"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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Guilty 'Til Proven Innocent

Riverfire Films Unleashes Documentary on Discrimination Against Dogs
by Julia Szabo, April 2011.

The American justice system stands firm on the presumption of innocence. The accused in a criminal trial is innocent until proven guilty.

The Latin term for this is Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. This means that the burden of proof is on the prosecution (qui dicit, the one who speaks out), which must gather and present legally admissible evidence that the accused (qui negat, the one who denies) is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt, the accused must be acquitted.

Unless he’s an American Pit Bull Terrier.

Tragically, the pit bull has been routinely betrayed by the American justice system. In the case of this most feared and legislated-against dog breed, the rule is: Guilty until proven innocent. The dog doesn’t even get to stand trial – he’s simply sentenced and removed.

Removed from the home he knew for years, seized by animal control officers in the presence of the horrified children he loves; removed from the animal shelters that are meant to be a homeless dog’s port in any storm; removed from the compassion that should encircle every dog, regardless of breed.

It’s unconstitutional and un-American, but it’s the way it is. Thousands of good dogs have been branded “bad,” found guilty without a fair trial. The breed as a whole has been categorized as “dangerous” and handed the harshest possible sentence: Death.

No appeal.

The accused come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Even before they get a chance at life, pit bull puppies are put down at animal shelters in states where breed specific legislation makes it illegal to own one. The lucky ones are pulled by dedicated animal rescuers, then transported to other parts of the country where they may legally be fostered or adopted. The unlucky ones are euthanized by gas, intracardial (“heartstick”) or intravenous injection.

“Punish the Deed, Not the Breed” is a famous pro-pit slogan. But it’s the breed that keeps getting punished, over and over again. The dog pays the price for its owner’s irresponsible deeds. The real criminals are the people who exploit, abuse, and neglect these dogs – not the dogs themselves. Yet it’s the dogs – not their owners – who get the bad rap.

Convicted dog fighter Michael Vick is enjoying a successful second career in football; his new employer received a congratulatory call from the President of the United States thanking him for giving Vick a second chance. The dogs Vick killed are forgotten. Some of them are enjoying their second chance, experiencing love and kindness for the first time. Others – the ones Vick boasted about intentionally drowning or electrocuting - never got that chance.

The injustice that continuously befalls dogs categorically labeled “dangerous” has motivated many to rise to the pit bull’s defense. One pit defender is documentary filmmaker Jeff Theman. His production company, Riverfire Films, has spent the better part of the last two years shooting and editing footage for ”Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent,” an investigation of breed specific legislation in his home state of Ohio.

All that hard work is evident in the trailer below.

Jeff’s constant companion and muse throughout the long process of making this documentary has been his adopted dog Preston, rescued from an Ohio fighting ring by Cleveland’s For the Love of Pits and granted what all pit bulls deserve: a new leash on life.

In Jeff, Preston found a doting Dad: “I’ve even received a speeding ticket for rushing back home to be with him!” he says. “Words just can’t describe the unconditional love I have for him. Every day Preston changes minds; he’s a shining example of why dogs should be judged as individuals and not systematically killed.”

I’m proud to be one of the people speaking up for pit bulls in Jeff’s film, and I’m looking forward to his final cut. In the meantime, I hope you’ll view the trailer and post a comment about it. Preston thanks you.


New Dog Documentary Trailer Hits YouTube in Time for MLK Day
by Julia Szabo

Followers of this column have read about Jeff Theman’s excellent anti-BSL documentary “Guilty Til Proven Innocent,” (article above) which shines a spotlight on breed specific legislation in the filmmaker’s home city of Cleveland, Ohio.

When the Cleveland City Council revised its dangerous dog ordinance, it became apparent that this little film is making history even as it chronicles it.

Jeff’s best friend Preston (pictured at right), a former fighting pit bull adopted from the Cleveland rescue group For the Love of Pits, is the undisputed star of the documentary. And with good reason. Watch footage of Preston (and read about him here) to see why the camera loves this sweet, handsome black dog.

The bond between the filmmaker and his four-footed muse could melt a heart of stone. “You’re all I got,” Jeff whispers in Preston’s ear.

Today, in honor of our national holiday remembering Martin Luther King, it’s important to remember that BSL is something Dr. King definitely would not approve of. It is - in the words of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates’ Jean Keating, one of the subjects interviewed for Jeff’s documentary - nothing more than canine racism. And it must be outlawed, without delay.

