With the close of 2011 comes the opportunity to look back at the events of the year. Its been quite a whirlwind for the rescue and on the BSL front, and we’ve got a lot to cover, so lets get started!
Its been a very busy year for Bless the Bullys. We were so fortunate to see several of our rescues find their forever homes, and each and every one left their paw prints on my heart. The most memorable adoption of the year had to be JoJo, who was with us for over 2 years! Its amazing to watch an animal that has been so hurt by a human learn to trust again and blossom in your care, but that’s what rescue is all about, isn’t it?
For the fifth year in a row, National Pit Bull Awareness Day was a smashing success! People across the U.S. and Canada celebrated, educated and changed negative opinions about pit bulls, while at the same time, generating positive pit bull press across the entire country. This year, October was designated as “National Pit Bull Awareness Month,” and I had the wonderful privilege of acknowledging an individual each day of the month for their work to improve the lives and the image of the American pit bull terrier.
The documentary Beyond the Myth played to packed movie theatres across the country this year. The film, created and directed by Libby Sherrill, does an excellent job of portraying the emotional toll the bias and fear of breed specific legislation has on those affected by it. The film reinforces the need for owners and advocates of “pit bull type” dogs to fight breed specific legislation, while at the same time, its changing minds and opinions of those who walk into theaters with negative views and misconceptions about pit bulls. I was truly honored to be a part of the film, and that Libby allowed me a very public platform to encourage people to fight for their rights and for their dogs. I am also eternally grateful to Libby for an edit she made to include Tiffin, thus immortalizing the impact that incredible creature had on my life! Speaking of being thankful, I am, of course, always thankful for Megan Trotter, a friend and a reporter with the Herald-Citizen, not only for the great article she did for the Cookeville screening of Beyond the Myth, but for always giving the rescue and the breed positive press and the opportunity to refute stereotypes right here in our community.
The most exciting change I saw this year was the intense energy and the renewed sense of hope that breed specific legislation (“BSL”) should be fought and the confidence that it can be defeated. In a recent blog, I wrote about being an informed dog owner. Being informed means knowing that when a breed ban or breed regulations are proposed in your town, you have the right to question the city’s motives and statistics used to support that proposal. Rather than simply accepting discriminatory ordinances, more people are coming to understand that they don’t have to accept biased, bad laws. That they have a say in their community, and these laws can and should be challenged. In 2011, we saw more and more people step up to the plate and do just that. If you still don’t believe your voice can make a difference, please keep reading!
In 2011, the following communities proposed and REJECTED breed specific ordinances because ordinary people like you and me took a stand against them:
Aberdeen, South Dakota
Butte-Silver Bow, Montana
Charles County, Maryland
Dugald, MB, Canada
Eagleston Township, Michigan
Ellensville, New York
Friday Harbor, Washington
Garden City, Kansas
La Vista, Nebraska
Lincoln Park, Michigan
Madison, South Dakota
Mt. Morris, Michigan
Oktibbeha County, Mississippi
Port Moody, BC, Canada
Rochester Hills, Michigan
Santa Clara County, California
Springfield, Tennessee (rejected additional restrictions)
Sterling Heights, Michigan
Terrebonne Parrish, Louisiana
Waxhaw, North Carolina
Here are just a few examples of people coming together in an effort to make positive change for humans and animals in their communities:
In Vancouver, Washington, over TWO HUNDRED citizens, along with 75 dogs, rallied and held a peaceful protest against a proposed breed specific ordinance. That ordinance was tabled by the city council soon thereafter.
In Waukesha, Wisconsin, a teenage girl organized a successful rally against an ordinance that targeted “pit bulls” because she feared her dog would be at risk if the proposal passed.
In Springfield, Tennessee, we packed a meeting room on a horribly stormy night to oppose additional restrictions to the city’s already burdensome pit bull ordinance. The thought of additional restrictions encouraged one resident to not only speak out against them, but to ask the council to repeal the breed specific ordinance in its entirety. The restrictions were tabled that night, and repeal of the entire ordinance is now a real possibility!
