This Is Why We’re Calling Bull On “Pit Bull” Awareness Events

This Is Why We’re Calling Bull On “Pit Bull” Awareness Events

This Is Why We’re Calling Bull On “Pit Bull Awareness Events

16

October, 2018

It’s October. It’s pumpkin spice latte (well, pumpkin spice everything) and Halloween time. If you’re a dog lover, especially if you’re a dog parent whose pup might end up a target of breed specific legislation, this month also means that it’s “Pit Bull” Awareness Month.

If you’ve been a follower of Animal Farm Foundation’s work since the beginning, then you know that our approach to advocacy has changed over time. These changes are a direct response to three things:

1. Does science support the language or the methods we’re using?

2. What message are we really sending to the public?

3. Are we evolving with the need?

These questions have led us to think twice about “pit bull” dog-related awareness campaigns. We’ve ultimately decided to call bull on them.

Decades ago, these campaigns were about making the world aware of the discrimination “pit bull” dogs and their owners faced. It was more about breed-specific discrimination awareness than “pit bull” dog awareness. While there is still work to be done, BSL is on the decline.

Society is in a different place and our advocacy efforts should reflect that. If we want people to move beyond false stereotypes, then we must move toward advocacy that makes sense for present times – advocacy that will carry us into the future.

 

Science has come a long way in understanding dog genetics. We know so much more about dogs and who they are. First and foremost, we now know that ALL DOGS ARE INDIVIDUALS.

We know that when people label a dog a “pit bull,” they’re doing so based on highly inaccurate visual identification. Most dogs with that label are of mixed and/or unknown heritage. We have no idea what personality traits a dog will have based on their appearance.

Our advocacy efforts should reflect this knowledge. However, over time, “pit bull” dog awareness days have become less about making people aware of injustice and more about making people aware of “pit bull” dogs in general.

 

These campaigns are well-intentioned, but let’s go back to the question of what this message sends to the public.

The phrase “Pit Bull” Awareness Month implies that we need to be aware of something – of “pit bull” dogs. What is it that people need to know? Common answers are:

“They’re the best dogs!”

“They’re the best dogs to have around kids!”

“They are the most loving dogs you’ll ever meet.”

There’s one glaring problem here that doesn’t line up with science: Dogs labeled “pit bull” aren’t a “they.” They aren’t a group tied together by genetics (not that it would matter if they were), other than the fact that they’re all dogs. We all agree on this, right? Yet, when we use the term “they” followed by a general description, we’re telling people that there is something different about them. We’re telling people that they do need to be aware of these dogs as a group.

We’re telling people that these dogs are not individuals.

– “Pit Bulls” and Pints can become Paws and Pints.

– Instead of having Pitties in the Park, you can celebrate Barks in the Park.

– A Pit Bowl is more on message with all dogs being individuals if it’s a Pup Bowl.

Breed-specific discrimination affects so many of us on a gut-level. It’s about our families. Therefore, when we advocate against it, we advocate from the heart. But that kind of advocacy isn’t as effective as science-based facts. We must temper our hearts with our minds and think critically before we advocate.

It’s that deep level of reflection that led us to create #ItsBullAwareness. We believe in celebrating all dogs, all of the time. Dogs labeled “pit bull” are only viewed as different by society because society makes it so. The goal of advocating against breed-specific discrimination is to undo this myth. We can’t do that if we set aside specific days and months to make people aware of “pit bull” dogs. They’re just dogs. That’s all we need to know about them as a group, and as individuals, well, that’s up to them to tell us who they are.

For more information on the language of advocacy, visit itsbullawareness.org.

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Introducing the Individual Animal

Introducing the Individual Animal

Introducing the individual animal

15

October, 2018

We have exciting news! We’re launching a podcast. It’s called the Individual Animal. It’s hosted by me, Regina Lizik, and Nicole Juchem. Nicole is Animal Farm Foundation’s Foundation Manager and I’m the Communications and Fundraising Manager. (Hey there everyone!)

