Orlando Sentinel Spreading Fake News to Promote Killing Dogs
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Photo, courtesy of Furever Bully Love Rescue: Volunteers at Furever Bully Love Rescue with Heaven, a dog the Orlando Sentinel says should be killed, even though they have never met her, and have not consulted a veterinary behaviorist about her.
The Orlando Sentinel has been giving a lot of ink to a columnist with a penchant for making stuff up, citing bogus sources and being an opportunist, all to promote killing of dogs in animal shelters. And, they have been letting her do it and promoting her writing for years.
Columnist Lauren Ritchie covers the Lake County area of Florida. Below are some headlines and commentary that are attributed to her in that publication since 2009 on the topics of so-called "pit bulls" and animal shelters. I have also included some of my own responses to her nonsense.
Unfortunately, the majority of the public who knows no better, and for the shelter animals at Lake County Animal Services - specifically so-called pit bulls - this author has now repeatedly written about them and animal behavior, without apparently bothering to interview a credentialed veterinary behaviorist, without researching serious dog bite data at the National Canine Research Council and without talking to the researchers at the Center for Disease Control who study dog bites.
Anyone can have an opinion. That's easy. Having an informed and educated opinion, however, requires work and research. Unfortunately, having an educated opinion is apparently not needed in order to be paid to write for a publication like the Orlando Sentinel. Ritchie wrote: "...pit-bull owners don't ever seem to learn that their "pets" can't be trusted." "They're unpredictably aggressive, and that's why they shouldn't be kept as pets. It's like having a time bomb on the kitchen floor." "In came the e-mail, with all the predictable excuses for a dog ripping someone's face off or killing a baby. I don't buy any of it..."
Aggression is not a breed-specific problem. It’s not species-specific either.
Furthermore, it is grossly irresponsible to interject inflammatory hyperbole in an article and then to ignore the foremost authority on the topic. In this case, that authority would be the National Canine Research Council, not the source she is using (more on that later).
Ritchie clearly has an agenda and it is not related to either public safety or running a progressive shelter in Lake County. Are some dogs broken and present a public safety risk? Sure. But to use breed as an indicator just shows the ignorance of this reporting. Ritchie, and the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board might want to read this as the starting point for their education in serious dog bites in the USA, for example. Ritchie wrote:
"Lake County should give animal control to the sheriff" "County residents would win because fewer creatures would be euthanized..." "Animal control is a natural fit with the 24-hour operation of the Sheriff's Office." My comments:
The Lake County Sheriff's Office attempt at running the shelter was a disaster. The Lake County Sheriff's Office took over control of Lake County Animal Services (LCAS) on October 1, 2014. From October 1, 2014-December 31, 2014, 635 dogs and cats were killed at LCAS for a 67% Live Release Rate (LRR), below the national average. In 2015, 1,993 dogs and cats were killed at LCAS for a LRR of 74%. In 2016, 1,619 dogs and cats were killed at LCAS for a LRR of 75%. The Lake County Board of County Commissioners took back control of LCAS on January 15, 2017. A consultant was hired to oversee the transition, a County commitment to no kill was publicly made, new policies and procedures were implemented, the first director in almost three years was hired along with a new supervisor, rescue coordinator, and a majority of new staff. From January 15, 2017-February 28, 2017, the LRR for dogs was 97%. The facility LRR overall was 92%.
The fact that Ritchie was wrong about the shelter, wrong about the Sheriff and wrong about dog breeds does not appear to have given her pause to re-evaluate her thinking on these topics, unfortunately. Ritchie wrote:
"There’s no point in arguing that the most loving pit bull in the world lives in your living room and protects your children. The numbers over the last 11 years are simply against the breed..."
