If Dogs Could Talk

If dogs could talk, this is what they would say.

While we’re waiting for the 2012 presidential election results, think about this quote from a political commentator (Ray Suarez) on PBS, describing the candidates’ strategies for influencing votes:“This time, instead of sending volunteers and sending field workers from state to state, they relied heavily on using people that people know. It sounds kind of obvious, but the research shows that when someone you know talks to you about casting a vote in the first place or voting for the person t
hat you prefer, that has a lot more impact than somebody showing up at your door with paperwork, a leaflet, or a pitch for a candidate. So they’ve put much more emphasis on having people work their own neighborhoods this time around.” To me, this describes the heart of pit bull advocacy. It’s all about individual pit bull owners finding ways to incorporate their dogs into their existing ‘neighborhoods,’ both literally and figuratively. Thad and I rarely go to stand-alone “pit bull events” anymore. Instead, we make a constant, concerted effort to incorporate our pit bulls into other networks we belong to.This is a photo of Martha at our 10-year college reunion. She came with us. Thad and I already knew the hundreds of people in attendance, but those people didn’t know Martha. Now they do. And now they’ve had a positive experience with a pit bull, through someone they already knew. Someone from their “neighborhood.” Once you start thinking of pit bull advocacy from this perspective, the opportunities are endless — and oh so fun!!

While we’re waiting for the 2012 presidential election results, think about this quote from a political commentator (Ray Suarez) on PBS, describing the candidates’ strategies for influencing votes:

“This time, instead of sending volunteers and sending field workers from state to state, they relied heavily on using people that people know. It sounds kind of obvious, but the research shows that when someone you know talks to you about casting a vote in the first place or voting for the person t

hat you prefer, that has a lot more impact than somebody showing up at your door with paperwork, a leaflet, or a pitch for a candidate. So they’ve put much more emphasis on having people work their own neighborhoods this time around.” 

To me, this describes the heart of pit bull advocacy. It’s all about individual pit bull owners finding ways to incorporate their dogs into their existing ‘neighborhoods,’ both literally and figuratively. 

Thad and I rarely go to stand-alone “pit bull events” anymore. Instead, we make a constant, concerted effort to incorporate our pit bulls into other networks we belong to.

This is a photo of Martha at our 10-year college reunion. She came with us. Thad and I already knew the hundreds of people in attendance, but those people didn’t know Martha. Now they do. And now they’ve had a positive experience with a pit bull, through someone they already knew. Someone from their “neighborhood.” 

Once you start thinking of pit bull advocacy from this perspective, the opportunities are endless — and oh so fun!!
For once, we are not sure what this adventure of Pug and Bug entailed. Thoughts??
Back row (left to right): Fannie, Sarge (RIP), Mary Todd Lincoln
Front row (left to right): Bug, Nancy Reagan, Cappy, Martha Washington
A common mistake when confronting false/negative information is to repeat the damaging statement when defending against it. A classic example is when a politician is accused of cheating on his taxes. On the 6:00 pm evening news his photo is shown along with the sound bite: “I did not cheat on my taxes.” In his attempt to refute the allegation, the subject (the politician) becomes closely linked with the negative allegation (cheating on taxes), and the public subconsciously stores this negative association in their mind.Well-meaning pit bull advocates do this all the time, to the detriment of the dogs’ reputation and public image.Ever heard the following statements: “Pit bulls are not vicious”; “Pit bulls are not monsters”; or “Pit bulls are lovers, not fighters.”While these commonly-used slogans appeal to fellow advocates/owners, they leave a negative odor with the general public and with legislators who are pressured to legislate pit bulls differently than other dogs. Never mind that the word “not” is thrown in there — in effect, the term “pit bull” becomes linked with scary images like “vicious, monsters, fighters.” If we want to open hearts and change minds to pit bulls, we need to help the public build positive associations with our dogs: family pets, companions, friends.Here’s how we can re-word the above phrases to say the same thing, only in a positive light: “Pit bulls make great pets”; “Pit bulls are family”; and “Pit bulls are lovers.” See the difference?Let’s challenge ourselves to ditch the negative associations (even though we mean well!) and teach the public to associate pit bulls with positive images!

