Friday, November 5, 2010

purebreeds, pit bulls, pets, and accessories

animal shelters are fascinating sociological microcosms. working in one for over two years has broken my heart innumerable times, made me dependent on water-proof mascara, and given me insight i'd never had before. it has also exacerbated what little patience i have for total and complete idiocy.

today an affluent gentleman who adopted two pets from the shelter before came in with one of his friends. he has a beautiful home (decorated predominantly in whites, creams, and pastels) and delighted in showing me picture after picture on his fancy iphone. when he initially came in months earlier, he expressed interest in adopting a purebreed dog. at the time, we had a newfoundland. even though he expressed displeasure and disdain over what the prospect of a large, hairy, drooling black dog meant for his pristine home, he chose the newfie because it was the only purebred dog available at that time. several months later, we wound up with a gorgeous afghan hound. although he expressed concern over what another large, hairy black dog might mean for his home, he wound up adopting her as well. while he finds his dogs' long, black hair difficult to manage, he still adopted them, even though there was a shelter full of pit bulls of varying shades whose coats do not shed nearly as much as the two he ultimately adopted.

his friend came to me saying she wanted to adopt a purebred dog as well. based on her friend's dogs, she was excited that she might get a recognizable purebred. when i told her "we have a shelter full of wonderful, purebred american pit bull terriers." she shuddered and said "oh, no, any breed but that." i balked internally, but walked her through the kennel.

during our conversational walk, the only purebred dogs that caught her eye were an older adult german shepherd (who was in the process of being adopted) a younger adult boston terrier (whom she decided she didn't want when she saw he only had one eye), and a brown puppy that she thought could was a chocolate lab. when kennel staff were unable to definitively say the puppy was a chocolate lab, she was no longer interested.

this is utterly fascinating to me. here are 3 very different dogs with 3 very different personalities and, based on their breed, very different functions or "jobs." moreover, all 3 dogs were different ages! all these factors should be considered when adding a new canine member to your family or household. yet she was only interested in her dog being a purebred--she insisted on it--regardless of size, temperment, age, or whether or not that breed might be a good fit for her lifestyle. she didn't want an animal companion, she wanted an animal accessory.

i detest people who adopt animals as accessories. she wanted a purebred that would be the perfect affluent accessory to her affluent lifestyle. she didn't seem at all interested in forging a bond with an animal or sharing a life with one--she wanted one that would "match" her home.

needless to say, this was/is beyond bizarre to me. i have pit bulls for companion animals--not because they "match" the lifestyle to which i am accustomed as the working class daughter of working class parents, but because they match me. i am an active, strong-willed, fun-loving affectionate, and loyal person whose dogs are compatible with these qualities. i also work in an environment where i see countless pit bulls wind up in the landfill--in large part because of people like this woman, whose inexplicable insistence on a "purebreed" works to hold open the trashbag and hold it steady so that the lifeless, once wagging, wiggling body of an exuberant pit bull can be carelessly tossed inside before being dumped at the landfill.

i don't mean or want to oversimplify the situation--those are the micro, personal implications of such choices. i want to be clear, however, that these work in tandem with macro, institutional practices and policies (e.g., breed specific legislation, rental properties who don't allow "vicious" breeds but who don't/won't temp test an animal, insurance policies, etc) whose function keeps pit bulls in, rather than on top of, the ground.

i also want to be clear that i want all dogs--purebred or mutt, pit bull or otherwise--to find suitable, loving homes, especially those that find themselves in shelters. the shelter environment is more cruel, cold, and isolating than can fully be expressed with mere words. the sad fact of the matter is that no matter how horrible, inhumane, or lonely a shelter is, the effects of this are amplified for pits and pit mixes. this is, hands down, the breed of dog that suffers the most. i hope to find ways to alleviate their suffering and show their true, loving natures, not only for the 2 that lay by me snoring right now but for the countless ones, in my shelter and elsewhere, who simply want someone to love them.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dog Bite Embroidery

According to the laws where I'm from, an animal bite is defined as anything that breaks the skin, including a scratch. And when a dog bite is reported, it's pretty much a death sentence for the dog. When a dog is impounded into a shelter following a bite, chances are it isn't leaving alive. If rabies shots haven't been given or documented, the dog's head has to be tested for rabies. That means that some poor shelter worker has to cut off the dog's head, pack it in ice, and ship it to the State lab. This really happens, all the time. Even to the very nice lab who inadvertently scratches an elderly person with paper-thin skin. Even to the old pekingese who snaps at the child who crawls into his food bowl. And of course, to the chained pit bull who tries to defend herself from a beating.

