TIME Pets

The Problem With Pit Bulls

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Pit Bull Square Dog Photography—Getty Images/Flickr Select

It's horrible that KFC kicked out that 3-year-old girl, but let's focus on the real problem: pit bulls were bred to be violent

The social media universe became furious at KFC this week after an employee reportedly asked a 3-year-old victim of a dog attack to leave one of their restaurants because “her face is disrupting our customers.”

Read a response to this piece from the American Pit Bull Foundation.

But it wasn’t KFC employees who broke down the door to Victoria Wilcher’s grandfather’s house and mauled the toddler until half her face was paralyzed and she lost the use of one of her eyes. Three pit bulls did that.

Pit bulls make up only 6% of the dog population, but they’re responsible for 68% of dog attacks and 52% of dog-related deaths since 1982, according to research compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, an animal-news organization that focuses on humane work and animal-cruelty prevention.

Clifton himself has been twice attacked by dogs (one pit bull), and part of his work involves logging fatal and disfiguring attacks. Clifton says that for the 32 years he’s been recording, there has never been a year when pit bulls have accounted for less than half of all attacks. A CDC report on dog-bite fatalities from 1978 to 1998 confirms that pit bulls are responsible for more deaths than any other breed, but the CDC no longer collects breed-specific information.

Another report published in the April 2011 issue of Annals of Surgery found that one person is killed by a pit bull every 14 days, two people are injured by a pit bull every day, and young children are especially at risk. The report concludes that “these breeds should be regulated in the same way in which other dangerous species, such as leopards, are regulated.” That report was shared with TIME by PETA, the world’s largest animal-rights organization.

The little girl’s grandfather shot and killed the three dogs that attacked her, and both he and his girlfriend are facing child-endangerment charges. KFC has donated $30,000 to the girl’s family to help with her medical bills, and more money keeps flooding in. But so far the outrage has been directed at the rude KFC employee, not at the growing problem of pit-bull maulings.

As pit-bull attacks become more and more common, they’re getting increasing attention on social media, but not always in support of the wounded children. In March, a Facebook petition to save Mickey, a dangerous pit bull in Phoenix, got over 70,000 likes. Mickey was facing euthanasia for mauling 4-year-old Kevin Vincente so badly that he cracked his jaw, eye socket and cheekbone. Kevin is facing months of reconstructive surgery, but more people were concerned with saving the dog than helping the boy. Mickey’s Facebook page has now become a social-media landing page to save other dogs that are considered dangerous.

Clifton says he’s seen an unprecedented rise in dog maulings in recent years, as more pit bulls enter the shelter system. Between 1858 and 2000, there are only two recorded instances of shelter dogs killing humans. From 2000 to 2009, there were three fatal attacks involving shelter dogs (one pit bull, one breed similar to a pit bull, and one Doberman). But from 2010 to 2014, there have been 35 shelter dogs who fatally attacked humans. All but 11 were pit bulls.

Supporters say pit bulls are getting a bad rap. Sara Enos, founder and president of the American Pit Bull Foundation, said that it’s wrong to blame dog attacks on pit bulls, because it’s the owners who are to blame. “It really boils down to being responsible owners,” she said. “Any dog from any breed can be aggressive, it matters how it’s treated.” And, as TIME reported in 2013, pit-bull owners all over the country are trying to rebrand the breed, insisting pit bulls can have a softer side when treated humanely.

Many pit-bull advocacy organizations, including BAD RAP, did not want to comment for this story. But there is a growing backlash against the idea that pit bulls are more violent than other dogs. “There is not any breed of dog that is inherently more dangerous,” said Marcy Setter of the Pit Bull Rescue Center. “That’s simply not true.”

But critics say that pit bulls are inherently dangerous no matter how they’re treated, because violence is in their DNA. “Why do herding dogs herd? Why do pointing dogs point? They don’t learn that behavior, that’s selective behavior,” says Colleen Lynn, president and founder of DogsBite.org, a national dog-bite-victims group dedicated to reducing dog attacks. “Pit bulls were specifically bred to go into that pit with incredible aggression and fight.”

“Every kind of dog is neglected and abused,” Clifton agrees. “And not every kind of dog responds to the neglect and abuse by killing and injuring people.”

