"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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dog Breed Legislation Is Inherently Dangerous

The April ruling of the Court of Appeals of Maryland has many people trying to calculate the impacts of the Court's declaration that "pit bulls and cross bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous." Those of us in the animal welfare field are discussing and debating what this means, and how to best move forward.

In my role with the Washington Humane Society (WHS), I have a front row seat to what could turn into a debacle. However, there is reason for optimism that this short sighted ruling will be overturned. Legislators and leaders throughout Maryland are beginning to grasp that the Court's proposed solution has little bearing on the problem at hand -- and is profoundly unpopular with the voting public.

Much of the conversation focuses on the fact that discrimination against dogs based on appearance is wrong. I agree wholeheartedly, and my first decision as CEO of WHS was to change a long-held, breed-based policy that had resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of dogs. Discriminating against a dog based on what he or she looks like is just as wrong as discrimination against people based on their appearance. These broad paintbrush strokes sweep up many innocent individuals. There is no place for such beliefs in an enlightened, compassionate society.

In the nation's capital, WHS worked in partnership with our City's leaders to establish an approach that is sensible -- and effective. Dogs are deemed dangerous or potentially dangerous based on a set of observed, concrete behaviors and criteria.

Another major flaw with breed-based selection is that it is tremendously difficult to determine whether a dog is a pit bull or a cross bred pit bull. I've been in this profession for 15 years. Tens of thousands of dogs have passed through shelters on my watch, and I would be considered well placed to make this determination.

And yet the longer I work in this field, the more I doubt our ability to determine a dog's genetics based on her appearance. I've seen too many puppies born of mothers who looked like a pit bull but who themselves would be described as beagles, or Labradors, or other breeds. The only definitive answer comes from the crossbreeding of papered purebreds, or DNA tests, which have proven controversial and ineffective.

Yet for all of the robust and legitimate arguments about why discrimination against a particular breed is wrong and fraught with difficulty, I believe we must focus our arguments on the singular issue that has caused the majority of attempts at breed specific discrimination to be overturned -- the economic impacts of implementation.

Breed specific laws have been reversed in communities across the nation because they are simply too costly to enforce, and because the true budgetary impacts were not considered in the decision process. Once the legislators and the voting public of Maryland fully analyze and appreciate the financial impacts, they will look for a way to overturn the decision.

As long as the ruling stands, veterinarians and emergency hospitals will have to pay exorbitant insurance rates in case a dog that resembles a pit bull comes to them for treatment. Anyone in canine businesses -- groomers, day care and boarding facilities, pet sitters -- will have to do the same. Pet-friendly businesses of all types will be similarly impacted. Lay people will be put in a position of determining which dogs are "pit bulls" and "cross bred pit bulls" -- a verdict seasoned professionals decline to give -- and then sued for getting it wrong.

The economic impacts on landlords, renters and homeowners will be devastating. Most significant will be the costs borne by cities and municipalities who have to care for the vast numbers of dogs who are surrendered because of what they look like. The aggregate costs of all of these impacts will run in the tens of millions of dollars.

Maryland voters and animal welfare advocates must put pressure on their legislators now to overturn this decision. We must do so for these incontrovertible reasons: discrimination based on appearance is inherently wrong. Better solutions based on concrete criteria are working effectively in thousands of other communities. And, the people of Maryland cannot bear the economic burdens that will undoubtedly result from this decision.

By Lisa LaFontaine, President and CEO, Washington Humane Society

The Pit Bull “Problem”

Dr. Seuss had one.

Helen Keller claims they’re one of the best therapy dogs.

Jon Stewart has two – and they watch over his young children.

But these aren’t the stories you hear when you hear about pit bulls.

“I think it all started back in 1987,” says Ken Foster, author of numerous books on dogs, “[when] Sports Illustrated ran a snarling photo [of a pit bull] with a caption ‘BEWARE OF THIS DOG.’”

If you believe rumors, pit bulls have brains that are too big for their heads and jaws that operate like sharks’. Only criminals and gangsters own them; and don’t even think about getting one — they’re known for turning on their masters.

