The article, “Why pit bulls will break your heart,” from the on-line magazine Animals 24-7, was posted to Facebook earlier this week (September 24, 2017); it had been published in the magazine in January. It was written by Beth Clifton, the magazine's social media and photo editor. Beth is married to the magazine’s editor Merritt Clifton, who at one time wrote and published the widely-read Animal People monthly newspaper.
The Cliftons have written numerous articles critical of pit bulls. In an article from January 16, 2017, “Purging the pit bull cancer from the heart & soul of animal advocacy,”
they wrote: "At this writing, barely two weeks into 2017, nine of the most recent 30 articles posted to ANIMALS 24-7 have documented various aspects of pit bull proliferation and the consequences thereof."
To an extent, I agree with them. Pit bulls should be banned. (I’d make the unlicensed breeding of all animals illegal, and I’d make it devilishly difficult to get a license.) I think a ban on pit bulls is a reasonable place to start if someone decides to attack the problems associated with keeping pets in general, breed by breed. The fact that pit bulls are so likely to be used in ways that cause them great harm is reason enough to start with them.
Beth Clifton’s article was the story of her experience with a pit bull she adopted as a puppy. She named him Trooper. Trooper had a series of serious medical problems, had an unstable early life, and he was aggressive at times. He was involved in a fight with another pit bull that resulted in serious injury to both. Beth says that she was not comfortable having her grand children be near Trooper. When he “demonstrated” that “he would have done [a] tortoise grave injury,” she choose to have Trooper killed.
Jonathon Paul, a long time animal activist, commented: "Why would you make the choice that this dog must die? What gives you that right? Don't get me wrong as a deep ecologist and a vegan I believe we have to breed out all domestic animals out of existence and allow all the wild ones to thrive, although the difference between us is that I am not going to just kill an animal because I don't think it should be here I advocate more of stopping breeding by spay neuter, and this also includes humans. I do no understand the animal welfarist point of view....."
I commented: "I agree with Jonathan. Sometimes it helps to recast the situation by replacing other animals with humans and looking at the situation. I do not think the State has the right to kill someone convicted of any crime. Dangerous humans might have to be kept in prison, but it seems unethical to me to execute them. If we ought not execute proven very dangerous humans we should not kill potentially or proven dangerous dogs. To me, the philosophy of animal rights is identical to the Golden Rule applied to all sentient beings."
Merritt Clifton replied: "What about the rights to life & safety of other dogs, gopher tortoises, small children, et al? The late Tom Regan and Peter Singer would have made exactly the same choice that Beth did, as Tom explained to me personally when we discussed pit bulls, years before I met Beth. Neither any widely accepted theory of animal rights nor any tenet of the generally pro-life Buddhist and Hindu religions precludes killing a demonstrably dangerous animal to prevent harm to oneself & others, as Mohandas Gandhi, for one, explained at length in an essay specifically about the necessity of killing dangerous dogs."
Merritt’s appeal to authority notwithstanding, his reply unintentionally goes to the heart of the animal rights debate. In general, should we treat other animals the way we think other humans should be treated? I think we should, the Cliftons believe otherwise. This matters because Merritt Clifton has spent a goodly portion of his life writing about things going on in the animal rights movement. He has always appeared to be a part of the movement, though he might think of himself simply as a reporter. In any case, he tries to influence public opinion. On the matter of killing nuisance animals, he runs way off track.
In the U.S., in 2016, only 20 humans were executed. And all of those were killed only after extensive legal proceedings. Nineteen states have banned the death penalty altogether. No state has made inconvenience a capital offense.
