Monday, July 13, 2009

Saying Goodbye to a Life Worth Saving - Do we owe them all more than that?

In the same week that the biggest raid on pit bull fighting ever took place, AARF mourned the loss of one of our former AARF dogs, a beautiful and amazing little pit bull named Owen.

Owen was rescued in the inner-city of south west Atlanta. He had clearly been used as a bait dog and was covered in infected bite wounds. He was emaciated, and was starving both literally and psychologically. He had never felt the touch of a kind hand or a soft bed, and it's an amazing wonder he actually survived through the first year of his life.

When he joined the AARF program, he went into a foster home with our current foster director and long-term foster, Starr. Within a matter of weeks, Starr knew that she couldn't let Owen go, and this decision was cemented when, while she was on vacation and Owen was in boarding, he stopped eating and became so depressed that we weren't actually sure he would make it until she returned home. From that moment on, there was no doubt that Owen was in his forever home. He accompanied Starr to law school, on vacation, everywhere. He truly became an ambassador for pit bulls everywhere, and was one of the absolutely sweetest dogs I have ever met.

On July 6, 2009, Owen passed away in his sleep, next to his mom and best friend Starr. We mourn his passing with

Two days later, on July 8, the ASPCA, federal and state law officials completed the largest dog fighting bust in history, spanning 8 states. Almost 400 dogs were seized, with a mix of fighting, breeding and bait dogs in the seizure. The question now arises - what will happen to these dogs? What do we, as a community, owe them? Is it enough to save them from their lives of fighting, forced breeding and suffering as practice dogs, only to them "humanely" euthanize them? Or do we owe them more than that?

Below is a statement from the No Kill Advocacy Center regarding this seizure. I think, as a community of self-proclaimed pet lovers and advocates, we must sincerely and seriously question our community's response to this seizure, and to our attitudes toward pit bulls in

general. How, and why, have we allowed such an American icon to become so demonized? Could Helen Keller's beloved companion Sir Thomas and the goofy and gentle Petey from the Little Rascals really be vicious killers at heart?

We have allowed an entire breed of dog, once a symbol of loyalty, faithfulness and gentleness, to be hijacked and represented as vicious killers. It is time we save the pit bull from their undeserved and unfair image that we have given them.

Helen Keller and Sir Thomas

For more information about the history of the pit bull, visit Animal Farm Foundation.

We owe them more than a "humane" death
No Kill Advocacy Center

Authorities in Missouri seized almost 400 Pit Bull-type dogs as part of a multi-state raid designed to break up dog fighting rings across the country. It was the single largest effort of its kind in the history of humane law enforcement. But while the dogs were “rescued,” they are not yet “saved.” At issue is whether the dogs will live or will be killed by the shelters if and when they ultimately are awarded custody of the dogs by the Courts.

Unfortunately, some statements that are coming out of the agencies involved in the decision-making process are ominous. According to Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, most of the dogs will likely be killed: “I think it’s pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test.” Meanwhile, the Humane Society of Missouri, which is housing these dogs, isn’t talking except to say that in a recent case, they killed half of all Pit Bull-type dogs they seized. Is that a bellwether of things to come?

Some see a modicum of hope. Randall Lockwood, who was part of the ASPCA team that evaluated and passed the vast majority of the dog victims of Michael Vick, the 2007 case of the then-Atlanta Falcons Quarterback that took the issue of dog fighting to national prominence, is on the scene in St. Louis. In that case, the vast majority of victims were saved. Unfortunately, Lockwood himself made statements to the media about this case that the Vick outcome may not be “replicated.” He also made statements that we should not focus on our differing opinions about what to do with the dogs, but focus on blaming the dog fighters.

No one questions the need to rescue these dogs from the abuse they faced. And the articles appearing on blogs across the country such as one that was aptly titled “scumbags,” adequately convey what we think about the perpetrators. But Lockwood is wrong. The case is in the hands of the U.S. Attorney. So there is nothing more to do on that score. The only choice now is whether, when granted custody of the dogs, the Humane Society of Missouri will kill them or whether the Humane Society of Missouri will not kill them. In fact, that is all we should focus on.
If the Vick tragedy taught us anything, it is that our most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression, were wrong. In short, it showed we can save virtually all the dogs, even when they were raised for dog fighting and horrifically abused.

