar”, it exists to “move troubled dogs out of the shelter and into your home”. They “care more about the right to own these dogs than they do about public safety”. And they descend on opponents and victims with a “blitzkrieg of emails" every time someone tries to expose the truth about this group of dogs.
We’re not told much about these lobbyists, why they exist, or what exactly they stand to benefit by their actions. A considerable amount of screen time is spent disparaging Best Friends Animal Society, claiming their No-Kill movement is trying to sell unstable pit bulls to you, but that was all that was said about the mechanics of this million-dollar lobby.
But wait: if this lobby is so powerful, how did The Fifth Estate miss its key arguments? While producers had the resources to send Mark Kelley to Arkansas and Wisconsin, they didn’t have the time to research the core arguments our “lobby” is trying to advance:
1. BSL fails because “pit bull” is a poorly-defined construct. It relies on visual judgement calls and nothing else. It makes enforcement difficult and ties up resources, and takes dogs away from families for no reason.
2. BSL fails because it fails. In communities where this has been tracked, including Ontario, overall bites increase under BSL.
3. BSL fails because it doesn’t address proven risk factors behind dog bites. These are well documented in peer-reviewed research and recognized by any reputable academic, professional, public and animal welfare organization you can name.
4. Strong legislation targeting owner behaviour, with enforcement and penalties, is the only thing that has proven to reduce dog attacks. When combined with a community-based program of outreach and education, it can be even more effective.
No one wants to live in fear of dogs in their community. No one wants to see a child hurt. But there’s only one way to get there and there’s no “debate” about it. It’s breed-neutral, sensible legislation that is enforced in our communities.
Over the coming weeks we’ll delve a bit further into some of the information presented on The Fifth Estate, because the flaws and inflammatory tactics are ones we see over and over. As consumers of media and taxpayers who fund the CBC, we deserve better.