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Thursday, 31 August 2017

“Dangerous breeds,” dog bite statistics, and the Merritt Clifton report

Part 1: Numbers

Which breeds bite most often? Which breeds do the most damage when they attack?

Don’t ask the Centers for Disease Control.

Breed "is no longer considered to be of discernible value" when addressing dog bite prevention, according to a CDC spokesperson.

The most important factors affecting the odds of a dog bite or attack have always been the ones any dog person can rattle off: Puppy socialization. Training. Pack behavior. The dog's health. The dog's care and condition. Something as simple as never leaving a small child unattended with any dog. Size of the dog: when big dogs bite they generally do more damage than little dogs --- although that's a moot point if you're six weeks old.

If you want facts on dog aggression, read A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention, the AVMA’s groundbreaking 2001 task force report. [You’ll find it in the sidebar, under More Dog Links]. Seminal quote:
Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite.
For the record, the AVMA task force included representatives from the American Veterinary Medical Association; the American Academy of Pediatrics; the American College of Emergency Physicians; the Professional Liability Insurance Trust; the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; the American Medical Association; the National Animal Control Association; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Humane Society of the United States. There are actual footnotes, too.

Is there a bite report for the footnote-averse? Given the boundless, staggering ignorance that influences so much public debate on the subject of dog bite prevention, you know there is. For those convinced that pit bulls send more people to the hospital than all other breeds combined – because "you never read about Lab attacks in the paper" -- the Clifton report is the go-to reference.

I’m embarrassed for people who cite it. It’s that bad.

Merritt Clifton’s study is actually a list of severe dog bites. The title itself ["Dog attack deaths and maimings"] is misleading, since the list is a compilation of "dog attacks doing bodily harm," including some that are fatal or disabling. Clifton’s only source is the press: specifically, press accounts of dog bites requiring “extensive hospitalization” [never defined, so this might include anything from treatment of sepsis to multiple surgeries] and caused by “clearly identified” animals. [“[T]his table covers only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry, as designated by animal control officers or others with evident expertise, who have been kept as pets.”] The numbers aren’t organized by year or location, and readers have no way to access the original press accounts and follow-up articles. There is a disclaimer of sorts --- “dogs whose breed type may be uncertain” are excluded, as are police and security dogs and dogs trained to fight --- leading logical readers to assume that the list must include virtually all severe bites by dogs of identifiable breeds.

Clifton’s report never mentions that there is a huge discrepancy between actual hospital records and press accounts of dog attacks --- between relatively objective data, in other words, and highly subjective reporting and editing with an eye to selling papers. The report fails to acknowledge that a number of factors are involved whenever any dog bites. The report includes statements about dog behavior which have no basis in science, and statements about breed-specific traits which bear no relation to the actual history, behavior or modern development of the breed being discussed [in this case, the German shepherd]. Clifton’s concluding statements regarding the inevitability of attacks by certain dogs are impossible to substantiate, and as a result seem simply prejudiced and inflammatory.


Here’s an important CDC number to keep in mind: based on hospital records, each year some 6,000 people in the United States are hospitalized as a result of a dog bite or attack. [From the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Of an estimated 333,700 patients treated for dog bites in emergency departments (EDs) in 1994, approximately 6,000 were hospitalized.” I imagine that number has increased, but for the purposes of this post I’ll stick with 6,000.] 6,000 hospitalized each year: not simply treated in the ED, but requiring hospitalization due to the severity of the dog bite or attack.

According to Clifton's report [which, once again, is based entirely on press accounts], during the 24-year period covered by his study there were a total of 2,209 “[dog] attacks doing bodily harm” in the U.S. and Canada. 1,182 of those attacks were by pit bulls and pit bull mixes. (Lumping mixes together with so-called purebreds makes no sense from any standpoint, but Mr. Clifton lumps them together --- so I will, too, again for the purposes of this post.)

1,182 severe attacks by pit bulls and pit mixes in the U.S. and Canada over a 24-year period [according to the Clifton statistics] works out to an average of just over 49 severe attacks by pit bulls and pit bull mixes in North America per year.

If Clifton’s pit bull numbers are correct, and no more than 49 of the 6,000 or so hospitalizations due to severe dog bites in the U.S. each year are a result of pit bull bites or attacks, then pit bulls and pit mixes are responsible for less than one percent of those hospitalizations.

.82%. Eighty-two hundredths of a percent of hospitalizations due to dog bites in the U.S. each year are a result of pit bull bites or attacks, if the press has accurately represented the number of serious attacks by pit bulls and pit mixes.

