Op-Ed: Are Pit Bulls Really Dangerous?

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 4, 2016

“Are Pit Bulls Really Dangerous?” That was the title of a live chat this morning, which was arranged by the newspaper The Virginian Pilot in the wake of a brutal dog attack death.  The newspaper put together a panel of “experts” to discuss Pit Bull Terrier-type dogs, including:

– Daphna Nachmonovitch – PeTA Representative
– Kerry Dougherty – Virginian Pilot columnist (and vocal anti-Pit Bull activist)
– Rhonda Tucker – Pit Bull Awareness Coalition
– Stephanie Cherry-Ruppert – Norfolk PD Animal Protection Unit

I cleared my schedule to be able to participate in this event and was looking forward to a civil discourse with factual information.  I was sadly mistaken. The most entertaining and reality-based part of the whole experience was the poll on the website:

Do you believe Pit Bulls are dangerous?
Yes: 36%
No: 58%
Undecided: 6%

The live chat was one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever encountered, beginning with the panel itself.

Ms. Nachmonovitch is best known as the person who damned the dogs seized from Michael Vick in an interview with the AP:

“These dogs are a ticking time bomb.  Rehabilitating fighting dogs is not in the cards.”

In all the years since, her stance has not wavered.

Ms. Dougherty has written some of the most vehement anti-Pit Bull Terrier articles I have ever read.  Her favorite statement, which seems to appear in all of her hateful op-ed columns, is:

“Look, it’s true that some Pit Bulls are genuinely sweet. It’s also true that all breeds bite, and many are more prone to bite than Pit Bulls. Problem is, when Pit Bulls do attack, the results are often ghastly.”

She also condescends to those who disagree with her at least once in every column:

“OK, ready for the firestorm. The heap of hate mail. The profane phone messages. The ‘What a Moron’ reposts of this column on the Internet.”

Lt Down and Josh the Pit Bull Kissing

Ms. Tucker, representing the Pit-Bull Awareness Coalition, tried to use peer reviewed studies to rebut some of the contentions, but she was easily beaten down by the sheer amount of venom coming from Nachmonovitch and Dougherty.  She did her best to temper their hatred, but it is hard to reply to emotion with logic. However, she won fans with her comment:  “Any law pertaining to dogs should be across the board for all breeds.”


Ms. Cherry-Rupert, a late addition, was the single most important person on this panel.  This is a woman with more than 5 years of experience, working with dogs as a police representative. Participants could read her comments and instantly recognize that she did not represent a special interest group.  Her responses were thoughtful and well-written.

The live chat began at a glacier-slow pace.  In the first 15 minutes, one question was asked and two responses given.  But it didn’t take long for participants to pick their corners and start throwing out contentious statements.

Ms. Nachmonovitch referenced a study that was published in the Annals of Surgery in 2011, titled “Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs.”  This study has been debunked by the scientific community.  It is not a peer reviewed study, and the methodology has been shown to be suspect.

Kissing Pit Bulls

Ms. Dougherty referred to the site Dogsbitedotorg (DBO) repeatedly as a source for bite information and statistics.  DBO depends on press accounts for all data they collect.  The statistics are highly suspect, and have been challenged on multiple occasions.  The DBO page was even named the Unethical Website of the month in October 2015 by the website Ethics Alarms.

The most shocking takeaway, in my view, was this comment made by the PeTA representative, regarding the DBO site:

“If you look at the site, it’s all fact-based on media reports.”

Although, in retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me.  PeTA and DBO recently formed a partnership with several other anti-Pit Bull, pro-breed discrimination groups; supposedly to organize an event called “Pit Bull Victim Awareness Day.”  That alliance caused much consternation and multiple blogs and posts on social media.

The newspaper solicited questions in advance, and also allowed participants to pose questions during the event. However, all submissions were screened and only added if the moderator saw fit.  According to comments that were posted on Facebook groups during the Live Chat, the perception was that most of the initial comments and questions were anti-Pit Bull.  Many felt that it wasn’t until people started tweeting about that feeling of prejudice that Pit Bull supporter questions were included in the discussion.


Frankly, the comments on Facebook were vastly more entertaining than the ones on the Live Chat.

-Why does the media think PETA has anything of value to bring to the table? Same reason people tune in to see Trump onstage, I guess
-Ugh, why am I paying attention to this. Why why why? The anti-Pit Bull columnist doesn’t know science or logic, *and* doesn’t know the difference between “their” and “they’re”
-Kerry has some profoundly stupid ideas about dogs
-I suppose if there was an upside to this it was that PETA basically finally came out and admitted that they really do hate Pit Bulls

In the end, this was an hour-and-a-half of my life that I will never see again: a profound waste of time.  No new information was shared.  Lies and debunked studies weren’t challenged.  And comments were weighted heavily with anti-Pit Bull sentiment.  I would have been better off walking my dog.

H/T Virginia Pilot

Featured image via Wolfie-Undead

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 4, 2016

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