5-Part La Presse Investigation Translated to English
The Association of Veterinary Doctors of Quebec (OMVQ) omitted key parts of medical studies in their report to the ministerial committee. The omissions left some of the studies “unrecognizable.”
La Presse Investigation
On June 8, 2016 Montreal city officials, media members and the public were horrified after 55-year old Christiane Vadnais was savagely killed by a neighbor’s pit bull in her own backyard. The attack came just a few weeks after an investigation by La Presse showed that pit bulls were the leading offenders in serious dog attacks. After the mauling death of Vadnais, Montreal officials signaled they would move forward with a breed-specific bylaw, introducing the legislation in September.
In July, the Association of Veterinary Doctors of Quebec (OMVQ) sent a report to the ministerial committee tasked with advising government officials about the dangerous dog bylaw.1 In mid August, La Presse published another investigative series showing how the OMVQ report omitted key parts of peer-reviewed studies -- where doctors resolutely state that pit bulls were responsible for the most severe injuries -- leaving the studies distorted and even quasi-contradictory.
The 5-part La Presse investigation, now translated into English, also shows how the OMVQ report cited studies in their report, giving the impression of “scientific and objective,” but were funded by the well-financed American pro-pit bull lobby. The OMVQ report failed to mention this conflict of interest. The backlash after the La Presse investigation was substantial. Media members called the OMVQ report “flawed,” it “lacked scientific rigor” and the veterinarians’ “credibility damaged.”
“At best, the expertise of the order lacks scientific rigour and transparency. At worst, the veterinarians’ group is in a serious conflict of interest.” - Editorial Board, Montreal Gazette, August 15, 2016
Omissions in the OMVQ Report Reveal Deliberate Distortions to Obscure Transparency; Veterinarians are “Stakeholders”
The La Presse investigation details the extent in which the OMVQ report distorted vital parts of recent medical studies, specifically four, where the authors concluded unanimously that pit bulls were the most common culprits of high severity injuries. These four medical studies are also included in our recent table of retrospective level 1 trauma center studies (2009 to 2016), which shows that all U.S. geographical regions are now reporting a higher prevalence of pit bull injuries.2
In Part II (Which Side Does the Science Support?) and Part III (What the Government Wasn’t Told), La Presse spells out these omissions in the OMVQ report by using the technique, “What the OMVQ Communicated” versus “What they didn’t mention” and supplying the actual text. Reading these parts should outrage readers, especially the omissions in the 2011 study (Bini et al.). These deliberate omissions -- literally as was translated -- left some of these studies “unrecognizable.”
HEAD AND NECK BITES (2012-2013) | O’Brien et al.
What the OMVQ communicated
1. “Out of 101 cases, 57% of patients were under 10 years of age.”
2. “Of patients with head and neck bites, 32% were bitten by pit bulls, and breed was not indicated in 34% of cases.”
3. “The second most often implicated breed was the golden retriever.”3
What they didn’t mention
1. Pit bull victims were five times more likely to require surgery.
2. In contrast with other dogs, pit bulls were more likely to attack strangers (+31%) and without provocation (+48%)
3. The importance of pit bulls’ responsibility for bites was a key finding. It confirms and underlines the findings of other publications.
Veterinarians’ Cite Pit Bull Lobby
La Presse called out five unqualified studies cited in the OMVQ report that quickly led the veterinarians’ association to admit it had been a mistake to include them. Four of these studies, policy papers or “self-published books” were authored, co-authored, financed or all three by the American pit bull lobby, whose specialties focus on the impossibility to properly identify a pit bull, including by professional shelter workers, and that breed-specific legislation is ineffective.
The fifth questionable study cited in the OMVQ report is authored by Páraic Ó Súilleabháin -- an Irish psychology student -- (Human hospitalisations due to dog bites in Ireland, 1998-2013: Implications for current breed specific legislation). Ó Súilleabháin is an owner of a restricted breed and the founder of a lobby group, Unmuzzle Ireland, “a conflict of interest he was forced to declare after the fact, under questioning from a journalist from The Sunday Times,” La Presse learned.
Páraic Ó Súilleabháin, a doctoral candidate at the School of Psychology at NUI Galway, wrote the paper, which was published in The Veterinary Journal last week.