This might be a good place to mention that the pit bull is one of the most popular breeds [or types] in the country. Using shelter numbers as a very rough means of estimating the number of pit bulls [registered and unregistered] in the general population, even low estimates end up in the millions. A board member of the California Animal Control Directors Association [CACDA] told me in 2005 that only labs and lab mixes are more common in California shelters. On sites like this, out of a total U.S. population of over 70 million dogs you’ll find estimates of 3 million to 10 million pit bulls.

Could the press be failing to report severe attacks by pit bulls?

While I struggle to get my face under control, check out the screen cap at the top of this post. “East Lubbock, Texas: Elderly man shaken by pit bull.”

Terrifying headline. But he wasn’t actually hurt, you understand, just… shaken.

What about other breeds? Let’s take a look. The only state that has attempted to track dog bites statewide by breed, using hospital records, is Texas. The Texas Severe Animal Bite Summaries were posted online by the Texas Department of Health Zoonosis Control Group from 1996 through 2002. No reports have been issued since then, for a couple reasons: the recorded information had never been complete [some counties didn’t report] and the Texas Department of Health believed the numbers were being misused and misinterpreted. (How do I know this? I phoned them and asked.)

Look at blue heelers: in one year, “blue heelers” and “heeler mixes” caused injuries that required six people to be hospitalized in Texas, according to the 2000 Severe Bite Summary provided by the Texas Department of Health.

Clifton seems unaware that the blue heeler, the Australian blue heeler, the Queensland heeler and the Australian cattle dog are all names that refer to the same breed. They are listed separately in his tabulation. In any event, according to Clifton’s list of press accounts, all of them were apparently responsible for a total of just six severe bites throughout North America over the 24 years covered by his study. (If I didn’t know the breed better – and I like heelers – I might assume that only the ones in Texas bite.)

Take chows. [Please. I still can’t process that Jean Donaldson went from border collies to Buffy ;~)] Based on the numbers provided by the Texas Department of Health, chows and chow mixes accounted for 54 hospitalizations in the state from 1996 through 2000.

According to press accounts tabulated in the Clifton report, there were 57 severe attacks by chows and chow mixes over a 24-year period throughout the entire U.S. and Canada.

Or 66 severe attacks, if you count the mixes with “chow” listed last, as in “Akita/Chow mix.”

And what determines the predominant breed in a mix for the purposes of this report? Why does the Clifton report use “akita/chow mix” rather than “chow/akita mix”? And what is a “chox mix”? What is a “Dauschund”? What is an “East Highland terrier”? I live across the river from East Highland, and I never knew they had their own terrier. “Great Pyranees,” “Weimaeaner,” “Fila Brasiero,” “Doge de Bordeaux,” “Buff Mastiff”… Stop, you’re killing me.

As proof of media bias, the Clifton report has value. The media have done a bang-up job convincing the public that only "dangerous breeds" hurt people. Editors in a shrinking market know that it's more lucrative to rail against pit bulls than talk about the importance of puppy socialization and parent supervision and how to prevent resource guarding. Clifton’s list illustrates perfectly what the AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression calls “media-driven portrayals of a specific breed as ‘dangerous.’”


In Part II of my look at Merritt Clifton’s dog bite study I’ll review his “Analysis.” Clifton writes that misunderstood German shepherds bite often, but only to pull children from harm’s way; that the GSD has developed “three distinctly different kinds of bite” to control sheep, and uses the same bites on people; that chows are not a common breed; that it is the “custom” to dock pit bulls’ tails; and that “temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant,” since the great majority of “dangerous breeds” maim or kill whenever they have “a bad moment.”

Stay tuned.


As an addendum, here is an account of a severe dog bite that, like most, received no press coverage.

I heard about the attack from a student -- a friend of the girl who was injured -- and I sent my phone number to the family with a request that the girl’s mother call me if she wouldn’t mind discussing the incident. The girl’s mother gave me the details that follow.

The girl, who was twelve at the time, was staying at her aunt’s house for the night. The families were close and the children all loved the friendly, thirteen year old family dog. That night the girl went into the guest bedroom and reached down to give an affectionate pat to the dog, which was sleeping near the door to the room. The dog lunged up and bit the girl’s face, and didn’t let go. “The dog shook her like a rag doll,” the girl’s mother told me. That tired phrase doesn't sound nearly so hackneyed when it comes from a parent struggling to describe a violent attack on her child.

