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In Defense of the Pit Bull

At the time, I was working in the office of a magazine where my boss would faithfully tune in to WXRK every single morning for her Howard fix. After a few days of the a.m. radio routine, I wasn't at all shocked by anything that issued from Stern's mouth. Until, that is, I distinctly heard Stern tell his legions of listeners that "all pit bulls should be drowned."

As the years went on, Stern divorced and remarried, and his lovely second wife Beth -- who authored a book about dogs and donated a portion of proceeds to her favorite animal charity -- got her husband more and more involved in animal welfare. Because I used to write a column for a newspaper that supported the Sterns' pet charity, a no-kill animal shelter that nobly rescues and rehomes cats and dogs, including numerous sweet pit bulls, I've attended black-tie events where one or both Sterns were the guest of honor, applauded for their animal activism. Stern helped his wife rescue a lost pit bull by posting the dog on his web site and mentioning her on air; he also recently adopted photography as a hobby, and has trained his lens on the adoptable animals of North Shore Animal League, to help them find good homes. The couple often graciously posed for photographs together with their beloved dog Bianca, an English Bulldog (who, sadly, passed away in July).

Incidentally, the English Bulldog belongs to the category of "bully breeds" and is both ancestor and cousin to the pit bull.

Stern is to be commended for his change of heart. He's come a long way, and that's admirable. But sadly, his bold and rashly expressed opinion of yesteryear helped shape the views of many of his listeners, especially the younger, more impressionable ones. What if, back in 1988 or '89, a schoolboy named Michael Vick, or his parents or peers, heard Stern say that "pit bulls should be drowned" and figured that was 1) the way these dogs are supposed to be treated and 2) a perfectly acceptable opinion to have and to pass along?

Some feel it's possible that Michael Vick has had a genuine change of heart regarding dogs; I'm not one of them. But, with coaching from the extremely media-savvy Humane Society of the United States, Vick has paid lip service to the concept of remorse by acknowledging that what he did was wrong.