As canine researcher and author Rose Frosek of "Modern Dog Magazine" so succinctly put it, "There is a general misunderstanding of the nature of dogs that fall into the Pit Bull camp, one that can be blamed largely on the sad fact that any aggressive attack is often inaccurately blamed on the scapegoated Pit Bull with little concern as to the offender’s actual breed." According to testing by The National Canine Temperament Testing Association, the Golden Retriever, Poodle, Border Collie, English Setter, and numerous other breeds are considered more likely to become aggressive than the breeds commonly referred to as Pit Bulls. While the average score of the 231 breeds tested was a mere 82.4 percent, Pit Bulls scored a 86.5 percent (the higher the score the better). Frosek wrote, "There is much work to do, though, to change public opinion. Many, many dogs falling into the Pit Bull camp, lumped together under this one inaccurate label, are crowding shelters, their numbers large, the available homes few."
Contrary to the continual disinformation and fiction discharged by Ms. Ritchie, denigrating a type of dog by quoting stats from an already proven discredited source, her claims only serve one purpose - to vilify pit bulls to the point of eradicating them as a family pet. This misunderstood dog faces an uphill battle to change the public's perception, thanks in part to the pretentious, overambitious "journalism" by uninformed reporters like Ms. Ritchie.
Dog bite “statistics” are based off of media reports even though pit bull type bites are proven to be more likely to be reported by the press than dog bite stories involving other breeds. Furthermore, the media frequently reports any attack as having been done by a "pit bull" even when that is not the case. Bottom line: "pit bull" makes headlines. "Golden Retriever" does not. News reports, therefore, are hardly a scientific, valid, objective or accurate way to collect data about prevalence of dog bite by breed. There is a proven bias and over reporting when it comes to dogs labeled as pit bulls. Ritchie and the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board should read The Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics Behind Dog Bites, by Steffen Baldwin, in the Huffington Post for some insight.
Ritchie wrote: "Their track record is terrible when it comes to being a family pet..."
The ASPCA web site gives so-called "pit bulls" an endorsement that could fit a golden retriever. It says, “A well-socialized and well-trained pit bull is one of the most delightful, intelligent, and gentle dogs imaginable. They aren’t any more problematic than any other breed by nature.”
Furthermore the source of dog bite data Ritchie continues to cite is a web site that has been widely discredited, for example, like this, and this. (Note: in that second link, the source of the "statistics" used by Ritchie is uncovered claiming to have "more than one hundred peer-reviewed publications" to his credit. Hint: he doesn't. Douglas Anthony Cooper of Huffington Post couldn't find any.) Ethicsalarms.com even awarded Ritchie's sources with an "Unethical Web Site of the Month" award. This has all been pointed out to Ritchie and the Sentinel, but they keep citing this same source, Dogsbite.org.
So, the question then remains, how is it that a discredited, agenda-filled web site that has no real credentials continues to get cited by the Orlando Sentinel while credible, credentialed sources continue to be ignored? The Orlando Sentinel can't do better than that?! Really?! On February 13, 2017 Ritchie wrote:
"Lake should restrict or scrutinize pit bull adoptions"
"Please don’t email to tell me you have the most wonderful pit bull ever, that many dogs are mistaken for pit bulls when they really aren’t or that killer dogs all had bad owners. None of that matters. The numbers simply are against the square-jawed, muscular dogs..." My comments:
Steffen Baldwin said it like this: "It is commonly accepted that “pit bull” is not a breed but a loosely defined and general category. Definition of this category varies depending upon the source. Any blocky headed dog, or any mix of breeds that is between 35 and 100 pounds and upwards of 30 individual dog breeds may currently fall in this broad category through the use of visual breed identification."
That is absolutely true and gets even more convoluted when you think of mixes of those breeds. A Labrador/Boxer mix could end up looking just like a Staffordshire Terrier mix. Ritchie also wrote:
"Big changes are in store for the Lake County Animal Shelter, which slowly is making a switch to what’s called a “no-kill” facility."