After the arrest of former national football league quarterback Michael Vick and the seizure of almost 60 pit bull-type dogs raised for fighting, many animal protection organizations called for the dogs to be killed, arguing that these dogs were vicious and beyond our ability to help them. None made this argument after evaluating the dogs, but based on assumptions about pit bull-type dogs, dog aggression, and dog fighting. After deceptively fundraising off of the dogs, for example, the Humane Society of the United States lobbied to have them killed. Because they believe all Pit Bulls who enter shelters should be slaughtered, it was no surprise that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also asked the court to put them to death.

In 2008, the court thankfully said “No.” Only one dog was actually killed for aggression after evaluation, and the remaining dogs were placed in either sanctuaries or in loving new homes. Two of the dogs are now even therapy animals, providing comfort to cancer patients. The results forced even dog lovers-but more importantly the humane movement-to question their most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression. In short, it showed we can save virtually all dogs in shelters.

Secondly, it showed that there is a real, practical, and potentially widespread “third door” between adoption and killing-the network of foster homes, sanctuaries and long term care facilities to provide for animals who may not necessarily be immediate adoption candidates, but can enjoy a good quality of life which would make their killing neither merciful nor ethical.
As a result, we should no longer assume the dogs can’t be adopted or for the ones who are traumatized, rehabilitated first because the vast majority can. In addition, some of the dogs were “bait” dogs because they were not aggressive, or others were used as “breeder” dogs, so have no history of fighting. Moreover, those that were are often very friendly to people. Finally, we do have the ability and skill as a movement to rehabilitate those who are traumatized. As a result, we should assume the opposite: they are savable unless a rigorous, fair, and comprehensive evaluation proves otherwise, which it might—but only for a small number of the dogs. And we should no longer assume there isn’t a sanctuary or even homes for these dogs, since HSUS and the ASPCA have the public relations power, financial wherewithal and global reach which easily prove otherwise.

Given this, we must stop talking about how these are “often broken dogs” or how there might be difficulty finding “available homes.” We need to stop speaking the language of defeatism, the language which frames the debate in a negative light, that condemns some of the dogs without all the facts, that assumes killing may be inevitable, and thus may actually help pave the way for their eventual slaughter.

In other words, we need to put aside unfounded biases and consider the victims of these cruelty cases the way we talk about the animals in other cruelty situations—with regret and condemnation for what they have suffered and with the expectation that whatever agency now has power over them will give these dogs what they deserve. We must assume—as the facts in the Michael Vick case proved—that condemning them as vicious simply because a dog fighter possessed them is guilt by association and unfair. That they were abused doesn’t make the dogs abusive. That they were subjected to violence doesn’t make them violent. That they were unloved doesn’t make them unloving.

In short, we must not echo the unfounded biases which plague our movement and have harmed animals for far too long, with no evidence to support such claims. Instead, we must adopt a language that is optimistic about the dogs and uncompromising in defense of their lives. We must put the ASPCA and the Humane Society of Missouri on notice that we expect them to save these dogs. Because anything short of that clears a path for those who appear bent on destroying them.
Instead, we must start demanding outcomes—outcomes that include rescuing, rehabilitating, and ultimately saving these dogs. A fair, rigorous evaluation will lead to lifesaving for the vast majority of these dogs and given HSUS and ASPCA wealth, media power, membership in the tens of millions, America’s dog loving culture, and the vast number of available homes, these are not barriers. Even the slide show of photographs from the law enforcement raid shows the
rescuers handling the dogs with little restraint, fear, or concern for their own safety
. Because, at the end of the day, while rescuing the dogs was crucial and for which we are all grateful, we must also demand a commitment to saving them. After all they have been through, the dogs deserve nothing less.

For further reading:
No Kill Advocate Special Pit Bull Issue (2008)
Temperament Testing in the Age of No Kill
Failing Pit Bulls

1 comment:

Morieka said...

Thank you for the post. My condolences on the loss of a lovely companion, and I appreciate you passing along food for thought.