The girl’s upper lip and part of her nose were torn away, hanging in shreds.

The girl underwent reconstructive surgery at a local hospital where her aunt worked as a nurse. A few days after the attack, the aunt saw the plastic surgeon in a hallway. She introduced herself as a relative of the injured girl and said to the surgeon, “I bet you never saw anything like that before.” The surgeon laughed out loud. “I stitch up five dog bites a week,” he said.

The girl’s mother told me that her daughter’s reconstructive surgery was successful and that no scars would be visible after a few years, though the girl’s lip remained numb: a special concern, since she had played the flute. The dog, a yellow lab, was euthanized.

Pit bulls, dog bite statistics, and the Merritt Clifton report2

Part II:
Clifton’s “Analysis”

In Part 1 of my look at Merritt Clifton’s study of dog bites [“Dangerous breeds,” dog bite statistics, and the Merritt Clifton report: Numbers] I showed that Clifton’s tabulation of press accounts is incomplete, inaccurate, badly edited and misleading. Readers have no way to access the original news stories and follow-up articles; breeds of dogs aren’t accurately recorded; and there is a huge discrepancy between press accounts of dog attacks and hospital data.

Clifton follows his list of severe bites with a brief section of comments on selected attacks. No footnotes or links are provided: in fact, there are no citations anywhere in the report.

In the Analysis section Clifton writes:
The tallies of attacks, attacks on children, attacks on adults, fatalities, and maimings on the above data sheet must be evaluated in three different contexts. The first pertains to breed-specific characteristic behavior, the second to bite frequency as opposed to the frequency of severe injuries, and the third to degree of relative risk.
In other words, Clifton is turning his back on everything known about the cause and prevention of dog bites, and is choosing instead to evaluate severe bites and attacks on the basis of “breed–specific characteristics”: an approach with no grounds in science, and one that has been discredited and rejected by the CDC, the AVMA, veterinary behaviorists, trainers, humane organizations and ACOs.

Neither Merritt Clifton nor I nor anyone else can speak about any breed’s “bite frequency,” or compare “bite frequency” to “the frequency of severe injuries,” because no one knows how often dogs of any breed bite. It is possible, for instance, that most pit bull “bites” are nips or bruises, and that none of those bites are recorded by the press because the bites cause neither real injury nor concern. No one knows. No one knows how often dogs of a particular breed bite or what percentage of those bites are severe, and no one knows the number of dogs of each breed in the overall population. Bite frequency and relative risk are impossible to determine.

These facts are evident, or should be evident, to anyone. As the AVMA task force on dog aggression states:
Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite.
The AVMA task force needed less than a paragraph in its Community approach to dog bite prevention to kick the Clifton study to the curb, but I’m going to spend a bit more time on his Analysis section. Frankly, it’s such a train wreck I can’t look away.

Clifton’s comments are in green --- mine are in red.
Of the breeds most often involved in incidents of sufficient severity to be listed, pit bull terriers are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children. Numbers again: Clifton doesn’t know how often pit bulls bite children or how frequently they bite adults. He has no idea how often they bite at all. No one does. This is a very rare pattern […] What pattern? Without knowing anything about a biting dog’s health, care or condition, its quality of ownership, victim behavior and so forth, there are no patterns. Captain Arthur Haggerty, a well-known dog trainer, wrote that in cases where a pit bull bites, the owner almost always has a criminal record. That might be a pattern worth investigating. Pit bulls seem to differ behaviorally from other dogs in having far less inhibition about attacking people who are larger than they are. Which pit bulls? Out of the country’s three million or more pit bulls, which ones “differ behaviorally”? Mr. Clifton, meet Mr. GladwellOnce again, Clifton refuses to acknowledge that other factors may be involved when a pit bull bites: abuse, starvation, life on a chain. They are also notorious for attacking seemingly without warning, “Notorious?” According to whom? Barring health problems and/or abuse, all dogs exhibit a pattern of negative or abnormal behavior before a bite. a tendency exacerbated by the custom of docking pit bulls' tails so that warning signals are not easily recognized. Where on earth is it “the custom” to dock pit bulls’ tails? Seriously. Is there any substantiating evidence for this statement? Because no one docks pit bulls’ tails. Ears, sometimes --- tails, never [unless the tail is injured]. Thus the adult victim of a pit bull attack may have had little or no opportunity to read the warning signals that would avert an attack from any other dog. How many of the pit bulls involved in this list of attacks had docked tails? “We have no idea”? I thought so.