But there’s another root cause of the rise in pit-bull attacks, one you might not think of: Hurricane Katrina.

Pit bulls are especially popular in Louisiana and Mississippi, and many of the volunteers responding to Hurricane Katrina found themselves saving stranded dogs. Most of the pit bulls they saved had been kept inside and behaved well around the rescuers, Clifton said, because they knew their survival depended on it. The dogs who were rescued were good pit bulls, he says, and “the real badasses, the ones chained outside, were drowned.”

Clifton said that many of the volunteers, who had very little experience with dog rescue, became attached to the breed and involved in pit-bull advocacy. And that helped galvanize the pro-pit-bull movement in the wake of Michael Vick’s 2007 dogfighting scandal. That movement helped encourage more people to adopt pit bulls as lack of sterilization caused the population to grow.

“If you need a marker in your head for when pit bulls got out of control, it’s 2007 with Michael Vick,” Lynn says. Vick’s high-profile trial for dogfighting and cruelty to animals roused a growing sympathy for pit bulls, which led more people to adopt them and bring them into their homes.

Dogbites.org

“We need to get used to mauling injuries, because we’re going to be seeing a lot more of them,” warns Lynn. “Each of us will know a mauled, disfigured child by a known dangerous breed of dog. There will be one in every school.”

But what can be done about the growing number of pit bulls? Some say the best solution would be breed-specific sterilization, which would curb the pit-bull population and reduce euthanasia in shelters. Most dogs of all breeds are spayed and neutered — about 80%, by Clifton’s estimation. But only 20% of pit bulls are sterilized, partly because the population that owns pit bulls tends to resist the spay-neuter message. He notes that there are a number of free sterilization programs for pit bulls, including one run by the ASPCA, but that even the largest programs aren’t sterilizing enough pit bulls to reduce the number of shelter intakes.

Lynn agrees that breed-specific sterilization laws are the most humane and efficient way to deal with the situation and avoid having more dogs euthanized. “If you want to hit that ‘no kill’ status, you better do something about the pit-bull problem.” Pit bulls currently account for 63% of the dogs put down in shelters, but only 38% of the admissions. Lynn says that all pit bulls should be sterilized, except those that come from licensed breeders.

Even PETA, the largest animal-rights organization in the world, supports breed-specific sterilization for pit bulls. “Pit bulls are a breed-specific problem, so it seems reasonable to target them,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president of cruelty investigations. “The public is misled to believe that pit bulls are like any other dog. And they just aren’t.” Even the ASPCA acknowledges on its website that pit bulls are genetically different than other dogs. “Pit bulls have been bred to behave differently during a fight,” it says. “They may not give warning before becoming aggressive, and they’re less likely to back down when clashing with an opponent.”

Opponents of sterilization argue that it can be difficult to determine which dogs are pit bulls, and that breed-specific efforts are unfair to certain dogs. “When you discriminate against a breed, you’re also discriminating against good dogs as well,” Enos said. Setter of Pit Bull Rescue Central opposes breed-specific sterilization because she says it’s ineffective, because the laws don’t target irresponsible owners.

But Nachminovitch said PETA stands by breed-specific sterilization as a common-sense solution to what has become a human-safety issue. “These dogs were bred to bait bulls. They were bred to fight each other to the death,” she said. “Just because we’re an animal-rights organization doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about public safety.”

Updated: The original version of this story referred to reports that a girl who had been mauled by pitbulls had been asked to leave a KFC restaurant. KFC, which initially apologized, now says two investigations have yielded no evidence the incident actually took place.

TIME animals

Happy Sloth Week! Here’s a Live Sloth Cam

A glimpse at life in the slow lane

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Starting today, Animal Planet is celebrating Sloth Week, which is like Shark Week for people who were too slow getting their acts together to tune in to Shark Week.

So there’s no better time than the present to check out the live sloth cam from Zoo Atlanta launched in October, featuring a Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth named Cocoa, a 21-year-old male, and his “lady friends” Okra Mae and Bonnie. Sloths may move slowly, but Cocoa was quick to make a move on the 19-year-old Okra Mae, who is now pregnant and is expected to have their baby in July.

