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


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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Prince George’s County: High Price Paid For Failed Breed Ban

Prince George’s County: High Price Paid For Failed Breed Ban

In May of 2015, Animal Farm Foundation transported six “pit bull” dogs from Prince George’s County in Maryland to our shelter in New York. The dogs were well-behaved, healthy, friendly, and played well with other dogs. So why did we need to transport them 300+ miles instead of being adopted out of their Maryland shelter?

Because they live in a county that still has an archaic breed ban in place. These dogs, all of varying appearances, behaviors, and breed mixes, were perceived to be “pit bull” dogs. That perception made them illegal in Prince George’s County. They cannot be adopted out of shelters. There are only two outcomes for these dogs: death or transport to a safe jurisdiction.

Cindy 5

Cindy, identified as a “pit bull” dog, cannot be adopted out from Prince George’s County Animal Services due to this breed label. She’s one of six dogs transported to Animal Farm Foundation in NY.

Prince George’s County’s animal services staff work hard to arrange the latter outcome. Each day numerous dogs, subjectively identified at “pit bull” dogs, come into their shelter. None of them are allowed on the adoption floor. Many are dogs that were loved family pets taken straight from their homes. They were seized, not because they did anything wrong, but simply because of their appearance or breed label.

Now, these family pets are wards of the system.

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

The staff spends their time and resources making sure that these family dogs have a chance at a fair and humane outcome – adoption – by arranging transports around the country. AFF recently sponsored Aimee Sadler’s Dogs Playing For Life! training for the staff to help them enrich the lives of the dogs in their care and to assist in identifying transport candidates.

During her recent training, Aimee wasn’t surprised to see that there were many “pit bull” dogs that were “rock stars” in the play groups. Calls went out to shelters around the region to help get these highly adoptable dogs out of danger and into adoption programs.

AFF and Fairfax County Animal Shelter were two of the organizations that pulled numerous dogs after seeing Sadler’s play group footage.

Each of the 6 dogs pulled from Prince George's County is an individual. Their beahvior and appearance varies. When someone decied to label Leo, seen here, a "pit bull" dog, he became illegal in PG County. He is now at Animal Farm Foudnation in NY.

The behavior and appearance of the 6 dogs from Maryland varies. When someone decided to label Leo (seen here) a “pit bull” dog, he became illegal in PG County. He is now at Animal Farm Foundation in NY.

Rodney Taylor, the director of Prince George’s County’s animal services facility, publicly opposes the ban for many reasons. The Huffington Post reports that the shelter has a “live release rate” of only 64 percent. This is not a reflection on the shelter’s policies or approach to adoptions. The high euthanasia rate is largely due to the law that bans them from adopting out any dog that is labeled a “pit bull.”

The euthanasia rate would be even higher if the staff didn’t work so hard to make transports a daily reality.

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

But until the ban is removed by lawmakers or struck down in court, the shelter will be stuck with a live release rate that falls far short of what progressive adoption centers, in areas without breed bans, attain. As Rodney told the Huffington Post:

“Such beautiful dogs come in and we can’t adopt them to families that want to adopt them.”

There are no facts or experts to back up the retention of this ineffective, inhumane law. In 2003, Prince George’s County authorized a task force to examine the results of their ban, which has been in place since 1996. The task force reported that the ban was ineffective, has a negative impact on public safety, stretches animal control and sheltering resources thin, and costs approximately a half million dollars a year to enforce.

That’s right, a half million dollars a year.

What do all 6 of these dogs have in common? Based on how they looked, they were given the label "pit bull" and banned from

Luke (seen here) and the others from PG County enjoy playing with other dogs and people. Despite this, they are banned from the adoption floors in PG County because of their breed label.

In the fiscal year 2001-2002, costs due to “pit bull” dog confiscations totaled $560,000. And that doesn’t even touch the amount of money needed to cover the expenses for utilities, manpower, and overtime spent caring for the dogs. You can read the full report here.

Of course, that was 14 years ago. If we do some simple math and assume that the numbers remain the same, that’s $560,000 a year multiplied by 14 years, which means the current total spent enforcing a ban that doesn’t work could potentially be estimated at: $7,840,000.

The tax payers are footing this enormous bill for a law that does not increase public safety. They’re footing the bill for a law that tears innocent dogs away from loving families. And they’re paying for a law that strains shelter systems and animal control services by misdirecting their time and resources to addressing a crisis that need not exist.

What’s the alternative?

If the breed ban was repealed, that money could be used to enforce effective breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. The very ones the 2003 Task Force recommended. Animal control would no longer need to waste their time seizing safe family pets. Instead, they could focus on addressing problem dog owners (of any breed). Focusing on irresponsible owners would truly make the county safe for all of its citizens. Animal services wouldn’t have to make kennel space for loved dogs freshly torn away from their families. And instead they could use their time and resources to do what shelters are

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Animal services wouldn’t have to make kennel space for loved dogs freshly torn away from their families. They could use their time and resources to do what shelters are meant to do: help the dogs that are truly homeless, evaluate them as individuals, and find them new families within their county.

In 2009, after the shelter spent 12 million to build a new facility, Taylor stated:

“There’s one goal: to become the number one shelter in the nation.”

Six years later, with a 64% live release rate and the breed ban still being in effect, Prince George’s County animal services is lagging far behind other shelters nationwide. No matter how hard they work, the ban prevents them from ever being able to achieve their goal.

Suzy, Monaco, Dessta, and the rest of the dogs are banned from the adoption floor in PG County. Seen here enjoying hanging out with the interns at Animal Farm Foundation.

Suzy, Monaco, Dessta, and the rest of the dogs transported to NY, all banned in PG County, are seen here enjoying a summer day with the interns at Animal Farm Foundation.

The breed ban in Prince George’s County is an ineffective and expensive mistake. It is time-consuming and nearly impossible to enforce. As the live release rate proves, it is incompatible with progressive animal sheltering policies that helps dogs find homes. It perpetuates myths, hysteria and fear. It suggests we can accurately

It perpetuates myths, hysteria, and fear. One of those myths is the assumption that we can accurately identify a dog’s breed based on their looks and that a dog’s breed is an accurate predictor of behavior. Because of all of this, the ban jeopardizes everyone’s safety by misdirecting money, resources, and time.

Recently adopted AFF alumna Guava

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Breed specific legislation denies every resident of Prince George’s County the opportunity to live in a safe and humane community.

When will lawmakers listen to the task force recommendations, given more than a decade ago, and finally remove this failed legislation? When will they free up those wasted millions of dollars to fund breed neutral laws that are proven to keep communities safe? Change must happen now. There’s no more time or money to waste for the families of Prince George’s County.

You can learn more about BSL and building safe communities in our ebooks.