He also runs Unmuzzle Ireland, a campaign to have current breed-specific legislation reversed -- although this interest was not declared in his research. Last night he said he would update the paper to reflect his interest. - Siobhán Maguire, The Sunday Times, April 26, 2015
Ó Súilleabháin neglected to disclose his role in a lobby group that could influence his objectivity. At the same time he completed his research paper (July 2014), he submitted 11,000+ signatures4 on an online petition he sponsored, urging the Irish government to repeal its breed-specific law. What is stated on the paper is the following: “The author of this paper has no financial or personal relationship with other people or organisations that could influence the content of the paper.”5
Epidemiology Expert Reviews Studies
Given the galvanizing nature of the Montreal pit bull ban debate, La Presse contacted a professor emeritus at McGill University who agreed to look into the lobby’s studies. Dr. Barry Pless is one of the leading experts in Pediatric Trauma, Epidemiology and Biostatistics and is Director of the Injury Prevention Program at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Dr. Pless also founded and remains an editor for the international medical journal Injury Prevention, affiliated with the prestigious BMJ.
“To conduct studies, which aim first of all to prevent laws from being adopted and not declare these conflicts of interest, is the strategy employed by the weapons lobby and the tobacco lobby.” - Dr. Barry Pless, MD, Professor Emeritus McGill University
Dr. Pless also commented on the cost of a pit bull bylaw. The OMVQ report states that shelters are concerned for “their structure and already precarious financial health” if the bylaw proceeds, La Presse reports. Dr. Pless countered with the cost of surgeries required to save the faces, hands -- and sometimes lives -- of bite victims. “This is without even considering indirect costs. How much is a lost eye or a torn face worth? Paying for prevention is nothing compared to what it saves.”
Veterinary College Makes Mea Culpa
On August 14, just one day after the La Presse series was released, Dr. Joel Bergeron, president of the College of Veterinary Surgeons of Quebec, specifically responded to the five unqualified studies cited in the OMVQ report in a follow up article published by La Presse.6 Bergeron’s response should send a strong message to other veterinarian groups who cite these same sources under the guise of “scientific and objective.” We translate the relevant portion below:
The day after the publication of La Presse’s pit bull report -- Who Wants To Save Pit Bulls? and What The Government Wasn’t Told -- Dr. Joel Bergeron, president of the College of Veterinary Surgeons of Quebec, admitted that the organization he represents had placed itself in a conflict of interest and plans to send a clarification letter directly to the committee.
“We listed five studies [on dangerous dogs] that might have called for qualification or even excluded from the report,” Dr. Bergeron said yesterday. - Audrey Ruel-Manseau, La Presse, August 15, 2016
The Five Unqualified Studies, Papers
American Pit Bull Lobby
- Voith. VL, et.al., Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability, American Journal of Sociological Research, 2013, 3(2), pp. 17-29.
- Patronek GJ, et.al., Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009), JAVMA, Vol 243, No. 12, 2013.
- Bradley, J., Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions; Policy Paper: A contemporary perspective on incidence, risk factors and effective prevention; Animal and Society Institute, 2014.
- Delise, K. The Pitbull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression. Ramsey, NJ: Anubis Publishing (Self Published), 2007.
Unmuzzle Ireland Founder
- Suilleabhain PO, 2015. Human hospitalisations due to dog bites in Ireland (1998-2013): Implications for current breed specific legislation. The Veterinary Journal, Jun 2015 204(3):357-9. Epub April 2015.
Corporate Players in the American Pit Bull Lobby, How they Overlap, and How the Pit Bull Lobby Operates on 5 Levels
In Part IV (Like Dogs and Cats), La Presse spells out the players of the American Pit Bull Lobby. They divide it into 5 levels and explain the often overlapping relationships. DogsBite.org has known about this for six years -- exposing the first two levels in our 2010 domain name dispute -- but never until La Presse has the media examined it. Omitting conflicts of interest and financing research to confuse the public and legislators really “should” be an interest to U.S. media.
Five Levels of the Pit Bull Lobby
- Level 1: The financing source. Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), owned by Jane Berkey. The company’s motto is: “Securing equal treatment and opportunity for pit bull dogs.” AFF devotes itself entirely to fighting pit bull regulations. “After inheriting a fortune from her father, Jane Berkey, who also owns a literary agency, turned over at least $6 million to her group, $2.85 million in 2013, according to government records. She pays 9 employees (one of whom, the director, makes more than $100,000 a year) and finances numerous groups that share her philosophy,” La Presse reports.
- Level 2: The researchers. “To produce studies, AFF bought a private research body in 2007. The acquisition was kept secret until the victims’ group Dogsbite discovered this during litigation. The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) was created by a veterinary technician, Karen Delise. Neither an academic researcher nor a veterinarian, she self proclaims as the ‘greatest national expert on deaths caused by dog bites,’” La Presse reports. NCRC co-authors and finances studies, like the ones cited by the OMVQ, which chiefly attempt to show pit bulls cannot be identified.