Rottweilers […] seem to show up disproportionately often in the mauling, killing, and maiming statistics simply because they are both quite popular and very powerful[...] A “large, popular breed,” in other words --- as opposed to those notorious pit bulls with their rare behavioral patterns.

German shepherds are herding dogs, bred for generations to guide and protect sheep. Please. German shepherds are show and companion dogs, and no, they have not been bred for generations to work sheep. For the last century they have been bred for conformation; for police work and protection sports; and to be pets. Most modern GSDs have as much “herding instinct” as a bulldog, and based on what I’ve seen at AKC “herding trials,” as much talent on stock. In modern society, they are among the dogs of choice for families with small children because of their extremely strong protective instinct. How does he know? They have three distinctively different kinds of bite [I can’t believe I’m reading this]: the guiding nip, which is gentle and does not break the skin; the grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb or child away from danger, which is as gentle as emergency circumstances allow; and the reactive bite, usually in defense of territory, a child, or someone else the dog is inclined to guard. The reactive bite usually comes only after many warning barks, growls, and other exhibitions intended to avert a conflict. When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the wrist or throat. Unbelievable. There is not a shred of evidence for these statements, and I’m speaking 1) as a former owner of both American-bred and Schutzhund-bred German shepherds, and 2) as one with a fair amount of literature in my possession relating to this breed. If German shepherds are bred for any sort of bite, it’s the full-mouthed protection-sport bite, and that same type of bite is admired by the relatively tiny but dedicated group of GSD boundary-style herding enthusiasts here and in Germany. “Three distinctively different kinds of bite”? I thought I’d seen it all after reading a few years’ worth of AKC Gazette breed columns [“Collies must have an oblique eye set in order to scan the horizon for sheep”], and then something like this comes along. The “three different bites” concept has nothing to do with the millions of GSDs in North America and even less to do with the realities of stockwork. Seriously, where did this “three distinctive bites” business come from? Is it from the Gazette? Enlighten us. Because it sounds as if it was made up out of whole cloth.

Because German shepherds often use the guiding nip and the grab-and-drag with children, who sometimes misread the dogs' intentions and pull away in panic, they are involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would predict: approximately 28% of all bite cases, according to a recent five-year compilation of Minneapolis animal control data. Yet none of the Minneapolis bites by German shepherds involved a serious injury: hurting someone is almost never the dogs' intent.

Again: I can’t believe I’m reading this.

GSDs “are involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would predict” --- because they are trying to lead or pull children out of danger? There is nothing to support this claim: zero, zip, nada. And what’s up with the reference to Minneapolis AC data? Is this a “Look! Something shiny!” gambit? Because in Clifton’s own study, GSD attacks result in a higher percentage of maimings [60%] than pit bull attacks do [55%]. And yet -- again with no supporting evidence –Clifton states that when German shepherds bite, “hurting someone is almost never the dogs' intent.” He knows all the GSDs in the country, apparently, and reads their minds, too.
In the German shepherd mauling, killing, and maiming cases I have recorded, there have almost always been circumstances of duress: the dog was deranged from being kept alone on a chain for prolonged periods without human contract, was starving, was otherwise severely abused, was protecting puppies, or was part of a pack including other dangerous dogs. None of the German shepherd attacks have involved predatory behavior on the part of an otherwise healthy dog.
Neither Clifton nor [as far as anyone can tell] the press accounts he tabulated see fit to acknowledge “circumstances of duress” when a pit bull or other breed bites. Apparently pit bulls are never chained, never turned loose or abandoned to run in packs, never abused, always well fed and correctly socialized --- unlike those misunderstood German shepherds.

Seriously, it’s unbelievable – unconscionable – that anyone writing about dog attacks would fail to acknowledge the abusive conditions surrounding most pit bulls that bite, and yet make such a raft of excuses for another breed, claiming, “There have almost always been circumstances of duress.” Is this intentional, or simply drawn from the press accounts themselves? Either way, the lack of objectivity is remarkable.

Clifton goes on to stress “the need for some sort of strong breed-specific regulation to deal with pit bulls and Rottweilers,” and chastises the “humane community” for refusing to see that adopting a pit bull is no different from adopting a mountain lion. He states that pit bulls and Rottweilers should be strictly regulated “if they are to be kept at all.”

And that’s just stupid.

