We Can’t Fix Human Problems By Fixing Dogs

We Can’t Fix Human Problems By Fixing Dogs

We Can’t Fix Human Problems By Fixing Dogs

25

February, 2019

“Why are there so many pets in shelters?”

This is a common question local officials and people in animal welfare ask. The answer is often, “there’s a dog overpopulation problem.”  The “solution” to that is almost always mandatory spay/neuter (s/n). Sometimes it’s blanket ordinance put in place for all dogs, other times it’s for dogs with a certain label.

But this isn’t an effective solution, not in the long-term or in the short-term – because the problem (if there even is a ‘problem’) isn’t the dogs. This is a human problem. You can’t fix a human problem by fixing dogs.

We use the term animal welfare to describe what we do. But that’s not what anyone in this field really does – at least it’s not what we should be doing. The number of animals in a shelter isn’t a problem with animals, the problem is in how humans relate to one another and then how humans relate to animals.

If we want to fix the problem of pets in shelters, we must ask the right questions. We must look at the underlying human causes. This means that the answer isn’t a simple as “dogs keep having too much sex.” In fact, there isn’t one answer at all because there isn’t only one problem. There are multiple, complex problems. There is no blanket solution, which why mandatory s/n doesn’t work.

The reasons why dogs end up in shelters is different for every community. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula communities can follow. Officials must look at the individual problems in their communities. Unless the dogs coming into a shelter are puppies, the dogs had a home once upon a time. They had a home and something went wrong in that home. What was it?

While we can’t say what the reasons are for your community, there are some things you should think about:

What Are The Reasons Owners Give for Surrendering Their Dogs?

Get detailed information from people who surrender their dogs. Take stock of those reasons and figure out how to troubleshoot those problems. It’s unlikely that someone will say “well, she’s not fixed, so we can’t keep her.” Housing and access to veterinary care are two of the top reasons why people surrender their dogs to shelters or rehome their dogs. A peer-reviewed study published in the Open Journal of Animal Sciences states:

“For those that rented, housing problems were the number one reason for re-homing. With more people living with pets, access to affordable pet-friendly housing is likely one of the most important solutions to decreasing dog and cat homelessness.”

To quote a previous article of ours:

“Seventy-eight percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Studies say that millions of Americans are one health crisis away from poverty.”

The majority of Americans are already struggling, financially. The possibility of Americans being able to afford to spay or neuter their dogs, plus microchipping them (often added to mandatory spay/neuter laws), is slim. What happens to them if they can’t afford to abide by the laws? Pet owners become criminals.

In places like South Carolina, where a proposed bill requires owners of “pit bull” dogs to sterilize and microchip their dogs, people will be required to pay a $500 registration fee to keep their dog if they do choose not to spay/neuter their pet. Those who can’t afford this outrageous fee will face a misdemeanor charge, along with a fine of $1,000 – and here’s the real kicker, they can also face a year in prison.

That’s right, people who aren’t wealthy (aka the majority of Americans) can face up to a year in prison because they live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford $500 or veterinary care.

What happens to the dogs when people are punished for being poor? Where do you think those dogs end up? In shelters.

Does Your community Have Access to Resources or Know What Resources Are Available?

As an extension of the previous point, accessible veterinary care is an issue for many dog owners. This isn’t only for financial reasons. Rural and urban communities alike, often lack geographically accessible care for their animals.

The aforementioned study on owner surrenders, titled Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S., found that access to affordable training and behavior services were also a factor in pet relinquishment. It’s not that these dogs aren’t trainable and won’t make good pets, it’s that the owners don’t have and/or can’t afford the help they need to manage what are often relatively simple problems to correct.

A lot of this boils down to access to information. You’ll find people of all income levels surrendering pets to shelters for behavioral issues. This isn’t because they don’t care about their dogs. It’s because they don’t know where to look for effective resources.

Are Basic Ordinances Being Followed and Enforced?