A common mistake when confronting false/negative information is to repeat the damaging statement when defending against it. 

A classic example is when a politician is accused of cheating on his taxes. On the 6:00 pm evening news his photo is shown along with the sound bite: “I did not cheat on my taxes.” In his attempt to refute the allegation, the subject (the politician) becomes closely linked with the negative allegation (cheating on taxes), and the public subconsciously stores this negative association in their mind.

Well-meaning pit bull advocates do this all the time, to the detriment of the dogs’ reputation and public image.

Ever heard the following statements: “Pit bulls are not vicious”; “Pit bulls are not monsters”; or “Pit bulls are lovers, not fighters.”

While these commonly-used slogans appeal to fellow advocates/owners, they leave a negative odor with the general public and with legislators who are pressured to legislate pit bulls differently than other dogs. Never mind that the word “not” is thrown in there — in effect, the term “pit bull” becomes linked with scary images like “vicious, monsters, fighters.” 

If we want to open hearts and change minds to pit bulls, we need to help the public build positive associations with our dogs: family pets, companions, friends.

Here’s how we can re-word the above phrases to say the same thing, only in a positive light: “Pit bulls make great pets”; “Pit bulls are family”; and “Pit bulls are lovers.” 

See the difference?

Let’s challenge ourselves to ditch the negative associations (even though we mean well!) and teach the public to associate pit bulls with positive images!

I’ve worn two hats in my career — I’ve worked as a geriatric social worker and I’ve also worked in animal shelters — so I cringe when I see posts about senior dogs being “dumped” in shelters by “heartless and selfish” people who are “irresponsible” and “should have known better than to get these pets in the first place.”
 
Let me pre-empt those who will dismiss what I’m about to say by acknowledging that yes, some people irresponsibly surrender their senior dogs to shelters because they have failed them, plain and simple. And yes, those people really do “suck.”
 
But this post is a reminder — or perhaps a lesson — that not every senior dog that arrives in a shelter is there because “people suck.” Rather, some of these pets arrive in shelters because the lack of resources to support elders with pets SUCKS. 
 
I’ve worked firsthand with elders who could barely care for their own needs, but devoted everything they had to their beloved pets. Many times those pets were their only companion, having lost or outlived their family and friends. Sometimes those pets were their sole source of unconditional love. In some cases, an elder’s pet was his only link to the past, having experienced life’s milestones together. 
 
As a geriatric social worker, my job was to support the client — i.e., the elder human — and ensure his safety and well being. I quickly learned that because the human/animal bond runs so deep, I could not serve my client without considering his relationship with his pet.
 
Social workers are trained to be “culturally competent” and respect that each individual client gets to dictate what he values and considers important. He gets to decide which relationships have meaning, whether it is a blood relative, a spouse, a friend, or a same-sex partner. 
 
What was always missing in our “cultural competency training” was the role that pets play in our lives, and the importance people ascribe to their relationships with their companion animals.
 
It was rare that I came across an elder who did not care about his pet’s well-being. And in those rare cases where that happened,  a mental illness and incapacitation was always to blame. 
 
But all-too-frequently, I came across elders who struggled to care for — or just keep — their beloved pets. They had health problems that made it impossible to walk their dogs; they lived on fixed incomes that couldn’t absorb vet bills; they lacked access to public transportation that allowed them to bring their pets across town to low-cost clinics. Sometimes the  elder had to move into senior housing facilities, which rarely allow pets (especially dogs). Sometimes the elder had to move in with a family member who was allergic to or did not welcome dogs. Even when the elder lived in his own home, sometimes home health aides would refuse to visit if a dog was present. Sometimes an elder needed surgery that required a temporary hospitalization, but that elder had no one to care for his pet while he was away.
 
