Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Denying a Dog's Danger - Pit Bull Advocates In Denial But Ban On Breed Has Wide Support

Pit bull unhappy
Pit bulls are bred to 'fight and kill' and “should be banned”: children’s plastic surgeon

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday January 13, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Based on my extensive experience, I believe that the risk posed by pit bulls is equivalent to placing a loaded gun with the safety off on the coffee table. In my opinion, these dogs should be banned."
- Dr. David Billmire, paediatric plastic surgery director, Cincinnati Children's Hospital
Pit bull advocates are as fierce as the dog breed that has killed and maimed more people than any other by a wide margin.
But worse, many pit bull owners and supporters are simply in denial.
And my column calling for a pit bull ban in British Columbia, like those in place in Ontario since 2005, Winnipeg since 1990 and many American cities, stirred up some of the nastiest emails and comments I have received in many years.
An angry reader in Prince George [name withheld] emailed me directly:
"You and your opinions can fuck right off. Nobody needs your half assed informed articles causing problems for the tame and loving animals we know and love."
Equally charming and articulate was this email, replete with spelling and grammar errors: "I thought that same way about the breed because of clowns like you writing this bullshit. Until I bought one as a protector for my famy cus I work away & since we socialized her n discouraged aggressive behaviour she is now worthless as a guard dog but the best most loving animal I have ever owned... You sir are what's wrong with the work [sic] fuck off."
Stunningly, last week's column was shared on Facebook over 15,000 times.
And by no coincidence, over 14,000 readers of 24 Hours Vancouver voted "No" to banning pit bulls, in what was obviously a coordinated effort to skew the results.
My sin? Pointing out the need for action after three serious pit bull attacks in B.C. in just two months and citing U.S. statistics showing 25 people were killed by pit bulls in 2013 alone, including 18 children -- making up 78 per cent of all fatal dog bite deaths, even though they account for just 6 per cent of all U.S. dogs.
Dog mauls elderly man
Despite being "tame and loving animals," since last week's column, an 87-year-old man was mauled to death by his own pit bull in Maryland; only a police helicopter and intervention saved a California man's life after four pit bulls attacked him in his own alley; a 10-month-old Florida child was severely maimed by the family pit bull; and a puppy and its owner were savaged by a pit bull in a Florida dog park, also caught on camera.
Sadly just another week in pit bull attack news.
Unfortunately, pit bull advocates go into denial when faced with these grim stories, blaming "bad" owners -- even the parents of attacked children and babies -- and saying their pit bull is sweet and loving.
Several people invited me to meet the family pet and change my mind -- but that's not the point. No doubt some pit bulls behave well but far too many have not or have suddenly snapped, leaving a defenceless child scarred or dead -- and sadly some of these incidents were in the dog's own home.
I prefer to listen to Dr. Billmire, who, in Cincinnati alone, has dealt with so many horrific child injuries from pit bull attacks that he has stepped out to criticize the breed.
"I recently gave a talk summarizing my 30 years of practice in paediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery, and one segment was titled 'Why I Hate Pit Bulls.'
"I watched a child bleed to death one night in our operating room because a pit bull had torn his throat out, " he wrote. "I have had to rebuild the skull of a child who had his ears and entire scalp torn off. I am currently reconstructing the face of a child, half of whose face has been torn off down to the bone. I have had to rebuild noses, lips, eyelids, jaws and cheeks of numerous children."
"Now, I am a dog lover and virtually every one of my family members has a dog. But it is a fact that different dogs have always been bred for specific qualities. My sheltie herded, my daughter's setter flushes birds and my pug sits on my lap -- this is what they are bred for.
"Pit bulls were bred to fight and kill and, unfortunately, many current breeders favor these aggressive traits. There is no need for any dog with the characteristics," he concluded.
Sorry, but Dr. Billmire is right -- pit bulls are simply too dangerous and a ban is needed for public safety.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Enough with Attacks, BC Must Ban Pit Bulls Like Ontario and Winnipeg do

Pit bull on a big chain
16-day-old baby, 6'5, 250-pound man, and therapy dog all mauled in British Columbia in just the last two months

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday January 6, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

NOTE to my readers:  There has been an organized effort by pit bull advocates to share the 24 Hours Vancouver version of my column since it went online early this week in order to vote “No” on a reader survey asking if pit bulls should be banned in BC.  

Over 14,000 Facebook shares and coincidentally – over 14,000 “No” votes to overwhelm the “Yes” side.  I have also had some really obscene, nasty and insulting emails and Tweets questioning my facts, my education, my research, my journalism, my grammar and coming close to threats.

That doesn’t deter me, as regular readers know from past experiences:  my office break-in and trashing in 2007 over Basi-Virk coverage and death threats from China investigated by the Vancouver Police Department in 2008.  