- Level 3: Publication. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). “The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publishes NCRC studies in its journal. On its own website it proposes sample letters [for readers to write] contesting any law aimed at pit bulls. Moreover, its site has a link to AFF,” La Presse reports. The journalist even points out the AVMA’s notice on the embargoed 2000 fatal dog attack study, which falsely and fraudulently states: “In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities.”
- Level 4: The political lobby. Best Friends Animal Society. Their senior legislative analyst, Ledy VanKavage, drafts state-level bills to eliminate local pit bull ordinances (state preemption laws) and is also a board member of AFF. VanKavage boasts on Best Friends’ corporate website that she commissioned an ex-economist from the tobacco industry, John Dunham, to create a fiscal calculator designed to advise governments on the cost of breed banning. Dunham’s sham BSL calculator, financed by the NCRC, over exaggerates these costs by nearly two orders of magnitude.
- Level 5: The distributors. The animal care industry. “All the lobby studies are abundantly distributed by animal-based companies like shelters, breeders, trainers, etc. In Montreal, they are [distributed] by, amongst others, the SPCA, whose mission is to avoid euthanizing dogs and whose two most senior executives are themselves owners of pit bulls,” states La Presse. “On social media, pit bull owners deploy these studies relentlessly and accuse all their opponents of ignorance,” La Presse reports. More aggressive ones have even threatened the mayor of Quebec City with death.
Lobby Gets “Seal of Approval” by Vets
Legislators rely upon accurate information -- not deliberate omissions or citing studies financed by lobbying groups. The Association of Veterinary Doctors of Quebec failed in their duty and La Presse called them out for it. Veterinary associations in many countries have long been stakeholders in the “breed-specific” issue, but are often mistakenly perceived as “objective.” As in the case with the OMVQ report, Quebec and Montreal officials had trusted its accuracy.
The American veterinary association does the same thing -- also pointed out by La Presse. The primary objective of the AVMA is to obfuscate this issue, making it difficult to understand. The AVMA document, Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention, is a primary example of this obfuscation by mixing level 1 trauma center studies with “bite reports,” veterinary “referral” studies, surveys, claim documents and even a 1996 newsletter citation claiming Lhasa Apsos “bite more.”
What is a reader supposed to infer from this confusing document, of which 56% of all cited studies in the tables are from foreign countries and 58% are over 15-years old? Answer: This AVMA policy document is designed to obfuscate “bites” versus mauling injuries and to also obfuscate “breed identity” by citing studies funded by the pit bull lobby. Then they depart from scientific rigor by attributing the “owner’s behavior” as the “underlying causal factor” of a severe or fatal dog attack.
Given the degree of obfuscation by the AVMA in this alleged “scientific and objective” document, we reached out to animal behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova who provided a 9 page analysis:
Selling a lobbying pamphlet as science: Analysis of the May 15, 2014 AVMA pamphlet “Literature Review on the Welfare Implications of The Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention”
By Alexandra Semyonova
Introduction: The principle use of this document is to frustrate any community efforts to pass breed specific legislation. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is trying to sell this political pamphlet as a scientific document. It’s therefore important for policy makers to be aware of the many scientific flaws this document contains.
Summary: This pamphlet is not a literature review. It contains not a single word about animal or human welfare. It misrepresents the research question: Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is not concerned with simple dog bites. BSL is always aimed at getting catastrophic maulings and fatal attacks by dogs under control. Since ordinary dog bites are not the issue, this pamphlet can be discarded as irrelevant to any discussion of BSL. As for content, this pamphlet contains no science. It is merely the repetition of a series of unfounded platitudes copied straight from the pit bull lobby’s widely distributed list of talking points. The many footnotes and long list of references does not add quality: The references are cherry-picked to exclude articles that are relevant to the issue of catastrophic and fatal maulings by dogs, all of which reveal that the pit bull type has always dominated this type of attack. More than half of the references date from the previous century, when pit bulls were extremely rare. Almost half of the referenced articles were written by people who are active in, employed by, or have other financial or career ties to pit bull advocacy. The tables included in the study are put together in a way that disguises rather than reveals any information the cited studies contained. Closer examination shows that both the references and the tables actually support the effectiveness of BSL in preventing catastrophic maulings and fatal attacks. Finally, the last two sections of this pamphlet contain several outright falsehoods, that are explained in this detailed analysis.
We encourage readers to review the La Presse investigation by Marie-Claude Malboeuf. We encourage media members, doctors, researchers and policy makers to as well. All parties are equally urged to recognize how “science and objectivity” are influenced and manipulated in the “breed-specific” research realm. Malboeuf’s investigation is outstanding and its implications could prove substantial for future Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions considering a breed-specific law.
