In Defense of the Pit Bull
Today, October 27, is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. Whether you are for pits or against them, it's important to remember, in this election season, that these dogs were once a proud symbol of American virtue and valor, appearing in World War I propaganda posters as an emblem of our country's courage.
All month long, dog advocates have been working hard to get the word out that at many animal shelters across this country, as many as 90 percent of the deserving dogs awaiting adoption are all-American pit bulls or pit mixes. And yet too often these dogs are overlooked or given a wide berth because potential adopters are so terrified by horror stories about pit bulls they've heard in the mainstream media -- which, as we've seen before, doesn't spill much ink on, or give much air time to, pits who perform heroic deeds or spread cheer at hospitals and nursing homes; sensational stories about dog attacks are deemed more "newsworthy."
Surprisingly, one major mainstream media player has taken a huge step to help raise awareness of pit bulls: Hugely popular, handsomely compensated Sirius XM talk-show host Howard Stern, one of the MSM's most powerful players (if not its MVP), leveled criticism at Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and convicted animal abuser Michael Vick over Vick's decision to acquire a pet dog (the type and gender of which has not been revealed).
Here are some choice excerpts from Stern's rant:
"Well, when I saw the news I was dumbfounded. It baffles the mind, really. Here's what you gotta think: Everything has calmed down for this guy, he's got his career back on track ... things are quiet. So, instead of keeping things quiet, the way he should, he decides he's going to get a dog. I mean, what the [expletive] is that all about? It's like if somebody is convicted for being a child molester then moves next door to a playground -- you don't do it.... Michael Vick should never own a pet."
"This is no different than Rihanna getting back together with Chris Brown. You sit there and go, What kind of crazy move is this?"
"Get the dog away from him. There should have been something written where he could never own a dog. You know, it's like if I was convicted of taking five Koreans and locking them in my basement and making them sex slaves, then I get out and the first thing I do is move a Korean in with me."
"Isn't there someone in his life that says, 'Listen, Michael, You're a dopey guy, you're a big, dumb [expletive] jock. You're a football player. Let me think for you. You cannot have a dog. You can't have a cat. You can't have a hamster, you [expletive]! You blew it. If you really want a pet, it's not in this lifetime. And your kids when they get older can get one.'"
"I mean, no one sits this guy down, from a p.r. standpoint? This [expletive] guy should not be around dogs. He's got a hostility to these dogs. I don't know what happened in his life, but he shouldn't be allowed to be near a ... it's crazy."
"I mean, why would he stir this up? He's insane. This guy's insane, that's all. Of course he's insane. Who could look at a little dog and kill it? That [expletive] maniac."
Stern was, of course, responding to the outrage felt by many of this country's animal lovers, who were appalled to learn -- via a Twitter photo of Vick's young daughter doing her homework at the family kitchen table, an image that was quickly photoshopped to redact a telltale box of Milkbone biscuits in the background -- that Vick is now a dog owner again, despite having pleaded guilty, in 2007, to the federal felony of dogfighting. Among Vick's more heinous acts during his stewardship (if such it may be called) of Bad Newz Kennels was -- by his own admission -- hanging, electrocuting, drowning, and savagely beating dogs to death.
I'm no fan of Michael Vick, as I've made clear before. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I distinctly recall Howard Stern singing a distinctly different dog tune back in 1988 or 1989, long before he signed his famously lucrative 2006 satellite deal, back when his base was the radio station WXRK.
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.
The sad reality is that the MSM's bloodthirsty bias against pit bulls has doomed these dogs for decades, and continues to do so, to the point where it is Stern's 25-year-old attitude, not his current enlightened stance, that remains the popular position on pits. It's most MSM stars' automatic reflex to equate pit bulls with gangster culture -- as Kelly Ripa, a personal friend of Howard Stern and another influential MSM player, proved during a recent interview with actor Christopher Walken about his star turn in the movie Seven Psychopaths (which, incidentally, co-stars a Shih Tzu). "I mean, if it's a gangster, it would have to be a dangerous, pit bull kind of dog," Ripa opined, reinforcing the stereotype. Meanwhile, innocent pit bulls are killed by the thousands at animal shelters across the country. Why? Because potential adopters, hearing constant negative press about these "dangerous" dogs, are still too terrified to adopt them.
It would save millions of canine lives if the King of All Media would show some noblesse oblige and devote a few minutes to clearing the airwaves once and for all. Let him admit that he once viewed pit bulls as beneath contempt until some kind people, his wife included, educated him otherwise. If Howard Stern leads the way, other media players would follow.
Dog advocates would be delighted if Stern could bravely own up to his regrettable eighties-era statement -- and roundly refute it, proudly showing the world how far he's evolved and inviting his listeners to join him. Let Stern bring on his Mrs. as a guest of his show. She can easily encourage her man's listeners not to view pit bulls as vermin, but as dogs who -- like the couple's beloved Bianca, indeed like all dogs -- deserve our kindness and compassion. From a p.r. standpoint, it's perfect timing. Admitting he was wrong would win Stern new legions of fans for life.
How about it Howard? Please help make National Pit Bull Awareness Day a happy one for the dogs.
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