"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Abused Pit Bull Finds Life In New Owner, Spreads Cheer To Others

Her owner calls her a Christmas present that gives more each and every day.

Kicked and slammed to the ground by her owner, shattering her back leg, doctors weren't sure if Callie the pit bull would ever walk again in January.

Fast forward to almost a year later, Callie, now known as Abby by her new owner, is healthy and entirely healed.

Maria Johnston adopted the pit bull, nursed her back to health and recently completed her training to be a therapy dog.

"Amazing. I probably would not have believed that we would have come this far, quite honestly," said Johnston.

Even Abby's trainer was impressed by the dog's incredible journey.

"She is very loving, and for all the abuse that she went through, she has come such a long way," said trainer Ann Walker.

Abby became an instant hit at Green Meadows, an assisted living community in Latrobe, Westmoreland County.

"She makes you feel good. You just feel like it's a good day whenever they're here," said resident Mary Ann Hurite.

Fellow resident Bertha Achtziger said Abby has made her feel alive again.

"They just make you feel so good. Animals just do that to you," said Achtziger.

Johnston and Abby plan to become regulars at Green Meadows.

"Just if we run out of cookies, then she might not do what you want her to do," said Johnston.

*Click here to watch a video of Abby.*


Video du Jour

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Video du Jour

LOVE this dog!!

Read more about Sonny Ray here.

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Reyes, Sonny Ray’s dad

Adopting Delta

Two senior citizens decide to adopt their first pit bull and are delighted with the result.

                                   By Barbara Sands (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

John and I have been married 30 years, and we average 147 years of age combined. We have lived all over the world. Over the years we’ve loved our Schnauzers, Poodles, Dachshunds, Chow Chows, Cattle Dogs and Wiemeriners in England, and Baladi Dogs in Egypt. But now we are seniors and we weren’t sure about adopting another dog after our last one, Natasha, died in May 2010.

But after a few months passed, we found that we indeed wanted another dog to join our family.

We learned about pit bulls through our good friend Micaela. We decided to meet one particular Staffordshire/pit bull/Boxer mix whose face was on the Pit Bull Rescue San Diego website. Her name was Delta and Micaela sang her praises. She had been abandoned, left with her litter of puppies in a cardboard box. Although her puppies had all been adopted, Delta was still waiting for a home after more than a year in foster care.

Our grandkids, who have never had a dog of their own, visit us every summer for two months. We wanted them to meet Delta.

Delta’s foster mom brought her to our house for an introduction. I remember every detail of that meeting. My grandson, Ali, got a towel to lay on the lawn, and my granddaughter, Hana, had her little 4-year-old fingers ready for some serious prodding.

When Delta arrived, she burst into the yard in a flash of brindle and white. Her ears flopped and her smile beamed.

Even though Ali is usually shy with dogs, Delta was very gentle with him, and he warmed up to her. Everyone was unanimous in wanting to adopt her.

Since the kids departure, John and I have also received much joy from Delta, and we take her everywhere.

People stop us and say, “What a cute puppy!” (Even though she’s 50 pounds and 4 years old!) “Can we pet her?”

Or we will be sitting outside Starbucks, and young couples will pass by and dote on her the same way. Pretty soon Delta is reclining in their laps and attracting other passers-by to come pet her.

At home she’s just as friendly. She’s a lap dog and enjoys sleeping in the bed. Delta is also full of energy and invites us for a game of chase by depositing her tennis ball at our feet under the computer.

What delights us the most is throwing balls in our long yard and watching Delta as her incredible haunches propel her skyward for yet another home run!

Now that it’s summertime again, our grandkids are back in town. From Delta’s perspective, she loves children and shows her gentle, playful side best in their company.

Hana, almost 6 now, likes it most when Delta puts her “little” head and paws on her lap while curled up on the sofa.

Ali, now 10, loves to teach Delta tricks like roll over and give me your paw, which he researched on the computer.

Delta is a truly a gift to us all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Once Upon a Time

A neglected pit bull almost didn’t live but instead lived to change his family’s life.

Nine and a half years ago, I went to a shelter to adopt a dog looking for a slightly older, fluffy mixed breed. As I walked through the shelter, there was a small, pathetic looking pit mix that kept putting his little paw out of the bars.