I know this is a hard topic for some people who have been the victims of dog attacks. I also realize that public safety is important. I'm not suggesting you don't call the law, of course, but I do want people to understand that the minute the law is involved, the dog is dead. Public Safety Officials do not screw around when it comes to bites and rabies control.

Even *if* a "bite dog" is owned and gets through quarantine, most owners won't claim him or her because of stigma, fear, and the boarding fees for the quarantine period. The shelters won't adopt them out for "liability reasons." They are the first to be euth'd to free up shelter space.

I've been bitten by dogs, and it hurts like hell. It scares the shit out of me and it's easy to react from a place of anger. But the circumstances around a dog biting a human are usually complex. Many people have no clue about dog behavior. It's almost never clear whether the dog was provoked, and whether the dog is in fact "vicious" (especially since the definitions under most laws are murky at best). And what if they bite another animal rather than a human? Lots of breeds have been created for that, and now we kill them for it.

A bite is a most basic form of communication. I mean, dogs don't have hands, or English. What are they trying to say? I've seen dogs bite out of love. Extreme love, and the desire to be close, and to play. My dog bite embroidery is a series of linens that have been "altered" by Kaya, the artist, and then embroidered with phrases that I think she might be feeling while she's shredding my linens. The words are a reminder that dogs want family, a lifelong commitment; they are not bodies to be dumped when mistakes have been made, fear sets in and anger shows its teeth.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

on being over it.

i want to talk about some of things that i am OVER.

i am OVER people coming into the shelter, adopting beautiful, amazing dogs, and then returning them days or weeks later because they "look too much like a pit bull." this is followed up, like it was yesterday, by innane, unsupported nonsense based on bigotry and prejudice disguised as "education" or "information."

yesterday, for instance, a woman who had brought her child down to meet an adorable 7 week old puppy returned him because, in her words, "she could not, in good conscience, have a pit bull around her 3 year old child." it's a scientific fact that pit bulls comprise 100% of all bites and attacks, so that's a completely valid argument. gotcha.

or the older, clearly affluent woman who recoiled when i told her the sweet brindle boy wagging, frolicking, and kissing her grandchildren was a pit bull. it was almost cartoonishly comical how fast she snatched them up and away from the dog who was loving them.

or the man who came into my office, saw all the pictures of my babies and ones i've helped place or rescue, and commented that "the problem with adopting an older pit bull is that you never know what you're gonna know, you hear all these stories about them biting people...."
i did my best to look at him evenly, and with a blank facial expression i hoped belied my disgust, before i explained to him that that was the case with any and every stray dog--regardless of the breed. he didn't seem to make the connection that any dog has a history, any dog could have been abused and every single dog on the planet earth can bite.

i am also over shelters.

the shelter environment is viciously unforgiving. dogs are bored, lonely, needy, confused, sad, upset, and so on and so forth. they are caged together, packed into runs like sardines, and then they have their most basic needs denied. they need human attention. they need affection. they need physical and mental stimulation. this lack is even more apparent and glaring for pit bulls. many kennel staff people refer to them as kennel trash. these dogs, in particular, actively pine for human affection, yet many people don't want to adopt them because of what they have seen or heard about the breed in the media.

kennel staff often resist getting close because they know the heartbreak that will come when they are murdered. conversely, kennel staff often resent the work that some dog-aggressive pits require (e.g., a run to themselves, coordinated dog breaks where dog contact is minimized or eliminated to avoid run-ins with other dogs, etc). this is something i want to address in future blogs--the social and economic conditions that facilitate this apathy and hatred, and which function to minimize the kinds of real care or concern that could conceivably be used to make real change in shelters. but that is a future topic.

for now, i simply wanted to complain about some of things which irritate me and discuss the real implications and consequences for the vast amount of skewed, inaccurate information people received about the breed. i want to do this because it feels good to get it out, and because it is much easier to acknowledge and sit with one's irritation or anger than it is to deal with one's infinite sadness. in a shelter, particularly a large urban one where dogs--many, if not most, of whom are pits and pit mixes--are seen as expendable, there is limitless heartbreak.

i can understand people's reservations about adopting older dogs. i can even understand the concern over older adopting older pitbulls. i adopted my boy when he was estimated to be 10-12 months old, and i had concerns when i got him. and while i believe had he been younger that i could have helped socialize him more effectively to make him more dog social, i i thank my lucky stars for him daily. i am fortunate enough to love and be loved by that beefy rednose goofball who wants to be so close to me, he practically tries to sleep in my anal cavity every night. he is very much like his mother--oftentimes misunderstood, perceived as completely tough, yet so tender and sensitive on the inside. he is my best friend, my mirror, and my love. and in this world and this life, i will take all those things any way i can get them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chaos Reigns

Hi there pit bull patriarchs,

I've been sorry to hear that some people are upset about my pit bull stitching because they say it glorifies dogfighting. Although it is hard for me to take that critique seriously, I certainly do not want it to be read it that way. For me, embroidering pit bulls does the work of mourning. It's a lot of stitching and I think about each dog and how they may have lived and died. It takes much longer to embroider a dog than it does to euthanize one. And as we know, they are being euth'd by the truckload in the US daily.