Are leash laws in effect and are they enforced? Dogs who are leashed or contained in a yard are not going to roam the streets looking for a mate.

Some officials claim that they are putting mandatory s/n in place to protect the public. But, this regulation won’t have any impact on whether or not people are injured by dogs . The majority of dog related injuries occur inside the family home and are not a result of free roaming dogs having sex and biting strangers.

If your community has a problem with free-roaming dogs, target the owners who let their dogs run at-large, not the pet owners who keep their dogs safely at home.

Why criminalize dog owners simply because their pets aren’t fixed? If they aren’t letting their dogs run loose, then their dogs aren’t contributing to accidental litters and they are not biting random strangers. It’s a bizarre leap of logic to assume that people who don’t fix their dogs are irresponsible pet owners who let their dogs run wild in the streets.

These Laws Don’t Deter Criminal Activity

As we mentioned, laws targeted toward dogs with the “pit bull” label often aim to prevent dog-fighting. The idea behind this is that the laws will force would-be animal abusers to sterilize their dogs, reducing the number of animals in their fighting rings.

This is illogical. People who fight dogs are animal abusers and have already made the choice to disregard the law. People who fight dogs do so with intent and despite the laws that govern responsible pet ownership. 

If dog fighting is an issue in your community then arrest the dog fighters. It’s a felony in all 50 states. And a felony dog fighting arrest is much better than a misdemeanor testicle arrest. This goes back to enforcing current laws. Is your community investigating reports of animal cruelty like they should be? Are you investigating suspicious puppy listings? Those listings will give you contact information. If those people don’t have a license, then cite them and haul them into court to get answers.

And despite what urban legends say, it is highly unlikely that someone will steal an intact dog from its home, for any purpose.

It’s Up to Individual Dog Owners to Decide What’s Best for Their Pet’s Health

We’ve already established that s/n has no impact on public safety, and we’ve discussed how these problems are human problems… so, as long as a dog is happy, healthy and safely contained, what gives us the right to target particular dog owners if their dogs are not sterilized? ? In fact, it probably doesn’t. If challenged in court, breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter laws could be argued as a violation of due process and void for vagueness.

Sterilizing a dog is a medical decision. Individual dog owners may decide to sterilize their pets after they reach a certain age, or they may decide to not sterilize them at all for a variety of reasons. Neither decision defines them as responsible or not.  As long as they are responsible with their dogs, it’s not anyone else’s problem.

Let’s be clear here, we aren’t anti-spay/neuter. We’re pro responsible dog owners and accessible pet care resources.

Animal Farm Foundation has been a major financial supporter of community-based programs that give pet owners access to the care they want for their pets but cannot afford. From 2011-2018, AFF and its founder have given $1,864,855 to such programs.

We are adamantly against mandatory spay/neuter legislation (breed-specific or otherwise) that criminalizes pet owners who cannot afford to or chose not to sterilize their well cared for and loved pet.

Get Involved with Our Work

Make a Donation

 

Host a Fundraising Event

 

Post on Social Media

 

Become a Corporate Partner and Sponsor a Program or Event

 

The Latest From Our Team

P.O. Box 624
Bangall, NY 12506
845.868.7559
info@animalfarmfoundation.org

No, Science Doesn’t Say Dog Breeds Have Distinct Personalities in Their DNA

No, Science Doesn’t Say Dog Breeds Have Distinct Personalities in Their DNA

No, Science Doesn’t Say Breeds Have Distinct Personalities

18

January 18, 2019

There’s been a lot of talk recently about dog breeds and what their DNA says about their personalities. All of this talk was spawned by an article written by Elizabeth Pennisi titled Dog breeds really do have distinct personalities—and they’re rooted in DNA.” This headline has breedists excited. Finally, they can say for certain that their favorite breed of dog is as special as they’ve always believed them to be. Other people love it because it confirms what they’ve always believed – that breed alone dictates behavior.