I had no intention of getting a pit bull because I believed the hype from the media. But every other dog I checked out had no interest in my daughter or me, so – after much pleading from my cute 9-year-old – I took the pit out and waited for him to do something horrible.

He was about 6 months old, malnourished, sick and had a chain embedded in his neck – he obviously had suffered a bad start in life.

The shelter was not supposed to adopt out pits at that time, so they put “German Shepherd mix” on the card, and they were going to euthanize him within the week.

When I took him out of the cage, he buried his nose in my daughter’s armpit and stayed there.

Crap. I begrudgingly filled out the application figuring I’d take it home and think about it.

“Fill it out now and take him, or he may not be here in the morning,” the gentleman at the front counter said. So I looked down, yelled at the guy for not taking the chain out of his neck earlier and took this pathetic boy home. I named his Rosco and made a vet appointment for him.

I went home and read reliable sources about this breed, checked out websites like the Pit Bull Rescue Central site – which is wonderful – and realized that I had an extraordinary breed in my home that has received a horrible rap. Not that it mattered what breed he was at that point because I had already fallen in love with him.

Shortly thereafter, we went through training classes and the Canine Good Citizen course.

Since then I have become a huge advocate for the breed, and I started volunteering at a shelter. I specialize in pit bulls. On adoption days, I strut my favorite pits around and talk about what a wonderful addition they would be. I try to educate as many people as I can about their history and how their temperament is human friendly. In fact, I reference Petey from “The Little Rascals” and remind people that he was a pit bull, and he was great with little children.

Had I walked by and ignored Rosco at the shelter that day, I would possibly never know the amazing aspects of this loyal, loving breed. Rosco has such a gentle nature and soul. He is just a big, dopey love bug and truly brought new meaning to my life.

My daughter is now 18 and leaving for college soon. She will be bringing her “I love pitbulls” shirts and her “Are you educatabull?” coffee mug along with her. When Rosco passes (I dread the day), I will adopt an adult pit with a similar temperament, which, after volunteering at the shelter for a few years, will not be difficult to find. There are a ton of amazing pits in shelters.

By Lory Beston

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Preston: From the Fighting Pit to a Forever Home!

It's amazing how blessings are disguised, how a series of events can change your life and lead you down an unplanned path. This is how I describe meeting Preston, my American Pit Bull Terrier.

During the initial research for my documentary film about breed discrimination, "Guilty "˜Til Proven Innocent," I visited For the Love of Pits, a Cleveland, Ohio pit bull rescue, searching for answers to my questions about the "breed." I left that day having fallen completely in love with this little guy, who was saved from a dog fighting operation in a nearby city.

On July 6, 2006, animal cruelty officers found Preston with fresh, open wounds, and took him to a local humane society, where he waited for his judgment day. He escaped death once but, yet again, death was imminent. Minutes prior to his scheduled euthanasia, For the Love of Pits stepped in to save Preston, granting him another chance at life. Preston spent the next two years learning how to live in a home as a family pet in a pit-bull-fearing society. He achieved certificates in training and Canine Good Citizen. Although Preston had a rock-solid temperament, he received no interest from adopters, due to his past and the perceived challenges of owning a dog formerly used for fighting. I couldn't get him out of my mind, and made known my intention to adopt.

That was easier said than done. Lakewood, the city in which I resided in Ohio, proposed and eventually passed a ban on pit bull "type" dogs, delaying my ability to bring Preston to his forever home. I vowed I would move, and move I did, after a six-month search for a place that would allow me to have him. Since that day, we have gone everywhere together, educating people about the true characteristics of a pit bull, changing opinions with every encounter. With his contagious love of life and eagerness to interact with people and dogs alike, Preston teaches us not to judge a book by its cover.

When I leave, I can't help but stress over the idea that he needs me as much as I need him, finding comfort in knowing we have each other to get us through life's pitfalls. I've even received a speeding ticket for rushing back home to be with him! Words just can't describe the unconditional love I have for him, and I know it's the closest thing to being mutual that I'll ever experience in my lifetime. Every day Preston changes minds; he's a shining example of why dogs should be judged as individuals and not systematically killed based on past experiences or appearance. To think that Preston and I found each other by accident, and that something so special might never have been.