Everyone thinks we’re all about dogs at AFF, but really, we’re all about humans (and dogs, too). Canine discrimination is just a cover for various forms of human injustice like racism, classism, and ableism.

Nicole and I will talk about the socio-political implications of how we treat dogs and what that says about how we treat each other. We can’t change things for animals until we get honest about our own issues.

We’ll get sarcastic, sassy, and we’ll probably swear a lot. These are serious subjects, but we’re going to interject some humor because without a little laughter things get too dark and let’s be real, you want to be entertained and informed!

Grab a beer, coffee, wine, or just stay hydrated and drink water, and listen to us talk about science, dogs, and how we can all be better humans.

Want to be on our podcast to talk about the intersection of animal welfare and social justice? Want to yell at us for our opinions? Email us!

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

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

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

8

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.

#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.

#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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Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals

Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals

Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals
18
July, 2018
In our Facebook post about Delta’s discriminatory new policy around service dogs (SDs) and emotional support animals (ESAs) we saw a lot of misinformation and even ableism from our Facebook fans with regard to ESAs. Emotional support animals are not service dogs, but they do help people with disabilities. They aren’t “crutches” or things people use when they should just “deal with it.” Emotional support animals are the embodiment of the scientific fact that animals can have life-changing effects on the mental health of humans.
 

First let’s talk about mental health

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are not things people can “just get over.” It would be nice if the mind was that simple, but it’s not. In fact, there are a variety of factors that play into someone’s mental health, including things like chronic illness, past trauma, and current environments. And while you may have not needed an animal to help you cope with your mental health, even if you deal with something like depression or anxiety, that doesn’t mean an ESA isn’t the key to someone else’s mental wellness.

Dogs are individuals. People are individuals.

How we experience mental health is individualistic – and some people need dogs (or other animals) to help them through that experience.

What do ESAs Do?

Emotional support animals don’t require special training. They don’t perform tasks like guidework, bracing, fetching, alerts, etc… the way that service dogs do. They’re companion animals. If they’re a dog, they dog. If they’re a cat, they cat. If they’re a bird, they bird.

(And yes, any animal can be an ESA.)

What’s different about emotional support animals actually has nothing to do with the animal at all. It has to do with the person who needs the animal.

Contrary to popular belief (and perhaps popular practice), you cannot get a legal certificate for an ESA on the internet. You can only legally have an emotional support animal if your mental health provider determines that you have a debilitating mental illness and that the presence of an animal in your life is an important part of your mental health treatment plan.

Let’s say it louder for the people in the back:

 

Emotional support animals can be part of a mental health treatment plan.

 

Mental health is personal, so the way ESAs affect their humans will vary. What’s more, it’s not for us to judge or to even know how someone’s ESA helps them cope with their mental health. That’s between that person and their mental health professional.

What’s the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs (PSD) are trained to perform particular tasks consistently and on cue for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals keep someone calm simply by existing in that person’s life or doing something they would naturally do on their own, like cuddling up to someone who is sad.

Not every dog can be a service dog, but any dog (or animal) can be an ESA. They require no special training. 

What rights do people with ESAs have?

If an ESA is part of your mental health treatment plan:

You have the right to have your dog fly in the cabin with you on an airplane, according to the Air Carrier Access Act.

Your ESA is allowed in housing that is not pet-friendly and you are not required to pay a pet deposit for your ESA.

If your emotional support animal is a dog, your dog is exempt from any state/city/town breed specific legislation. (*Note that this should also apply to airlines under the ACAA, which is why Delta’s policy is discriminatory and illegal.)

Purchasing a certificate online for your dog does not give you legal protection. It does not make your dog (or other animal) an ESA. These sites are scams and you are breaking the law if a licensed mental health professional did not prescribe one for you.

What rights don’t people with ESAs have?

