Thursday, May 30, 2013

Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapon Dogs

Book Review
From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May/June 2013:

Unleashed:  The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapon Dogs 
by Simon Harding
The Policy Press,  U. of Bristol (c/o U. of Chicago Press, 
427 East 60th St.,  Chicago,  IL 60637),  2012.  
286 pages,  hardcover.  $100.60;  Kindle $23.72.

    I first saw an American Staffordshire,  better known as a pit bull,  during a 1989 visit to Baltimore.  Three youths had stolen a cocker spaniel and were encouraging their three unleashed pit bulls to tear the spaniel apart alive.  The spaniel tried desperately to escape,  but was held on a short leash.  By the time I reached the scene,  the spaniel had collapsed,  possibly dead.  The youths kept kicking the remains,  and the AmStaffs kept attacking.  By the time the cops caught up with them,  they had disposed of the evidence.  They laughed in the cops’ faces: “Man, you’ll never find that dead dog, and anyway we’re juvies––you can’t touch us.”
    The attacking dogs’ behavior was so utterly abnormal,  so utterly unlike how I’d ever seen any dog behave, that I told various friends about it.  “Oh,”  they all said, “those were pit bulls.  It’s what they do.  They are not like other dogs.’
    The recorded history of the pit bull began in the Middle Ages.  Hundreds of years of selective breeding eventually produced dogs aggressive enough for use in baiting bears and bulls.  This mayhem had its heyday during the reigns of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.  After public opinion turned against both the torture of humans and the torture of animals as entertaining,  Britain in 1835 abolished bull-and bear-baiting.  Breeders and gamblers then turned to pitting “bull” dogs against each other.  No longer did they need to obtain bulls or bears,  or maintain fighting pits big enough to hold a terrified bear. 
    Fighting dogs were soon introduced around the world by the soldiers and sailors of the British Empire.
    Simon Harding,  author of Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs & Weapon Dogs,  worked in youth justice for 25 years.  He recently received a doctorate from the University of Bedfordshire.  He now presents himself as an expert on dog behavior.
    Even in 1989,  when I discovered the existence of pit bulls,  I found a wealth of information about their history and behavior in one afternoon at my local public library.  Vastly more has been published since.  Yet Harding opens by alleging that the problem of “weapon and status dogs” is newly emergent,  little documented by academic literature and primary data.
    There is no lack of relevant academic literature and primary data;  Harding just consistently ignores most of it.  For example, Harding somehow never found the unmatched statistical feat accomplished by ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton, tracking fatal and disfiguring dog attacks by breed for more than thirty years.  (The fatality data has been retrospectively confirmed,  case by case,  by founder Colleen Lynn.)
    Harding does not consult the many pediatric medicine and surgical journals that discuss the relative seriousness of the wounds that pit bulls inflict.  He skips the data showing that pit bull bans not only dramatically decrease catastrophic dog attacks and shelter admissions,  but also coincide with reductions in gang crime of as much as 40%.  Since Harding ignores the work of Charles Darwin on natural and artificial selection,  it is no surprise that the work of geneticists and veterinary neurologists does not interest him either.
    Instead, Harding leans for his history of the bull breeds almost exclusively on the work of longtime pit bull advocates Karen Delise,  a vet tech,  and Diane Jessup,  a pit bull breeder.  Even there Harding is selective,  missing the publications in which Jessup acknowledges––or rather boasts––that the fighting and gripping behaviors of pit bulls are genetically determined,  and that it is a flaw in a pit bull if these traits are missing.  Harding instead simply states––with only Delise’s word for it––that pit bulls are like any other dog;  that they were never fighting dogs,  and rather were always and are still working farm dogs;  that they were peaceful family pets until some time in the 20th century when back yard breeders took over;  that only bad owners and poor breeding make them a problem now;  that there has never been trouble with any purebred pit bull;  that German shepherds bite the most;  that pit bulls merely suffer from a media-created image problem.  On page 110 Harding repeats the “nanny dog” myth,  which has recently been rejected even by the pit bull advocacy group BADRAP.
    Harding seems equally ignorant of the history of his own country,  claiming that breeding dogs for fighting purposes is new.  I find myself wondering whether he has ever heard of Henry VIII,  Elizabeth I,  or Shakespeare,  whose Globe theater in London competed for audience share with the nearby Paris Gardens bear-baiting pits favored by Elizabeth.
    Harding even ignores his own data.  Of 138 dangerous dog owners he approached, 76% of the interviews were not completed.  43% subjects refused to be interviewed;  8% asked for money.  Harding departed early from 5% of his attempted interviews,  fearing for his personal safety.  20% of the interviews were disrupted when the dangerous dog misbehaved. Only 33 interviews were successfully completed.
    Harding’s interview subjects consistently acknowledged keeping pit bulls as weapons.  They agreed that crossing a pit bull with something else,  usually a mastiff,  produces a bigger but equally aggressive dog.  They use the dogs to show their masculinity as they define it––as a resource of violence,  intimidation and aggression,  and as backup for controlling and oppressive behaviors in their dealings with women,  authority and their own peer group.
    Harding admits that ordinary people are using public space differently because of the presence of dangerous dogs.  He cites statistics showing a year-upon-year doubling of British hospital admissions due to dog attacks since 2004,  paralleling the rise in “weapon dogs” seized by police.
    Without questioning why most unemployed ethnic youth do not become involved in gang activity and with “weapon dogs,”  Harding tags those who keep these dogs as innocent social victims.  Worse,  he paints them,  despite their predatory behavior toward working class people,  as representatives of the working class.  He argues that what the public really fears is a new set of social values developing,  which we should learn to accept as a part of normal social change,  rather than rejecting these poor gang youths by rejecting their dogs.
    Towards the end of Unleashed,  Harding reveals that his goal from the start was to support the repeal of breed bans.  Bully breeds are weapons,  Harding admits, but rather than banning them we should allow everyone to have one.  We should educate criminal youths about how to be kind to animals,  and improve the image of pit bulls so we won’t be afraid any more,  and so that sociopathic youths won’t mistakenly think these dogs are dangerous.
    Meanwhile,  Harding agrees there should be restrictions on ownership of bully breeds,  but only until we have educated these criminal youths.  After that,  everyone will be safe with pit bulls at all times,  as long as they are of pure breeding.
    As George Orwell wrote:  “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”                              
––Alexandra Semyonova