The only evidence of his former life are scars across his legs, face, and body. They remind us that his beginning didn't start the way it should have. I'm honored to have the chance to provide him a life as a family dog, the way it should've been all along.

For more information, or to adopt a pittie:

To contact Jeff about his upcoming documentary:
Jeff Theman
River Fire Films, LLC
email: riverfirefilms@gmail.com

By Jeff Theman
Photo by Matthew Eggert of Great Lakes Photo & Video

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rescued Pit Bull Gives Back to Community as Therapy Dog

It’s hard not to believe in fate when you hear Cody’s story — a deformed puppy that was abandoned at the shelter and is now a certified therapy dog.

Due to prejudice, even healthy pit bulls can have a hard time finding a home. But Cody landed in the shelter with a deformed foot, and his chances weren’t looking good until San Diego-based Even Chance Pit Bull Advocacy + Resources + Rescue stopped by the shelter to see another dog and noticed the limping puppy. Soon Cody was on his way to the rescue’s vet, where he was diagnosed with a congenital deformity called ectrodactyly or “lobster claw.” Through donations, Even Chance paid to have an orthopedic surgeon correct the problem. Thanks to Dr. Sean Aiken at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in San Diego, Cody underwent a successful procedure to fuse his two toes together and to connect the surrounding skin, transforming his “lobster claw” to a “mitten.”

Fate stepped in again when one of the surgical interns introduced Cody to her parents, who were looking to adopt. In his new home, Cody continued to rehabilitate with water therapy. He also began training and showed a natural inclination toward therapy work. His adopter, Barbara Sulier, describes him as a “sweet little loving boy with a charisma that pulls people over to talk to him. He loves all people and wants to make them happy,” she says. “We are so very proud of him and for what he is now doing for the breed’s image,” says Nicole Edwards, president of Even Chance.

At one year old, Cody is now the first pit bull to be certified as a therapy dog through New Leash On Life’s Lend a Paw program in Los Angeles.

“During the wheelchair client test, he gently put his paws on the lap and kissed the client, who was thrilled,” describes Sulier.

And while Cody still has a slight limp due to missing bones and muscles in his right foreleg, he doesn’t let it slow him down. Sulier believes it will also help physically challenged children relate to him. Cody illustrates just what is possible when prejudice is set aside. Once discarded as damaged goods, he is now changing lives as a therapy dog.

About Even Chance Pit Bull Advocacy + Resources + Rescue: Even Chance is a 501c3 non-profit organization striving to counteract misinformation about pit bulls with factual education, communication and resources for the public, pit bull owners and potential adopters. Even Chance rescues temperamentally sound dogs from Southern California shelters, including dogs with medical needs and dogs rescued from organized fighting rings or other inhumane situations. Even Chance provides foster care for these rescued dogs until they are placed in safe and loving forever homes. For more information, visit www.evenchance.org.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ex-Vick Dog Dies of Cancer, Had Legacy of Helping Animals

An eight-year-old pit bull named Red, who was once a part of Michael Vick’s infamous dogfighting kennels has died after a short battle with cancer.

Red, an eight year old pit bull arrived at the Monterey County SPCA with scars on his face and chest. Though he had a violent past, Red filled a vital role by helping SPCA Pet Behavior Specialist Amanda Mouisset with her behavior consultations.

Red was trained to fight other dogs but he found his calling helping to calm aggresive dogs. True to his gentle nature, Red would sit relaxed in the training area, serving as a calming agent while Mouisset and her client eased the other dog’s aggression by redirecting focus and energy.

Red shared a home with Mouisset, her husband, two children, two dogs, and a cat. He went from Vick’s fighting kennels to playing with other dogs, cuddling on the couch, and letting kids play dress up with him as their willing model.

Last week, Red was diagnosed with two cancerous tumors, one in the center of his brain and one in the neck inside his spinal cord. Veterinary specialists felt that aggressive treatment would only extend Red’s life by a few short months, so Mouisset and her family chose to keep him comfortable with medication to give him a few days or weeks of quality life. Sadly, Red’s condition worsened and he died Monday night.