I think Cesar Milan put it best: “In the ’70s, they blamed Dobermans, in the ’80s, they blamed German Shepherds, in the ’90s, they blamed Rottweilers. Now, they blame the Pit Bull.”

These misconceptions are what led Ken Foster to start the Sula Foundation, an organization that provides affordable vaccinations, free spaying and neutering, and basic education and obedience training for pit bulls.

Foster recently raised a hefty sum to help Spartacus (the gorgeous white dog that slept on my lap while we talked), whose leg had been blown off by a shotgun blast. The funds didn’t just pay for the operation that saved Spartacus’s life; they also covered his stay at a local “resort” for dogs, where he could rest, recover, and get used to life on three legs.

Foster says he gets somewhere between 12-20 calls a day to come pick up a pit bull. “Every year in New Orleans, over 2,000 are euthanized,” he explains. “That’s a little more than five a day.”

I ask why the rate is so high, and the answer is complicated.

“People breed them poorly and don’t have the means to take care of them. People move and don’t want to take the dog with them,” he says. “Or, lately, a lot of people are into this ‘moving to New Orleans’ thing for a year to work on their art, adopting a pit bull, ‘cause that’s what everyone does here and then a year later are like, ‘I’m moving back home now, so can you take my dog?’”

Foster air-chokes that imaginary person and laughs a bit, but you can tell it’s an issue – one of many.

“In a place like New Orleans, stigma is a big thing,” he says. “People have preconceived notions of what someone, or something, is supposed to be like and they subsequently get judged based solely on that.”

And as I get viciously attacked by an army of wet kisses and a powerful violent tail, I kind of start to see where he’s coming from.

by Aric S. Queen in The Good Traveler on May 25, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Charlize Theron: My Dogs Help with My Baby

It was love at first sight, says Charlize Theron, for her four-legged best friends and her infant son Jackson, whom she adopted in March.

"It was the most beautiful thing I've ever witnessed," the Oscar winner, 36, tells Ellen DeGeneres on Thursday's The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "From the moment this baby came into our home, those two dogs have never been more in love."

Theron happily considers her brood to be her family – no matter what others may think. She calls her dogs "her boys." They are, she says, "Berkley, a terrier mutt, and he's actually the pacifier thief ... He'll just lay there with the [baby's] pacifier in his mouth," and a pit bull named Blue, who help keeps the actress running on schedule.

"People keep saying, 'Oh you're a single mom,' and I'm like, 'Actually, I'm not. I got two boys helping me out.' It's incredible."

Blue serves as her alarm clock. He "woke up with me for every feed, for every change, and whenever the baby would cry the pit would start crying," says Theron. "He'll do anything for that baby." It's no wonder Theron calls Blue her Prince Charming.

As for Theron's adopting Jackson, DeGeneres says to the actress, "Everyone thinks since you're from South Africa, that he's from South Africa, but he's not."

"He's American," says his mom, who also says she brought him home when he was nine days old.

"What's that like to, all the sudden, have a nine-day-old baby in your life?" asks the TV host.

"You know, it took me a while [to finalize the adoption]," says Theron. "The process ... took around two years. My mom said the most beautiful thing." Recalling the sentiment, Theron said, "I'm going to cry."

Quoting her mother, Theron said, "It took me nine months to fall in love with you [while you] were growing in my stomach," then added: "She's like, it took you two years to fall in love with this little baby. It really took two years of just waiting and then one day it's finally there. It just feels exactly how it's supposed to feel. I don't know how to describe it. It just feels right."

By Stephen M. Silverman

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Faithful Dog Refuses to Leave Side of Companion

A heartbreaking picture of two pit bulls posted on Facebook caused a stir over the weekend among animal lovers. After his companion was killed by a car, a faithful dog is seen keeping watch over her body.

A local news affiliate said the female pit bull was hit Friday night, and lay dead on the side of a Phoenix, AZ road. The male pit bull refused to leave her, so a sympathetic nearby business brought him food and water.