But I will not post obscene insults or personal attacks on those commenting here or myself – and this site is 100% moderated by me.  Lastly, I welcome comments from pit bull owners who disagree – that’s democracy.  But some people are way out of line and it only hurts their cause with the rest of us.  Now here’s my column:

"How do I go from a birth certificate to a death certificate? ... Those dogs cannot be domesticated. They cannot." 

               - Jeremiah Rutledge, father of two-year-old son Beau, killed by family pit bull, April 2013, Fulton County, Georgia.

A 16-day-old baby is viciously attacked in her own Saanich home by the family dog, suffering serious lacerations requiring extensive plastic surgery.

A six-foot five-inches man weighing 250 pounds is mauledby two dogs outside a Langley store, requiring 19 stitches, after saying "Hi, pups" to the pair tied to a mountain bike, which they dragged behind them to get at their target.

A miniature pinscher therapy dog is literally disemboweled in front of its shocked owner outside a Kitsilano post office by a sudden, unprovoked attack by another dog.

The common element? The attackers were all pit bulls. And these three reported B.C. incidents happened in only the last two months.

In the United States, statistics show that 25 people were killed by pit bull attacks in 2013 alone, including 18 children -- that's 78 per cent of all fatal dog bite deaths even though pit bulls make up roughly six per cent of all U.S. dogs.

The non-profit tracks fatal attacks and reports that between 2005 and 2013, pit bulls killed an astonishing 176 Americans -- or one every 19 days -- representing 62 per cent of all dog bite deaths. Rottweilers, another fighting/guard dog, killed 33 in the same period, for a combined total of 74 per cent.

The website chronicles each human death in horrifying, sourced stories with details about the dog involved.

It's time British Columbia followed the lead of Ontario and Winnipeg and banned pit bull breeds here as well, for the safety of us all.

Bring on the howls

You can hear howls of outrage from pit bull owners already. They will say it is "bad" owners, not bad dogs; that other dogs also attack and kill; and that breed bans don't work. Defending pit bulls is a major industry.

Yes, irresponsible owners help create monstrous dogs intended solely to fight and maim, but family "pets" have also killed at home. 

Yes, other dogs sometimes fatally bite, but not anywhere near as often as pit bulls. 

And breed bans actually do work.

In Ontario, pit bulls have been banned since 2005: no breeding or importation; existing pit bulls must be neutered; and if walked in public they must be leashed and muzzled.

Toronto city statistics prove it works: pit bull bites are down 92 per cent, from 168 reported bites in 2004 from 984 licensed dogs to just 13 bites in 2014 from 501 pit bulls.

Winnipeg stats tell the same story: severe dog bites are down since pit bulls were banned in 1990.

B.C. should ban pit bulls too, because continuing to whine about bad owners, not bad dogs, and doing nothing didn't save a baby, a man or a therapy dog from vicious pit bull attacks -- only a ban will.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Merry Christmas Christy Clark & Stephen Harper: A Heartfelt Holiday Note from a Mellowed Columnist

Stephen Harper's family Christmas card 2014
The holidays got Bill Tieleman thinking that we shouldn't demonize political foes.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday December 23, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Why are we becoming less human? Why are we not maybe as nice as we used to be?"
- Musician Tom Petty on CBC TV, July 25, 2014
As Christmas approaches and the season of goodwill to all changes us from Scrooges and Grinches to more charitable, friendly people, it's a good time to reflect on how we demonize our politicians.
Political columnists like me are potentially among the worst offenders.
Regular readers know that I constantly criticize Premier Christy Clark, periodically pummel Prime Minister Stephen Harper, shoot salvos at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, and even occasionally affront New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair.
But two things recently got me thinking that while criticism is good, demonizing is not.
First, I recently happened to go to Clark's government biography website page and to my great surprise discovered that she and I would recommend the exact same book to others: Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Pulitizer-Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin is a stunning 2005 biography of one of the most amazing leaders any country has ever seen.
(Stephen Spielberg used it as the basis for his 2012 film Lincoln that won Daniel Day Lewis a best actor Academy Award for portraying the assassinated American president.)
That Clark and I would both read and relish the same book reminded me that whatever differences we have, there are some things we can agree on.
The second reminder came from my neighbour, a life-long New Democrat.
Flaherty at Vancouver Art Gallery
She happened to be visiting the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr section of the Vancouver Art Gallery and was startled to see federal Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty there too -- just months before his unfortunate passing in April 2014.
"Mr. Flaherty -- nice to see you here -- are you a fan of the Group of Seven?" my friend asked and then struck up a non-political conversation with Flaherty, who told her how much he loved Carr's paintings and had taken a break after a government event in the Hotel Vancouver for a quick peak at some of Canada's greatest artists.
To her it was a poignant example of the fact that even our fiercest foes can share our humanity, our love of art, country and more.
Am I getting soft on politicians? Ha -- not likely!
But I think it's good to remember that they share at least some of our values and humanity.
Look at Harper's biography page and you will see his wife Laureen, son Benjamin and daughter Rachel or see Clark's son Hamish on her website. My political opponents have families, joys and sorrows like all of us.
So Merry Christmas Christy Clark, Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair and everyone else criticized here -- really! And to all The Tyee's readers - see you in 2015!