“Red truly shows that dogs are amazing and resilient,” says Beth Brookhouser, SPCA Director of Community Outreach. “Red was born into a life that no animal deserves. But he overcame his past and showed us all what a dog like him can do with a little love and affection. He was a true ambassador for his breed and we will all miss him.”

To help rescue other abused animals, please share Red’s story with your friends or donate to The SPCA for Monterey County in memory of Red. www.spcamc.org/


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hercules and Kylie Update!

For all of you who have seen the previous post about Hercules and Kylie will be thrilled to know that Hercules is still alive and that his cancer is currently in remission.  If you have not seen the post, you must check it out!  The photographer who took those wonderful photos has reunited with the adorable pair and shared them on her website.  Here is what she had to say....

A happy “not the” ending . . .

I often say dogs lead me to the nicest people and so often this is true. Hercules is one of those dogs. Herc has a very interesting story to tell. I’m not a great storyteller, but I will try. In June of last year I got a call from his mom Leslie. She called me to set up a portrait session for Hercules, her 5 year old pit bull and his best buddy Kylie, her 2 year old daughter. Herc had cancer and probably didn’t have long to live. Leslie wanted photos of the two of them together so that Kylie would have some way of remembering their special bond. I was so saddened to hear about Herc’s condition and sadder to think that he would soon leave a little girl heartbroken. Herc had already lost a leg to cancer so we scheduled the session right away. We did the session and the images got some media attention. My favorite is an article that was published on the Best Friends site, written by Roni Raczkowski. You can read all about how Herc came to his home with Leslie and Kylie. It is an interesting tale about the power of love.

Our meeting spawned a little arrangement whereby I photograph pets for FOCHP pro bono and the images help the pets to get adopted quicker. The FOCHP folks are wonderful and I love being able to help in some small “photographical” way. You could say Hercules led me to FOCHP and led me to do more work for rescues. Well, to the surprise and extreme delight of us all, Hercules is still with us!!! He is doing very well and the cancer is in remission. At least for now, he gets to enjoy his family and the wonderful life that Leslie has given him. I get to see Herc sometimes at adoption events and/or photo sessions for FOCHP fosters and I have vowed to photograph him and Kylie every year that he is with us. It’s the least I can do for a dog, a breed, and a family who has inspired me so.

From the session one year ago

Hercules and Kylie Today


Wallace the Pit Bull: The Rise of an Underdog

The amazing story of an abandoned shelter dog who rose to become Purina's National Champion Frisbee dog. This inspirational documentary shows the incredible power of love, trust, courage and faith. Wallace's story proves you can't judge a book by its cover or guess the size of one's heart. Follow along on an incredible and true underdog story like no other.

Order your copy of the Wallace documentary here.

Follow Wallace on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vick Dog: A Shy Boy Comes Out of His Shell

Dog: Uba
Humans: Letti de Little and Jamel Freeman
Fellow pets: Lulu the rescued pit bull and two cats
Town: San Francisco

Letti and her boyfriend Jamel first glimpsed Uba on TV shortly after Vick’s bust, when leaked footage of the small black and white dog with the worried face flashed across screens throughout the country. He caught their attention instantly. “There was just something about him,” said Letti, “We thought, what a cute, smart-looking dog–we hope he makes it out alive.”

As luck would have it, Uba and several other Vick dogs wound up in the care of BAD RAP, the pit bull rescue and advocacy group that Letti has volunteered for over the past two years. And when BAD RAP was looking for families to foster the dogs, Letti and Jamel offered to be one of them. They got Uba.

Seven months later, Letti says the shut-down dog with the horrific past is now full of energy and excitement at his new life; the Uba we filmed last winter isn’t the Uba of today.

“Every few weeks, he’s doing better,” says Letti. “You know how dogs wander around the house wagging their tails? He’s started doing that lately. We didn’t even notice it was missing until he started. It’s so nice to see him getting to be more and more of a normal dog and coming out of his shell.”

As one of the shyer dogs rescued by BAD RAP, there were some hurdles to overcome. Uba hit it off with the other resident pit bull and got along with the two cats, but he was scared of black men–including Jamel–as well as busy streets and crowds. By slow exposure to small doses of what scares him, Uba has gradually been getting over these fears.