    [Alexandra Semyonova,  a dog behaviorist and former Dutch SPCA inspector,   is author of The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs (Hastings Press,  2009.)]


tropical storms said...

How can it be considered research if you fail in the basic requirements for research? That is of course a broad informational base from which to draw one's conclusions. Rather appalling what passes for research these days, you have to wonder if he'd have done as poor a job if he had a vested interest in the information.

april 29 said...

Pit bull advocacy is unable to differentiate between the creation of simple propaganda and actual research. All of Karen Delise's work comes to mind here, and anything based on Delise's opinions. It must be remembered that Delise is a professional breed specific advocate.

Anonymous said...

we should compile a new list :

the 100 sickest things idiots say about pitbulls.

orangedog said...

#1: LOL Farmdogs

These idiots even ignore the name of the breed they love so much. It's not "farm bull" nutters. It's PIT bull. PIT PIT PIT PIT PIT PIT PIT PIT.

orangedog said...

What kills me is how they don't get that "form follows function". Why do pits need those huge gaping maws if they were "peaceful farm dogs"? Ask yourself why real farm dogs don't sport those massive jaws. Ask yourself why pits have a bite and hold shake style grip if they were ever farm dogs. Herding dogs do not catch and hold. Bad herding dogs that bite the animals (the farmers livelihood) would have been culled.
Could it be anymore obvious that these dogs were bred for hundreds of years to catch and hold and never release until dead? And if not, it's right there in the name - PIT.

tropical storms said...

Maybe they could look up the definition of pit, " to set in conflict or contest " . My guess is they see the definition for fruit stone and say "see, they are farm AND orchard dogs!".

Small Survivors said...

ROFL! Obviously farm and orchard dogs cuz cherries have pits!

Packhorse said...

Shame. When I saw the title of this book I was looking forward to its publication. And here I thought someone was going to actually do some real research on "weapon dogs," their behavior and appeal to criminals.

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

i'm with you packhorse. i saw the title and was hopeful.

orchard pits lol

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

but the book could have value just based on this:

Harding even ignores his own data. Of 138 dangerous dog owners he approached, 76% of the interviews were not completed. 43% subjects refused to be interviewed; 8% asked for money. Harding departed early from 5% of his attempted interviews, fearing for his personal safety. 20% of the interviews were disrupted when the dangerous dog misbehaved. Only 33 interviews were successfully completed.


Miss Margo said...

Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war.

Reading Semyonova demolish this disingenuous, intellectually shallow HACK was a great treat.

Semyonova has major guts and I admire her tremendously. Likewise with M. Clifton. Clifton walks the fuckin walk. He's ferocious. The only people who don't respect him are too damn stupid or cowardly to understand the legitimacy of his argument(s). The egotistical testosterone-fest Terrierman acknowledges Clifton and AP.