I’m honored to appear in Jeff’s film alongside my pit bull Lazarus. My dogs and I think BSL is Un-American. We absolutely agree with our friend and fellow dog lover Dixie Laite (@DameStyle on Twitter), author of this fine hashtag: #MLKwouldknowBSLiswrong

Watch the new “Guilty Til Proven Innocent” trailer below. After you view it, I hope you’ll consider adopting one of the literally thousands of pit bulls just like Preston who patiently await their forever homes at animal shelters across this country. Visit your local animal shelter or check out Petfinder and Pit Bull Rescue Central. Cast your vote against canine racism; Dr. King would definitely approve.

Happy MLK Day!



  1. I have a boxer that is so loving and sweet and I would not trade him for anything. He is good with my grandkids no matter what they do to him. Now I have 3 Pits and all 3 of them are just as loving and sweet as my boxer is. They all 4 play together and eat together they do everything together including following me everywhere I go. I love animals and if you would come to my house you would see that I do because I have the 3 pits, boxer husky, and 2 poms and they all get along with each other great. They are all housebroken so yes they all stay inside along with the four of us so they do get under foot but we love them all and bath time is always fun around here with them. Pits should not be judged by their name and killed right away its wrong they are sweet dogs. Any dog can be mean no matter what breed it is. All a dog wants is a little love and to be fed and they are happy. They need to stop putting Pits to sleep everytime they rescue them that is not a rescue when you put them to sleep right away. Give them a chance to see how they are going to be first like you do all the other dogs that are rescued. Dogs have feelings too just like humans do so why not give them a chance too just like humans are given a chane when they have committed a crime.

  2. My father grew up in North Carolina in the 50’s. One of his classmates was drowned the day he graduated by the Ku Klux Klan. The reason? Because he was black and had the potential to be successful. The man my father and grandfather worked for had a cross burned in front of his house. The reason? He allowed my father and grandfather to ride in the front of his truck instead of in the back. My aunt, on my father’s side, with two of her friends had to out run a group of men who tried to rape them. The reason? Because they were black and in that day and age no one would care if three black girls were raped and murdered. So looking back at all this and seeing that this was legal is appalling. Now take a good long look at BSL. Now take a look at the laws that were in place during and before the civil rights era against African-Americans and other races who faced discrimination. Look familiar? The good Dr. King would agree that BSL is yet another form of racism only it is directed towards those who don’t have a voice: dogs. In this case I guess this would be called breedism. So I am going to say this clear: Breed Specific Legislation is just like prohibition and the Jim Crow Laws. Prohibition failed miserably as did the Jim Crow Law. BSL is only different in one way and has spread to what some people would call unlikely breeds. In China the English Bulldog along with the German Shepherd has been banned. So for all those who said “Oh they’ll never be banned” they have been banned now.

    Also I would like to raise awareness of a possible Pit Bull Serial Killer supporting blog. The blog is called Craven Desires and I have reason to believe that they might be involved in the killings of Pit Bulls and other Molosser or Bully-looking dogs. If not then I am 100% sure the strongly support this person for “making the world a better place” as they would put it. I have been harassed by these people and was called a “wanna be gang banger n***** b**** by the blog owner.
    Here is a link to their possible crime

  3. pitty owner/ loverApril 21, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    I was raised around dogs my entire life, all types of breeds. I now own a pitbull, both of my brothers have pitbulls, my cousin has two pitbuls and they are by far the most affectionate dogs I have ever been around. My 15 month old niece sleep on my pits back on the couch. Its in their nature to protect the ones they love, and like any other breed if you don't love them the way they love you they will be mean, or aggressive. Cockerspaniels are known for their temperament and yet no one misjudges them. They want you to love them they way they love you so instead of being scared and fearful open up your heart and show them that you arent going to hurt them. My brothers pit wants to be cuddled 24/7. Theses dogs are beautiful, brilliant innocent bistandards, please stop prosecuting them for the lack of attention, care and love their owners aren't giving them. My pit plays with our 3 cats(sometimes I think she thinks shes a cat) my boyfriend trained her to watch me and protect me(not aggressively) when I am out of her site she walks around and cries until she knows I'm OK. When we have visitors she is the first at the door to greet them. Now that i have had one I wouldn't get any other breed. Its all in how the owner trains and treats them. And if these people don't have the decentcy to love these friendly creatures that shame on them for giving these beautiful animals a terrible and untrustworthy reputation!!

  4. I'm also a dog owner, have all my life. I don't own a Pit because I currently have a Dane and a Rotti/Mastif but however my sis does and has in the past. A truly amazing, loving, playful, affectionate animal. Wait... not animal.... FAMILY MEMBER....... I am really interested in seeing the entire documentary. can anybody tell me where I can access more than a trailer. If anybody has info please email me at beady0@yahoo.com attn: Clay

    Thank-you all so much!!