In all of these cases, the elder was forced to make heart-wrenching decisions. And in many of these cases, unfortunately those decisions were made by somebody other than the elder.
 
So next time you see an “URGENT” post about a senior pet that was “DUMPED” in a shelter by some heartless jerk, I hope you’ll stop and consider that there’s often more to the story. 
 
Judging and criticizing does nothing to improve the situation for shelter dogs; having compassion and understanding for the people who care about them does.
 Demographics show that people are living longer, and the sheer number of elders in our country is increasing. The support networks for elders with pets is lacking. 
 
We can either throw up our hands and say “people suck,” or we can roll up our sleeves and support them.
 
Here are a few programs that do just that:
 
Hospets: http://www.Hospets.org/
 
Jewish Association Serving the Aging: http://jasa.org/services/support-assistance/decluttering-pet-care
 
Humane Society of Berks County: http://www.berkshumane.net/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=113

I’ve worn two hats in my career — I’ve worked as a geriatric social worker and I’ve also worked in animal shelters — so I cringe when I see posts about senior dogs being “dumped” in shelters by “heartless and selfish” people who are “irresponsible” and “should have known better than to get these pets in the first place.”

 

Let me pre-empt those who will dismiss what I’m about to say by acknowledging that yes, some people irresponsibly surrender their senior dogs to shelters because they have failed them, plain and simple. And yes, those people really do “suck.”

 

But this post is a reminder — or perhaps a lesson — that not every senior dog that arrives in a shelter is there because “people suck.” Rather, some of these pets arrive in shelters because the lack of resources to support elders with pets SUCKS. 

 

I’ve worked firsthand with elders who could barely care for their own needs, but devoted everything they had to their beloved pets. Many times those pets were their only companion, having lost or outlived their family and friends. Sometimes those pets were their sole source of unconditional love. In some cases, an elder’s pet was his only link to the past, having experienced life’s milestones together. 

 

As a geriatric social worker, my job was to support the client — i.e., the elder human — and ensure his safety and well being. I quickly learned that because the human/animal bond runs so deep, I could not serve my client without considering his relationship with his pet.

 

Social workers are trained to be “culturally competent” and respect that each individual client gets to dictate what he values and considers important. He gets to decide which relationships have meaning, whether it is a blood relative, a spouse, a friend, or a same-sex partner. 

 

What was always missing in our “cultural competency training” was the role that pets play in our lives, and the importance people ascribe to their relationships with their companion animals.

 

It was rare that I came across an elder who did not care about his pet’s well-being. And in those rare cases where that happened,  a mental illness and incapacitation was always to blame. 

 

But all-too-frequently, I came across elders who struggled to care for — or just keep — their beloved pets. They had health problems that made it impossible to walk their dogs; they lived on fixed incomes that couldn’t absorb vet bills; they lacked access to public transportation that allowed them to bring their pets across town to low-cost clinics. Sometimes the  elder had to move into senior housing facilities, which rarely allow pets (especially dogs). Sometimes the elder had to move in with a family member who was allergic to or did not welcome dogs. Even when the elder lived in his own home, sometimes home health aides would refuse to visit if a dog was present. Sometimes an elder needed surgery that required a temporary hospitalization, but that elder had no one to care for his pet while he was away.

 

In all of these cases, the elder was forced to make heart-wrenching decisions. And in many of these cases, unfortunately those decisions were made by somebody other than the elder.

 

So next time you see an “URGENT” post about a senior pet that was “DUMPED” in a shelter by some heartless jerk, I hope you’ll stop and consider that there’s often more to the story. 

 

Judging and criticizing does nothing to improve the situation for shelter dogs; having compassion and understanding for the people who care about them does.


Demographics show that people are living longer, and the sheer number of elders in our country is increasing. The support networks for elders with pets is lacking. 

 

We can either throw up our hands and say “people suck,” or we can roll up our sleeves and support them.