You don't have to like it, but see it for what it is. Thread on cloth. Old lace, love, and lots of time. There may be blood or tears, but definitely no beer.

As you might have noticed, even though I had such high hopes for this blog, I ran out of steam. I'm so tired of all the maddening controversy around pit bulls. I hope that red velvet femme will continue her awesome writing when she has time, and I may step up the rants again in the future. I always appreciate our supportive readers and the really insightful comments that are left here.

I'm leaving you with my most favorite freaky film clip, from a recent and highly controversial work of art, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. I'm going to embroider the fox very soon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

on pit bulls and pedophiles

i met an incredible dog yesterday. he stood out to me instantly because he was beefy, red and white and looked similar to my boy. he had a huge joker's smile and was your typical, effusive pit bull. his owners were surrendering him to the animal control facility where i work.

as i was petting him and getting a thorough facial of slobbery pit bull kisses, i asked his owners why they were surrendering him. they told me they lived next door to a day care center, and that the dog, jack, liked to dig under the fence and escape. 9 times out of 10 he wound up at the day care, no doubt looking for the small people he wanted to befriend. the day care center regularly freaked out, calling animal control to report the loose dog which i'd be willing to bet they referred to as "a vicious pit bull." (and having worked in a large urban animal control for two years, i can assure you virtually every stray dog that is reported is a pit bull, and they are overwhelmingly labeled vicious).

jack's parents didn't have the money to adequately fix their fence so that it could keep him contained, and they were unable to keep him inside. the complaints and threats they received from animal control officers and day care officials were mounting, and had reached the point where they felt like their only option was to surrender him. they tearfully recounted all his good points to me in the hopes that i could find him another home. i promised them i would try and i went back to my office, feeling heavy-hearted.

about 20 minutes later, a co-worker told me jack had already been euthanized. i hadn't even had time to start calling possible rescuers. owners surrendering pets are informed that their dogs could possibly be immediately euthanized, but i doubt many truly understand that once they hand the leash over to the kennel staff, their dogs are often walked directly to the euthanasia room to meet their death.

while i was processing my thoughts and feelings, i started to think about the day care and about people's perceptions of the breed. the parents and the day care officials believed that if jack were away from the children, they would be safe. i can completely understand people's concerns over safety--child and otherwise. but i am also skeptical about widely-touted "solutions" of any kind; they tend to be quick fixes which address the ailment, but not the cause. they wind up functioning as bandaids rather than real treatments or preventative measures.

the concern for these kids' safety is propelled by the hysteria surrounding pit bulls. if jack had been a weimaraner, an australian shepherd, a lab, or a pomeranian, i would be willing to bet all the money i wish i had that the reaction would have been different--even though the aforementioned breeds have all been responsible for fatal dog attacks. any dog can bite, and any dog could be involved in a fatal bite or attack--but the media would have you believe otherwise. the media has helped perpetrate the myth that pit bulls = vicious. this is not only inaccurate and has detrimental effects on the breed and those of us who love them, but also on the public discourse around animal and human's--particularly children--safety.

in this regard, i can't help seeing parallels to public discourse on pedophilia and child safety. arguably one of the widely-touted so-called solutions to the problem of child sexual abuse and rape is the sex offender registry. depending on the locality, the sex offender registry alerts police and/or the general public to convicted sex offenders' presence, or at least makes the information available.

what i find profoundly problematic about this registry is that it gives people a false sense of security. it enables people--particularly parents--to feel that they can, based on this information, keep their children from being raped and abused. (this, of course, assumes that the parent is not the perpetrator(s)). the registry's existence, prevalence and popularity is predicated on a number of inaccurate and dangerous assumptions--namely, that rape and sexual abuse are things which exist outside of the family, as opposed to inside of it.

the registry lets the public and parents know who these sex offenders are and where they reside. (i am not even going to address some of the problems inherent with some of the definitions for "sex offender" which can include those who had consensual sex with minors who are thisclose to being adults). using the registry as a tool to keep kids safe is problematic because it a) takes the focus off of the most probable actual or prospective perpetrators, which are family members and friends and b) it does not address the broader, systemic ideas and structures which enable sexual abuse and rape to occur in the first place.