Like Cris Cohen, the adopter of Jonny Justice, Letti notes that the Vick dogs seemed to go through the puppyhood they never had once they arrived in real homes. “Uba’s mostly over it now, but at the beginning they wanted to try everything,” says Letti. “They wanted to know, can I chew the floor, can I leap over the stairs?”

Also like Jonny, Uba relishes the training he’d missed out on in his earlier life and learns fast. Letti describes him as one of the smartest dogs she’s ever met, laughingly recounting how she caught him scaling furniture to get to an out-of-reach stuffed animal, and how he figured out how to unlatch his crate with his tongue.

Letti doesn’t downplay the time and effort it takes to heal a dog who lived such a deprived life, but she says Uba’s getting there. “I woke up at last night and he was lying in bed right next to me, belly up” she says. “He’s not supposed to be in our bed, but I just laid there and thought how far he’s come, when just a year ago, he was living on a chain.”

Here is a video of Uba with his foster sister at the time.
Keep up-to-date with Uba and some of the other Vick dogs here.

First posted on DogTime

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It’s Not Just How They Were Raised

When adopting adults, it’s what you see in front of you that matters.

By Micaela Myers (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

“It’s how they’re raised.” Every pit bull person has heard this refrain. When pit bulls get media attention for the wrong reasons, we often say, “It’s not the breed, it’s how they were raised.” And the idea has sunk in, with unintended consequences.

As a volunteer for a pit bull rescue, I heard it over and over again. “We really want to adopt a puppy because we want to raise it right.”

In fact, the majority of adopters I talked to wouldn’t even consider adopting an adult pit bull, especially if their pasts were unknown. When the rescue would get litters of puppies, they were always adopted quickly, while wonderful adults would stay for up to two years awaiting homes.

While how you raise a puppy is certainly important in helping that puppy grow up into a good canine citizen, it doesn’t mean that adult dogs with unknown or even abusive pasts won’t have ideal temperaments. Many adult dogs have such wonderful personalities that no matter where they’ve been, they still look at the world with nothing but love in their hearts.

“If you see the dog right now at an adult age, and he’s a good dog, it doesn’t matter what his history was. It’s a moot point,” explained expert trainer Marthina McClay. Marthina is a CPDT, certified professional dog trainer. She’s also director of Our Pack, Inc. , a San Francisco-based pit bull rescue; an Animal Behavior College Mentor Trainer; a certified tester/observer for Therapy Dogs, Inc.; and an AKC certified CGC evaluator.

With adult dogs, what you see personality and temperament wise is what you’re going to get, Marthina said. “It’s an easier decision for many to make because you can assess whether the dog matches the needs of the family.”

Case in Point

My own dog Omega (photo below) is an excellent example of why people should consider adult dogs when looking for the perfect fit for their family. Omega was 3.5 years old when we met her at a Pit Bull Rescue San Diego adoption event. I wanted a dog that could be a therapy dog. If I had adopted a puppy, no matter how perfectly I raised him or her, there is no guarantee that puppy would grow up to have the temperament or personality to make an ideal therapy dog. However, it was clear Omega’s calm and loving temperament would make her a wonderful therapy pet. Within months she was certified.

“Our Vick dog was a good example,” Marthina said. “He became a therapy dog in five weeks. He was probably around 2.5 years old when we got him. He trained very, very quickly and slipped right into that therapy dog position because that’s who he was and that’s what he wanted to do. But when he was 4 months old, we wouldn’t have known he was going to be like that. I guess that would be my point. Working with adult dogs is much easier if you just look at them and evaluate what their personalities are like in any given environment, and that’s who they are.”

As an example of a senior dog with a rough past that is nonetheless an awesome family dog, Marthina shares the story of Bernie, (photo right) one of the dogs rescued from the Ohio 200 case. Bernie was between 7 and 8 years old when he came to Our Pack. “He had a crappy start,” Marthina said. “He lived a long time on a chain. But he was just recently adopted. He’s still active, and they go and do things — they go on hikes, they go to the park. They have three kids. He loves the kids, and the kids love him. He fits right into the household. He’s one of my favorite dogs we’ve adopted out. He’s just fabulous.”