Ban all dogs over 30 lb, and children (and adults) will still be maimed and killed by dachshunds and cocker spaniels. But the statement that will make knowledgeable, informed dog people beat their heads on rocks is this one:
Temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant. What is relevant is actuarial risk. If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed--and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.

I think Clifton wants very much to say, “They’ll turn on you.” But a dog with a good temperament won’t do that. If your dog is elderly and confused, suffering from a brain tumor or seizure disorder or terrible thyroid problem, or is injured and in pain, he may bite regardless of a terrific temperament. Dogs aren’t robots. But dogs with good temperaments don’t turn on people. They don’t have chainsaw-massacre “bad moments.”

Dogs with unsound temperaments? Especially if they are unsocialized, untrained and badly managed, everyone around them is always at risk.

The bulk of dogs that bite are somewhere in the middle. One may have a sound temperament but was never socialized to children. Another may be a nice dog whose resource-guarding habit was never addressed. Some have just had all they’re going to take, like the Dalmatian who bit a boy that jumped from his bed onto the sleeping dog. And because children are small, many of these injuries are terrible.

“Bad moment” isn’t a scientific term. It’s a euphemism for something only “those breeds” do. It implies that no one really has to worry about “safe breeds,” and the trouble with this particular implication is that “safe breeds” already send hundreds of thousands of children – and adults -- to hospital emergency rooms each year. The choice of phrase reflects all the misleading, inaccurate figures and statements that make the Clifton report such a hot mess: another sad measure of the general public’s “boundless, staggering ignorance about dogs.”

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Merritt Clifton, Trustee for ROLDA US involvement with Dana Costin

Merritt Clifton – US Trustee/Secretary – started Romania League in Defense of Animals to support Dana Costin, fueled by his dreams and fantasies of him and Dana.
Merritt Clifton, now former editor of the influential Animal People Newspaper (fired from this position), and self-proclaimed “Watch Dog” of international animal charities, first met Dana Costin in 2004. In 2005 Merritt and Dana had a secret rendezvous at the beach in Southern California during a CHAMPS conference whilst Dana’s partner Rolando was in the hotel room suffering from a terminal illness.
Shortly thereafter Merritt and his wife divorced . Email evidence provides information that Merritt’s relationship with Dana Costin was the instigator for the ending of Clifton’s 15 year marriage.
In 2006, Merritt Clifton started the charity Romania League in Defense of Animals for Dana Costin as a 501(c)(3) charity in the USA, being fully aware of the lack of accountability of ROLDA to Romania Animal Rescue.
Merritt withheld receipts from Romania Animal Rescue for funds that were to be submitted to them for ROLDA in early 2006. Merritt has inappropriately used his position at Animal People Newspaper to solicit donors for ROLDA, such as Nanette, a $20,000+ donor solicited by Clifton for Costin, and also used his “position of authority” at international conferences to promote ROLDA and Dana Costin.
Merritt’s assessment of the 2 ROLDA shelters in 2009 is not credible, as he has a conflict of interest as the ROLDA Trustee.  Was Merritt aware that the Large Shelter is fully funded by ArcelorMittal, the multi-billion dollar steel company……
Merritt using Animal People contacts to benefit Dana   – A direct conflict of interest. Animal People statement: “ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide,founded in 1992. Our readership of 30,000-plus includes the
decision-makers at more than 10,000 animal protection organizations.We have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity.”
Merritt Clifton, reporter for Animal People, no longer writes for Animal People news source.  He was apparently fired from this position in early 2014.   He is now writing articles in Animals24-7. His articles include The Dogs of Hope, where he praises “the ROLDA shelter was a safe, happy place…”; and Help Labus, Save The Dogs, & ROLDA demonstrate progress for Romanian animals in different ways, besides reporting that dogs choose to stay in the shelters instead of returning on their own volition to the streets, he admits to fantasizing about being a dog in the care of ROLDA.

 Do you see something wrong with this picture postcard?
In 1986 Romania was still under communist rule
In 1986 ROLDA did not exist
In 1986 Dana Costin was approx 7 years of age

more to come.....

Monday, 1 February 2016

Merrit Clifton & Pit Bull Fraud

Anyone searching the internet about dog bite statistics will eventually stumble upon Merritt Clifton. Editor and creator of the non-peer reviewed Animal 24-7, a supposed “go-to” collection of statistics for BSL advocates has released their “findings” of unsubstantiated pit bull attacks against animals.