Pennisi’s article is about a study by University of Arizona researchers called Highly Heritable and Functionally Relevant Breed Differences in Dog Behavior. The problem is that the title of Pennisi’s article does not accurately reflect what the study says at all. The headline doesn’t even represent what the article says.

Not only did many people share the story on social media without reading the article or the study, they didn’t put the study into context. It’s not peer-reviewed and it has yet to be published.

This is a lesson we should all have learned by now – headlines don’t tell the whole story or even an accurate story.

So What’s Really Going On with This Study?

The study focuses on dog behavior and breed traits, not personality. Personalities are entirely dependent on individuals. Breed traits do not make up the whole of who a dog is or what we can expect a dog to do.

The article makes frequent comparisons to human behavior, so let’s do that here – do siblings have the exact same personalities and respond in the exact same way to specific situations and stimuli?

The researchers openly admit their study falls short of exploring dogs’ individual personalities:

“One limitation of this study is that genotypic and phenotypic data were not collected from the same subjects, but rather aggregated across independent datasets.”

This is data without context. Data without context is easy to misinterpret and apply to one’s own preconceived notions. That’s exactly what’s being done by breedists (people who insist they can predict everything about a dog based on the way it looks and how it is categorized by kennel clubs) and it’s also being lauded by anti-dog advocates who insist that dogs with the label “pit bull”  are a menace to society.

The truth is all this study shows is a correlation, not a causation. That’s not wishful thinking on our part, that’s the nature of a lot of data and scientific studies.

To bring people back to reality, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. put the study into context in an article for Psychology Today called “Dog Breeds Don’t Have Distinct Personalities.”

“… a correlation of some traits with a breed/breed mix doesn’t mean there is a causal—cause-and-effect—relationship between or among them.”

Again, breed traits, which most certainly exist, do not dictate personality. Bekoff points out something many of us have personally observed:

“When I watch dogs, I focus on individual differences among them, because no two dogs are the same. I love when people tell me that they live with two dogs from the same litter and they’re as different as night and day.”

He goes on to mention that breedism and the misinterpretation of breed traits can increase return rates for shelters and rescues. People adopt dogs believing they will be carbon copies of their breed stereotype only to find that the dog is an individual doesn’t meet their breed-based expectations.

We didn’t want to address this issue without giving Science Magazine a chance to respond. We expressed our concerns about the title and some of the implications in the article.

Their online news editor David Grimm, Ph.D., explained that the magazine often covers pre-published and non-peer reviewed studies and that the article did make it clear that correlation doesn’t equal causation.

He told us:

“As you may recall, one of the experts, Heidi Parker, echoes your and Marc’s [Bekoff] concerns: ‘This paper doesn’t call out any particular breed for its behavior.’ The article is also careful to point out that DNA explains only about 15% of a breed’s personality.”

But like we stated in the beginning, that’s not at all what the title of the piece says and thus, people now have a false understanding of dog behavior and genetics. Grimm never addressed the issue of the inaccurate title.

Bekoff, who was included on our communications with Grimm, responded:

“The title Dog breeds really do have distinct personalities—and they’re rooted in DNA” is over the top based and misleading based on the data that are presented — it’s catchy and all that but some people have walked away saying things like, ‘I knew that’ when the data are equivocal at best.

The fact remains that dog breeds do not have distinct personalities and if there are any correlations, which do not at all imply causation, they are weak — and while they may be rooted in DNA — where else could they be rooted — the title is misleading and that’s what caught my attention and the attention of the many people who wrote to me asking what I thought about it all.”

So What’s the Problem with a Catchy Title?

We know that to make it in the internet age articles need to have catchy titles. Believe us, we get it (this article is currently being written by someone who used to be a viral editor for a major dog publication – I SO get it), but your titles need to be accurate.

We know, and as has been demonstrated by the viral nature of the Science Magazine write up, people often share articles based on headlines and take away whatever impression the headline gives them as the truth.

