|Is breed specific
legislation really a good idea?
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
As I watched the furor over pit bulls ensue on the evening news, I saw a woman spout at one of the city council meetings — “Yes, we’re talking about pit bulls, if it were Rottweilers hurting people, we would be wanting a ban on Rottweilers.”
Ah-oh, here we go, I thought.
I told my mother that very evening, “I wonder how long it will be before they start coming after the Rottweilers?”
It wasn’t long after that a Rottweiler mauling ended up on the evening news.
Of course, as a dog lover, I had always been concerned about the implications of breed specific bans but when I actually heard someone talking about Rottweilers, it hit home. It’s like the story about the Holocaust where the writer says, “They came after the Jews and I did nothing, and then they came for the homosexuals…” and on and on until the writer found himself targeted.
I have a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix. There’s no mistaking the Rottweiler, she has a big box head and has the black and brown markings, and spotted black and pink tongue.
But Emma is the sweetest, most loving dog you would ever want to meet. My mother, who has been afraid of large dogs all of her life, loves Emma and will let her give her sloppy wet kisses on her face.
But I’m not blind to the fact that Emma can be the most loyal and a vicious dog if something is trying to hurt my family or me. I know, because she already has saved my life once.
We had a horse that came after me, picked me up by my collarbone and threw me back 4 feet to the ground. The horse then charged me while I was lying immobile on my back with the wind knocked out of me. I imagine she would have stomped me and kicked me had she gotten that far, but a snarling, barking and biting Emma put herself between me and sent the horse packing. With the exception of that one time, Emma went to the barn with me everyday where we kept our horses. In 5 years, Emma didn’t bother another soul, human or animal.
And I realize not all people see Emma the way we do — they don’t know her the way we do. They do not see her giving kisses or playing gently with her two much smaller Dachshund “sisters” on a daily basis.
“Do you know that dog has Rottweiler in her?” my best friend asked upon her first visit to my home after Emma wandered to our home as a stray.
My friend was misinformed, based on hype and misinformation about the breed spread in the neighborhood where we grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. By the time my friend left our house after a two-day stay, she was almost ready to take Emma with her.
Emma also chased a child down the street once when she got out without her leash, not because she wanted to hurt him, but because his running away screaming made her think he was playing chase with her. After a sit-down with his father, the boy was patting Emma and she was licking him. It is because of this menacing persona that others see that we carry a muzzle in our car when Emma travels with us. We wouldn’t want a frightened police officer to shoot her should we be stopped.
I am not a nut advocating that animals run free, I’m a responsible animal lover. Like any rational, compassionate human being, I am horrified by the maulings that have taken place around the metro this summer. I am truly concerned about the problem of vicious dogs, and my heart and condolences go out to the victims and their families.
It was tragic that Jimmie May McConnell was killed last month in Kansas City, KS. No one should meet his or her end in that way. I also agree that the dog involved in that mauling — or any unprovoked mauling — should also be put down; there is no room in our society for dangerous dogs.
But common sense tells me that breed bans do not work. I am not the only one that does not support breed specific legislation for any breed; many animal rights groups, breed fancy groups and the American Kennel Club also do not support this type of control for potentially vicious animals.
Unfortunately, through time, in addition to Rottweilers, other breeds have gotten bad reputations due to bad handling — including Akitas, German Shepherds and Dobermans. All are fierce and loyal, and all can inflict certain damage upon attack, but that doesn’t mean that all are bad dogs
On the flip side, I have not seen breed specific bans on Dalmatians, one of which attacked and mauled me on the face when I was four or a ban on Cocker Spaniels, a breed so popularized and inner-bred during the 1960s and ‘70s that it created a whole generation of dogs with severe personality problems. I personally know of two people who had what I would consider “vicious” Cockers that attacked their owners. People would think those bans ridiculous.
And the same should go for the terriers lumped into the category of being “Pit Bulls.” Evidence can be found of that from some of the famous pit bulls that we all know in movies and television — Helen Keller owned an American Pit Bull Terrier as one of her eye dogs. Petey, the dog that played in The Little Rascals in the 1930s, Spuds McKenzie in the 1980s Budweiser ads and more recently, the dog on the UPN show Veronica Mars is a pit bull. The American military even used the dogs’ image in their war posters in the early 1900s. Finally, the dog used in the Target store ads is a dog sometimes used to cross breed to get a pit bull.
