On “Pit Bull Defense,” Pit Bulls, and Why Certain Retailers Should Should Take a Lesson In Dog Breed Sensitivity

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post on pit bulls. Seems every time I do so some nutter or another tries to spin my take like I’m some kind of urban violence apologist. Luckily, this time I’m covered. All I have to do is make sure Walgreens doesn’t come after me.

Yes, Walgreens, the big box pharmacy retailer of early 20th century American lore –– and this time not just for annoyingly misinterpreting my handwriting behind the pharmacy counter (they’re wont to do this on occasion, despite my architect’s daughter penmanship).

No, this time they’ve nosed into environs beyond the pale with one especially offensive and potentially lethal product: Pit Bull Defense pepper spray.

Though they appeared to have discontinued this product earlier this month after several savvy bloggers spotted it on shelves and launched several petitions to discourage the use of products that perpetuate negative stereotypes of certain breeds, it’s clear the damage has been done.

But the problem isn’t just that the product has a snarling cartoon-like pit bull depicted on its tacky plastic packaging and that it succeeds in associating the notion of canine aggression with a certain breed of dog. That’s offensive enough. That is, if you happen to know that thousands of innocent dogs die every year because their breed has been overhyped via toothy caricatures like this one so that legions of brainless thugs can prove they’re dumb enough to pay for the privilege of keeping an animal the average person is too stupid to understand aren’t innately more dangerous than the average under-socialized large breed shelter mutt.

No, that’s not the dilemma I refer to.

Enter Bruce Silverman, fellow University of Pennsylvania veterinarian and occasional veterinary writer (one of the few, the proud, the opinionated), who received a punishing dose of Pit Bull Defense after treating a patient who’d been sprayed with it.

After doing his best to treat his patient’s physical symptoms and manage his patient’s presumably ample pain, he made the mistake of going back to work –– without gloves –– and later shared his significant misfortune on his personal Facebook page (which I happen to follow).

You see, as I once learned after treating a placid English bulldog who almost died after being pepper sprayed (by a surprised UPS carrier who felt really, really bad about it and rushed the dog to the ER where I was working), this product is NOT harmless. Dogs –– and people! ­­–– do die after being pepper-sprayed. In fact, I learned all about the need to wear gloves in these cases just like Dr. Silverman did: the hard way.

But let me be plain about it: What worries me most about the marketing of products like this one to people who are afraid of dogs or work in dog unfriendly situations (e.g., mail carriers, meter readers, and their ilk) is not that veterinarians like Dr. Silverman and myself will have a hard day (and very hard night, in my case) after being secondarily exposed to products like this. It’s that –– in my experience –– it’s a rare case in which the pepper spray action was justified in the first place.

Not to minimize or misrepresent the current debate currently underway at the highest levels of our government on the subject of gun control, but to my mind, encouraging the use of canine-protection products through targeted marketing strategies like Pit Bull Defense doesn’t help anyone –– much less their veterinarians.

Indeed, as someone on the front lines of this particular war on crime, my experience is that it’s only the innocent dogs –– along with their unsuspecting veterinarians –– that actually get hurt in the end.