"Without questioning why most unemployed ethnic youth do not become involved in gang activity and with “weapon dogs,” Harding tags those who keep these dogs as innocent social victims. Worse, he paints them, despite their predatory behavior toward working class people, as representatives of the working class."

Tell is like it is, Semyonova. I lived for years on one of the shittiest urban places in America. Truly, a place where LBJ Great Society public programs go to die. I cannot compare my experience to theirs because I am educated and a stranger. However, in my observation, the greater community was being held hostage by a small group of degenerate violent teenaged/young males. They take over all the public spaces.

They all have pit bulls. In the worst areas, there is no other dog--maybe an elderly woman will have a nice normal fluffy dog. Otherwise, it's pits. They don't even see the animal as an independent being. They just see it as an extension of themselves, which is why they'd die of shame if they had to walk a Golden Retriever down the street.

Packhorse said...

Look out Nevada!

Pit bulls can now breathe easier in Nevada because they can be bred in even greater numbers, maul even more, and be euthanized with no end in sight. Hooray!

Rumpelstiltskin said...


This is the most absurd statement out of that article.

"[This legislation] will help keep our innocent friends from being killed needlessly and senselessly", said Ohrenschall. The law takes effect Oct. 1.

Sounds to me like there will be more victims, non-pits and people.

Rumpelstiltskin said...

WOW! You can buy this book for the low low price of $100.60 on Amazon! What a rip off. From the description it's a compilation of personal anecdotes, random and partially completed interviews, and quotes form other pit nutters.

Definitely not worth 100 bones unless you're a loyal pit nutter. Loyal pit nutters will eat this up and cry a river while they read about the pit bull fighting dog doing what they were bred to do and gives a description of the idiots who own them. Hopefully he included the hysterical rescue idiots.

Act fast, there's only 2 in stock! LOL! What a way to cash in on the loyal pit nutter culture. Provocative title, I'll give him credit for that.

Anonymous said...

obtw 20 grand vet bills for the sheltie mauled in vancouver and the turd who pulled a knife on its owner gets to walk away.

S.K.Y. said...

>Bully breeds are weapons, Harding admits, but rather than banning them we should allow everyone to have one. We should educate criminal youths about how to be kind to animals, and improve the image of pit bulls so we won’t be afraid any more

Rolling on the floor laughing. Great review, Alexandra!

Rumpelstiltskin said...

Well S.K.Y., maybe in Harding's eyes, it's better to have pit vs pit rather than pit vs Golden Retriever.

I've yet to hear about a Golden Retriever winning against a pit bull dog. Many have survived and many have died, but none have ever "won".

Packhorse said...

We still have no books devoted exclusively to exposing the nutter lies.

Anonymous said...

we cant beat em may as well join em.
im getting a tiger and a hyena for my neighbours kids to play with.

teach em to love wild animals , not just pitbulls.

Rumpelstiltskin said...


According to pit nutters, "it's all in how you raise them" so just give them belly rubs and be sure to socialize them and you will be fine, according to pit nutters that is.

Good luck with your weapon cat and status hyena.

scurrilous amateur blogger said...

snarky, you could create a 501C3, con a painter to purdy up a van and tour with your lovable hyena and tiger just like kris crawford.

Rumpelstiltskin said...

I want to take pictures of my hyena Princess with children while they're sleeping and maybe a few while Princess licks their faces. You know Hyenas were once called nursemaid dogs and even breast fed infants if they didn't have pups of their own.

Then I'm going to take her to the ATTS while I blabber on about how hyenas are misunderstood.

For my grand finale, I'm going to take Princess to the dog park and if a pit bull dog starts shit with her, she will probably fight, then I can scream "what's wrong with your pit?" and "don't you hit my hyena" and "your dog started it and my hyena FINISHED IT" while Princess disembowels it. Then I'll throw Princess the wiggle butt into my car and flee like almost all pit nutters do.

Ah, pit nutters and their dangerous dogs.

Oh, one more thing, I'm going to need a Facebook page to blabber on about how hyenas are misunderstood and hyenas were once "America's dog" and all that bull shit. The Facebook page with photos will be proof that I'm right and 99% of the US population is wrong.

Anonymous said...

hyenas are simply gorgeous and can be very loving with their owners . if you doubt this you should do some research on the net , and get the opinions of some flaky hyena lovers. get to know a hyena before you judge a whole race of primitive animals . thats racism and is against the law obtw. also,if my hyena tears your childs head off , dont blame the species , crack it up to irresponsible wild animal ownership.

Rumpelstiltskin said...

LOL Snarky!