Pit bull owners protest at dog attack ArtPrize entry

"Out of the Blue" by Joan Kowal at Calder Plaza. (Sept. 28, 2014)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Upset dog lovers say an ArtPrize entry that memorializes the victims of dog attacks unfairly focuses on pit bull breeds.

"Out of the Blue" by Joan Kowal at Calder Plaza. (Sept. 28, 2014)
(“Out of the Blue.”)

The entry, “Out of the Blue” by Joan Kowal of Wyoming, is made up of crosses and the faces of 30 people who were killed this year in dog attacks in the U.S., the artist says. Several of the victims are children. Most of the attacks featured in the entry involved pit bulls.

Sunday, pit bull owners brought their dogs to Calder Plaza, where the entry is displayed, in hopes of balancing the message. They wanted to show the breeds most often mentioned in the memorial have a softer side.

Tonya Choryan brought her dog Micah, who is in the it pit bull family. She described him as “very gentle.”

“We’re here to show the other side of our dogs — that responsible ownership is the key to owning these animals,” said Choryan, who is also certified to train pit bulls.

A woman brings her dog, which is in the pit bull family, to Calder Plaza to protest an ArtPrize entry. (Sept. 28, 2014)
(Choryan’s dog Micah.)

She said the display is as troubling to her as anyone else.

“It saddens me because there’s a lot of lives lost here,” she said. “I’m glad it’s here, actually, because it opens the dialogue.”

Kowal, the artist, wasn’t at Calder Plaza Sunday as the protesters in pro-pit bull T-shirts gathered. They took blame for attacks off of the animals.

“It’s all about the owners, and we need to take responsibility as owners,” pit bull owner Paige Timmer said. “We kind of took offense to the fact that these were kind of pin-picked bully breeds, that most often in this piece here are displayed as bully breeds are the ones that killed them. I don’t know that breed is necessarily needed in this piece.”

Kowal told 24 Hour News 8 in a phone interview Sunday that families of some of the victims in her piece were offended that the protestors would go to the memorial. She said a pastor went to the memorial Sunday afternoon to pray for the victims.

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*Editor’s note: The original posting of this story referred to the artist as Julie Kowal. Her first name is Joan, and the article has been updated.

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