Academic Fraud?
It’s no secret among the animal community how disgraced Merritt Clifton has become. In 2014, The Huffington Post published a blog post written by Douglas Cooper, blasting Clifton and labeling him justly as an academic fraud. Cooper successfully exposes Clifton’s fraudulent claim of having more than “hundred peer-reviewed publications” with experts from Cambridge University, University of Alberta and University of Wyoming shredding the little credibility that Clifton possibly could have had left.
Huffington Post isn’t the only article out there calling Clifton’s credibility into question, articles and blog posts can be found from 2010, pointing out the inconsistencies in Clifton’s alleged data and Clifton’s alleged mishandlings of donations.

Dog Bite Statistics
Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite (Wright, 1991, p. 299-314), yet somehow Clifton attempted to create his own statistics by guessing. Clifton himself admits that he has created his own “formula” on how he comes up with his numbers. According to Clifton, he assumes that with each dog attack, there is at least a few others that are not reported (Clifton, 2016) and because of this, he can safely multiply the actual numbers dog attacks by 3, 10 or 147 depending on the size of the community/city.
“ANIMALS 24-7 multiplies reported dog attacks on other animals in communities of under 10,000 people by a compensation factor of three; multiplies reported dog attacks on other animals in communities of 10,000 to 100,000 people by a compensation factor of 10; and multiplies reported dog attacks on other animals in communities of more than 100,000 by a compensation factor of 147 (Clifton, 2016)”.
According to Clifton’s own numbers, dog pit bull attacks against other animals have actually gone down for 2015, even though that is not what he states, but his numbers say something different. In 2013, he states that 424 dogs, 396 of them pit bulls are responsible for attacks. The pit bulls allegedly killed 92 dogs, injuring 167, allegedly killed 17 cats, injuring 5 and allegedly killed 289 hooved animals, injuring 22. In 2014, 409 dogs, 337 of them were “pit bulls”. Pit bulls allegedly killed 86 dogs, injuring 139, allegedly killed 26 cats, injuring 4, and allegedly killed 77 hooved animals and injuring 24. In 2015, Clifton alleges that there were 338 dogs, 296 of them pit bulls. He also alleges that pit bulls killed 101 dogs, injuring 86, killed 37 cats, injured 3 and killed 45 hooved animals, injuring 23 (Clifton, 2016).
merrit clitfon
According to Clifton, “The approximately 3.5 million pit bulls in the U.S. appear to have killed more than 24,000 other dogs in 2015, up from about 15,500 each in 2013 and 2014; nearly 13,000 cats; perhaps 9,000 hooved animals; and between 30,000 and 45,000 small mammals and poultry (Clifton, 2016).” Considering Clifton has never allowed anyone to review his statistics, people can only guess how he takes the ALLEGED MEDIA REPORTED numbers and breaks them down to multiply them by 10 or 147.
Pretty much, he pulls the alleged reported numbers, multiplies by whatever number he pulls out of his hat and calculates away.

Clearing the Smoke
Projected, approximately and mirrored are used throughout his newest blog post on Animal 24-7, even acknowledging that “a great deal must be projected from relatively little” which really means : making up numbers as Clifton see’s fit. The definition of reliable is consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted and attempting to use  alleged unreported dog attacks in an attempt to pad the numbers shows just how unreliable the fabricated data that Clifton manufactures actually is. There really is no question just how Clifton has become the reigning laughing stock of statisticians and it looks like it’s a title he won’t be losing anytime soon.

Find out More About Merritt Clifton….

Monday, 28 December 2015

Merritt Clifton Takes Credit For All Reduced Shelter Killing in the US

A reader writes about her email to Merritt Clifton and his response:

Dear Mr. Clifton, 

I have been reading Ed Muzika's L.A. Animal Watch blog, and, as a subscriber to your newspaper, I was interested in your exchange with him. I am no expert on statistics, so I don't want to take sides as to who is right or wrong about the numbers.

However, I do want to say this: in calling Mr. Muzika an "ignoramus" you have shown yourself to be juvenile and unprofessional. In saying you are not interested in his "ideas" you have shown yourself to be unreasonable and petty. It seems to me that any reasonable person, instead of resorting to name-calling and refusing to engage in dialogue, would defend his statements with some explanation or further elucidation.

Your statements have cost you a great deal of credibility with me.

Sincerely, Tina Clark

Merritt Clifton's reply:

"Ask me if I give a crap." 