Life Magazine recently highlighted a photo gallery of shelter animals; many of them were pit bulls. One of them, it said, was adopted and trained to be a therapy dog. How many of the thousands of dogs that Kansas City area shelters have been killing these past few months could have been adopted and trained to do good? How many good dogs were killed in an irrational atmosphere of fear and hatred?
Where do these bad dogs come from? The come from bad owners.
Unfortunately for the terriers, this breed has not only long been used in illegal dogfights; they have become a “status” symbol for every punk gang member and drug dealer across the country. They’ve been used in hip-hop videos to promote this status.
After acquiring these dogs, these thugs “train” these beautiful animals through abuse and deprivation of food, water and shelter. Many, like the dogs that were allegedly in the yard next to McConnell’s, are left to their own devices, becoming agitated, less socialized and more aggressive the less they are cared for.
This is a societal problem, not a breed problem. And there are many societal reasons that the vicious dog ordinance, otherwise known as the pit bull ban in Kansas City, KS, has not worked for the past 16 years.
First, the ordinance does not address the poverty issues or drug problem in the county. It is common knowledge that while Wyandotte County’s reputation has improved through the years, poverty and everything it breeds is still a huge problem (I am not only a native Dotte, but a life-long resident). It also does not address the illegal dog fighting trade. People say this is a shady world that is hard to infiltrate. If our government can infiltrate terrorist cells and the mafia, they could infiltrate and bust the rednecks and criminals who use and train dogs to kill one another.
Next, the ordinance does not address the basic issue of educating the public about dogs, the overpopulation problem and responsible ownership. Most of this can be attributed to funding. I have written several stories in Wyandotte County about animal control and the efforts of the former director to attend public meetings and neighborhood groups. That director did the best with what he had to work with. He also had a no-nonsense approach for anyone who brought in a litter of puppies to the shelter.
“When people tell me they wanted their children to see the miracle of birth, I invite them back on a Friday so they can see the tragedy of death,” he told me more than once.
I was there on a Friday and unfortunately saw it for myself; 80 percent of the animals (at that time) relinquished to animal control in that city end up euthanized. The city has managed to drop that number to about 70 percent. And even for the animals adopted, animal control had no funds to require adopted animals to be spayed or neutered, or hire a professional to perform the procedure, so people who adopted animals could let them breed again.
Besides not requiring animals to be altered before adoption, the Unified Government failed to pass any ordinance that would require any animal owner allowing animals to breed to obtain a breeding permit. This could have cut down on the number of unwanted animals in the county and possibly identified some of the people breeding dogs for the drug and dog fighting industries.
Instead of doing any of this, in 1990, they passed a knee jerk reaction to humans treating a breed of dog badly by punishing the breed. And instead of taking another look and immediately passing good legislation and funding better animal control laws, as was recommended by a mayor’s task force over two years ago, they’ve ran through the city, acting on tips about the specific terrier breed and brought hundreds in to meet that tragedy of death.
And I don’t just blame our lawmakers. Animal rights groups and breed advocacy organizations should be doing more to educate the public. Maybe they could get hip-hop artists and music television on board for a broad public service program.
I also blame all of “civilization.”
Only when our society realizes that animals are not disposable and until our lawmakers start enacting laws that punish abusers and people who engage in the barbaric ritual of dog fighting, place tight restrictions on breeding and enact spay/neuter laws on all animals not registered to breed, we will continue to have these problems.
I pray everyday for the people these dogs have attacked. I pray too for the safe journey of the souls of the good dogs who have been caught up in this tragic summer.
My only question is now that municipal shelters have killed literally hundreds, possibly thousands of pit bulls and more municipalities have placed bans on one particular breed, what will be the next breed the hooligans in our society choose as their next status symbol?
I hope that it isn’t too late, that I didn’t sit doing nothing for too long while they took other people’s dogs. I look at Emma and put my face next to hers, let her give me kisses on the cheek and I rub her ears and hold her tighter because I just don’t know when they will decide to come for her.
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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