Topic: 008 - Pitbulls - Defending My Po
Freedom of speech, it is one Americas’ most cherished constitutional rights. Regardless of the issue or the position taken, each and every one of us has the right to voice our opinion in support or opposition. There are unfortunately many issues are so emotionally charged that it can be easy to allow ourselves to become obsessed to the point that we cannot see the blinders that prohibit reasonable discussion, therefore reaching a workable solution.
One such issue is the proposed Breed Specific Legislation, in particular the banning of Pit Bulls, a highly volatile issue between advocates and opponents of such legislation. A member of the Ohio Valley Dog Owner’s Association and a Pit Bull owner, I am personally in opposition to such legislation. I cannot and do not speak for every individual in opposition to this proposed legislation, however I do exercise my own freedom of speech in staunch opposition to the broad and unrealistic scope of such legislation. While it would be ideal, this commentary is not so much intended to create converts from supporters of Breed Specific Legislation as it is simply a statement as to why I am now and will forever oppose such drastic measures regarding this issue.
I have been associated with the Pit Bull breed since 1978 and have owned a total of five Pit Bulls and Pit Bull Mix breed dogs. Having been raised around large breed dogs since early childhood, I have developed a preference for them. My mother raised Boxers before I was even born and continued to do so long after my younger sisters were born. I believe that my preference for larger breed dogs can be linked to many happy memories of romping through the back yard, chasing, being chased and wrestling with the family dog which was always a Boxer. I have no memory of injuries beyond skinned knees and the normal bumps and bruises associated with the rough and tumble style of play that I enjoyed with my four-legged best friends.
Although recommended by various agencies, it is unfortunate that so many people who decide that they want to bring a dog home will make that decision based on an uninformed perception of the breed. All too often dogs are selected based on their appearance and size. This applies to all situations, whether the person or family is looking for a protector or a companion. There are a great many things to consider before bringing a pet of any kind into your home. These things include but are not limited to geographical location, number and age [if any] children in the home, the overall social life of the person or family, are there any specific health issues within the family, and even the family income should be considered. These are unfortunately some of the most common factors that are not considered until after they have acquired the pet.
My first Pit Bull was obtained from a local animal shelter where she had been brought by her former owner because she just didn’t fit in with their lifestyle. Her name was Maxine, a dark brindle colored Pit Bull that literally stole my heart with that big smile, cocked head and bright sparkling eyes. I filled out the paperwork and waited impatiently for the day I could take her home. In Alaska at the time there was a 30 day waiting period between application and possession, followed by a 60 day probationary period where agents from the shelter would make impromptu visits to assess the progress. I didn’t mind any of it except the waiting period, which I consoled myself with by daily visits to the shelter to visit with her in the ‘Doggie Visiting Arena’. The arena was a large fenced in area where potential owners could interact with the dog of their choice on a one to one basis.
Maxine fit so well with my lifestyle that approximately a year later when I discovered that there was another dark brindle Pit Bull that had been brought to the same shelter, I wanted him. I was immediately interested as I wanted a playmate for Maxine. Interestingly enough, part of the application paperwork involved signing a Neutering Agreement which I shrugged off and signed because I wasn’t looking to breed them. There was also the additional cost, meant for two reasons to help cover the costs of the procedure as well as the ideology that when people actually pay for something there is a higher probability that they are sincere in their desire to take care of it. Because I had already adopted a Pit Bull from that shelter the waiting and probationary periods were waived. I only had to wait for him to recover from the surgery and get the okay from the veterinarian to take him home. I named him Mikie who was also the only Pit Bull I ever had any difficulty with and that was only later when he became overly protective of me and did not like it when people touched me or got too close to me.
In the back of my mind I have always been aware of the stigma attached to these dogs, but I had as of that time never personally experienced or witnessed anything that would justify it. Although I respected the majority of their points, I could not embrace a philosophy that called for the complete extermination of an entire breed based on what I viewed as irresponsible pet ownership. This is the key factor that usually irrupts into inflammatory accusations from those who have condemned the breed, which usually accuse me of ignoring the fact that they are a dangerous and vicious breed of animal. This is not the case, my position is simply that I support the concept of ‘Punish the Deed, Not the Breed’ and advocate holding the owner responsible for the actions of their dog.