Because of this, Bekoff isn’t the only scientist balking at those who take the study out of context. Dr. Ádám Miklósi is concerned that the misrepresentation and failure to recognize the common variations among dogs from the same breed, even from the same litter, can have long-lasting and negative consequences for individual dogs and their owners – one of which, we mentioned above. Other consequences include breed-specific legislation and policies.

We’re not only calling out one publication here, we’re calling out everyone who shared the article without reading it, thinking critically about it, or putting it into context. We need to be accurate about how we talk about dog behavior and genetics because it has serious consequences for all dogs – not just dogs who are routinely discriminated against. Every dog deserves to be seen for who they are, not who we think they are.

Remember that the takeaway here is that data means nothing without context and that, as Bekoff says:  

“breeds do not have personalities, individual dogs do.”

Let’s think critically before we share articles on social media. Let’s think critically before we believe articles on social media (and yes, that includes this one! We like thinkers.)

Those who are interested in a contextualized examination of dog behavior should check out Dr. Miklósi’s book Dog Behavior, Evolution, and Cognition. You can read Bekoff’s full commentary here.

Get Involved with Our Work

Make a Donation

 

Host a Fundraising Event

 

Post on Social Media

 

Become a Corporate Partner and Sponsor a Program or Event

 

Read More

P.O. Box 624
Bangall, NY 12506
845.868.7559
info@animalfarmfoundation.org

This Response to Our Podcast Exposes the Classism in Animal Welfare

This Response to Our Podcast Exposes the Classism in Animal Welfare

This Response to Our Podcast Exposes the Classism in Animal Welfare

15

January 2019

In our podcast from last week, Are We Loving Shelter Pets to Death,  we challenged people who believe that free adoptions are detrimental to dogs to examine where this belief comes from. One of the points we made is that there is classism behind this belief. We all have our own level of bias and it’s important that we deal with it.

We received an email from a woman involved in animal rescue (we are not naming her or her rescue) who had a lot to say about our podcast and our take that being anti-free adoption events is classist. Unfortunately, all her email did was prove our point that classism is a strong undercurrent in animal welfare.

Because she is most certainly not the only one who feels this way, we decided to respond to her email publicly. Here is our point by point response:

“I read the article on “Are we loving shelter pets to death?” I disagree with free adoption. It has nothing to do with thinking they will be abused. Instead it’s a viscous [sic] cycle of poverty.”

No. It isn’t.

“The dogs that end up in the shelter have been neglected 90% of the time by someone who could not afford to keep them.”

This is not true at all. If a dog is a stray, chances are we don’t know its background or who its owners were. When we do know who their owners are, we don’t usually know their income level or anything about them.

The assumption that 90% of dogs in shelters are abused or neglected is an outdated one and one that does an incredible disservice to shelter dogs. These assumptions are most often false and they are based on nothing more than extremely biased guesswork.

Assumptions don’t make for good policy and they don’t help dogs or people.

Listen to the episode

“so they let the [sic] go astray, stop feeding them, start abusing them out of anger from their own failures in life.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what to say about this level of discriminatory thinking. This is downright disgusting. This was the line that made us want to write about this publicly. We can say all we want that classism is behind people’s dislike of free adoption events, but sometimes you have to show people to make them believe it.

This person clearly showed us who she is.

The reality is that people on a low income often feed their dogs before they feed themselves. Again, you could talk to anyone who works within their community to help people and their dogs and you’d find this to be true.

Now, let’s address the truly infuriating line: “start abusing them out of their own failures in life.”

People on a low income include veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Are those people failing in life? Are those people responsible for the fact that society as a whole tends to not think of them as actual people? Are those people responsible for their own marginalization, lack of accessibility, and income inequality?

No, they aren’t.

Seventy-eight percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Studies say that millions of Americans are one health crisis away from poverty. Are cancer survivors at fault for their financial state? Are people suffering from chronic illnesses at fault?

This “rescuer” is saying that they absolutely are.