He remained at her side throughout the night, nuzzling her, staying close until the city came to remove her body Saturday morning. He had spent 14 hours protecting his fallen friend.

The dog is currently being held at Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, and if unclaimed, will be available for adoption pending health and behavioral screening.


A Pit Bull Goes From Shelter Reject to World Champion Disc Dog

This month we're helping pet parents get -- or keep -- their pets fit for life. (Check out our expert pet-diet and weight-loss tips and videos.) But regular exercise with you pet can have mental benefits, as well as the physical ones.

roo-and-wallace-the-pit-bull-winning.jpgFor Wallace the Pit Bull, regular exercise helped turn him from a shelter resident with behavioral problems to the 2006 Cynosport World Champion and the 2007 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge National Champion for Freestyle Flying Disc. Wallace's dad Roo tells their story in the video above. Watch it -- then share this post -- to help us spread the word about the importance of getting off the couch with your pet.

Learn more about Wallace the Pit Bull: https://www.facebook.com/WallaceThePitBull

By Jane, associate producer

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Pit Bull Named Daisy

A young girl meets a shelter dog and falls in love, changing her family’s view of pit bulls forever

By Cheryl Westfall (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

My children, Jesse and Dillon (girls), worked at the animal shelter in San Luis Obispo since they were 12 years old. (They are now 18 and off to college.) One day my little 12-year-old daughter called and told me that there was the best dog in the world at the shelter, and she wanted us to come and see this dog. I asked her what kind of dog it was, and she casually said it was a pit bull. Most of me at the time believed it was just the people who owned pit bulls and mistreated them that made the news, but there was a little part of me that was a skeptical and might have believed pit bulls were bad dogs.

We went down to see the dog, and the people who worked there said, “Watch this.” They put one dog after another in the kennel with her, and all she wanted to do was play. We got the dog, of course, because she was wonderful. She gets along with our other dogs perfectly and is as sweet as can be.

About two weeks later I got a college assignment to write a research paper on whatever I wanted. I looked around and saw beautiful Daisy sitting there and decided right then that I was going to write the research paper about her and all other pit bulls.

I did many nights of research and actually had to try to find situations where they were accused of causing harm to people. It was hard to find that information, especially when they were not mistreated. I did find that they have a higher than average passing rate from the American Temperament Test Society and are great pets and service/therapy dogs in libraries, hospitals and convalescent homes. I also learned all about Sgt. Stubby; he was a big part of my paper. I learned about how this pit bull was a military mascot, won metal after metal, was invited to the White House twice and many other facts.

I also learned that the media is ridiculous in the way it tries to terrify everyone about something every night, but they really try to stick it to pit bulls all the time. For example, one of the gentlemen I researched had gotten attacked by a dog, a Lab. He called the local newspaper and reported the attack. They asked him if it was a pit bull, and he said “No.” They wanted nothing to do with the story. This really irritated the gentlemen, so he called a different paper and said he had been attacked by a pit bull, and in no time there were eight different news agencies at his house. Unbelievable.

Needless to say, no matter what my Daisy went through before we got her, she is my all-time favorite dog. Daisy is 9 now (she was 3 when we got her and had just had puppies). She was abandoned on the streets. I believe that the reason I say she is my favorite dog is because she has broken all stereotypes I have ever had about pit bulls. Anyone who comes to my house gets to see who wonderful she is, and it helps them with their stereotypes. I have four dogs now: two Labs (one is a guide dog puppy I am raising), one is a German Shorthaired Pointer, and then there is wonderful Daisy.

My husband Chris plays fantasy football, and the first year Michael Vick came back to football Chris got him on his team and benched him. He would not let him play and he would not trade him for anything – a small but grand gesture.

PS – I got an A on that paper.

5 Reasons So Many Pit Bulls Love Kids

StubbyDog investigates why dogs adore children

(Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

1) Kids are the perfect height for kissing.

2) Sharing is easy: Multiple dogs and kids can all fit on the couch together!

3) Children are soft and squishy for cuddling – and so are pit bulls!

