Is anti-pitbull bias wrong?

Posted by Langvardt, Kyle
Langvardt, Kyle
Professor Langvardt joined the UDM faculty in Fall 2012. Before UDM Law, he was
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on Wednesday, 06 February 2013
in Faculty Blogs

A piece in Salon argues against the perception that pitbulls are unusually aggressive dogs.  I’m well-enough convinced (or sufficiently uninterested) to end my investigation here.

That being said, if I were inclined to get a dog, I still wouldn’t get a pitbull.  If my neighbor gets a dog, I hope it’s not a pitbull.  If the city of Detroit wants to require the spaying and neutering of pitbulls, I’m all for it.  Pitbulls scare me, and I don’t feel a need to work on my prejudice.

Holland’s piece characterizes this attitude as a form of “Dog Racism:”

“when Matt Drudge hypes stories of “packs” of black youths rampaging in America’s streets, he’s rightly called out for race-baiting. But when sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who writes numerous posts about pitbulls behaving badly with titles like, “Pit Bulls Should be Boiled Alive like Lobsters and Fed to Their Idiot Owners,” and compares these domesticated canines with wild tigers, he’s doing the exact same thing as Drudge. (Worse, Savage doesn’t appear to make any effort to confirm that the dogs implicated in the stories he promotes are actually pitbulls.)”

I actually think the moral analogy between these two cases is pretty trivial (and the suggested analogy between race in humans and breed in dogs pretty offensive).

Take the Michael Vick animal cruelty case.  The cruelty was real.  Should Vick’s breed preference for pitbulls count as an aggravating factor?  I can’t see why.

Among humans, racism is an aggravating factor, over and above any other harms that may be dealt to the victims of racism.  Compare the racist who treats all Latinos rudely with the equal-opportunity troll who treats an equally-large group of people rudely for reasons unrelated to race.  The racist is worse than the troll. 

Reasonable people can differ on why this is.  But it must go beyond the fact that racism is irrational.  After all, if I don’t drive Ford and I won’t try Fords and I won’t hear rational arguments for Fords, then maybe I’m an irrational consumer.  But it doesn’t make me a “car racist;” I don’t owe it to cars to judge them on the content of their construction. 

Yet I do owe it to humans to judge them on the content of their character.  Humans are generally held to have a right to be presumed moral equals with their peers.

Can you say the same for dogs?  Do dogs have a right to be presumed morally equal to their dog peers? 

I have to admit that I just don’t see it.  Dogs have rights against cruelty, but hardly anyone would extend dignitary rights to dogs—a right against libel, for instance, or a right to choose how many puppies to have.   Dog lovers have no problem whatsoever with photographing their dogs in postures that any human being would find absolutely humiliating.  All of this is fine because dogs lack the capacity to take offense.  And similarly, they don’t have the capacity to understand when they are misjudged on the basis of breed.

And lest we forget, race among humans and breed among dogs are two very, very different things.  

About the author

Langvardt, Kyle

Professor Langvardt joined the UDM faculty in Fall 2012. Before UDM Law, he was a Lecturer in Business Law and Ethics at Indiana University, Bloomington. Prior to that he was an Associate with Locke, Lord, Bissell & Liddell in Chicago. Professor Langvardt's research interests include free speech and election law.