Please also read the adjoining analysis by Semyonova about the American Veterinary Medical Association’s document, Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention, that is consistently used across the United States -- as well as abroad, it too is cited in the OMVQ report -- to stop communities from enacting life-saving breed-specific legislation. Veterinary associations are stakeholders in the “breed-specific” issue and cannot be viewed as “objective” or disinterested.
Montreal’s Pit Bull Ban Today
On October 3, the Montreal pit bull ban went into effect. A lower court judge quickly suspended the pit bull provisions, despite longstanding appellate court decisions upholding the Ontario pit bull ban. Montreal officials were not intimidated; they appealed the suspension. Last week, the Court of Appeal of Quebec heard oral arguments from the City of Montreal and attorneys from the Montreal SCPA, who brought the legal challenge. The high court will rule in the coming days.
2See: Bini et al. 2011, O’Brien et al. 2015, Garvey et al. 2015, and Prendes et al. 2015.
3The O'Brien study (Dog bites of the head and neck: an evaluation of a common pediatric trauma and associated treatment) never once mentions “golden retriever.” The OMVQ report completely misrepresents this. What the study did state, pertaining to head and neck injuries only, is the following: “In patients with dog bites to the head and neck, pit bull terriers composed the largest portion of the plurality (32%), with the next most common breed being retrievers (6%).” (See related chart) Certainly “retrievers” could include labradors and goldens, but never is the word “golden” stated in the study. Nonetheless, the OMVQ report states “golden retrievers” and mentions nothing about labradors: “Pour les patients avec morsures à la tête et au cou, 32 % étaient des morsures de Pitbull et la race n’était pas indiquée dans 34 % des cas. La deuxième race impliquée dans 6 % des cas était le Golden Retriever.”4We discovered in March 2017 -- while doing routine maintenance for broken links -- that Páraic Ó Súilleabháin deleted the original Tweet, so we replaced it with a screenshot.
5Additional comments on the Unmuzzle Ireland founder’s research paper.
- In Ó Súilleabháin’s flawed paper design, Human hospitalisations due to dog bites in Ireland, 1998-2013: Implications for current breed specific legislation, he fails to research any years prior to Ireland adopting its breed-specific provision in 1998. There is no hospital admission rate determined in any years previous to the legislation being adopted to compare against the post breed-specific adoption period of 15-years.
- Ó Súilleabháin fails to state what the actual breed-specific measures are, which in the case of Ireland is critical. The regulations only require owners of 11 breeds -- when in a public space -- to use a shorter leash and a muzzle. Literature for well over two decades agrees that about 70% of all dog bites occur in the dog owner’s home or yard, an area entirely outside of the Ireland law. The majority of the remaining 30% percent, at least in the U.S., are attacks inflicted by loose dogs when the owner is not present. Only a fraction of these attacks occur when a dog owner is present, takes his dog into a public space, leashed or unleashed, and the dog inflicts a serious bite injury. The Ireland law is intended to stop this type of attack.
- Despite the overwhelming shortfalls of the flawed paper, Ó Súilleabháin still makes the sweeping claim that Ireland’s modest breed-specific law is ineffective. In fact, he makes the unsubstantiated claim the Irish legislation is actually contributing to a rise in hospitalizations! In his paper, Ó Súilleabháin is quick to cite pit bull lobby studies published in industry trade journals (lower quality) as “scientific fact,” but fails to cite studies from neutral journals (higher quality). Namely the 2010 Catalonia study published in Injury Prevention, that found a 38% decline in hospitalizations over a 12-year period (1997 to 2008) after the government enacted dangerous dog regulations, including breed-specific measures.
- Ó Súilleabháin also failed to research, state or otherwise, the rising rate of hospitalizations for dog bite injuries in modern countries around the world not governed by breed-specific regulations during a similar period of years. A United States study published in 2010 showed that the rate of hospitalizations for dog bite injuries from 1993 to 2008 in the U.S. increased by 55%, from 2.0 to 3.1 per 100,000 population. That is more than double the incidence rate increase (of 21%) experienced in Ireland from 1998 to 2013.
6L’Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec interpellé par les articles publiés le samedi 13 août : « Qui veut sauver les pitbulls?, Sent to La Presse August 14, 2016, Dr. Joel Bergeron, président de l’Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec.
10/20/16: Semyonova Analysis of AVMA ‘The Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention’
10/10/16: Special Report: Level 1 Trauma Center Dog Bite Studies in All U.S. Geographical...
10/10/16: Table: Retrospective Level 1 Trauma Center Studies of Dog Bite Injuries (2009-2016)
09/08/15: Dog Bite Victims’ Group Releases FAQ about Breed-Specific Legislation...
07/24/14: Nonprofits Urge CDC to Resume Tracking Richer Data Set for Children and Adults...