It wasn’t until 1984 that I began actively speaking out in opposition to those who would destroy this breed. The incident that triggered my activism was the blatant and senseless murder of my beloved Maxine. Part of my daily routine when weather permitted was to take walks with both of my dogs. I walked each one for a total of a two mile trek, it was a great way to spend quality time with each one individually. One day in June of 1984 as I was crossing the road with Maxine a vehicle that had been parked suddenly sped forward directly at us. Within what seemed to be a matter of seconds I heard Maxine scream as the braided leash was literally ripped from my wrist. My wrist was broken and Maxine lay dead some twenty feet away from me.
That moment, for the first time in my life I knew what it meant to actually hate another human being with every fiber of my being. Thus was launched my own personal crusade to defend these dogs, this breed from such blind hatred. Blinded by their own desire to destroy what they perceived to be a dangerous animal, this individual was willing to run the risk of killing a human being. I believe that single incident also galvanized my choice of breed for a pet and have owned Pit Bulls ever since, stubborn I may be but stupid I am not. This was also when I began doing as much volunteer work at the shelter as time would allow. I made a number of friends who also owned Pit Bulls which was beneficial when I came down on levy to be shipped out to Texas as part of a ‘beefing up’ maneuver for medical units that were slated to ship out to the Persian Gulf. It was a tearful and painful goodbye, but I knew in my heart that leaving Mikie with a couple that already had one Pit Bull was in his best interest because I knew that I would not be returning to the state of Alaska.
In 1991, when I returned from the Gulf, I was ready psychologically for another pet, another Pit Bull. However, now disabled I had to take into consideration the fact that I might not be able to own another Pit Bull. I had always enjoyed the rough and tumble play in my back yard with Maxine and Mikie and our long walks together. Pit Bulls are very attention demanding, at least those two were for me. I talked this over with my physical therapist and discovered that there were a number of Pit Bulls that were available for those of us that needed therapy dogs, I was elated! Within a few weeks I was introduced to Maggie, my third Pit Bull and we clicked right away. Although she was 8 years old and very much an adult dog, she was very sociable and quite playful. I solved the walking problem by purchasing two treadmills, one for me and one for her. This way when the pain got to be too much or I got tired out, she could keep walking while I just stood there.
Maggie was a gift from heaven, she saved me in so many ways. Unless you’ve been there, I do not know how to explain it. I was still silently suffering the death of Maxine and the painful separation from Mikie even as I denied it. I had thrown myself into my job and refused to think about anything but that task at hand at that moment, that day, that whatever. I did not even look to the future for anything, I was in a strange God forsaken place where nothing made sense anymore anyway. I was terribly lonely and I didn’t even know it. Maggie gave me the inspiration to get on that treadmill every day, she gave me the courage to be who I am not who I was turning into. Unfortunately Maggie passed away quietly in her sleep on April 24, 1995, she was 14 years old. Their average life span is 10 -15 years.
Based entirely on my own experiences with both Pit Bulls and those who are against them, I believe that if I were any less of a logical or reasonable individual it would be so very easy for me to strike out in anger at every individual that even implies that they support the banning and destruction of this breed of dog. There are numerous times when it is very difficult to win over this urge to chime in so to speak and spew much anger, therefore I either ignore certain comments or I reluctantly play the silly word games with most of these supporters.
There are those that will use my hypothetically presented situations and make reference that I sated it as fact when the reality is that the original comment is so clearly meant to be a satirical statement that is completely nonfactual. I totally understand that individual viewpoints on things is going to be heavily influenced by personal experience, yet there are those who have admitted that they have never owned or even been around a Pit Bull yet will state in such a matter of fact manner that all Pit Bulls will at one point or another cause bodily harm to myself or someone else because it is in their nature. To which I can only rely that it is an interesting concept considering that I have owned five Pit Bulls and have suffered no such harm nor has anyone around me. I am in no way stating that Pit Bulls do not attack and that they do not cause serious harm and or even death. To make such a statement would be ludicrous and yes would indicate that I am blind to the reality of their physical capability.
