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.
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!