In Wentzville, Missouri, a resident angered over an ordinance that she felt unfairly targeted dogs based on breed took her complaint to the city council when that ordinance was up for review. Her request to remove the breed specific language from the ordinance now has the support of all the council members in Wentzville and is moving forward!
What do these stories have in common? They all involve ordinary people stepping up for a cause they very much believe in AND they are making big differences in their communities!
In addition to the above areas that rejected breed specific proposals, the following cities have repealed and/or repeal of breed specific ordinances are on the table:
Bay County, Michigan
Grand Prairie, AB, Canada
Moses Lake, Washington
Vienna, West Virginia
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
*Ladysmith, AB, Canada (passed exemptions to current BSL)
In 2011, we also saw (and continue to see) a lot of action on the state level. Fortunately, because residents in these states took quick action and made their voices heard loud and clear, the bills that would be detrimental to dog owners were quickly squelched, while those that improve the human/animal bond and encourage responsible pet ownership are continuing to make leaps and bounds!
In January, Florida legislators introduced HB4075 and SB722. These bills deleted the provisions in the state law that deemed any dog seized in a dog fighting raid automatically be considered a “dangerous dog.” The bill passed and was signed into law by the Governor on June 21, 2011.
In February, an Oklahoma senator introduced SB362, a bill that would remove the provision prohibiting municipalities from passing breed specific ordinances. Concerned citizens of Oklahoma rallied against it, and the bill died in committee in March.
In addition, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the pit bull ban in Midwest City in March 2011. The Stuckey family had been fighting for years to save their bull terrier pets. Lower courts had previously ruled the ban violated state law which prohibits breed discriminatory ordinances. The state supreme court refused to take up the issue, thus effectively killing the Midwest City ban.
Also in February, HB1080 was introduced in Illinois. This bill would remove the ban on classifying vicious dogs based on breed, which Illinois state law currently prohibits. In March, the Bill was assigned to the Rules Committee. No votes were ever taken and the Bill stalled out.
In June, a Michigan legislator introduced HB4714, a bill that would regulate the ownership of pit bulls and eventually prohibit the ownership of a pit bulls in Michigan. On the same day the bill was introduced, it was referred to the Regulatory Reform Committee where the chairman vowed it would not be taken up…and that’s exactly where it stayed.
In Ontario, Canada a bill introduced by Cheri DiNovo to repeal Ontario’s “pit bull ban” is moving through the legislature and now has the support of all three provincial political parties – a huge achievement!. The bill goes up for debate in February.
In October, Senator Sue Wilson-Beffort announced plans to introduce a bill that would declare pit bulls and pit bulls mixes as dangerous dogs in New Mexico. This bill will have to be proposed in the 30-day legislative session that begins January 17, 2012. These 30-day sessions are reserved for budget and tax issues, so for Beffort’s bill to be heard, the Governor has to put it on the agenda. New Mexico residents are strongly encouraged to write to Governor Susana Martinez and voice their opposition to this bill being placed on the upcoming agenda.
In December, Florida House Representative Carlos Trujillo and Senator Jim Norman filed HB997 and SB 322, respectively. These bills aim to repeal the portion of the Florida statute that allows Miami and Dade County to discriminate against dogs simply because of their appearance and perceived breed.
Florida residents are strongly encouraged to support these bills and contact their legislators.
And finally, the pièce de résistance … Ohio HB14 which would, among other things, remove “pit bulls” from the definition of “vicious dog” in state law. Ohio is the only state that defines an entire breed of dogs as dangerous. HB14 has passed in the Ohio House of Representatives, and has been forwarded to the Senate’s Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee where it is currently pending and will be taken up when the legislative session starts up.
HB14 has taken years in the making, and tons of leg work, dedication and determination of many people and organizations. The much anticipated passing of HB14 and subsequent removal of the breed specific language will be a significant achievement for Ohio and across the country. PLEASE continue to support this monumental bill in 2012 and help make history!
