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"Pit Bull Hysteria" Is Based on Fact

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Writer Douglas Anthony Cooper and I share common ground as Canadian journalists. Neither of us have any personal experience with pit bull type dogs, yet we both write about them -- both frequently and passionately.

There the resemblance ends. Cooper advocates in these pages for pit bulls as a safe but misunderstood dog, and I advocate, in the National Post and elsewhere, against them as an inherently high-risk public safety threat to animals and humans alike.

I derive my ideas about dog behavior from the work of Alexandra Semyonova, resident in The Hague, who has accurately described the social organization and behavior of the domestic dog, explained how pit bull type aggression is inherited, and documented the reappearance of canine violence, shelter crowding, and an exponential increase in the euthanisation of pit bulls since the Netherlands repealed its pit bull ban in 2008.

In Cooper's Sept. 25 column, following my recent critique in Animals24-7.org of his forthcoming children's book Galunker, (which encourages pre-school age children to adopt pit bulls from rescue shelters) there are errors of fact about me. More important, the column contains serious accusations against the publisher of Animals24-7.org, Merritt Clifton. Clifton is North America's primary source for statistical information on maulings, maimings and dogbite-related fatalities according to breed. His disinterested, freely distributed and continually updated reports furnish sine qua non information to my cohort in the pit bull debate.

Therefore, since Clifton's public credibility is linked to my own, I am grateful to the Huffington Post for this opportunity to rebut Cooper's charges.

Cooper implies that my Galunker review was "retaliatory" and "unprofessional." In fact, I have always objected to marketing dangerous products to children. I reviewed another book that promoted dangerous dogs to young people well before I ran across the Galunker promo last April, which was, by the way, the first time Douglas Anthony Cooper's name ever came to my attention. By the time we began the correspondence Cooper alludes to in his column, I had already proposed a Galunker critique for Animals24-7.org, a review that was 100 per cent "professional" from conception to publication.

Cooper's virulent attack on Clifton is unwarranted and unethical. Cooper characterizes Clifton, variously and repetitively, as an "academic fraud," "a charlatan," "a medical fraud," a "quack," and a "jaw-dropping conspiracy theorist."

These are grave charges.

Cooper's entire case rests on a single, off-the-record, allegedly false response by Clifton to a gadfly's question posed during a conference's down time, and captured on amateur video. At issue was Clifton's "peer reviewed" writing record, which Clifton said was extensive, but which Cooper claims is non-existent. Hence the charge of academic fraud. The somewhat muffled interchange is parsed for actual wording here.

But Cooper's accusation is based on blatant disregard for Clifton's more than 100 contributions over the past 20 years to the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, a peer-reviewed online forum maintained by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, monitored by more than 60,000 epidemiologists worldwide.

Indeed, in 2010 Clifton received the 15th annual ProMED-mail Award for "Excellence in Outbreak Reporting on the Internet" for contributions to understanding the animal behavioral and cultural aspects of emerging zoonotic disease. How Cooper's reported "search" failed to unearth these facts mystifies me.

Although Cooper's attack on Clifton is incontestably the most brazen by a writer linked to a respectable publication, there have been countless other attempts -- never successful -- to take Clifton down.

One can see how vexing Clifton's objective findings are for pit bull stakeholders, whose settled convictions arise from sympathy -- of a distinctly subjective and kitsch variety (websites crammed with photos of infantilized pit bulls in tutus and ribbons, infants and toddlers draped atop placidly accommodating pit bulls' backs, sad-eyed puppies) -- for a fictitiously constructed "underdog." Clifton's reports shatter the pit bull advocacy movement's preferred image of their innocent "pibble" as the only real victim in the damning litany of pet, livestock and human tragedies overwhelmingly caused by fighting dogs.

Much of Cooper's rancor dwells on Clifton's refusal to share his raw data with him. But why should he? It's his 32-year accumulation of labor, amassed on his own time and his own dime. Doubtless Clifton suspects Cooper would perform subversive legerdemain with the data -- i.e. data-mining and changing the parameters for desired results -- a now common adversarial practice to discredit legitimate research. (In the past, raw data was routinely shared with most seekers, until manipulation in the service of ideology became so rampant that honest researchers began triaging petitioners more selectively.)

But Clifton is completely transparent about his methodology, and the full particulars of every pit bull-linked fatality are available at Dogsbite.org. I invite Huffington Post readers to consult Clifton's latest editorial in Animals24-7, which details his entire investigative chronology and epidemiology-consistent research strategies, in shaping their own conclusions about the motivation behind Cooper's vicious attack.

In our e-mail exchange, I several times asked Cooper how he accounted for pit bull bans in over 35 countries -- Denmark, for example, just made their ban permanent and country-wide -- whose decisions did not depend on Merritt Clifton, but on their own data collection. Their findings parallel Clifton's. Are those researchers also "academic frauds" and "charlatans"? No response.

Clifton is no "conspiracy theorist." Conspiracies do exist. When Ms. Semyonova, a former Dutch SPCA inspector, spoke publicly about pit bulls as inherently dangerous, she was smeared through a systematic intimidation campaign by pit bull advocates so vicious that the Dutch Ministry of Justice acknowledged it as a pattern clearly constituting organized crime.

Meanwhile, as Cooper and I joust in snug security, 17 American children have been killed by pit bulls and their mixes so far this year, 13 of them by "beloved family pets," who'd never before shown signs of aggression.

Please read Clifton's report alongside a Galunker excerpt. Then consider the entirely preventable human and animal suffering that is perpetuated by the false beliefs suffusing this, and indeed all of Douglas Anthony Cooper's pit bull-related writings.