the public hysteria over pit bulls and child safety is similar. this hysteria helps the public to believe that by getting rid of or restricting this breed their children are safe from dog attacks. similarly, the sex offender registry allows well-meaning parents to believe that by knowing who and where convicted sex offenders are, they can protect their kids from rape and sexual abuse.

however, the cumulative effects of the sex offender registry and the notion that pit bulls are more likely to attack than other breeds is a simple and false solution to the complex problem of child safety. the facts are: any dog can bite a child and any adult can sexually violate a child. believing otherwise is dangerously false.

i write this as a pit bull parent whose only dog bite came from a black lab, and as a woman whose rapist--my brother--will never be listed on any sex offender registry. i write in the hopes of provoking readers into new ways of thinking. none of this is to say that pit bulls never bite, or that convicted sex offenders are never recidivists. it is to say, however, that i firmly believe this information should be used to supplement safety measures, rather than serve as the basis for them.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reader's Baby: Stella!!!

What a grand girl! Thanks so much for sharing these, Elizabeth!!

(I couldn't resist adding this.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

on the (de)merits of breed-specific legislation

i came across this piece of brilliant "journalism" the other day and was so blown away, i had to share it.

according to the la times, lancaster, california's city officials feel that breed-specific legislation has been helpful in reducing so-called gang-related crime in the city. lancaster's mayor, r. rex parris, claims that a year after imposing legislation that targets owners of pit bulls and rottweilers (all gang-banging criminals, mind you, because we all know that nice families don't adopt those dogs) crime is down and "lancaster is now a great deal safer because of it."

the ordinance enables hearing officers to assess and deem a dog potentially dangerous, if, for example, it "becomes aggressive when unprovoked." as a result, the dog can be impounded and the owner is then required to have it properly licensed, microchipped, and vaccinated at his own cost before the animal's release. furthermore, owners of these so-called vicious and dangerous dogs must properly leash and muzzle their dogs, complete a dog obedience course, spay/neuter the animal(s) and pay a fine of up to $500 for each offense. if and/or once their dogs are deemed "vicious," the owners can be fined up to $1000 per offense and be prevented from having other dogs for up to three years.

alright, alright. you already knew i was gonna call bullshit on this, but really? can't you even make it just a little bit hard for me to refute your nonsense, la times? this is like taking candy from a baby. or, in this case, taking dogs from people who are likely unfairly targeted and are least likely to have access to the resources to educate and protect themselves, their rights, and their dogs. these are often also the same people who are most likely to be hated socially (so-called and alleged criminal involvement aside) and who made the bad choice to have dogs who, by association with their owners, are also despised.

are we really to believe that by impounding and--when not reclaimed, most likely-- murdering these companion animals that lancaster's streets are safer? city officials claim that violent gang crime is down 45% since this the ordinance passed. "violent gang crime," is never defined, but includes homicides, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. to me, this begs the question: what role do the dogs play in these crimes? how do the dogs enable or engender these crimes? this is never once explained, it is just stated ipso facto. this article and its premise are driven by prevailing prejudices against the breed and the people most often presumed to be their owners or aficionados--so much so that these sorts of claims are able to be made and still seem credible even without substantiation or explanation.

furthermore, i want to know: how much of the overall crime rate does violent gang crime comprise? surely gang members aren't the only ones responsible for or involved in homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults--as if those were the only crimes that occur or concern people. by arguing that breed specific legislation helps keep a city safe, the notion that crime ostensibly involves the poor and/or people of color is insidiously perpetuated. the systemic targeting and removal of this breed of dog is a sort of canine prison industrial complex.

i'm also curious if the animal control officers are qualified to assess whether or not an animal is vicious. how is "vicious" defined? what criteria do they follow? what constitutes "unprovoked"? please don't misunderstand me--while working in animal control, i have met dogs that i am confident would have attacked me. however, in two years, i can count on one hand the number of times that has happened to me--and only one of them was a pit bull. my point is that terror and hype around these dogs and their presumed constituency is enough to "justify" there being far too little, if any, demand for any semblance of an explanation for their treatment or for, to borrow one of my daddy's phrases, this piss-poor example of journalism.

and just to be clear--i've never claimed to be objective, because i don't think true objectivity exists. i staunchly and adamantly believe that bullies are the best dogs under the sun. i aspire to be objective and yet still acknowledge my own subjectivity. through this, i hope to make apparent the public's and media's wild lack of neutrality where these dogs are concerned.