While Federal New Democrats Fiddle with Electoral Reform, Ottawa Burns

Ballot from BC electoral system referendum
In pushing proportional representation over and over, NDP Opposition misses key chances to nail the government.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday December 16, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"I used to be a fan of proportional representation, but I am not at all now I have seen it in action." -- Helen Suzman, South African anti-apartheid politician, 1917-2009
Imagine you are guiding Canada's Opposition New Democratic Party, working hard to topple Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper while elbowing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau out of your way.
And on Dec. 3 you have your final "Opposition day" of the year -- an enormous chance to denounce the government, hold Harper and his ministers to account on uncomfortable issues, capture media attention, and keep Trudeau sidelined.
Even better, hapless Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino is on the ropes for the mistreatment of Canada's veterans despite the Conservatives' professed love for the military, with wounded former Afghanistan soldiers suing the government in court over the slashing of their disability benefits.*
Meanwhile, oil prices are dropping dramatically, and consequently so is the government's predicted giant budget surplus it wants to spend on pre-election tax cuts, making its betting on bitumen a potential economic disaster.
So where do you aim your bullseye? Which topic do you lock and load on in such a target-rich environment?
Proportional representation. No, really.
Astonishingly, the NDP used the time to debate a proposed electoral system rejected four times by the provinces -- in referendums in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and in British Columbia twice, where I led those opposed to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) scheme in the 2005 and 2009 binding referenda.
Yet there was the NDP, earnestly demanding that federal elections be held under proportional representation rules. It was at least the fifth time in 12 years the NDP has debated pro-rep in Parliament, but that didn't stop NDP MP Craig Scott from trying again.
"Our voting system has knock-on effects, what I would call pathologies, that undermine the health of our entire democracy, from how Parliament works to citizen engagement," Scott said.
Uh-huh. What "knock-on effects" actually are I have no idea, despite fighting two referenda on election systems.
Is this the main issue?
Elections Canada did a comprehensive study about the reasons people did not vote in the 2011 federal election. Guess what: 60 per cent of those surveyed said "everyday life issues" from travelling to work or school schedules to illness caused them to not vote.
Only 30 per cent blamed "political issues" for not casting a ballot, and of those only five per cent cited "meaningless vote" as their reason. Yet that's the basis for why the NDP and pro-proportional representation fans always say we need to change electoral systems.
The NDP still like pro-rep, even more so because the Liberals don't agree -- they want an even goofier "preferential ballot" electoral system close to the failed STV system, but are smart enough not to talk much about it.
Some of the Liberals supported the NDP motion, which asked that the next federal election be the last to use first-past-the-post in a free vote on Dec. 3, but it was still easily defeated 166 to 110 by the Conservatives and remaining Liberals, who aren't upset with our current electoral system.
Nonetheless, leader Tom Mulcair, arguably the most effective Opposition leader Canada has seen for his prosecutorial prowess in cross-examining the prime minister, came to talk proportional representation in Victoria on Monday.
Would NDP benefit?
So would the NDP greatly benefit from a pro-rep electoral system? Errr, no.
It would actually be the Green Party that would boost its seats the most, from one now to maybe 25.
Then the Greens, with the fewest actual voters, could almost perpetually hold the balance of power, since proportional representation practically guarantees repeated minority governments, backroom deals, horse-trading on issues and legislative gridlock.
The federal NDP was given an unbelievable opportunity when the late Jack Layton led it to Opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history -- the chance to form a government and change the course of Canadian politics forever.
Mulcair and his caucus cannot, and must not, squander that possibility by focusing on side issues that will not win them anything but thanks from Greens and other small parties who can only prosper with pro-rep.
The NDP has to get serious with less than a year 'til the Oct. 2015 election. Does it want to form Canada's first social democratic government? Or does it want to be a debating society for issues that are irrelevant to most voters, who worry about jobs, the economy, public services and how we mistreat our disabled veterans?
Win an election and then talk all you want about proportional representation, if you have the time while running the country.

But until then, stick to bread and butter issues that matter to real people, or be prepared to keep talking electoral systems long after another party takes power.