 

Here are a few programs that do just that:

 

Hospets: http://www.Hospets.org/

 

Jewish Association Serving the Aging: http://jasa.org/services/support-assistance/decluttering-pet-care

 

Humane Society of Berks County: http://www.berkshumane.net/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=113

*** CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR LARGER VERSION! ***

"Frat Dogs of the University of Michigan: Clever Canines That Contribute to the Gaiety of College Life,” in the Detroit Free Press, March 10, 1910. 

Note the last paragraph: “True the members of this assembly as just dogs, but they are not ordinary dogs. Moreover they are community dogs; they have hosts of friends and hearts big enough to love them all and in turn their love is reciprocated.”

The Adventures of Pug and Bug, EPISODE # 9:”Pug and Bug Go Streaking.”

Anyone who has spent time in a shelter knows the scene in the lobby: a seemingly endless flow of people surrendering their pets.
 
Anyone who has spent time advocating for pit bulls knows the story: irresponsible or uncaring people get “these dogs” and dump them at shelters when they’re no longer wanted.
 
But do we really know each dog’s story? Do we really know “those people” surrendering “those dogs”?
 
I thought I did. I used to work for a humane society in Philadelphia. We used to tell the media, “Help! We have a pit bull problem! These dogs are pouring into our shelter because people buy them for the wrong reasons — as status symbols or for fighting — and then they dump them in our shelter.”
 
But is that always the case?
 
I was at the Philadelphia Animal Control shelter in September 2010 and met a cropped-eared brown pit bull who reminded me of my own dog, Sarge.
 
But really, I “knew” my stuff: this pit bull probably came from a “bad situation.” He probably wasn’t socialized. He probably was abused and abandoned. He probably could not be a good pet.
 
But could he?
 
He could. We adopted him, and it worked. He knew how to sit, how to take treats gently, how to meet small kids in the neighborhood. And he even knew not to pee in the house (most of the time).
 
So how could this dog be proof of Philadelphia’s “pit bull problem” that we had warned the media about? 
 
I can’t speak for every dog, even though every dog has his/her story to tell, and surely there are dogs who have been failed completely by their owners. 
 
But I can tell you the story of my dog, Junior.
 
Why? See that photo at the top? The one that says ”Neo” and “friendly”? That was Junior’s tag. The shelter forgot to remove it, and lucky for me, it had his owner’s name, address, and phone number. So I tracked him down, and he was happy and relieved that I did.
 
Over the past year, we’ve become good friends. I shared Junior’s present, and he shared Junior’s past.
 
Here is what he had to say:
 
“I was 27 years old when I got him. I got him for my son, but to keep me busy also. I tried to adopt from a shelter but they wouldn’t give me a pit bull because I had a baby on the way and a 4-year-old living with me at the time. He was just the best dog anyone could ask for. 
 
He was so easy for me to train. He was introduced to the kids in the house and he never gave anyone a problem. He was always happy. I would take him to the park every day after dinner. That was our ritual and we would have a ball. He would catch the tennis ball and bring it back. He loved to run. 
 
Most of all, I think he liked snuggling on the couch with my son and me, just chilling. He also liked to go places. He was always sitting shotgun, no matter what. One thing is for sure, he was great with kids. Maybe it is because he has a big heart, or because I trained him to be good with kids, but that dog has no hate in him. He is so loving. My son would chill with him all the time and I had no worry. And my son was very young at that time. 
 
My family and neighbors all loved him. The kids around the neighborhood would come by all the time and ask if they could walk him. 
 
Giving him up was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. When they say man’s best friend, yeah, he was. I was in tears for days about it. I even tried to get him back. But thankfully they said he had been adopted into a good home already. 
 
I was a single father who worked full-time and was a nursing student and also had to care for my mother. While I was working or at school or helping my mom, there just wasn’t anyone there to let him out or keep him company. Friends and family all took different shifts to help. It worked for a while, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t fair for him. 
 