 

There is no room in animal welfare for classism

 

Currently, tens of thousands of people are being forced to work without pay due to the government shutdown. Do you know what real animal welfare workers and volunteers are doing? Helping them feed their pets. They aren’t blaming them for things that absolutely aren’t their fault.

They are helping them, because that’s what humans do for one another. Because that’s how you preserve the human-canine bond.

An adoption fee is not meant to make money, it is in place to ensure the “shelter, rescue, pet” will get vaccinated, neutered/spayed, and cared for.

This is 100% true. Rescues often cannot waive their adoption fees because they run on an extremely limited budget. But our podcast wasn’t about free adoptions for rescues. It was about free adoptions for high intake shelters. Limited intake rescues don’t have the same issues.

“People that take “free” dogs cannot afford them, then weeks or even months later they are returned to the shelter or reach out to rescues to “rehome” the dog.”

Where do we even start with this?

Many people of all different income levels adopt dogs during these events. For many, they’ve been thinking about getting a dog for a long time and this sort of event is the thing that gives them the nudge to do so.

As we pointed out in the blog that accompanied our last podcast, studies show that these dogs are no more likely to return to the shelter than dogs adopted at any other time.

There’s also the very classist assumption that people on a low-income can’t possibly love a dog as much as someone of a higher income.

Anyone who works in animal welfare will tell you that people of all income levels return dogs to shelters or abandon them. And the reasons why people do this vary widely. It’s not always for lack of love.

“The education of this cycle is lacking in every community. My rescue does not just save dogs, we educate.”

She spelled “discriminate” wrong.

“We started a program with local schools to teach kids at an early age how to care for pets and report a lost dog.”
This is truly fantastic. However, we wonder what else someone like this teaches children. Does she teach them that people of lower incomes are bad people who abuse and neglect animals? How does she treat children who are from low income families? Or are these classes only for rich white kids?

You can’t advocate for companion animals if you discriminate against their companions.

“When we adopt dogs out we spend hours informing the family of pet care and proper introductions, we send articles, and we make forms to give them an idea of what exactly the dog is thinking in a new environment.”
Good for her. Shelters do this thing called “adoption counseling” that also includes these things – well, except on “exactly what a dog is thinking in a new environment” because we can’t read dogs’ minds and science says dogs are individuals. There’s no way to know “exactly” what a dog is thinking.
“Free adoptions are setting the dog up for failure.”

No, they don’t.

What sets dogs and people up for failure is blatant and cruel discrimination. Patting oneself on the back while looking down your nose at others is inhumane.

You can’t advocate for dogs and dehumanize people at the same time.

There is no room in animal welfare for classism.

Thanks for coming to our Ted Talk.

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!

The Individual Animal is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

Get Involved with Our Work

Make a Donation

 

Host a Fundraising Event

 

Post on Social Media

 

Become a Corporate Partner and Sponsor a Program or Event

 

Read More

P.O. Box 624
Bangall, NY 12506
845.868.7559
info@animalfarmfoundation.org

Petfinder Dog Listings Show Just How Ridiculous Visual Breed Identification Is

Petfinder Dog Listings Show Just How Ridiculous Visual Breed Identification Is

Petfinder Listings Show Absurdity of Visual Breed Identification

15

NOVEMBER, 2018

This post was originally written in 2013. It has been updated with additional commentary.

We were elated last year when Petfinder added “mixed breed” as a primary identifier option for the dogs listed on their site. It was a big move toward science and a huge step away from inaccurate labels and inherent bias.

Subjective breed labeling still happens on the site because it’s still happening in shelters. Plus, the general public loves to play the “what is this dog?” guessing game – and we admit, the game can be fun! But animal welfare workers have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible. You can’t be accurate when you visually identify a dog.

The term “pit bull” dog has become a catchall term that doesn’t even apply to a standard of visual characteristics. Sometimes, the term seems to be applied at random. That’s why we put it in quotes.

Here’s a collection of dogs that we pulled from Petfinder in 2013. All dogs were given the label of “pit bull.”

Brady

From Saving Paws of WA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

Is it just us or do these dogs look really different?