The law doesn’t grant you public access rights when you are with your ESA. This means you cannot take your ESA into a non-pet friendly public space, like a grocery store or any other retail store that doesn’t otherwise allow pets. When you are outside of your home or outside of an airplane, your emotional support animal is just like any other pet in the eyes of the public and the law.

Let’s be clear:

We know that a lot of people are breaking the law and pretending to have a disability so that they can have their pet on a plane or bypass pet deposits in housing. We won’t deny that people are committing disability fraud. 

But another thing we won’t do is contribute to the stigma of mental illness and deny people with disabilities their right to use emotional support animals as part of their mental health treatment.

Let’s support people who seek treatment for their mental health. And let’s also be very clear that when someone lies about their dog being an ESA, they are lying about having a disability and making a mockery out of the very serious issue of mental health.

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Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs

Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs

Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs
21
June, 2018
Delta announced that it is no longer recognizing what they call “bull type dogs” as service dogs. Make no mistake, this regulation discriminates against people with disabilities who need service dogs. It denies them access to travel and access to living the same lives as everyone else.

This decision doesn’t make any scientific sense either. According to hard science, there is no inherent difference between one dog and another dog. All dogs are individuals. For Delta to single out dogs based on an arbitrary label is a practice based entirely around a fallacy.

It’s also against both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

 
Depending on the situation, laws around service dogs aren’t always governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the case of air travel, these situations defer to the ACAA, although in some cases, like in airports themselves, the ADA still applies. (View a full chart of the how these regulations differ.) Delta’s service animal policy falls under the ACAA, which does give them a bit more freedom to adopt their own policies – but not much.

The ACAA states that all service animals must be permitted except if they:

– Are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
– Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
– Cause a significant disruption of cabin service
– Are prohibited from entering a foreign country

None of these things makes it acceptable for Delta to ban dogs based on an arbitrary label, in this case, “bull type dogs” or “pit bull type dogs” – Delta uses both terms interchangeably.  The airline, which calls these discriminatory policies “enhancements,” states:

The enhancements include introducing a limit of one emotional support animal per customer per flight and no longer accepting pit bull type dogs as service or support animals. These updates, which come as the peak summer travel season is underway, are the direct result of growing safety concerns following recent incidents in which several employees were bitten.”

Delta’s regulations cite “bull type dogs” as the only canines on their list of banned animals. Other animals on this list include, hedgehogs, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, and animals with horns or hooves. Science says that dogs are dogs and there’s no scientific reason anyone should ban an arbitrary group of dogs from anything.

It’s terrible that people were bitten by dogs on a plane. It’s also terrible that many break the law and commit fraud by faking a disability so that they can bring their pet on a plane. These two things are likely connected.

What isn’t connected is what this has to do with “pit bull” dogs or why it should result in the further discrimination of people with service dogs.

And yes, that’s what we’re talking about here. People with disabilities have service dogs of all shapes and sizes who perform all different types of jobs. Because there is no legal definition of what makes a “pit bull” dog, countless people with disabilities will buy their tickets, show up at the gate, and be turned away. Some people have already purchased tickets through Delta and now need to cancel their flight and possibly their entire trip because of discrimination.

While it’s tempting to say “don’t like it, don’t do business with them,” we need to look deeper. Sure, people can fly on another airline, but why can’t they fly Delta? Because Delta is discriminating against them. We aren’t comfortable letting discrimination stand and you shouldn’t be either.

Not only is Delta being discriminatory, they’re also breaking ACAA regulations. As we mentioned, there’s nothing in the regulations that permits the airline to deny “pit bull” dogs (or whatever label someone subjectively wants to assign to them) as service dogs. We’ve contacted Delta and the Department of Transportation for more details so that we can help them develop non-discriminatory solutions, but we have not heard back.

If you have been discriminated against by an airline, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

The DOT is considering making revisions to the Air Carrier Access Act. They are requesting comments from the public prior to making any changes. You can leave your thoughtful comment on regulations.gov before July 9, 2018.

