5 Things You Need to Know to Be a Better Dog Advocate

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October, 2018

Guest post from Tara Garland

Most dog lovers, especially those who own ones labeled as “pit bulls,” are against breed specific legislation and discriminatory legislation. It’s a passionate subject, but effective advocacy requires not only a lot of heart but also a lot of thought.

Here are tips to help you speak confidently and accurately on the behalf of dogs.

#1. Don’t Single Out “Pit Bull” Dogs

To quote Emily Douglas, the blogger behind the Unexamined Dog:

“Every time you utter a phrase like “pit bulls are the most loyal dogs” or “pit bulls used to be nanny dogs because they’re so great with kids” or “pit bulls are the best working and sporting dogs because they’re built for it” and so on, you are telling anti-pit bull people that they are correct, and that pit bulls are in fact different from other dogs.”

It’s this thought process that leads to breed discrimination. The minute we start making generalizations on an entire breed or type of dog, we unravel the argument we trying to make.

Instead, focus on the simple fact that all dogs are individuals.

We owe it to all dogs to see them for who they really are, free of prejudice, stereotypes, and assumptions based on known pedigree, a breed label guess, physical appearance, or their past history.

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#2 Don’t Forget to Talk about Safety

Remember you aren’t only speaking to dog people, you’re also speaking to non-dog owners and sometimes people that don’t particularly care for animals. Talking about how good of a snuggler your dog is isn’t going to speak to someone who is afraid of dogs.

Instead, be a community advocate. Be a people person. And as we already established, don’t just be a “pit bull” dog person, be a person who advocates for all dogs and for public safety.

Refuse to play the divisive game of us vs. them. Remind people that we all want the same thing, public safety and humane communities. Try to find compassion for the people who are in disagreement. Find the common ground that we all share and have a respectful, honest conversation.

The goal is not to argue, but to come away with a better understanding of their concerns, fears, and the issues as they understand them. Be calm and considerate. Be knowledgeable and credible. Don’t get frustrated if you aren’t able to change someone’s mind on the first try. You’ve planted effective seeds for change that will make a difference one day.

In Quebec, protests against BSL have been labeled as “pro-pit bull,” which in a way pushes aside the very valid concerns of citizens. Opposition to BSL is about equal treatment of all dogs but it’s also about creating bylaws that work and that protect people. Many of us targeted by BSL also have to deal with negligent dog owners, off-leash dogs, etc and our safety matters, too.

#3 Don’t Minimize People’s Fears

Politics are often led by fear. In our city, a tragic event led to the passing of breed specific legislation. Our mayor took on the slogan, “people first!” and people bought it. That’s politics.  What people didn’t and some still don’t realize is that BSL doesn’t put people first. It puts politics first. It’s an easy way for politicians to say “problem solved.”

And it doesn’t take away the problems people are afraid of.

In our city nobody enforced bylaws. Until this incident, there was nobody tasked with enforcing basic rules like leash laws, etc… There was a completely disorganized and ineffective method for reporting dog bites – it could be through the police, our city, one of two different animal control services and none had any way to communicate with each other.

Fast forward to post-BSL, none of that has changed and therein lies the issue.

Pointing these issues out when debating BSL is really important. On the surface, it looks like politicians who pass breed-specific legislation are looking out for people’s safety. Scratch the surface and you’re likely to find a big ol’ band aid on some very real deficiencies in their bylaw. Remind people that you are also fighting for safety, that dangerous dogs concern you too. If you have kids mention that their safety is important to you.

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#4 Don’t Turn Off Other Dog Owners by Pivoting the Blame

One of the most cringe-worthy lines I hear like a broken record is, “chihuahuas bite more.” It’s hypocritical to fight against BSL and then turn around and target another dog. Chihuahuas also face stigmas and they are also struggling in shelters. Dog owners need to stand together.

Yes, small dog bites can be serious but, while breed isn’t relevant when it comes to dog bites, size is. I have never once seen someone swayed in the comments sections over the chihuahua argument. It’s a dead end.

Always speak in a way that encourages people to view all dogs as individuals. You don’t want to inadvertently continue the cycle of discrimination and create similar problems for other dogs in the future.

#5 If You’re Going to Protest, Choose Your Signs and Words Wisely

If you are going to bring a sign to a protest remember that the sign will be seen by a lot of people. Many of them don’t understand BSL or aren’t dog people. Go with something people will understand. “This bylaw fails to make us safer” or “breed bans fail to make us safer.” Also, don’t forget that most people don’t know what BSL means so avoid the acronym if you can and say “breed-specific legislation” instead.

If you’re advocating on social media through your own posts and sharing articles, follow Emily Douglas’ advice on critical thinking and research:

“Don’t just share an article because you have a positive emotional response to the title. Read the entire article, consider who wrote it and who the intended audience was. Evaluate the quality of the information and the presentation of it. Consider which sources of information and experts are cited.”

And the general obvious ones, don’t swear or insult people, don’t name call and for the love of dog, spell check your comments!

And most important don’t let it suck you in. Advocate for your dogs but take care of yourself as well. Working to end breed specific legislation can cause a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety. You will be your best self if you take a break when you need it.

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