Why are Animal Rights activists upset about pitbulls in a video game?

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This week, dog lovers have taken to the Internet to trounce upon a new Android app  called Dog Wars. In the game’s teaser image, a pitbull’s face is covered with blood. The game leads you through how to feed, raise, train and even give steroids to your virtual (and vicious) pitbull so that he may fight his virtual brethren. The ASPCA and  PETA are petitioning Google to have it removed from the Android store Even convicted dog fighter Michael Vick issued a statement against it, in conjunction with the Humane Society:

“I’ve come to learn the hard way that dogfighting is a dead-end street. Now, I am on the right side of this issue, and I think it’s important to send the smart message to kids, and not glorify this form of animal cruelty, even in an Android app.”

I’m starting to think all this publicity might actually be helping to raise awareness about the horrors of dogfighting. But it’s not doing much in the way of good PR for pitbulls as a breed.

Let’s remember: It’s a game! No dogs were actually hurt here. Plenty of games allow people to simulate killing people. They’ve even become tools for training soldiers. I don’t like this fact, but I can see how a game could make someone more interested in — and more skilled at– killing people, which, for better or worse, is something that soldiers are being paid to do. But those games usually don’t get this kind of angry response from the masses. The reaction against Dog Wars is a good indicator that there just isn’t a comparable level of social reinforcement when it comes to dogfighting.

I don’t like fighting games personally, but no one is forcing me to buy it. Is it in poor taste? Perhaps. But to extend animal rights into the realm of fiction is a slippery slope. Where are the avian rights activists taking issue with the wingless creatures being catapulted to their deaths in Angry Birds? What about all those mules that died in Oregon Trail?

And is there anyone that would condone this?

The real problem is that this is yet another opportunity for the media to encourage the negative image of pitbulls as vicious creatures that are not suitable as family pets. There are more pitbulls euthanized in shelters than any other kind of dogs. They’re not there because they attack small children; they’re there because people fear they will thanks to the media’s vilification of the breed. In the early 1900s, they were billed as “nanny” dogs because they were so good with children. Bloodhounds and German Shepherds were considered much more vicious. The breeds haven’t changed significantly; our perceptions of them have.

Many dogs have been bred to be vicious, and I’m sure there are pit bull puppies out there that are just bad seeds — most likely the result of dogfighters mating the most aggressive dogs they could come across. But the majority of pits are total lovers. They were bred to bait bulls, not humans. In fact, breeders originally selected them for their kindness to humans to decrease the chance that the dog would ever turn against the human who would pull him out of the pit. Contrary to popular beliefs, they don’t have jaws that lock or brains that swell.  Their bite has been shown to be softer than a Rottweiler’s. Can a pit bull hurt you? Yep. But so can anything with teeth. Dachshunds bite more people per year than pits. Dogs that attack are doing so because they’re defending themselves or because they’ve been trained to do so.

As of this afternoon, the app was not available in the Android store, but, according to the developer Kage Games’ Twitter feed, @dogwarsapp the game is just being updated and will soon be back.  I emailed the developers and received an automatic reply that said the app is in a “silent, early beta period.” As far as who they are or why they made the app, all they would say was:

We can not reveal much about ourselves for fear of our safety as well as our families right now. We have received real and extremely violent threats from animal activists. How people could want to actually injure or kill us in real life over a rudimentary virtual environment is beyond us.

And:

We’ve heard thoughts from many dog and animal lovers about our app and first we, as dog owners and dog lovers ourselves, would like to thank you for your thoughts and for the work many of you do on behalf of our canine friends. We DO NOT CONDONE violence towards animals or humans, and we are confident in humankind’s ability to distinguish between a rudimentary game and the consequences of real life. We are confident this game will be a net benefit to dogs as it has been in our operating agreement from the start of this project that a portion of the proceeds go to animal rescue organizations. Further, this is a satire about the ridiculousness of dogfighting and we believe in the power of a modern media tool to educate and raise awareness of the real horrors.

To be fair, I haven’t actually used the app–if the game shows all the pitty weapon of choice is their incessant licks and tackle-like cuddles, I’ll reverse my opinion. I just hope that the next version features blood thirsty Shih Tzus and Poodles.

In the mean time, I’ll be playing Puppy War.

 

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