Sometimes a single case illuminates a whole subculture, as a flash of lightning lights up a landscape on a pitch-dark night. The death in France of Élisa Pilarski, a 29 year-old pregnant woman, in November, 2019, was one such case.
She was mauled to death by a dog, an American pit bull terrier called Curtis, while she was out walking him in a forest. Except for her feet, she was covered in blood. She died of blood loss from her wounds.
She had called her boyfriend, Christophe Ellul, who owned the dog and who was working at Charles de Gaulle Airport, to tell him that a dog was attacking her, but the phone then went silent.
He phoned her thirty-five times during his 40-mile drive to find her. When he did find her, dead, his first action was to take Curtis, also covered in blood, home. He alerted the authorities to the death of his girlfriend only 40 minutes later.
Ellul maintained the “innocence” of Curtis, and he tried to throw the blame on a pack of hunting hounds nearby, from whose aggression he claimed that Curtis was trying to protect Élisa Pilarski.
Forensic tests, however, proved conclusively that Curtis was the killer, but Ellul continued to lie about him.
Since the importation into, and keeping of pit bulls is illegal in France, Ellul claimed that Curtis was a cross between a whippet and a Patterdale terrier, though proof was not long in coming that he had imported the dog, whose parents were pit bulls called Black Bitch and Van Diesel, and whose original name had been Black Midnight, from the Netherlands.
Furthermore, also illegally, he had trained the dog to be as aggressive as possible. He owned another such dog, boasting on twitter that it was a war machine that would kill any dog it encountered, as well as the dog’s owner.
It was not the first time that Curtis had attacked Élisa Pilarski. Some months before he had bitten her hand so severely that she had had to go to hospital. Taken into custody by the gendarmes, Curtis subsequently attacked not only those looking after him, but bit Ellul, his owner, too.
Apart from the inherent tragedy of the case in which a young woman lost her life in an extraordinarily horrible way, what it revealed was the existence of a subculture of what might be called brutal chic—to which the woman herself belonged.
She was pictured many times, mainly dressed in black and with heavy black eye-makeup, in various poses with Ellul’s dogs, hugging them while pouting into the camera (the dogs remain frighteningly inexpressive in these pictures, except where they look about to attack). In one, she poses next to Ellul’s “war machine” with her tongue sticking out: pierced, of course.
It is inconceivable that Élisa Pilarski did not know that these ugly dogs, that most people would instinctively avoid because of their appearance alone, were valued by her boyfriend precisely for their aggression and dangerousness.
In its coverage of the story, Paris Match has a photograph taken of Curtis during a competition to find the most vicious dog, that outdoes any possible fantasy of a horror film. She was a moth to the flame, and was hideously burnt.
Apparently, a dog such as Curtis, descended as he was from a line of vicious fighters, might fetch $33,000 in France, almost certainly from people for whom $33,000 is a great deal of money (though there is no suggestion that Ellul kept such dogs for anything other than the prestige or pleasure of owning dangerous and vicious animals).
Clearly, then, Ellul is not a case apart: there subsists a nihilistic subculture in which creatures such as Curtis are admired and greatly desired.
Flattering the Ego
There was, of course, no conceivable legitimate reason for Ellul to have so vicious a dog. High-security prisons have a reason to train and possess potentially dangerous dogs, no doubt, and sheep farmers in France are turning to a Turkish breed to protect their flocks from the wolves that have returned to France in increasing numbers.
But Ellul seems to have suffered from (or made others suffer from) a kind of motiveless aggression that floated free from any immediate provocation.
Where human beings are concerned, there is nothing new under the sun, and such motiveless aggression has probably always existed; but the question is not whether it has always existed, but whether it is more prevalent than it was in the recent past.
To judge by the vogue for vicious-looking dogs (albeit less horrible that Curtis) I should guess that it is. Where once relatively poor people in England kept pigeons, they now keep fierce-looking dogs.
I can only speculate on the reasons for this. Possibly the culture of celebrity has something to do with it. People who might once have accepted with equanimity their obscurity and their lack of public profile now feel it as a wound to their pride because they see celebrity as the summum bonum of human existence and the absence of it as failure.
A really vicious dog will get you noticed if you have no other way of making a mark in the world. Moreover, some people might think that if you have a vicious dog, you must be in need of protection: and if you are in need of protection, you must be important in some way. Thus, an ugly, vicious dog flatters and inflates the ego of those wounded by their own insignificance.
The case also revealed the intimate connection or alliance between brutality and sentimentality. Curtis was not put down straight away but rather kept in solitary confinement in some kind of facility for delinquent dogs.
A petition was got up to save his life, signed by 94,967 people before it was closed. Money was also raised to save him from death.
No doubt if there were an appeal for a new home for Curtis, there would be many volunteers, just as no notorious killer of women lacks for offers of marriage, on the basis that “He’ll change for me.”
Those who signed the petition were probably divided between those on the one hand who admired dogs such as Curtis for their viciousness, and those on the other who were sloppily sentimental about dogs in general.
I am very nearly of that type myself: for I love dogs this side idolatry, as Ben Jonson put his admiration for Shakespeare. But I find it alarming that so many people can be moved to sign a petition to save the life of a dog that has mauled a woman to death.
Theodore Dalrymple is a retired doctor. He is contributing editor of the City Journal of New York and the author of 30 books, including “Life at the Bottom.” His latest book is “Embargo and Other Stories.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.