"More than 30 years of strategic analysis, contributing to a reduction of the U.S. shelter killing volume by more than 75%, & of the rate of killing per 1,000 Americans by nearly 90%, speaks for itself--as does helping to introduce neuter/return, adoption transfer, adoption advertising, numerous reforms in shelter design, abolition of gassing, etc. 

"You can either listen up & learn, or remain ignorant. Ain't worried about it either way."

Merritt Clifton

Clifton iis pretty funny; he lives in his own world. But he is funny. I wonder how serious his rudeness is, or is he a bearded Don Rickles?

How can anyone take Clifton and his numbers seriously if he refuses to defend his methodology? What is it in his methodology that he knows is rationally and statistically indefensible?

This is something to ponder when you consider Ed Boks uses Clifton’s authority and reputation to “prove” how well he and the Los Angeles Animals Services are performing.

I emailed Merritt quoting two other comments about him left on this blog. First the comments, then his response:

Comment #1

Merritt is being very childish, as childish as Boks.

Comment #2

"as childish as Boks." That's EXACTLY what I was just thinking - this Clifton guy is another Ed Boks, a self-proclaimed "expert" in what anybody would consider a very time-consuming field, with apparently ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD on his hands to troll the internet and vigorously defend himself from people he himself characterizes as "ignoramuses."

Man, I knew animal rescue attracted more than its fair share of crazies and charlatans, but until Marcia Mayeda, Ed Boks, and now Merritt Clifton, I didn't know that the crazier a charlatan you are the more money you make at it.

Merritt Clifton’s response:

Tell 'em to take a number & wait in line. 


