I’ve learned that news coverage of topics surrounding animals can bring out strong opinions in readers. When it’s about certain dog breeds such as the ill-defined “pit bull” — an umbrella term used to describe several dogs with similar characteristics — I understand why people parse the coverage closely.
A story in the print edition March 12 concerned new proposed legislation in a Missouri Senate committee that would prohibit laws targeting specific dog breeds in the state.
Do the dogs have a bad reputation because they’re fierce and fearsome fighters by nature, or do the kind of people who want aggressive dogs seek them out because of their potentially-intimidating look, and then train them to attack wantonly? Animal-welfare groups generally side with the latter, saying how an animal is treated is more important than its genetics in predicting its behavior. Any breed can be taught to be aggressive, but pits’ popularity with dog fighters becomes a vicious circle that gives the breed a bad name.
Emailer Russell Krohn today took exception to the wire photo used to illustrate the story in print. He asked if there wasn’t a “more positive, non-prejudicial photo” to use instead, writing:
Depicting a muzzled dog certainly infers to me and those I've talked to that it's dangerous and would be attacking people if it wasn't muzzled. A "happy" dog or at least a neutral photo would have been far less prejudicial; I'm sure your own photo library has plenty of them.
Now that he explains it, I certainly see his point, and this is why I’ve come to rely on readers’ opinions. My own take is that the dog looks sad in his muzzle — it’s sympathetic to me. But I guess that also betrays my own personal feelings.
Is there really any such thing as a neutral photo of a person or animal? I don’t think so, as wired into the intricacies of emotion and nuance as we humans are. But this is a great point to ponder, and I appreciate Mr. Krohn’s making it.