"Unfortunately, that’s going to be a tough job in a county whose shelter often is bursting at the seams with pit bulls and mixes, the dogs responsible for 64 percent of deaths by mauling between 2005 and 2015. That’s 232 people killed by a single type of dog." "Pit bulls and their mixes are banned from military housing and from more than 800 cities, including Miami, but they still accounted for 28 of 34 fatal maulings in 2015, even though they make up only 6.6 percent of dogs in the U.S. Together, pit bulls and rottweilers made up 91 percent of the recorded deaths, according to DogsBite.org, a nonprofit that seeks to track dog bites and human deaths across the country."
Again, citing DogsBite.org is more than problematic. To quote EthicsAlarms.com on the topic of DogsBite.org: "Dogsbite.org deals in bad statistics, debunked fallacies and anti-dog propaganda that has turned into cruel legislation in communities all over the country. It very quickly morphed into a pit bull hate site. The originator of the site lambastes the internet with her “statistics” and “data”, which have no supporting evidence or documentation. She makes behavioral assumptions about dogs, without any background in dog behavior or training. Worst of all, she provides supporters with a “Maul Talk Manual” that gives them all the talking points they need to pepper pit bull articles with their hatred and lies. If you ever read the comments under a positive pit bull story, you will be sure to see some of her rabid supporters parroting the same tired lies again and again." ~Ethics Alarms, October 20, 2015 Ritchie Wrote:
"Not all government-run shelters even allow adoptions of certain breeds. The Polk County Animal Shelter does not allow the public to adopt dogs that look like the American Staffordshire terrier or the American bulldog or mixes of such dogs, all commonly labeled pit bulls. As this movement toward a no-kill shelter advances in Lake, commissioners should at least consider imposing the same policy, despite howls from pit-bull lovers."
According to the ASPCA Policy and Position Statement on the responsibility of shelters placing their animals: "Shelters should not fail to take steps to find placement for dogs based solely on breed. Recognizing that resources are required to support quality of care for sheltered animals and placement programs that ultimately lead to adoption, shelters and communities share in the responsibility to ensure that adequate resources are available." On February 24, 2017 Ritchie Wrote:
"Commentary: Lake man recovering from attack by pit bull at animal shelter" "...noticed the pit-bull mix — you knew this story would be about a pit bull, didn’t you? — pull his lips back over his teeth in what very clearly was not a friendly smile." "...it was a full-on attack — barking and biting." "Blood sprayed all over..." "The director of Lake EMS, which carted Luhrs to South Lake Hospital in Clermont, described the incident as “very minor” — a few puncture wounds and a few scratches." "Welcome, dear reader, to Central Florida, land of unwanted pit bulls. Shelters are filled with them. And it’s become politically incorrect to suggest that these marvelous puppies might rip your face off. Too bad: they can and sometimes do." "...using newspaper accounts of death by dog, DogsBite.org calculated that 232 people were killed by pit bulls or their mixes between 2005 and 2015, accounting for 64 percent of all deaths though they make up only 6.6 percent of all dogs in the U.S." My Comments:
The goal of this kind of writing is not public education or keeping people safe from dog bites. It is pushing DogsBite.org's agenda of trying to ban certain breeds of dogs through legislation... The "expertise" of the site runs no deeper than that. And treating it as anything more than that spreads bad information that will lead to less safe circumstances for people and dogs. And make no mistake, all of the expert organizations disagree with DogsBite.org regarding breed-specific bans. Every mainstream national organization that is involved in canine/human interactions is opposed to laws targeting specific breeds of dogs. A partial list of these organizations include: American Dog Owners Association American Humane Association American Kennel Club (AKC) American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) American Working Dog Federation Association of Pet Dog Trainers Best Friends Center for Disease Control Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants International Association of Canine Professionals National Animal Control Association National Animal Interest Alliance National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors National Canine Research Council No Kill Advocacy Center These groups represent the best of the best in the United States for dog trainers, rescues, shelters, animal behaviorists, government entities, veterinarians, and even animal control officers. All of them oppose breed specific legislation. All of them, in large part, because they have experience working with the actual dogs. They also do what Ritchie fails to do: they read the science, and realize the aggression is not a breed-specific issue - and the reality is that most dogs, regardless of breed, do not show aggressive behavior -- and yet, some dogs, of each breed, have.
