As part of the resource library on our site, we are working to develop a “Media Report Card” – because even though reporters have excellent information available about dog behaviour and breed-specific legislation, we still come across articles like this one, posted Friday on the Daily Hive Vancouver website.
Granted, The Hive is an entertainment site, but this kind of sensational and inaccurate coverage is still shared widely and people believe it. This matters and should be recognized for what it is.
From the accounts described in the article, a small Yorkshire Terrier puppy was on-leash and permitted to meet three large on-leash dogs. Two of the larger dogs greeted the puppy in a friendly manner, but the third pinned him to the ground and by the time the bystanders were able to release the dog’s grip, the pup was severely injured and ultimately died.
We acknowledge that this is a tragic incident for the new dog owners, and not something you would expect to happen when you leave the house for a relaxing dog walk. We extend our sympathies and understand why the victim is angry and seeking retribution. But the reporter does not have the excuse of emotional fog, and should be reporting this story in an unbiased manner. In recording the facts, she had a choice about what angle to take. It could have been a warning to small dog owners to be careful with dog interactions. Or a call to the public to track down the large dog owners to ensure they are held accountable. But instead, it became a story about a “pit bull” that “savaged” a small dog.
Here are a few questions we ask ourselves when we encounter one of these articles:
Can we confirm that the dog was a “pit bull”?
No. The only reference to breed identification is that the victim “believed” all three larger dogs were pit bulls. However, “pit bull” was used in the headline and a total of 12 times in a relatively short article.
The small dog’s owner was in extreme emotional distress and not a breed expert. It is not appropriate to state as fact that this was a “pit bull” attack. It would have been more accurate to describe the offender as a large white dog, and if the reporter feels this fact is necessary, note in the victim’s statement that he believes it to be a pit bull.
Interestingly, someone weighed in on a comment thread who claimed to know the dogs and said they were definitely not pit bulls. How would it change this story if they were not? Will The Hive issue a retraction?
Was fact-based language used?’
No. “Savaged” brings to mind an image of a wild bear tearing into the side of a prey animal. While the attack would have been horrible to watch, it doesn’t seem like it was a massacre. It was a large dog pinning one a fraction of its size. Why not simply say the dog was “attacked” or “killed”? The reporter also dedicated several lines to describing the small dog’s injuries and manner of death – was this necessary?
If the story was editorialized, was a balanced view presented?
No. Based on the perceived breed, the victim was quoted as saying that an entire category of dog is unpredictable and should be muzzled. This is a little puzzling because if he feels this way, why did he allow his tiny dog to approach three “unpredictable” dogs? If the dogs are later found out to be Dogo Argentinos or white boxers, will he still hold this belief?
If the reporter wanted to delve deeper than simply reporting the incident or calling for the public’s help in locating the owners of the three dogs, she had options. She could have spoken to a vet or Animal Control Officer about the prevalence of these incidences. She could have interviewed a trainer about dog-to-dog interactions and how big dogs and little dogs – or adult dogs and puppies – should interact. She could have focused on finding the dog so that more information can be gleaned about this specific encounter. Did the dog have a history of aggression? Did the encounter between the two dogs go differently than described?
Instead of encouraging constructive dialogue or appealing for help from the public, this article served as a platform for the same tired debate about breed – a breed that may not even have been involved in this tragic altercation.
The media needs to start to live up to some basic standards in reporting about all things, including dog bites and attacks. Facts: not speculation, sensationalism, or a grab for headlines.
Note: screenshots are used in lieu of direct links to this story. We avoid linking to these articles because sensationalistic reporting is driven by clicks and likes. See our blog post on clickbait for background.