Below are some bullet points to help you draft your response:

  • The purpose of accessibility policies to make the world accessible to everyone. Policies banning dogs who look a certain way creates a more inaccessible world.
  • Delta’s new policy discriminates against people with disabilities.
  • There is no standard definition of what makes a dog a “pit bull” or a “bull type.” These are arbitrary terms based on subjective visual identification. They have no basis in science. 
  • In fact, science says visual identification of dogs is highly inaccurate.
  • Research shows that looks don’t equal behavior. Genetics are only part of what makes a dog who they are. 
  • All dogs are individuals and we must view them as such.

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It’s Time for Animal Welfare Organizations to Value Dogs Over Corporations

It’s Time for Animal Welfare Organizations to Value Dogs Over Corporations

It’s Time for Animal Welfare Organizations to Value Dogs Over Corporations

11
May, 2018

It’s a common thing for people in animal welfare to speak out about breed-discriminatory policies, whether they be at the county or state level, or even housing restrictions. Yet, people largely remain silent when it comes to companies with discriminatory policies.

In fact, many animal welfare organizations routinely partner and promote such businesses. That has to stop.

We all need to ask ourselves if justice matters more than a business deal.

The silence surrounding United Airlines’ latest banned “breed” list is deafening. While individual animal welfare workers have spoken out, organizations as a whole have not. Many are actively supporting United’s business – which means they either condone or don’t care about doing what’s right.

Here’s what we know

United Airlines’ list includes nearly 50 “breeds,” as well as any mix thereof.

Some of the breeds were included for health reasons, as brachycephalic (stubby nosed) dogs overheat easily and already suffer from breathing issues. The airline is also halting pet reservations to some locations during the summer months due to high-temperature risks. We can’t throw any shade on them for science-based policies designed to protect pets.

Dogs United refers to as “strong-jawed” make the list. There is no scientific basis to refer to a dog as “strong-jawed.” This is based on the myth that some dogs bite differently. It’s been debunked. The use of the term and the inclusion of dogs based on the idea are discriminatory.

Many of the supposed breeds on the list don’t actually exist.

We all need to ask ourselves if justice matters more than a business deal.

Here’s what we don’t know

Who determines the breed or breed mix of someone’s dog? Many people don’t know their dog’s heritage. Does United administer genetic testing? Even if they did, it doesn’t change the fact that “strong-jawed dogs” aren’t a thing. Plus, how can they determine that a dog falls under one of the breeds on the list when said breed isn’t considered real?

We’re confused and we bet a lot of United customers will be equally confused and denied access.

Here’s Something else we know

Animal welfare organizations are supporting fake science and discriminatory policies.

The Humane Society of the United States names United as their airline of choice for their Animal Care Expo. For 10% off, you too can support discrimination against dog owners! Then you can attend a conference where people talk about animal welfare, including the science that all dogs are individuals and that how breed or breed mix doesn’t make a dog inherently dangerous.

Again, we’re confused. How does HSUS reconcile these opposing views? Who knows! They’ve yet to make a public statement on their partnership with a discriminatory company.

We know that as animal welfare workers your funds are probably limited. A 10% discount on your flight might make a difference in whether or not you can attend a conference. But HSUS has a choice. Right now, they’re choosing to support injustice.

We also know that American Humane is working with the airline on creating healthier travel regulations for pets. This is a good thing. What’s not a good thing is that it’s crickets from American Humane when it comes to the banning of dogs based on stereotypes. Does their advocacy end at protecting the wellness of brachycephalic dogs? Based on their lack of response, it doesn’t include equality for all dogs and their owners.

To be trite, we have to talk the talk and walk the walk.
It’s not enough for individual animal welfare workers to stand up to the injustice of breed-discriminatory policies. Animal welfare organizations must do it, too. It’s not enough to throw out general statements about how discrimination is wrong and not based in fact. We have to address specific instances. That’s the only way change happens. As stewards of animal welfare and keeping pets with their families, it’s literally our job to challenge these bullshit restrictions.

Let’s all do better. Stand up. Speak up.

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