I found out he got adopted when I called the shelter trying to get him back because I missed him so much. The shelter wouldn’t give me any info about his adopters, but I did leave his original name tag on which read, “Neo – Friendly,” and my address. The wonderful people who adopted him were kind enough to find me on Facebook. It put my soul at ease. 
 
It has been awesome being able to feel like I know what he’s up to. I’m not going to lie, when I see pictures of him, I wish he was right here next to me. But he could not have been placed in a better home. 
 
He and I are very blessed. I am just happy he is in a great home with great people and his little posse.”

Anyone who has spent time in a shelter knows the scene in the lobby: a seemingly endless flow of people surrendering their pets.

 

Anyone who has spent time advocating for pit bulls knows the story: irresponsible or uncaring people get “these dogs” and dump them at shelters when they’re no longer wanted.

 

But do we really know each dog’s story? Do we really know “those people” surrendering “those dogs”?

 

I thought I did. I used to work for a humane society in Philadelphia. We used to tell the media, “Help! We have a pit bull problem! These dogs are pouring into our shelter because people buy them for the wrong reasons — as status symbols or for fighting — and then they dump them in our shelter.”

 

But is that always the case?

 

I was at the Philadelphia Animal Control shelter in September 2010 and met a cropped-eared brown pit bull who reminded me of my own dog, Sarge.

 

But really, I “knew” my stuff: this pit bull probably came from a “bad situation.” He probably wasn’t socialized. He probably was abused and abandoned. He probably could not be a good pet.

 

But could he?

 

He could. We adopted him, and it worked. He knew how to sit, how to take treats gently, how to meet small kids in the neighborhood. And he even knew not to pee in the house (most of the time).

 

So how could this dog be proof of Philadelphia’s “pit bull problem” that we had warned the media about?

 

I can’t speak for every dog, even though every dog has his/her story to tell, and surely there are dogs who have been failed completely by their owners.

 

But I can tell you the story of my dog, Junior.

 

Why? See that photo at the top? The one that says ”Neo” and “friendly”? That was Junior’s tag. The shelter forgot to remove it, and lucky for me, it had his owner’s name, address, and phone number. So I tracked him down, and he was happy and relieved that I did.

 

Over the past year, we’ve become good friends. I shared Junior’s present, and he shared Junior’s past.

 

Here is what he had to say:

 

“I was 27 years old when I got him. I got him for my son, but to keep me busy also. I tried to adopt from a shelter but they wouldn’t give me a pit bull because I had a baby on the way and a 4-year-old living with me at the time. He was just the best dog anyone could ask for.

 

He was so easy for me to train. He was introduced to the kids in the house and he never gave anyone a problem. He was always happy. I would take him to the park every day after dinner. That was our ritual and we would have a ball. He would catch the tennis ball and bring it back. He loved to run.

 

Most of all, I think he liked snuggling on the couch with my son and me, just chilling. He also liked to go places. He was always sitting shotgun, no matter what. One thing is for sure, he was great with kids. Maybe it is because he has a big heart, or because I trained him to be good with kids, but that dog has no hate in him. He is so loving. My son would chill with him all the time and I had no worry. And my son was very young at that time.

 

My family and neighbors all loved him. The kids around the neighborhood would come by all the time and ask if they could walk him.

 

Giving him up was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. When they say man’s best friend, yeah, he was. I was in tears for days about it. I even tried to get him back. But thankfully they said he had been adopted into a good home already.

 

I was a single father who worked full-time and was a nursing student and also had to care for my mother. While I was working or at school or helping my mom, there just wasn’t anyone there to let him out or keep him company. Friends and family all took different shifts to help. It worked for a while, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t fair for him.

 

I found out he got adopted when I called the shelter trying to get him back because I missed him so much. The shelter wouldn’t give me any info about his adopters, but I did leave his original name tag on which read, “Neo – Friendly,” and my address. The wonderful people who adopted him were kind enough to find me on Facebook. It put my soul at ease.