TIME animals

Cat Who Thinks He’s a Dog Excitedly Welcomes Home His Soldier Owner

#NotAllCats

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While cats may have an usually well-deserved reputation for indifference, especially towards magic and baseball, some cats really know how to love (or at least know how to figure out who is holding the cat nip).

Take for example, Finn, a giant grey furball of a cat, who is really really excited for his beloved owner to return home. Not only does Finn know that the soldier is about to walk through the door that he is meowing at vociferously, but he’s clearly dying for his chance to deliver up some much needed cuddles. This cat is determined to be a one-soldier, one-cat USO tour for love of owner and country, no cat nip required.

MORE: Discerning Cat Walks 12 Miles Back to Old Home Because He Didn’t Like His New One

MORE: There’s a Kickstarter to Help People Experience Life as a Cat

TIME animals

These Spiders Eat Fish Twice Their Size

Fish Eating Spider
Pisauridae spider, dolomedes sp, catching fish Alastair Macewen—Getty Images

And they live on every continent except Antarctica. Be afraid.

Didn’t think spiders were terrifying enough already? Guess what: now scientists have discovered that a ton of spiders can eat things over twice their size. Swimming things.

These pescatarian spiders live on every continent except Antarctica, according to research published in PLoS ONE on Wednesday.

Researchers in Australia and Switzerland reviewed reports on fish predation and found that these aggressive spiders are much more common than scientists originally believed. Fish-eating spiders belong to eight different taxonomic families and only one of the spiders lives underwater. The rest hang out (or “lurk,” if you will) by the water and usually eat insects but occasionally go for a larger appetizer, killing fish 2-6 cm in length, about 2.2 times the size of the spider.

Their kill method is to wait on a rock for a fish to touch one of their legs before diving into the water and biting the neck of their prey, killing them. Then they drag the fish to land and devour it.

So now we know how an epic battle between Spider-Man and Aqua Man would go down.

TIME animals

Sorry New Yorkers, You Can No Longer Tattoo Your Pets

State legislature passes bill forbidding the tattooing and piercing of pets, after lawmaker spotted "gothic kittens" for sale

New York state lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday forbidding the tattooing and piercings of pets.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal introduced the animal rights bill in 2011 after she discovered “gothic kittens” with tattoos and piercings for sale online, according to the New York Daily News. The proposal will now head to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign the law.

The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Mark Grisanti, was designed to prevent animals from unnecessary body modification, which many believe is a form of animal cruelty. The only exceptions are piercings for medical purposes and tattoos for medical or identification purposes, according to the bill’s text.

In March, photos circulated online of a dog inked by a Brooklyn tattoo artist.

TIME animals

Discerning Cat Walks 12 Miles Back to Old Home Because He Didn’t Like His New One

Getty Images

Curious George?

A cat ran away and walked 12 miles back to its old home after its owners moved to a different neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, The Oregonian reports.

The new renters reportedly called and said they thought they found the two-year-old tabby named George, which showed up and kept wanting to be pet.

Last year, a tortoiseshell cat named Holly made headlines for trekking 200 miles back home to West Palm Beach, Florida, after running away from the family vacation at a R.V. rally in Daytona Beach. While scientists don’t know for sure how a cat could find its way home from a long distance, they say cats navigate in familiar areas via sight and smell. Patrick Bateson, a behavioral biologist at Cambridge University, told the New York Times, it’s possible that cats can sense “the smell of pine with wind coming from the north, so they move in a southerly direction.”

 

TIME viral

A Duck Stampede May Sound Cute, But It’s Actually Horrifying

See a disturbing number of ducks blocking traffic in Thailand

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In theory, a large number of ducks all running and quacking in unison is cute, right? Well, in practice, it turns out that it’s the kind of thing that will likely plague you with Hitchcockian nightmares for two years, minimum.

A Thai YouTube user uploaded the above video that captures the utter chaos of a duck stampede. An estimated 100,000 ducks are just running madly, wildly, uninhibitedly through a Thai street, blocking traffic and leaving psychological destruction in their wake. Where could they possibly be headed, besides straight to your bedroom to murder you in your sleep?