Throughout the year, we continued to see evidence that breed specific legislation is ineffective in ensuring community safety. Let us not forget how very important this is. The ease in which a governmental entity can use and rely upon the argument that a law is in the interest of public safety is phenomenal. I’ve worked for defense attorneys. I’ve batted arguments around with them to prepare for city council meetings. The public safety issue is seen as the “ace up their sleeve.” With that in mind, lets look at a few examples of how that argument fails:
Despite a twenty year old ban on certain breeds of dogs, hospitalizations for dog attacks in the UK continue to skyrocket. This latest report only reconfirms the failure of the Dangerous Dog Act as we learned of the staggering increase reported in 2008 that dog attacks in the UK went up 50% over the last ten years. In addition, the costs associated with enforcing the failed law are proving extremely expensive to citizens there. Because of this, the House of Lords and numerous organizations in the UK are supporting and pushing for a complete overhaul of the completely ineffective Dangerous Dog Act.
While Aurora, Colorado was in the midst of their ADA legal issues, talk of repealing their breed specific ordinance came up. In 2005 (the year before the ban was instituted), there were 137 dog bites in Aurora, 27 from “pit bull type dogs” and 110 from “all others”. The ban went into affect in February 2006. In 2006, there were also 137 dog bites, 8 from ‘pit bulls” and 129 from all other breeds. In 2007, there were 172 dog bites, 15 from ‘pit bulls’ and 157 from “all other” breeds. Despite the overwhelming evidence that their breed specific ordinance is not creating a safer community, the city only amended its breed specific ordinance to remove 7 of the 10 restricted breeds.
In July, a story out of Russellville, Arkansas reported that there had been no decrease in dog bites since enacting a pit bull ban in 2006. Despite this, the animal control director feels the ordinance has been effective.
In November, a story out of Springfield, Missouri, reported overall dog bites have gone up since enacting a pit bull ban in 2006. Again, animal control officials believe the ordinance is working. When asked how a pit bull was determined, the answer was, “Its a subjective call.” Which leads to the question, how many of the over 1,500 pit bulls that have been euthanized due to Springfield’s pit bull ban really were “pit bulls?”
Alas, there is a ray of hope in Springfield. City Councilman Doug Burlison has been trying to get the city to repeal the current breed specific ordinance and pass a generic vicious dog ordinance since 2008. Springfield residents are encouraged to continue to support and encourage Councilman Burlison’s efforts in this regard.
In 2011, we also saw some big wins for pit bull service dogs and their owners:
After a federal lawsuit was filed by dog owners alleging the pit bull bans of Denver and Aurora, Colorado violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, Denver animal control “officially” adopted, a written policy and http://aurora.kdvr.com/news/politics/aurora-allow-pit-bulls-back-city/61166procedure permitting disabled individuals to have pit bulls as service dogs in May. Aurora amended their policy in this regard in April.
In the last weeks of December, we learned that the town of Aurelia, Iowa forced a disabled veteran and retired Chicago police officer, James Sak, to relinquish his service dog, Snickers. City officials identified Snickers as a “pit bull,” a breed prohibited in the city limits. Sak pursued legal action against the city, and Animal Farm Foundation stepped in to help. An injunction was filed, and a hearing took place on December 28. The injunction was granted, and Snickers, was returned to Officer Sak. In the closing of his Memorandum Opinion, Judge Bennett stated, “This is one small, but vital step for Sak, one giant leap for pit bull service dogs.”
In the years I have been following BSL, I have never seen a time where the outlook is so positive and so many people are coming to action to defend their rights and the rights of others. Yes, we are still seeing breed specific ordinances proposed, but we are seeing fewer…a lot fewer. And when BSL is proposed, more government officials are enacting common sense, effective generic dangerous dog ordinances that focus on the true root of animal control issues – reckless and irresponsible owners.
What’s changed? For starters, more and more responsible dog owners like YOU are speaking out against ineffective and arbitrary laws and offering suggestions and input to their local governments. Owners of dogs targeted by BSL, as well as those that are not, are speaking out for laws that make our communities safer as opposed to knee-jerk reactions that only put a band-aid over the gushing wound of personal and owner accountability.
It is true, the tide is turning. We are making a difference. With every letter, e-mail, phone call and appearance at a city council meeting, YOU are making a difference and a huge impact in communities across this country! No matter where BSL has reared its ugly head, you have been there to speak out against it.
I hope that you, like me, find inspiration in this movement of change, and you continue to carry this powerful momentum with you into 2012.