4) Kids love to play as much as dogs do.

5) Little ones and their pit bulls can speak without saying a word.

Editor’s note: It’s important to teach children proper dog etiquette, and always supervise their play (this is true for all breeds!). Here are some tips from the ASPCA.

(Fan photos from top to bottom by Jolene Hempel, Janet Podczerwinski, Matt Preston, Summer Voth and Darreena Harding)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pit Bull Struck by Freight Train While Pulling Owner Away from Tracks

Just after midnight on May 3 the engineer of a westward-bound freight train witnessed an extraordinary scene as he barreled toward a railway crossing in Shirley, Mass.—a dog was frantically pulling an unconscious woman away from the tracks. The engineer made every attempt to stop the train but was unable to avoid striking 8-year-old Pit Bull Lilly before she could clear herself from the train’s wheels. 

Lilly’s human companion was unharmed but the dog was not nearly as fortunate. The train’s wheels sliced through her right foot, fractured her pelvis in multiple locations and caused other internal injuries. Critically wounded, Lilly lay down next to her companion, who remained unconscious until help arrived.

Lilly Stays Calm Throughout Calamitous Scene
The train’s engineer later told first responders that he witnessed the dog pulling the woman—Christine Spain of Shirley—off the tracks as the train drew near. The engineer, who asked not to be identified, was convinced the train had struck both Christine and the dog, and realized only after stopping and rushing to their aid that Christine was unharmed but Lilly had suffered a catastrophic injury to her right front leg.
Dr. Kiko Bracker of Angell Animal Medical Center tends to Lilly before her right front leg is amputated (credit: Angell Animal Medical Center)

The engineer immediately called emergency services, who arrived to find Lilly standing guard over Christine, who had collapsed alongside the train tracks while walking home from a friend’s house. Lilly’s calm and composed demeanor—despite the wail of sirens, flashing lights and frantic din from first responders struggling to make sense of the scene—is all the more remarkable given her life-threatening injuries, which by now were bleeding profusely. A Shirley animal control officer immediately drove Lilly to an emergency animal hospital in Acton where Boston Police Officer David Lanteigne, who adopted the once shy and anxious dog five years ago from an animal shelter, recovered her and rushed to Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.

David had adopted Lilly three years ago as a companion for Christine, his mother, who had suffered from alcoholism nearly her entire life. Lilly became the center of Christine’s universe—and Lilly’s presence provided Christine a comfort she had never known. Said David of the bond between the dog and his mother: “Lilly means the world to my mother, who doted on the dog from the moment she came to live with her. Lilly has also played a crucial role in helping my mom drastically reduce her drinking. Lilly’s recovery from this horrific ordeal is my top priority right now and I’ll do everything possible to get her back home to us.”

Upon arriving at Angell’s Emergency and Critical Care Unit, Dr. Alice D’Amore immediately took charge of Lilly’s care. The administration of sedatives and pain medicine calmed her enough to allow the veterinary team to determine the extent of her injuries, and plan for the emergency surgery and ongoing treatment she would require. Lilly’s right foot had been completely “de-gloved”—its skin, muscle and connective tissue torn clear away. Multiple fractures to her left pelvis were especially troubling because, should she survive surgery, she could be permanently unable to bear weight or walk without assistance.

Angell’s World-Renowned Surgery Team Tends to Lilly
The veterinary team concluded that Lilly’s right front leg could not be repaired and the only option would be to amputate the entire limb. Lilly braved this surgery on Saturday, May 5. After a short recovery she endured a second surgery to repair her pelvis and rear left leg—which is now supported with steel plates. Lilly’s life will never be the same as she will be unable to bear weight or walk without assistance for the first few months after her surgery. Still, the veterinary team at Angell is optimistic that the spirit she showed as she rescued Christine may be just the trait that sees her through this new phase of her life.
Said Dr. Meg Whalen, a staff criticalist at Angell’s Emergency and Critical Care unit: “As a 24/7 emergency care hospital it’s fair to say that we have ‘seen it all’ with respect to companion animal emergencies. However, Lilly’s selfless bravery has captured the hearts of our entire staff. Her injuries are very serious and her road to recovery will be long. But she’s got the character and spirit that sometimes trumps all of our medical advances when it comes to recovery. I think she’s got what it takes to get back to her former self.”