I have found that once the ‘conversation’ can move beyond the fact that I accept the fact that Pit Bulls can and do attack, maim, and even kill people, the foundation of their argument moves toward the fact that they have a natural propensity to attack and that it happens at rates that are astonishingly higher than other breeds of dog and that they cause more damage than other dogs when they do bite with the accent being on the amount of damage that is done with the bite.
Regrettably these ‘conversations’ always arise in light of a tragic event where, more often than not a child has been seriously injured or killed by a Pit Bull [or other large breed that nobody really talks about]. Personally it is extremely difficult at best to participate in some of these conversations turned debates, primarily because emotions are naturally at a higher level than under normal circumstances. Attempting to defend a breed suddenly means that you are blaming the victim of this tragic event, which could not be further from the truth. It is out of respect for the victim and the victims’ family that is the root of my personal struggle with terminology and even sentence structure when commenting in light of the event.
Unfortunately individuals on both sides of this issue are guilty of blatantly exploiting these tragic events for the purpose of furthering our own goals on the subject. Sifting through the myriad of comments that can be found concerning any one of these articles, I feel a renewed amazement at the narrow mindedness that prevails on both sides of the issue. Although I do believe that the greater majority of that narrow mindedness is displayed on the side if those who prefer Breed Specific Legislation. There are literally hundreds of comments clearly meant to instigate an argument and so very reminiscent of characters on the Jerry Springer or Steve Wilkos television shows.
This situation is in my opinion doubly tragic because this was the family pet that caused the death of this innocent child. There is no question as to the results or the fact the dogs actions are the cause of that death. When people such as myself make the statement that it is a situation that could have been avoided had the owner acted in a more responsible manner, we are instantly attacked with claims that we are blaming the victim and unfortunately in cases such as this that is in essence true. Any situation where injury or death occurs due to the actions of the family dog there will be both victims’ and responsible parties.
Admittedly a very different scenario yet very similar in aftermath, however if a family leaves their house one day to go on a trip, they pile into a revved up muscle car and there is an accident that results in everyone being seriously injured and even the death of some of the occupants of the vehicle. The investigation concludes that the driver of that vehicle was the cause of that accident due to excessive speeds that resulted in a loss of control of the vehicle. This is also a situation where they are all victims yet there is also a responsible party, the driver. So, now do we say that we cannot blame the driver for their recklessness because they are also a victim? Do we start a campaign to ban the sale of all muscle cars? Do we stand back as whisper to ourselves that it is such a tragic event, now the driver must live with themselves because they did not act responsibly behind the wheel of the car?
Absolutely not on all counts. Just as in the tragic situation where the family pet is responsible for the injury or death of another family member, the entire family is a victim yet there is also a responsible party. In the case of the dog attack, that responsibility is squarely placed on the shoulders of the one that is identified as the owner of the dog. Just as the responsibility for the injuries and deaths that resulted in the reckless driving of the muscle car is placed squarely on the one that is identified as the driver of the vehicle.
Let’s talk about another very volatile scenario that plays itself out continuously across this country. Debt and the economic downturn have left many teenagers in charge of their younger siblings after school hours as both parents are now working. While parents believe that they have taken every precaution possible to safeguard their children regarding the fact that there are firearms in the home, they cannot predict the effects of peer pressure even from the friends of their child whom they [the parents] have even come to look upon as a ‘good kid.’ Perhaps that child is raised in a home where guns are prohibited. They are well aware of the fact that there is one [or more] located at their friends [your] house. Curiosity gets the better of them one day as they are sitting there in the family room playing video games as is the norm while waiting for one of the parents to arrive home.
Reluctantly but innocently, your child gives in to the pleadings of their friend that all they want to do is look at it. So, your child goes upstairs and into your bedroom, high up in the top of the closet, closed up in a gun case is the handgun that is supposed to be off limits. They bring it downstairs to show it to their friend while a younger sibling takes over the television and is now sitting there watching cartoons. Suddenly, without warning the weapon discharges and the innocent child consumed by the antics of their favorite cartoon is now sprawled on the floor while blood pools beneath them. What happens now? There are victim’s everywhere, some of them are not yet aware of it as they have not arrived home. Who is to blame? Do we run out and start a campaign to ban all firearms from private citizens because one irresponsible parent did not take enough or the proper precautions? Should all households that do not have children be subjected to laws created based entirely on this irresponsibility?