And yes, adult dogs are perfectly capable of learning new tricks. “We’ve taken dogs from dog fighting busts that didn’t know anything and taught them to sit, down and stay and do all sorts of things,” Marthina said. “Some of them were 4, 5, 6 years old learning to sit and do a down, and had never done that sort of thing. They actually pick it up a little bit faster [than puppies].”

In addition to knowing exactly the personality and temperament you’re getting, adopting adults comes with other benefits.

“Often they’re already potty trained, and if not, they potty train much more quickly,” Marthina said. Many adult dogs may also be crate trained or already know basic obedience and house manners. “They learn the rules much more quickly.”

Finding the Right Dog for Your Family

For people that are open to adopting an adult dog, Marthina offers advice on how to find the right match.

“One of the first things is your activity level,” she said. If you love to hike, run or play ball, than a more active dog will be a great match. Those who prefer snuggling on the couch should look for a mellower adult.

“If you’re adopting from a rescue, ask the foster home or ask the rescue how active the dog is and how affectionate,” Marthina said. “Ask questions about the dog’s personality. Often rescues like ours, we foster the dog for a minimum of a month before we put the dog up for adoption. That way we kind of know the dog inside and out. That way you can get a better match in regards to what you’re looking for.”

Adopting an adult can be perfect for a family with young children, as raising a puppy and little ones at the same time easily becomes overwhelming.

“If you have children, you want to bring your kids in to meet the dog,” Marthina said. “How does the dog react around your children? Is it a match with the kids as far as the children’s energy and the dog’s energy?”

Finally, make sure the dog gets along with your current pets through careful introductions in a controlled environment.

Take Home Messages

“I’ll hear people walk by a kennel with an adult dog in it and say, ‘No, I really want to get a puppy so we can mold him and raise him the way we want.’ I think, wait, check this guy out, he may already be what you want,” Marthina said. “See if he works with your family. Often people are surprised. Even if you don’t know his background, check out his temperament now.”

She also urges people not to overlook senior dogs. “Seniors are great,” Marthina said. “They are usually housetrained. They aren’t chewing on anything. They’re usually much more calm. They like cuddling on the couch with you more. I think what’s really sad about it is that people will just walk by those kennels. They just don’t tend to take them. Seniors are awesome. They just seem so thankful. It’s so easy to give them a nice bed, good food and love, and they’re very appreciative of just that. They don’t need to be walking three miles a day. They’re very happy to just lounge around and relax.”

Marthina’s rescue focuses mainly on taking in adult dogs. After growing up with Dobermans, she was familiar with how myths, misconceptions and stereotypes can haunt certain breeds. Now, she helps change pit bull misconceptions through foster, adoption and training programs, and her website blog posts. She hopes to rescue more senior dogs in the future and promote their fabulous attributes to adopters.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Video du Jour

Nonprofit Works to Bust Pit Bull Stereotypes

Many people think pit bulls are too dangerous to keep as pets, but one nonprofit hopes to break the stereotype for the next generation.

The Love-a-Bull nonprofit introduces pit bulls to children at area learning centers. Volunteers with the group hope that meeting the friendly pups will teach them not to judge a book by its cover.

"If you have a closed mind to a subject, and close your mind, open your mind and try to learn about it," founder Lydia Zaidman said.

Zaidman says both the dogs and their owners are teaching by example.

"I find that most of the time the misconceptions come from neighbors, or stories in the papers, just like anything else, it's like Internet myths. So when they actually meet a dog, it's amazing how quickly it can change their minds," she said.

The dogs in the program, known as “The Pit Crew,” are used for animal therapy. The canines show kids pit bulls are indeed friendly by nature, and it is actually people that teach them to be mean.

"First of all there are dogs dying in the shelters, and they are dying every day,” Zaidman said. “And they're dying because people don't understand the truth about these dogs."

Love-a-Bull was founded in 2008 and offers a variety of programs, services and information for people who own pit bulls.

"Our mission is to educate and advocate on behalf of this breed. Just one person at a time, change their minds,” Zaidman said.

If you'd like to get involved you can order some love-a-bull gear or become a member, click here.

You can watch the news story here.

