Oct. 24: Bless the Bullys honors…

Today’s honoree for National Pit Bull Awareness Month is Theresa Donnelly. Theresa is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, which is a resource to help educate on lifetime pet ownership and to advocate for standardized pet policies within The Department of Defense.

Most of us became aware of the need for uniform pet policies for housing on military bases in early 2009. At that time, the Department of the Army instituted a new pet policy which restricted specific breeds of dogs on base housing. Theresa has been working hard to bring about a change to these policies and to help keep military families and their beloved canine companions together.

I started my journey into breed neutral advocacy with my efforts running Hawaii Military Pets, an online information resource in Hawaii for military pet families. My background is in public affairs, so I decided to use my communication skills to share what I learned about responsible pet ownership from my time helping our Hawaii Boxer dog club.

I became aware of inconsistent pet policies in base housing because pet owners reached out to me through social media, sharing their heartbreaking stories of having to give pets away or to a shelter because they were unaware of the pet policies at their next duty station. Many military families cannot afford to live off base. The bans are not the same throughout the service since housing is privatized and run by many corporations, meaning families arrive at their new duty station unprepared for the bans.

The enforcement of military housing pet policies is not uniform either. Some companies enforce with just a visual appearance inspection, while some insist on a DNA test. Some rely completely on the family to self identify their banned breed, leading neighbors (some who felt forced to leave behind a “banned” breed) to question the policy’s fairness. Our shelters have no way to verify the lineage of an animal placed in the community. It was surprising the military would endorse these rules, especially when the Army’s veterinarian community has spoken out against breed discrimination.

There’s also a lack of a consistent standard when setting forth policies on numeric, weight, and size limits.

This prompted me and other advocates to see if there was anything we could do about it. So, I teamed up with Pets for Patriots and Dogs on Deployment to write the petition on Change.org to standardize military pet policies. It’s hard for me to believe we have surpassed 17,000 signatures. We’ve done this only with the help of countless military families, the pet blogger community (like Bless the Bullys), and many others who oppose breed-specific legislation. This is a grassroots, community effort. We’re not supported by any major organizations, but we think that people banding together can make a difference.

Our goal is 100,000 signatures, and I think we’ll get there. The campaign has never been about shaming the military as President Alisa Johnson from Dogs on Deployment and I are both active duty military officers and honored for the opportunity to serve. Rather, we want our military community to team up for effective solutions to the serious community safety problem of dangerous dogs. These solutions include pet education, dangerous dog enforcement regardless of breed and a leadership emphasis on overall responsible pet ownership. Housing should give all pets a chance, define what’s considered a pet, publicize the policy throughout the military and give equal consideration for all ranks to enjoy responsible pet ownership.

We’re also looking at official feedback channels too. I’ve written Congress, military installation commands and family policy offices at The Department of Defense. My next project is to gather a listing of all the private housing companies and respectfully request that they partner with the military for a standard, non-service specific pet policy.

Part of this issue, I think, stems from the housing insurance companies using bad science to assess breed risk. This is unacceptable to discriminate against certain pet owners unless there is a scientific methodology that could prove a breed directly correlated to more accidents and injuries. Our housing offices are imposing an unjust solution to the dangerous dogs issue, and our military families deserve better than this.

Loyalty and commitment are common themes of many, if not all, military unit mottos. Forcing military families to abandon their dogs goes against every element we teach people about responsible dog ownership and lifetime commitments. The work that Theresa does for military families strengthens and reinforces those commitments, while educating communities and working toward effective solutions for community safety through pet education, breed-neutral dangerous dog enforcement, and emphasizing overall responsible pet ownership practices.

On behalf of Bless the Bullys and the National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign, thank you, Theresa, for all your are doing to help military families keep their pets, as well as bringing awareness to and working toward uniform pet policies that do not discriminate or target specific breeds of dogs. Keep up the fantastic work!

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