 

TIME animals

This Stray Cat Broke Into a Zoo and Became Best Friends With a Lynx

A very important new animal friendship

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A few months ago, we got really excited when an amicable meerkat befriended a husky, because unlikely animal friendships are what we live for. Today, we’d like to highlight a new animal friendship. It’s not quite as surprising as a husky and a meerkat, but we promise it’s just as adorable and heartwarming.

It all began when a homeless calico cat made her way into the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Zoo, according to KFOR. The stray found food in a lynx’s enclosure, and the lynx accepted the cat into her life. Soon enough, they became besties. Watch the video above to see this dynamic duo in action.

And here’s a gallery of adorable pictures:

TIME China

5 Things You Need to Know About China’s Dog-Eating Festival

Winter Solstice Became Dog Slaughter Day in Guizhou
A dog is caged before slaughter in Guizhou, China, where many locals consume dog meat during the winter. TPG—Getty Images

As the annual festival sparks unprecedented backlash, here’s what you need to know beyond the howling protests

1. It’s real.

In Yulin, summer solstice marks the coming of the hottest days for the Chinese city. The remote, woody city (literally “jade forest”) celebrates the astronomical event—this year, June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere—with its annual dog-eating festival. The local tradition reportedly began in the 1990s, but the local practice of eating dog meat outdates written history.

According to Chinese lore, eating dog meat stimulates internal heat, making it a food that wards off winters’ cold. But on this inaugural day of summer, it’s a superstition that’s driving dog consumption: the meat is believed to bring good luck and health. At the festival, hotpots are fired up, lychees peeled and liquors poured. Animal activists estimate over 10,000 dogs are killed for the festival, according to China Daily, the government’s English-language mouthpiece.

2. China doesn’t have an animal protection law, but experts still claim the festival is illegal.

A draft law was proposed in 2009 to punish animal abusers with a 6000 yuan (over $900) fine and two weeks of detention. It also proposed that organizations found guilty of selling dog or cat meat be charged with a fine between 10,000 yuan ($1600) and 500,000 yuan ($80,000). To date, the National People’s Congress has not signed the law; it has yet to issue a statement on it.

Still, some legal experts argue the festival is illegal under regulations passed by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2013 which require laboratory quarantine for animals before transportation, a practice that’s “rare to see,” animal rights lawyer An Xiang told China Daily. Even more, many dogs are stolen, abducted, raised in households, making dog trade difficult to document (there are also dog farms, too). In 2011, though, Chinese activists stopped a truck transporting dogs to a restaurant and paid 115,000 yuan (then, around $17,000) to free the animals.

3. Outrage on social media over this year’s festival is unprecedented.

For years, hundreds of thousands of Chinese netizens have been vocal in opposing dog-eating festivals. Though keeping dogs as pets was banned during the Cultural Revolution, dog ownership has become popular among China’s growing middle-class.

This year, in addition to a petition, puppy rescues and editorials, many celebrities have joined in protesting Yulin’s festival on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Actress Sun Li uploaded photos of her son with their adopted stray dog, and singer-actress Yang Mi posted a plea to end dog eating with an anti-Yulin festival poster that’s flooding Chinese social media. In the poster, a dog sheds a red tear, saying, “Please don’t eat us. We’re your friends.”

4. The festival may have begun early to avoid protestors.

Yulin locals have reportedly kicked-off the celebrations a week early to avoid activists and journalists, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Street vendors and restaurants selling dog meat have covered up the Chinese character for dog, too, in an effort to mitigate controversy.

5. Dog-eating festivals have been banned in the past, but Yulin officials claim the festival does not exist.

In 2011, Chinese authorities banned the Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival after a widespread social media campaign launched by animal rights activists. The 600-year tradition, held annually in September, commemorated a fourteenth-century battle victory when a rebel leader ordered dogs in Jinhua to be slaughtered because their barking warned the city of his army’s approach.

In contrast, the Yulin Municipal People’s Government issued a statement on June 7 in response to the social media outrage, stating that while locals in recent years have hosted small gatherings to consume dog meat and lychees, a widespread festival for these activities has never existed.

“The so-called summer solstice lychee dog meat festival does not exist,” it reads. “Neither Yulin government nor social organizations have ever held such activities.”

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