By: Jennifer Borget

Monday, August 1, 2011

Freedom From Breed Discrimination: A Tea Party for Pets

Politics is not a spectator sport.

America’s constitution is the foundation of our government. It’s something we all cherish. An integral part of that document is the 14th Amendment, which states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

Unbeknown to many animal advocates, this clause can be used to protect our pets. Under current law, our beloved dogs and cats are considered living property (anathema to most, I know). However, we can use the legal system to file a constitutional challenge against unfair dangerous-dog laws. There are four basic characteristics of breed-discriminatory laws that are relevant: (1) definition of the breed, (2) procedures for identifying and challenging the designation, (3) ownership restrictions imposed, and (4) penalties for violation of the laws. Many laws have been found unconstitutional because they failed to provide adequate procedural due process protections for citizens.

Breed-discriminatory laws are impractical and expensive and do nothing to enhance public safety. If a canine profiling ordinance is enacted, the government has the burden of proof, which means that they have to prove the dog is of a certain heritage. For unregistered dogs or for dogs of unknown origin, this is problematic. For criminal measures, the government must prove that the dog in question is of a certain origin beyond a reasonable doubt. If there are civil penalties, the government has the burden of proving that the canine is of a certain heritage by a preponderance of evidence.

In the past, this was done with visual identification, but with the advent of scientific advances — namely, DNA testing — that is changing. DNA testing is considered to be a much more reliable way to prove a dog’s heritage and has been used to save pets who were put on death row because of their appearance. However, DNA testing is expensive. It may cost around $160 a dog, something that most local governments don’t anticipate having to pay for.

In addition to citing the expense involved in proving a dog’s heritage, advocates need to use the numerous studies that have been published to show that breed-discriminatory laws are not rationally related to public safety. Studies from the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany have revealed that bites do not decrease with the implementation of breed restrictions. You can find links to many of these studies on the Best Friends’ Pit Bull Initiative website. In the United States, Topeka, Toledo and Cleveland recently repealed their breed-discriminatory ordinances not only because they were expensive, but because they were also ineffective.

To help grassroots activists, Best Friends Animal Society commissioned a study entitled “The Fiscal Impact of Breed Discriminatory Legislation in the United States.” The economic research firm John Dunham and Associates estimated that there are over five million pit-bull-terrier-type dogs in the United States. According to the study, if the United States were to enact a breed-discriminatory law, it would cost almost $460 million to enforce annually.

To cite a single community, the fiscal cost of a breed-discriminatory law in the District of Columbia is estimated at almost $966,000 annually. That’s a huge chunk of change in a time when communities are laying off teachers, police and firefighters. Click here to find out how much money officials in your community would waste if they enacted breed restrictions.

In this austere economy, all taxpayers should rebel against any government contemplating enacting a breed-discriminatory provision. If there is already one on the books, citizens should actively lobby for repeal.

If your city is talking about passing a breed-restrictive law, citizens need to take immediate action to protect dogs. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Here are some things you can do:

  • Call or write your city council members and let them know that breed-discriminatory laws are ineffective and expensive, and tell them why.

  • Ask your veterinarian, groomer and friends to also call or write to their city council members.

  • Show up at city council meetings and speak out against breed discrimination.

  • Start a petition drive on Change.org and have folks send an e-mail to the decision makers. In addition to the e-mail option, Change.org also lets you collect signatures online and download them to present personally to government officials. Publicize your Change.org petition through Facebook and Twitter.

  • Hit the road and put up flyers in veterinary offices and at groomers’ businesses. Don’t forget the local barbershop, beauty shop or bar — places that politicians frequent.

You can also contact Best Friends Animal Society and ask for help in getting the word out through Voices for No More Homeless Pets. You can sign up to join by clicking here.

This is America. Responsible dog guardians should be allowed to care for any breed of dog they choose; reckless owners should be prohibited from owning any pets. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”

More Resources
To read the article called “Fiscal Bite & Breed Discrimination: Utilizing Scientific Advances & Economic Tools in Lobbying,” click here.

For more tools to use to lobby to Save America’s Dog, click here.

By Ledy VanKavage, Senior Legislative Attorney, Best Friends Animal Society National Manager, Pit Bull Terrier Initiatives
Photos by Melissa Lipani