 

It has been awesome being able to feel like I know what he’s up to. I’m not going to lie, when I see pictures of him, I wish he was right here next to me. But he could not have been placed in a better home.

 

He and I are very blessed. I am just happy he is in a great home with great people and his little posse.”

Last week we wrote about cropped ears and the stigma they can carry: http://ifdogscouldtalk.tumblr.com/post/20301558119/cropped. This ruffled some feathers, so we wanted to post a follow up. Animal advocates today have claimed that dog fighters crop their dogs’ ears to give them a competitive advantage in the fighting pit. However, if you go back and read the books written by the most infamous dog fighters in history, they tell a different story. For example, in Joseph L. Colby’s book “The American Pit Bull Terrier”(published in 1936), he writes: “It is not practical to crop the ears of the fighting dog, because it leaves too much of the inside exposed which may prove fatal to the dog in combat. Since the standard for the breed does not compel the ear to be cropped, we do not encourage it.” However, when modern-day animal advocates promote the idea that “cropped ears are indicators of dog fighting,” we inadvertently perpetuate this idea, and then this gets picked up by the media and mainstream culture. And what does this accomplish? It tells “amateur” dog fighters and punks who just want tough-looking dogs to crop their dogs’ ears because that’s what dog fighters do. In other words, we unintentionally perpetuate the cycle of misinformation. And it’s the dogs who pay the price. So please consider how our words can have unintended consequences for the dogs, even when we mean well.

Last week we wrote about cropped ears and the stigma they can carry: http://ifdogscouldtalk.tumblr.com/post/20301558119/cropped. This ruffled some feathers, so we wanted to post a follow up. Animal advocates today have claimed that dog fighters crop their dogs’ ears to give them a competitive advantage in the fighting pit. However, if you go back and read the books written by the most infamous dog fighters in history, they tell a different story. For example, in Joseph L. Colby’s book “The American Pit Bull Terrier”(published in 1936), he writes: “It is not practical to crop the ears of the fighting dog, because it leaves too much of the inside exposed which may prove fatal to the dog in combat. Since the standard for the breed does not compel the ear to be cropped, we do not encourage it.” However, when modern-day animal advocates promote the idea that “cropped ears are indicators of dog fighting,” we inadvertently perpetuate this idea, and then this gets picked up by the media and mainstream culture. And what does this accomplish? It tells “amateur” dog fighters and punks who just want tough-looking dogs to crop their dogs’ ears because that’s what dog fighters do. In other words, we unintentionally perpetuate the cycle of misinformation. And it’s the dogs who pay the price. So please consider how our words can have unintended consequences for the dogs, even when we mean well.

"10 Tips for Attending a City Council Meeting or Public Hearing Where Discriminatory Dog Laws are Being Discussed"
(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’ well being.
(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.

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

(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’ well being.

(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.

Sometimes you just gotta kick it.

Shelters and rescues sometimes place age restrictions on families with children who want adopt a dog (e.g., “No kids” or “No kids under 7 years old”). We have to remember, though, that sometimes people fudge the truth in order to get the dog they want. We’ve all heard examples of applicants who claim they don’t have children or misrepresent their ages/abilities, and so forth. For this reason, it’s best NOT have firm policies in writing, and instead have open-ended conversations with people about the dogs they are interested in. Why? Because then applicants are more likely to tell the truth and more accurately represent their situation. When people fear saying the wrong thing or being rejected because of the written policy, it’s much harder to make strong and lasting adoption matches. Adopters are also less inclined to ask for follow-up help if they’re afraid of being “caught.” And if the dog gets returned, then they’re likely to withhold useful information about how the dog interacted with children, which is very helpful for the shelter/rescue to know.
Dogfighting is not nearly the epidemic we once thought it was; in fact, the vast majority of pit bulls NEVER come into contact with dogfighting in any way, shape, form, or degree. The greater threat to pit bulls - as with all dogs - is the lack of affordable and accessible pet care, particularly in underserved communities. So to better reflect the needs of community members and their pit bulls, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has transitioned their “End Dogfighting” program into the broader “Pets for Life” campaign. This shift is rooted in the fact that most pit bull owners - just like other dog owners - want to do right by their pets, but some communities lack the basic tools needed to do so. While there is still a need to investigate and prosecute those few individuals who fight dogs, HSUS’s new approach  focuses on identifying the needs of underserved communities, empowering responsible pet owners with affordable and accessible services (e.g., vaccinations, spay/neuter, basic training), and providing that support in a respectful and non-judgemental manner. We are thrilled to see HSUS undergo this transition! And we hope you’ll read this new report they produced about the “Pets for Life” program, full of information that can be applied to communities around the country: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/pets/pfl_report_1_12.pdf