Ritchie also wrote:
"...however, the animal consultant helping Lake change to a “no-kill” shelter for $12,000 “evaluated” the dog and saw “no concerns.” So much for the experts." My Comment:
This expert, one of the most well known and respected authorities nationwide in the No Kill movement, has been involved with Lake County and the process to transition to a No Kill community since October, 2016, interacting with County officials, new management and staff, and assisting in re-writing policies and procedures for the facility under the oversight of the county commission. Another important element the consultant has provided is team building with new staff and management, helping get everyone on board with the new culture at LCAS. The result to date has been remarkable, turning around a facility that was consistently killing 30-40% of all shelter animals to saving over 90% of them. The success rate is undeniable. However, true to Ritchie's style, she ignores data and fact so she can spew her ignorant hyperbole. Let's not forget this consultant also did something Ritchie has not done - he actually met the dog involved, rather than just making up a story in his head about her, as Ritchie apparently has done.
Ritchie also wrote:
"So has this two-time loser been put down? Of course not. We don’t want to kill nice puppies. She went to a rescue group that probably will pawn her off on someone else." My Comment:
Before Ms. Ritchie chastises Lake County she should broaden her horizons and note that almost ALL shelters will adopt dogs with difficult pasts. After all, according to the CDC, human behavior is a primary cause of most dog bites. That is important to note, because if Ritchie has an interest in keeping people safe from dog bites, educating them about how to appropriately interact with dogs would be important. Instead, in her uber-ill-informed, shock-jock-style of "journalism" she automatically assumes that any dog that has ever bitten is automatically "mean," or going to "rip someone's face off," (a phrase she has used more than once in spite of the fact that no actual faces have been actually ripped off). But face it, Ritchie does not pedal in truth or accuracy. She sells sensational fear-mongering and comes off as an attention-seeker like others in the media who fabricate falsehoods in hopes of increasing sales with eye catching, fallacious headlines.
It should be pointed out that Ms. Ritchie never contacted Furever Bully Love Rescue (FBLR) - the rescue that met with County officials and rescued this dog. Nor did Ms. Ritchie get prior permission from FBLR to even use their photograph that she attached to her article. It should also be emphasized that Heaven is NOT the dog involved in the bite Ritchie sensationally described earlier (which EMT's who responded referred to as "minor"). No. Not the same dog.
The dog, Heaven, who Ritchie calls a "2-time loser" is in the care of a very responsible rescue who will ensure not only that she has proper training and any potential adopter is aware of her history. This rescue will ensure that she goes to a suitable home that is prepared to take on a dog of her caliber. That is called responsible rescue. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, I hope in the future Ms. Ritchie will begin to appreciate the fact that she has a responsibility to do due diligence and do some actual research for her columns. The half-truths and over-the-top sensationalism and lack of credible sources that she has been serving up only fuels ignorance and hate. It is not fitting a gossip tabloid, much less a publication like the Orlando Sentinel. Unfortunately, some people who read her column actually accept what she writes without question. From strictly a human perspective (ignoring for the moment the untold millions of dogs that have been killed due to ignorant breed-based hysteria) the greatest disservice Ritchie, the Orlando Sentinel, and others who repeat such nonsense have created by focusing on dog breeds is that it completely ignores the real factors that directly contribute to the bites. They, therefore, then fail to provide helpful information that could actually keep people safe from dog bites.
I appreciate her interest in following the improvements happening at our animal control facility in Lake County and the positive direction we're headed in becoming a no kill community. There are lot of good things happening there with new management and staff, rewritten and revised policies and procedures, and a cultural change that values animals' lives rather than seeing them as disposable. We're looking forward to new, robust adoption events and partnering with more rescue organizations. This in turn leads to finding homes for more of our homeless animals.
Yes, Ms. Ritchie, even so-called pit bulls and pit mixes, and even dogs like Heaven, who you can see in this video during a training session.