"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, March 25, 2013

Tips for Attending Meetings on Breed Discriminatory Laws

10 Tips for Attending a City Council Meeting or Public Hearing Where Discriminatory Dog Laws are Being Discussed

Reprinted with permission from If Dogs Could Talk and StubbyDog.org

(1) Stay for the entire meeting. I recently attended a public hearing in Middletown, New York, where a new dog ordinance was first on the agenda for discussion. After the dog discussion ended, the dozens of advocates in attendance left the hearing; I was one of two people who stayed put. Several of the council members voiced disgust over this. One said, “These dog lovers claim to care about the community, but they leave after their issue is finished. How can they say they care about the community?”

(2) Dress to impress. There’s a time and a place for our doggie t-shirts and sweatshirts; a formal political meeting is not it. We’ll be taken more seriously if our attire conveys professionalism and respect. And if you’re like me, your dog/advocacy paraphenalia is ragged from wear and tear. Politicians are not impressed by this. They wear formal ”work” clothes to these things, and so should we.

(3) Avoid the “isms.” It’s tempting to compare discriminatory dog laws to racism, the holocaust, fascism, and other social atrocities. Don’t. It especially insults people who have experienced those “isms” firsthand, and your legislators could be one of them. A Washington Post column noted, “Nazi comparisons are the most extreme form of political speech; once one ties his political opponents to the most deplorable chapter in human history, all reasoned argument ceases.” In an Ohio hearing to discuss the repeal of state-wide breed specific legislation (BSL), one committee member was so offended by a comparison of BSL to racism that she walked out of the room. You want/need them to stay in the room.

(4) Don’t come empty handed. When you speak, it’s important to present the facts, studies, and research to demonstrate that discriminatory dog laws have never resulted in increased public safety. But don’t expect the legislators to remember everything you said. Instead, present them each with hard copies of what you cited. Having one printed copy per legislator shows respect and makes it easier for them to digest everything. They probably received countless emails on the topic, so delivering these materials in person increases the chances they’ll really read it. It might not save the trees, but it could save the dogs.

(5) Propose a solution. There’s a good chance you’ll convince legislators that discriminatory dog laws are not effective, but don’t forget the most important part: the solution. A small town Mayor once told a room full of dog advocates, “You all say that our proposed ordinance is not the answer, but none of you has proposed an alternative plan.” Once an elected official proposes legislation, it’s hard to go back on the promise to take action; even though their opinions may change, they still feel the need to “do something.” Propose that something. It can be as simple (and effective!) as enforcing existing leash laws, fining owners who don’t license their dogs, or partnering with community groups to offer low-cost vaccination and microchip clinics. If the legislator can claim this as his own idea/solution, even better! But spell this out for them, so they can take action.

(6) Focus on public safety for people. Legislators are interested, first and foremost, in ensuring public safety for their voting constituents. So frame your arguments in ways that appeal to their goal. They may or may not care how much you love your dog, and sadly, they may or may not care about the plight of dogs in your community. But they will always care about public safety to people. Fortunately, effective dog laws also enhance public safety for people. These are the points you want to stress. Help legislators understand that this is not a zero-sum game; the existence of your dog does not come at the expense of humans’ wellbeing.

(7) Share your stories strategically. Telling legislators how much you love your dog doesn’t always change minds, especially if they mistakenly believe your dogs exist at the expense of public safety. Instead, tell stories of how your dogs have benefited the community. Is your dog a therapy dog? Describe how he’s enhanced the lives of vulnerable people in your community (e.g., isolated seniors, children with special needs). Do you spend money on your dog? State the dollar amount you pay annually to local business owners (e.g., veterinarians, pet food stores, dogwalkers, trainers) because of your dog.

(8) Practice your poker face. This is a tough one, especially when emotions run high. But the dogs are counting on you to be polite and in control of your words. There’s a good possibility that a legislator (or another audience member) will say something hurtful and offensive about you and/or your dogs. Don’t let this catch you off guard; get a friend to practice insulting you (for real!) and test out your poker face. If you can’t stay collected after hearing these insults, better to find out now rather than in public and on record. Also, don’t moan-and-groan, roll your eyes, whisper to the person next to you, or tsk-tsk when someone says something offensive. Reacting that way will hurt, not help, your case.

