Today’s nominee for National Pit Bull Awareness Month is Jennifer Thomas, the woman behind StopBSL and Happy Pit Bull. I asked Jennifer what inspired her to fight so strongly against breed specific laws, and what I found is yet another person so strongly affected by a dog and the misinformation out there about that “type” of dog, that it inspired her to make a difference:
I got introduced to pit bulls the same way I think many people ultimately get involved with them: by accident. In 2000, my husband and I moved into a new house, and there was this sad, terrified dog left behind by the old inhabitants. I thought, okay, I’ve raised and rehabbed reptiles, birds, rodents, and cats—surely I can handle a dog. My husband told me, “That dog is a pit bull.” He was already familiar with pit bulls (and dogs generally) and knew how to look past stereotypes, but I didn’t know much about dogs and had only heard bad things about pit bulls. I wondered if we were making a mistake to keep the dog.
That pit bull, Felanie, turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m still surprised about how much I have learned that can be directly traced to pit bull ownership: valuable lessons about culture, stereotypes, persuasive writing, science and statistics, website creation, animal rescue, and even nonprofit management. I’ve even chosen my master’s degrees and educational pursuits so that I can further my advocacy and rescue interests. There’s not a single aspect of my life that hasn’t been affected in some way by pit bull ownership.
I started Happy Pit Bull shortly after I got Felanie. I started the site because I was frustrated by the educational materials that were currently available to pit bull owners. At the time, I could only find a handful of books about pit bull ownership—many of them written by dog fighting enthusiasts, for dog fighting enthusiasts. Happy Pit Bull was my ownership guide for nice, normal, responsible pit bull owners who saw their dogs as family members, not status symbols. Nowadays, of course, there are many excellent, balanced, thoughtful websites and books about pit bulls. I’ve shifted the HPB website’s focus away from basic pit bull/dog care and toward the social issues and aspects of pit bull ownership: what “pit bull” really means, how to tackle the stereotype, where to connect with other responsible pit bull owners, and so forth.
In 2005, I heard that the Texas legislature was considering a bill that would have repealed our state law that prohibits breed-specific laws. It was during this time that I started thinking about BSL, what it means, and how it affects people. I also thought about what I could do to raise awareness about BSL and to get people involved in the fight against it. My answer was a new website, StopBSL. Over a number of years, I added information, alerts, and social networking features in an effort to offer information that is current, easy to search, easy to act on, and easy to share. I still have several exciting and useful future projects planned for StopBSL, but unfortunately, the routine website updates take up most of my free time nowadays, making it difficult to find time to start new projects.
Though it may seem incongruent, I’m really not a diehard fan of pit bulls. After a decade of shelter volunteer work and dog fostering, I’ve learned that, generally, all dogs are similar, regardless of breed (and yet different, in the way that individuals are naturally different), so I have no real reason to prefer one kind of dog over another. Breed labels are pretty arbitrary, especially in most animal shelters. Breed has never been a factor when I pick a dog to adopt or foster; I always consider the individual dog. Of course, since most of the really needy dogs are labeled “pit bull,” it’s natural that I end up fostering a lot of pit bulls. But when I compare my experiences with pit bull types versus non-pit bulls, I can honestly say I’ve noticed no real difference. A dog is a dog is a dog.
Jennifer does an excellent job at analyzing and distributing the facts regarding how to fight breed specific legislation and pending BSL across the country. While she may not be a diehard fan of pit bulls (as opposed to dogs in general), she is certainly one of the best friends a pit bull can have!
On behalf of Bless the Bullys and the National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign, thank you, Jennifer, for doing such a great job at keeping up with and getting accurate information out to fight BSL. Keep up the incredible work!