Guest post by Maggie Marton of Oh My Dog!
My dog Emmett is a therapy dog who adores children. Last month, on our first day at a new facility – a mental health hospital for children – we were led down a hallway to the activity room. A young girl sat on the floor sobbing to one of the counselors. Her face was red and splotchy, and black eyeliner ran down her cheeks. As we walked past, Emmett stopped in front of the girl. He gazed at her for a moment, leaned forward, and sniffed her face. Without a cue from me, he sprawled across her lap and licked her hand. The girl smiled through her tears, “He likes me!” She scratched his belly, rubbed his ears, talked about her dog at home, giggled as he gave her high five, and finally, she stopped crying.
Since that first day, Emmett has unfailingly selected to sit down next to the kid who needed him the most that day. I can’t explain how it happens, but his intuition is impeccable – and every day the counselors thank him for all that he does.
But here’s the thing: Emmett is a Staffordshire bull terrier mix. In many cities around the country, he’s called a “pit bull.” And in many cities, despite his record of service, he would be confiscated and put down simply because of his appearance.
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) exists in hundreds of communities. In most cases, “pit bulls” are targeted, but BSL frequently includes Rottweilers, German Shepherds, chow chows, even boxers and St. Bernards. The ordinances range from banning the dogs completely – and killing any dogs confiscated in their city – to requiring owners to have additional liability insurance coverage, six-foot-tall fences, muzzles on their dog, and more.
Usually BSL is enacted when a serious dog bite occurs. If a Doberman bites a child, what often happens is that city council members enact panic legislation that bans Dobermans instead of enforcing responsible dog ownership. It doesn’t make sense: Domestic dogs rely on us to teach them how to interact appropriately in our human world. We’re responsible for their care, their well-being, and their safety. If we breach that trust, then we need to be the ones responsible – not an entire breed of domestic dog.
I can’t imagine an animal control officer coming to take Emmett away from me, and I can’t imagine Emmett being euthanized simply because he has a blocky head and brindle fur. So to stop the spread of this prejudicial legislation, I’ve created a campaign to combat BSL. I’m starting with Denver for several reasons: Between 2005 and 2007, the city confiscated and killed 1,667 family dogs, which is unacceptable to me. Plus, BSL is costly to enforce, and Denver has a $120 million deficit, so they should have the motivation to repeal this ineffective and expensive legislation. Further, the BlogPaws West conference is going to be held in Denver, and 300 or so pet bloggers can be a loud voice.
The animal-loving community is a strong, passionate group of people. I know that if we work together, we can end breed-specific legislation, not just in Denver, but nationwide. So please join me in the fight against BSL so that dogs like Emmett and all the other sweet dogs facing discrimination can have a chance at a happy life with a loving family.