Donations Sought to Offset Lilly’s Care
Because of the severity of Lilly’s injuries and the extensive treatment she required, the MSPCA-Angell has provided financial aid through its Pet Care Assistance program to help cover the cost of Lilly’s care. In addition to supporting other MSPCA programs, Pet Care Assistance provides financial aid to families whose animals need emergency, intermediate and critical care at Angell. Readers who would like to donate to Pet Care Assistance can navigate to www.mspca.org/helplilly.

Hero Dog Challenges the Public’s Perception of Pit Bulls
At a time when Pit Bulls are maligned and erroneously stereotyped as violent or unfriendly, Lilly’s bravery is testimony to the true nature of these amazing dogs. Far from being aggressive, unfriendly or indifferent, Lilly is a bona fide hero and an ambassador for Pit Bulls everywhere. The MSPCA-Angell’s Advocacy, Law Enforcement and Adoption Center teams have worked for years to challenge the notion that Pit Bulls are innately dangerous. It is only recently that Pit Bulls have been cast erroneously as villains. At the height of the breed stature in the early 20th century they were often seen as the most decorated heroes in the U.S. Lilly has demonstrated the unconditional love and loyalty that is a hallmark of Pit Bulls—and many, many other dogs as well.

Said Jean Weber, the MSPCA’s director of animal protection: “Lilly’s story has moved us all beyond measure. I hope her actions will underscore the truth about Pit Bulls—that they are amazing animals and are as devoted to their family as any other dog.”

Once Lilly fully recovers from her surgeries she will go home to live with David, his girlfriend and their two Golden Retrievers (whom Lilly adores). Christine has moved in with David to help with Lilly’s convalescence. Lilly’s recovery will be monitored regularly by the veterinary team at Angell to ensure she has every chance of returning to her former self.
For more information about Angell Animal Medical Center’s Emergency and Critical Care Services click here.

Lilly’s family wanted to share this with everyone – and to say thanks for the overwhelming response to her story. David Lanteigne says Lilly will bounce back soon. “Very sad but with her strong nature she will be back to her ol’ self doing her spin moves running up and down my front yard!

Because of the incredible generosity of people all over the world, the
cost for Lilly's initial hospitalization has been covered, and Lilly's
family is profoundly grateful. However, this is just the beginning of a
long and expensive road to recovery for this hero dog, who will need
extensive physical therapy in the months ahead. I've created this video
in hopes that Lilly's story will move you as much as it's moved us. And
if you would like to donate to a special fund we've created to help her
family pay her ongoing medical expenses you can do so by sending donations to the address below.

Please send donations to-
"Lilly the Hero Dog Fund"
c/o Fidelity Bank
9 Leominster Connector
Leominster Ma. 01453

Thank you for your continuing support and your thoughts and prayers for Lilly throughout her recovery. We are so grateful!

Contact - LillytheHeroPitbull@hotmail.com


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Goodbye to Barky, Who Perhaps Never Knew She Was a Pit Bull

I did not know that Barky was a pit bull when I got her, in the fall of 1998, as I was going -- ignorantly, in so many ways, as it turned out -- into my second year of law school.

The people who'd found Barky in New York's Riverside Park told me she was a Staffordshire terrier. I'd grown up with golden retrievers in the Rhode Island suburbs; I did not have the Internet in my apartment. I brought home the wiggly 10-month-old orange dog with the huge ears.

The guys who kept up the all-night underground pharmaceutical market on my corner whistled when they saw Barky. "Nice pit bull," I kept hearing.

I'd correct them. "She's a Staffordshire terrier."

Finally, I went to the library and looked at dog books. Staffordshire terriers, I learned, are a type of pit bull. Pit bulls, the plodding 1998 Internet told me, when I finally got to it, were likely one day to snap and bite me on the jugular.