Buddy

From Grateful Dogs Rescue, CA: Listed as American Staffordshire Terrier and Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Bradley

From Homestretch Hounds, OH: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Helen

From Philadelphia SPCA, PA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and Plott Hound Mix

What is happening here?

Wilma

From Villalobos Rescue, LA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Bruno

From Rocket Dog Rescue, CA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix.

Boy

From Saving Paws of WA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

Bunny

From Manchester Animal Care and Control CT: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and English Bulldog mix.

King

From Poughkeepsie Animal Care and Control, NY: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Roger

From Oregon Humane Society: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

We can’t go on! It’s too much! 

Do some of these dogs have similar characteristics? Sure. All dogs have similar characteristics! Inherent bias doesn’t only exist in what we think a label means, it also exists in the process of applying the label. We see what we expect to see – and what most people expect to see in shelters is a “pit bull” dog. (Here’s where we’d typically explain self-fulfilling prophecies, but you’re smart. You already get it.)

Some of the shelters listed here have removed breed labels since the original publication of this blog. It’s important to note that not all software gives people the option that Petfinder now gives, some animal welfare professionals have no choice but to guess at a dog’s breed due to the software system they use. So there’s absolutely no shade from us at the shelters listed here.

Here’s the important thing to remember

A dog’s label, right or wrong, doesn’t tell us who they are or how they will behave. This is true whether we are accurate or not in our labeling. This is true whether the dog is a pure breed or a mixed breed dog. The labels we assign to dogs don’t tell us what they need as an individual or whether or not they are safe to live in our communities. 

We cannot accurately predict a dog’s future behavior based on breed or breed label alone. Dogs are complex individuals whose behaviors are influenced by a number of external and internal factors.

You can call your dog whatever you want (we won’t judge you even if you call him a farty-butt), but when it comes to dogs in general, we owe it to them to see them as individuals, not as labels.

Read More

P.O. Box 624
Bangall, NY 12506
845.868.7559
info@animalfarmfoundation.org

Who Are The Dogs In Shelters Really And Why Does It Matter?

Who Are The Dogs In Shelters Really And Why Does It Matter?

Who Are The Dogs In Shelters Really and why does it matter?

9

November, 2018

One of the core questions we want everyone to ask themselves about a dog is “Who is this dog?” Not, “What breed is this dog?” or “What does this dog look like?” or “Where did this dog come from?” Those last three questions don’t necessarily tell you any relevant information about the dog. 

When you focus on guessing a dog’s breed or breed mix, you’re more than likely to be incorrect and, consequently, you’ll take away a lot of false assumptions about a dog’s potential behavior.  Not only that, assumptions based on appearance disregard the genetic complexity of dogs and all other influences that make up the individual dog.

A study by ASU’s Canine Science Collaboratory researchers Lisa Gunter and Clive Wynne showed that for the shelter dogs they studied most of the mixed breed dogs (95% of the sample) had, on average, three different breeds in their heritage. This means that they aren’t a member of any breed. They are simply a dog.

Going back to what we said earlier about genetics being complicated, Wynne puts it best:

“Genetics are not paint colors. If you take a few drops of labrador retreiver and a few drops of border collie, you do not get a dog that loves to jump into the water and herd fish.”

And we’re not even going to get into the fact that, in this study, people only guessed a dog’s breed mix correctly one in 20 times – We’ll let Wynne get into that.

Watch the short video below for information about the study and what it means for companion animals.

Get Involved with Our Work

Make a Donation

 

Host a Fundraising Event

 

Post on Social Media

 

Become a Corporate Partner and Sponsor a Program or Event

 

The Latest From Our Team

P.O. Box 624
Bangall, NY 12506
845.868.7559
info@animalfarmfoundation.org

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.

Get Involved with Our Work

Make a Donation

 

Host a Fundraising Event

 

Post on Social Media

 

Become a Corporate Partner and Sponsor a Program or Event

 

Latest Articles