Dogfighting is not nearly the epidemic we once thought it was; in fact, the vast majority of pit bulls NEVER come into contact with dogfighting in any way, shape, form, or degree. The greater threat to pit bulls - as with all dogs - is the lack of affordable and accessible pet care, particularly in underserved communities. So to better reflect the needs of community members and their pit bulls, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has transitioned their “End Dogfighting” program into the broader “Pets for Life” campaign. This shift is rooted in the fact that most pit bull owners - just like other dog owners - want to do right by their pets, but some communities lack the basic tools needed to do so. While there is still a need to investigate and prosecute those few individuals who fight dogs, HSUS’s new approach  focuses on identifying the needs of underserved communities, empowering responsible pet owners with affordable and accessible services (e.g., vaccinations, spay/neuter, basic training), and providing that support in a respectful and non-judgemental manner. We are thrilled to see HSUS undergo this transition! And we hope you’ll read this new report they produced about the “Pets for Life” program, full of information that can be applied to communities around the country: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/pets/pfl_report_1_12.pdf

The 8 books that helped shape our views of dogs (especially pit bulls), animal welfare, and culture chage.  Clockwise from left: (1) Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves by Arnold Arluke; (2) Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home by Patricia McConnell and Karen London; (3) Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten; (4) The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Galssner; (5) The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant; (6) The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression by Karen Delise; (7) The Dogs Who Found Me: What I’ve Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind by Ken Foster; and (8) What Are Old People For?: How Elders Will Save the World by Dr. William Thomas. (Not sure why we included #8? Substitute “dogs” for “old people,” and you’ll see why.)
People sometimes ask if our pit bulls, Junior and Martha Washington, were used for fighting because they have cropped ears. I know for a fact that neither of them were (they both had fabulous owners before coming to us!), but the public — and some animal welfare advocates — still think cropped ears are a sign of dog fighting. I got to spend time this week with the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force, and I asked them if the dogs they seize from fighting operations have cropped ears. Their answer: it’s very, very rare. They said a decade ago it was common that dog fighters cropped their ears, but these days most dog fighters don’t want to risk raising red flags, so the opposite tends to be true. Cropped ears are simply a cosmetic thing. Made me sad to think of all the cropped-earred pit bulls who end up in shelters and get branded as “fighting dogs” — and then they’re either prohibited from being adopted, have special restrictions placed on them, or are feared by the public because of misconceptions about their behavior.

People sometimes ask if our pit bulls, Junior and Martha Washington, were used for fighting because they have cropped ears. I know for a fact that neither of them were (they both had fabulous owners before coming to us!), but the public — and some animal welfare advocates — still think cropped ears are a sign of dog fighting. I got to spend time this week with the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force, and I asked them if the dogs they seize from fighting operations have cropped ears. Their answer: it’s very, very rare. They said a decade ago it was common that dog fighters cropped their ears, but these days most dog fighters don’t want to risk raising red flags, so the opposite tends to be true. Cropped ears are simply a cosmetic thing. Made me sad to think of all the cropped-earred pit bulls who end up in shelters and get branded as “fighting dogs” — and then they’re either prohibited from being adopted, have special restrictions placed on them, or are feared by the public because of misconceptions about their behavior.