Friday, May 22, 2009

More BSL conversations...

Breed specific legislation...continues in body of law and mind.

Earlier today, I called the Toledo Animal Shelter. I have been trying to reach them to inquire about pit bulls. I have noticed they never have any up for adoption. Finally, I got someone on the phone, and she explained to me that their insurance will not allow them to house pit bulls in their facility. The insurance company views them as vicious. I didn't get the name of the insurance as I was transferred to the Lucas County Dog Warden, but I'm sure whatever it was, it's not the only company that insures shelters therefore determines a lot of their rules.

So, I talked with a woman at the Lucas County Dog Warden, a department of Lucas County, of the state of Ohio. I grew up here (Toledo, OH), and I know that the city, even the entire state is not progressive in the animal awareness and rescue realm. I would say that I had a great conversation with Tom Skeldon, Toledo's Dog Warden. And the more I hear the pro-BSL side of the debate, the more I learn about how so many dogs, mainly pit/pit mixes, are exploited, abused, and ultimately discriminated against, and at the expense of their lives.

I also know that Skeldon is skilled at speaking to people like me, who are advocates for breeds such as pit bulls, which are often sentenced to death simply for being "at large", as Skeldon puts it. That is a municipal-ish word for stray. Skeldon has convinced members of the public that pit advocates are 'cults of personality' who have little backing. Skeldon wields power only because his father, Ned Skeldon, after whom Toledo Mud Hens field was once named, gave him a job. He knows Toledo, and he knows how to talk back to those challenging him on his anti-dog views. He need not speak truthfully, only convincingly.

In Toledo, pit bulls have been made out to be a public enemy, not because of pit bulls but because of cruel animal abusers. People like Skeldon convince the ignorant public that the dogs are the enemy simply by nature. Toledo remains ignorant.

Because someone lets loose a pit, rendering it homeless and out on the street to fend for himself, the dog is then sentenced to death if not claimed by the rightful owner. Now, unlike NYC, a rescue group may not pull the pit bull from the city shelter, and find a foster and eventually new home for the dog. Like Toledo Animal Shelter's insurance company, Skeldon, the city of Toledo, have a policy that all pit bulls must be put down if not claimed, and they may not leave the shelter except with their proven owner or in a body bag.


While I am writing the article on BSL in public housing here in New York City, I am concerned for other communities as well, where the rescue movement and pit bull, rottie, etc. advocacy initiatives are weak, compared to those in New York. Toledo is an example of a city where animal rescue groups advocating for pit rescue are categorized by ignorant people who hold on to this notion that all pits are bred and born to savagely rip apart people and small animals.

Although he did tell me on the phone that "PETA is in my camp. They are in favor of a ban, because they say that pit bulls are among the most abused animals in this country". When I asked, he agreed that pit bulls were the most "abused" breed of dogs. Somehow, though, he was not making the connection between the abuse and the way a dangerous pit bull behaves. PETA stands firmly behind mandatory spay/policies, and they also agree that bans on pit bulls can prevent an enormous amount of suffering (read full stance here). Those words never entered the conversation with Skeldon, only that pit bulls are dangerous.

Instead of going after the abusers, who Skeldon has admitted exist, he goes after the dogs in an attempt to rectify the "dangerous dog" problem. I think there is a dangerous PEOPLE problem, and I know I'm preaching to the choir here...

Tom Skeldon also pointed out that a woman named Bonnie Yoho, a pit rescuer, who took many of these types of dogs to supposed homes, was caught for dog fighting last year. A set back for pit advocates, but I have yet to find more than this from the Cleveland library, substantiating this claim. I'll keep looking...

To the main stream media, he implies something that anti-BSL individuals like me think is a ridiculous stance. Skeldon has been quoted as saying, "[The owners] all think that these pit bulls are nice sweet animals, but by the time they get to be a year and half or two years old, they're pretty intent on what they're bred to do and that’s grab a hold of things and shake it until it's dead." That is ignorance, sorry Skeldy. I wish he could meet Tilly, Stella, Gordy, and the dozens of other pits I know who are amazingly sweet and do not have a vicious or fighting bone in their body.

No pit bull these days are born knowing how to "shake" anything or fight -- people who aim to use them as weapons, these loyal dogs that are hardwired to please their owners no matter how much pain and anguish they suffer, are at fault. Why is there not animal exploiter-specific legislation? My theory is that dogs are EASY to control. Drug dealers with illegal hand guns are not. Skeldon has an easy job and he can easily catch and euthanize pit bulls to fulfill his duties.

In my interviews, conducted in two NYCHA housing projects on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was told that the people who engage in formal dog fighting are the same people dealing drugs and keeping illegal guns. If police tried harder to crack down on dog fighting, who is to say they would not inevitably crack (no pun intended) on drug dealers? Again, people with pit bulls are easy targets. Dog fighters behind closed doors are harder to find, and they are much more dangerous people in the community. Make a new policy banning pit bulls -- looks like the authorities are taking action to protect the people. But that is where the action ends. Enforcement of even the existing laws in public housing, such as mandatory spay/neuter, registration and $25 fee, and dogs on leash at all times -- ALL TIMES, even in fenced in grass areas in the courtyards of some of these housing squares -- are not enforced heavily enough, according to residents I spoke with.

Gladys, who has had Dream, a 7 yr old pit, since Dream was four months old and her niece was trying to find a home for her, has concured that there is also a problem with people not picking up after their dogs and also allowing them to relieve themselves in the elevators and hallways of their buildings. She has lived in public housing for 38 years and complains of lack of enforcement on drug dealers in her building. She said these are the same people who are responsible for the vicious dogs people are afraid of and that if people did not mistreat pits, such as those like Dream, they would not harm people and have the reputation they do. She took Dream in because she said she feared the pup would end up in the wrong hands.

Samuel, resident of East Rivers housing at 100th and East End has had pit bulls and rottweilers in the past, two of the three breeds now banned in public housing. He said that these dogs can become a weapon if in the wrong hands, just like a gun can be in the hands of a corrupt cop. He says that he knows of incidences where drug dealers harbor dogs who they have trained through cruelty and fear tactics to be weapons, and they have thrown their dog(s) at the cops when they enter the house to attack them, while they try to flee. In instances I personally have heard of, dogs have been shot and killed by the police, purely as a means to protect the police persons' lives.

Will banning pits, rotties, and dobermans (who I have not seen at all, on the sidwalk or in dog parks, anywhere, in over three years) in the projects stop the criminals from using these animals as weapons? Will it stop crimes such as dog fighting rings? which not only violate animal cruelty laws but also organized gambling laws. Will it stop people from breeding pits in the public housing projects?

This debate, as far as whether or not laws focused on animals, not peoplem, will go on for a very long time, but it is essential that everyone who cares about the issue listen to both sides. That pits are the most abused and exploited dogs in America cannot be debated -- it is a consensus among all parties of all opinions. It is sad and in the end the dogs suffer the most, and people are left to walk the streets, having abused and killed dogs only for money.

My article on the policy won't be as subjective as the above. I look forward to getting printed the statements from many different people from all sides of the topic, including rescuers who are in favor of the ban.

Please spread the word if you know a pit bull and his/her owner who are heroes and ambassadors for the breed. Same goes for Rottweilers!!

Below is Rational Animal's pit bull ambassador, Sadie Blackstar, who's mother, Susan Brandt, is the Director and Founder of Rational Animal. Sadie is an amazing creature. Despite the scars on her body and legs, she remains cool and sweet around other dogs and people.

My phone call with Tom Skeldon ended when he told me that he had just been called out to go tranquilize a pit bull. Snide and immature, but what do you expect?

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