Thursday, 19 February 2015

More misinformation, deceit and attempts to mislead from Merritt Clifton

It almost seems that if I were looking I could make this a weekly column, but this one is too bizarre to pass up, and given that I've seen the latest piece from Merritt quoted in a couple of places already, I suppose I might as well nip this in the bud.
In the latest issue of Merritt's self published "newspaper" Animal People, Clifton takes aim at the state of Rhode Island with an article "Laws pre-empting breed-specific ordinances pass - but polls tilt the other way".
In the article, Clifton calls out Rhode Island (which has since passed it's law prohibiting laws targeting specific breeds, which is what he refers to as "pre-emption") and why he thinks the law is a bad idea. While most of the article is filled with mistakes, and attempts to mislead (much of it relying on Ed Boks' foolish blog post), there is a paragraph that I've now seen quoted a couple of times that is so full of errors and mis-information that it needs to be addressed in full.
Here's the snippet:
The Nevada, Connecticut and Rhode Island bills, like the similar bill passed in Massachusetts in 2012 were rushed into passage in the last days of their respective legislative sessions, with minimal publicity and debate. Fifteen states now ban breed-specific ordinances, including California, Illinois, Texas and Ohio.
State Farm Insurance, on May 17 2013 disclosed that California, Illinois, Texas and Ohio rated first through fourth in Insurance claims paid for dog attacks in 2011. State Farm paid $20.3 million to 527 victims in California, $10 million to 309 victims in Illinoi, $5.1 million to 219 victims in Texas and $5.4 million to 215 victims in Ohio."
Not only is Clifton's information largely erronious, is is purposefully so in an attempt to mislead people into fearing prohibition of breed-specific laws. It's a desperate grasp for something, anything, that would lend support.
State Legal Process
For all four states that have passed prohibitions on breed-specific laws in the past 12 months (yes, that's FOUR in 12 months, and very noticably trend), all went through the usual process for state laws. The laws were introduced at the beginning of the legislative session. They were sent to committees and discussed, and then, once passed out of committee they went to the House floor, were voted on, then went through the same process in the Senate, and eventually signed into law. Because of the lengthy process of the committee structure, most bills are passed very late in the session.
In Connecticut, the Senate only had 4 dissenting votes. 
In Massachusetts, the bill spent 5 full months in the democratic process before being signed, so it was hardly a rush job. 
But really, the reason that the bills had less debate than others was because NO ONE OPPOSED THEM. Really, in a world where absolutely no professional support for breed-specifc laws, state legislators were met by knowledgable advocates and organizations in those states that helped pass the laws. This wasn't some rush job. I was a no-brainer based on the fact that there is almost no support outside of Clifton for breed-specific laws.
First of all, let's set the record straight. Ohio does NOT pre-empt breed-specific legislation. Ohio law is a breed-neutral, dangerous dog law, that targets dogs based on behavior, not breed. However, the state law does allow local juristictions to pass breed-specific laws. 
So this information from Clifton is just flat wrong. But wait, it gets worse.
Up until February, 2012, Ohio was actually the only state in the US that targeted specific breeds. This law was overturned in February, 2012. 
Now, keep in mind, that Clifton was using Ohio's high bite numbers (and payouts) as a reason why pre-emtion was a bad idea. However, Clifton was basing  this on 2011 data -- a time when Ohio actually TARGETED specific breeds of dogs. So not only is Clifton wrong in trying to use the data to prove his point, in doing so, he actually makes a case against himself. 
Oh, but it gets worse for Merritt.
Keep in mind that Clifton is using only one insurance company for his data -- State Farm. State Farm has a policy that doesn't allow them to insure "Vicious" dogs. Because of the way the Ohio law was written (pre 2012), State Farm WOULD NOT insure pit bulls because state law declared them "vicious" because of breed. So based on this policy, it is unlikely that ANY of the 215 victims and $5.4 million in payouts Clifton attributes to Ohio victims was due to a pit bull bite. None. Further demonstrating how his falsifying of information here is actuall working against his point, not in favor of.
California, Illinois and Texas
So what about these other states?  In their case, it is true that they prohibit breed-specific laws (although California allows for breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter laws).  Why did they have so many bites? 
It's a simple answer:  Math
If you look at the total number of people in each state in the United States, the following are the 7 largest states based on total population:
1) California -- 38 million people
2) Texas - 26 million
3) New York - 19.6 million
4) Florida - 19.3 million
5) Illinois - 12.9 million
6) Pennsylvania - 12.8 million
7) Ohio - 11.5 million
Two things jump out at me on this list:
#1) All 6 of the 6 most populous states in the US have laws prohibiting laws targeting specific breeds.
#2) The best correlation among states with a lot of people bitten by dogs is that these states have a lot of people, and dogs. (New York would appear to be the exception here, but New York actually way under-indexes on dog ownership because such a large percentage of the population lives in New York City where high-rise living is less conducive to dog ownership than in most other parts of the country). So where you have a lot of people, and a lot of dogs, the likelihood of someone getting bitten increases. There's a reason why Maine, which also prohibits breed-specific laws, is not on the list.
This is rocket science.
So it appears that the number of people, and dogs, is the likely cause here, not the laws in place. Except Ohio maybe, which actually TARGETED breeds of dogs, and jumped several states with much higher population than them. Hmmm.
Inadvertently, Clifton then destroys his own data
Over the years, a lot of space has been dedicated here, and elsewhere, to breaking down Merritt Clifton's dog bite data.
Essentially, Clifton has a report of dog bites, as reported by the media, that he has tracked for 30 years now of severe dog attacks in the US.
Now, I periodically get Clifton's reports just to keep tabs on things, so I don't have an exact window for 2011, but on Dec 22, 2009, Clifton had 2,694 "attacks causing bodily harm" in his report. 
On December 26, 2011, the number was 3,498 -- an increase of 804 (this was during his period of mysterious increase in bites).
So if you consider this 2 years worth of data (which it essentially is), then we can divide by 2 and say that average number of dog bites "causing bodily harm" for the two years is 402. So it appears that Clifton recorded 402 dog attacks in 2011. 
However, based on the numbers he reported in his recent story, one, singular insurance company, State Farm,  paid out insurance payments to 527 victims JUST IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA THAT YEAR. According toinsurance market share reports, State Farm carries roughly 25% of the Property Insurance Policies in the state of California. So based on this, we can estimate that there were nearly 2100 insurance payments for dog bites -- just in California.
And yet, Clifton's report only notes 402, for the entire country. So again, his own data if making his biggest source of "fame" completely invalid for it's utter incompleteness because the media does not report all major dog bite incidents. The media doesn't (nor should it), and without a complete report, Clifton's data is useless and now, self-contradicting.
Inaccurate info, data out of context, and attempts to mislead
And this is where the last gasp is coming. States continue to take the leadership role in prohibiting breed-specific laws. With all credibility slipping away in favor of listening to real experts, Clifton, and the handful of other haters out there are finding themselves quickly on the wrong side of history. In a last gasp effort, they are flinging out inaccurate and misleading data in hopes of scaring people into not doing what's right, and effective, to try to scare people into being afraid of pit bulls.
It's not working. In response to the letters, and the fear mongering, the Governor of Rhode Island signed the bill prohibiting breed-specific laws in his state into law. 
Knowledge and truth are winning.