But it was too late; I loved Barky already. Over the next years, she went on long walks around New York with me. She was a regular at the law school (my mother later said Barky was Columbia Law School's first pit bull graduate). When my ill-advised boyfriend and I broke up, in the middle of winter, then over and over again during various other seasons over the course of several years, Barky took to sleeping under the covers, with her head on the pillow. I'd never known a dog with funnier ears. My life had problems, to be sure -- I loathed being a lawyer; I was irresistible to terrible men -- but my jugular was fine.

In early 2002, with itchy feet and a deep fear of a terrorist attack on the subway, I took a one-year legal job on a small tropical island near Guam. The island had a four-month quarantine. My parents agreed to take care of Barky while I was away. One year turned into two. Barky's head got used to my parents' pillows; her tummy got used to my parents' home cooked meals. Then she came down with a blood disease the vet said would kill her within months. We were devastated. Barky lived. She was then diagnosed with cancer and was given another death sentence, that she again defied.

"She loves eating chicken too much to die," my mother told me on the phone.

By the time I came home from the island, five and a half years after I'd left New York, I was through being a lawyer and my parents were too attached to the now somewhat grey, still wiggly dog they'd nursed back to life, twice, to give her up. Barky had officially become the sweet, spoiled and beloved family dog, which she has continued to be for going on 98 dog years now -- which might be shocking to the judges of Maryland's Court of Appeals.

This court issued an unprecedented ruling in late April, finding that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, and people who own them are strictly liable for any damage they cause. Owning a pit bull at all, the court ruled, is itself negligent.

This is different from how most dogs are treated under the law. Owners are usually given what's called a "one free bite" -- meaning, that they essentially get a pass the first time their dog hurts someone. (The second time, they're liable, since by then they know their dogs' dangerous propensities.) Maryland's pit bull owners are now supposed to presume their dogs' dangerousness.

Pit bull advocates make a number of arguments for why the Maryland court's ruling makes no sense. They say there is, actually, no such thing as a pit bull; even if there were, pit bulls are in fact no more dangerous than any other breed. (Some advocates like to say that statistically speaking, golden retrievers are more dangerous than pits.)

As both a (former) lawyer and a person who has spent many nights sharing a pillow with a pit bull, I'm inclined to think the advocates are right. For one, even if there is such a thing as a pit bull, and even if they do bite more often than golden retrievers, they still don't bite often. The most alarmist, anti-pit bull statistics show that fewer than 30 people in the United States are killed every year by dogs (and no one is even suggesting that pit bulls are responsible for all of those 30 deaths, even). There are, meanwhile, almost 80 million dogs living in U.S. households.

This doesn't sound like inherent dangerousness to me. Then there's Barky, who hates cats and who has always barked like crazy when other dogs seem to be having too good a time (my dad calls her the police of the dog park). But no one seems to have told her she was supposed to have spent her life being actually dangerous; after a youth of walks, chasing squirrels, law school and barking at neighbors who talk too loudly, she's spent her dotage sitting in my mom's garden, eyeing squirrels, eating chicken and barking at the neighbors.

Barky's even used her legal education, going with my father to his law office, where she begs treats from clients.

That undramatic, chicken-filled life is almost over now, for real this time. On today, my first wedding anniversary to a wonderful man, I am on my way to Rhode Island, so that I can be with Barky as she leaves us, on Tuesday. After surviving blood disease and cancer, Barky is now having heart failure; my parents, my brother and I think it's kinder to ease her out of life with a shot from the vet than subject her to the heart attack or stroke that is otherwise inevitable. We've been very lucky to have all these years with the now almost completely white pit bull whose big ears now look cauliowered like a professional boxer's -- 14 human years, half of which have felt like borrowed time. It's hard to look back over these years and think that keeping Barky as our treasured pet would seem like negligent behavior. It's seemed like a gift.

Of course it's possible Barky simply never realized what she was. Maybe she just spent all these years thinking she was a Staffordshire terrier.

By Arin Greenwood