Beth Clifton responded to Jonathan Paul: “The answer to your question Jonathan ‘why would I make the choice that this dog must die?’ If you thoroughly read my essay about Trooper and I, you have your answer. And I believe your compassion for animals should be extended to ALL of them, both human and non-human. We don't know each other all that well, but when I met you at the AR conference, you were sincere and I immediately took a liking to you so this is why I am answering your comment. My decision to euthanize Trooper was to protect my family and as the matriarch of my family it was my right and duty! I would do it again. You never knew Trooper, and you don't really know me. And it is so typical of many in the animal rights movement to judge before understanding the issues. You may be willing to risk harm to those around you. I had the intelligence, compassion and empathy to avoid a tragedy that was 100% avoidable!"
Jonathon Paul replied: "I did read the article Beth Clifton. Just don't see eye to eye with you. I am not also the typical animal rights activist however you seem to be the typical animal welfarist. I would agree that domestic animals are and can be a problem mostly because they have been created by humans. As a deep ecologist and vegan I feel we should our breed out of existence all domestic animals but not necessarily exterminate them. The part that makes me the most uncomfortable is the attitude of controlling and deciding the fate of other creatures while we don't even consider the most dangerous and aggressive species on the planet and that is the human race. All I know is that I could not euthanize a dog I raised from a puppy because I wanted to remove a potential problem."
Beth Clifton: "I never claimed to be an “animal rights” anything! Frankly many of you seem to be extremists! Furthermore, public safety is not at the top of their agenda or yours apparently. I consider myself a free thinker and I don’t have to follow anyone’s party line. You seem to be old school ALF. And by saying you are a deep ecologist explains your approval of fighting dogs as pets. If you hold that we as humans are an invasive species, pit bulls will take care of that problem. I feel better about our disagreement Jonathan. You hold extreme beliefs that I could never philosophically agree with."
To me, aggressiveness and inconvenience do not justify killing anyone. I thought that, perhaps, the Clifton’s focus on pit bulls might have led to a sort of ethical myopia, so I tried reframing the matter in other terms. I asked: “Merritt Clifton, what if Trooper had been a lion? Adopted as a cub, with the thought that maybe he could learn to get along with other animals in the house? When Trooper the lion began, well, being a lion, would you recommend killing him?”
Merritt Clifton replied: "If your aunt had balls, would she be your uncle? I deal in realities, not hypotheticals."
His humorous quip and follow-up sidestepped the question altogether, perhaps he could foresee the problems ahead had he tried; he seems to have decided to punt rather than to think. But what if Trooper had been a chimpanzee who had actually hurt a human rather than a dog who might one day hurt a tortoise? Apparently, from the many comments in the thread, those who supported Beth Clifton would have said either, yes, kill the chimpanzee (they would have used the common euphemism no doubt), or else it’s OK to kill a dog but not a chimpanzee. Likewise, they must either support the death penalty for humans, or else argue that the death penalty applies only to animals.
Moreover, with regard to animals, they would have to argue that the decision to kill an animal is the owner’s alone. Convention aside, I do not hold to the notion that I have ever owned any of the animals with whom I have spent my life, and I don't have the right to kill them.
In response to my question about whether she would have chosen to kill an aggressive lion, Beth responded: “Rick, come on, lol, please re-read the article for the details. Susan summed it up very succinctly.”
The succinct statement Beth referred to was this: “Pit bulls are sold to the public as domesticated family pets. It is a lie of course. Many people believe that lie. Normal dogs do not suddenly and with no provocation attack people and other animals. To compare pit bulls to wild animals is accurate but the fly in the ointment is the lies told to the public that pit bulls are perfectly wonderful family pets when they aren’t.”
And that, the Clifton’s et al. seemingly agree, makes it OK to kill them.
Two final things: here's an example of a more respectful way to deal with animals who might pose a danger to others.
There are situations that might morally require us to kill someone. I've read of Jews escaping the Nazis inadvertently smothering their infants when trying to keep them quiet to protect everyone in the group. I've personally killed a few animals whose pain had become unmanageable as the result of aggressive cancers or inoperable terminal conditions involving intractable pain. Killing isn't in and of itself wrong, but killing someone who has become a liability, a nuisance, or an inconvenience, in most instances, definitely is.