(9) Introduce yourself to legislators after the meeting. When the meeting is over (and you’ve stayed to the end, of course!), kindly introduce yourself to the legislators – even the ones on the other team. Shake their hand. Look them in the eye. All of this puts a human face on the issue, and those simple interactions can go a long way in humanizing the issue. And it’s a good business practice.
(10) Say thank you. When you’re shaking hands, thank the legislators for being concerned about public safety. In doing so, you can reiterate that you share this goal.

For more information on challenging discriminatory dog laws, visit Stop BSL, Bless the Bullies, the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club, or the National Canine Research Council.

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  1. It is a funny thing.. People were very upset with me when they found out that I had two Pit Bulls. I have a child that has Down Syndrome, and right away, I got all kinds of flack. I guess they tho't that my son would be eaten alive by them. LOL However, our dogs were gentle as lambs. They were very protective of my son, and our female was never far from him. I believe that most people think that because those who raise Pit Bulls for fighting and are aggressive, that they all are. This is not the case. I think that you can take any dog, and make them mean and aggressive towards people. I can tell you that in my past experience I have met some really nasty Pomeranians and Chihuahuas...that would have like to have eaten me alive... But to think that Pit Bulls are mean and vicious that is not the case... and I would not have a dog in my house that was mean or vicious.

    1. Nicely stated, Joi. I have a very sweet pit bull mix now, and grew up with German Shepards. Pretty much since infancy I've always been attracted to and felt safe with large dogs. I totally get your experiences with small dogs; as a young child I was terrified of a neighbor's chihuahuas...they barked and growled whenever I approached them and seemed truly vicious to me.

  2. Good advice, but the average Pit Nutter is more than likely to become rabid and start using the nearest BSL supporters leg for a chew toy the moment they realise the majority of the community doesn't worship Pitbulls as if they were the second coming of Christ. The average Councillor can see through their vested interest and biased agenda and that it isn't community safety Pit Nutters are worried about, but ensuring the continued right to own fighting breeds of dog regardless of the cost to innocent people have to pay for the inevitable maiming and mauling that will result from continuing to allow citizens to own an inherently dangerous breed of dog. It's pretty hard to hide sociopathy and lack of community concern. The fact you have to write this article to train the rabid Pit Nutter crowd is a sad reflection on the type of people attracted to this breed. Good luck with the continued TRAINING of your inherently dangerous Dog owners.

    1. Really Luke? Perhaps your cult leader needs to take some anger management classes before her interviews. Shall we relive how crazed she became during her HuffPost interview? Should we talk about the fact that Colleen went out of her way to create a nasty video mocking one of the speakers that day? Yeah buddy, think before you speak because it sure comes from both sides.Or how about Jon Birchall, you know him as Hone or wait Jon Anonnon that has some sick obsession and claims pit bull owners have sex with their dogs. I could go on and on. One the victim's granddaddies is posting personal work info about a person and telling his groupies to call his job and harass his boss. Don't play the Saint, you are far from it.

    2. I do have a suggestion. Perhaps Crazy Colleen needs to take lessons from Tony Solesky on how to speak in a meeting. Him and his son are the only ones that know how to compose themselves.

    3. Honestly the article isn't about training the pit hutters its about educating the nah sayers that haven't really a clue as to what the pitbull breed is all about

  3. We should be ashamed at all remaining aspects of permitted animal cruelty in our mainly civilized countries. Historically, however, things do gradually change for the better. One tiny local example of this was when, in 2004, the law in Britain was changed so that people were no longer permitted to set dogs onto deer, hares and foxes etc so that these animals could be literally torn apart. Those activities were in a similar league to cock fighting and dog fighting and no one would seek to justify bringing those back – or wouldn’t they in a world where people still go to cheer watching bulls being tortured to death. Looking for large dog breeds for families Wondering what large dog breeds are good with kids or would be good for apartments Find out here A complete list of large dog breeds


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  5. I own a pittbul/lab mix. We have to work with her to keep her from attacking our chocolate lab who very patient with her. I am sick of Psycho Pitbull Activists. Some of them are utter nuts and their charities are utter scams. I think the worst is Pinups for Pitbulls. The purpose is to feed the founders ego and purse. No useful information on the web page but they can tell you were to buy their crap.