Therein is the root of my personal advocacy against Breed Specific Legislation. Every situation is unique just as every person and every dog is different and unique. The foundation of what I am personally fighting for is my right to not be controlled by the irresponsible and yes reprehensible actions of others. I’ve been down this road before in numerous situations where I was judged by the actions of others, specifically when I was called a whore and a lesbian when I joined the Army because according to the general consensus of my male counterparts in that good [straight] girls don’t join the military.
I currently live in my mother’s house in Ohio and I now have two more canine companions. Although they are both Pit Bull mix I still handle them the same way I have always handled all my dogs, the Pit Bulls and the Boxers I had early in those first days out on my own. Buckingham “Buck” for short is a 6 year old brown and black Pit Bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd and Jack Russell mix that weighs in at 120 pounds. Kohl, or sometimes called ‘Baby Girl’ is approximately 3 years old, black with a splash of white on her chest Pit Bull and Lab mix that weighs in at 45 pounds. I’ve had Buck since he was 5 weeks old and rescued Kohl at the Cleveland Veteran’s Hospital just over 2 years ago.
I don’t know about other states, but here in Ohio all dogs have to be registered at the County Clerk’s Office. It is only because I am aware of the fact that both dogs are of Pit Bull mix that I take extra precautions with them. The question has been posed to me that why would I want to own a dog that required so much control. The extra precautions taken are neither needed for control or for the protection of other people from my dogs but rather to protect my dogs from other people. While they are only mixed breeds, the physical traits of their Pit Bull heritage are clearly visible and I am well aware of the fact that this is the part of them that most people see when they look at them. Regardless of what breed of dog I have ever owned be it a Boxer, Pit Bull or my current mixed breed companions, I have always been a staunch advocate for responsible pet ownership and will always be.
The eradication of this breed of dog is not the answer now and it will never be the answer. If there is to be new legislation introduced regarding dogs, be it one that established and allows the enforcement of stiffer fines and harsher punishments for those who neglect and abuse their responsibility as a pet owner. This breed is not the ticking time bomb that it has erroneously been labeled, like children they seek only to please and ask for nothing in return but love and companionship. I have often been told that because of what their ancestors were bred for, it is only a matter of time and my luck will run out and I will suffer an attack from one of my dogs because of the fact that they are Pit Bulls or even Pit Bull mix.
This is an idea that I find so completely preposterous simply because it would imply that these dogs alone operate through some collective memory of how their ancestors lived. If that be the case, then every single dog out there should be living through the collective memories of their wolf ancestors because that is where every dog known today has its origins.
While it seems that those individuals who support Breed Specific Legislation, more specifically those who are just simply against Pit Bulls seem to believe that everyone of us who own them do so because we are looking for this misguided notion of needing a powerful, vicious dog. This could not be further from the truth for the majority of those who own them. I do not, nor do I know anyone either personally or as an acquaintance that is even interested in fighting them. This is not to say that those sorts of people are not out there, that is an unfortunate fact that so completely overshadows the thousands of Pit Bulls who have never committed an attack of any kind on a human being, all of those awesome service dogs that are out there working as Therapy Dogs, Police, Drugs & Bomb Squad Dogs, and Search & Rescue Dogs and so much more. Very few of them want to hear about them as that would destroy their negative image of the breed.
The culmination of so much of what I have experienced regarding this particular breed of dog and those that seek to destroy it have resulted in a new career choice for me. While I can no longer be as physically active as I once was, I am still a whole person thanks to the memory of my beloved Maggie. I no longer have the restrictions of the requirement to get up and go to work every day, my job has now become the voice for this breed, she never gave up on me and I’m not going to give up her. I do what I do for the love of her, for Maxine, and for every other Pit Bull that deserves so much more.
I am going to close this commentary now, yet I do not silence my voice. There is still so much work to be done and I still have a bit of time before I graduate with my degree in Criminal Justice. I have chosen to be the voice of those who have none and therefore, quoting a poetic excerpt from the movie ‘Independence Day’… “No, I will not go quietly into the night.”