Until six months ago, I was a cat person. 100%. I love kitties. I’m a cat lady. It’s okay.
But, my partner is a dog person and slowly but surely rescuing a dog began to become a part of our future plans.
It started with casually looking at the SPCA website, and then progressed to weekend visits to the SPCA to take dogs for walks and familiarize
ourselves me with the process. Of course, this is quite possibly the WORST way to go about doing this. Obviously, if you’re any kind of animal person it’s damn near impossible to just go casually *look* at something up for adoption. The chances for falling in love are just too high.
So, as you might have guessed, by October 2012 I had found myself a new fella.
By Hallowe’en he was home and it’s been a great six months filled with obedience training, dog park visits, doggy daycare, hikes, jogs, walks, and more. It’s been a lot of work to make sure he’s well-socialized, well-adjusted, and well-behaved but luckily for us Rigby is a friendly and loving dog who was eager to please when it came to learning acceptable behaviour (and yes, a few tricks as well). Still, we are very aware that it is an on-going process and we try to correct any missteps as quickly as possible. It’s the most any dog owner can do.
Now, what I haven’t mentioned is Rigby’s breed. As you can tell from the picture, he’s a mutt (or, a Party Mix:)) but there are some distinct traits within that DNA cocktail that have given people pause when they first meet him; namely, American Staffordshire Terrier. (Caveat: this is a guess, we have not had Rigby’s DNA tested).
What I wasn’t familiar with, but have quickly become immersed in, is the prevalent discriminatory attitudes of people when it comes to certain breeds of dogs. I mean, I had heard about the “danger” of pit bulls/bully breeds and how they are banned in some places due to their aggressive behaviour and, like so many, I just trusted the news updates and didn’t give it much further thought. However, now that I’m a part of “dog culture,” I’m doing my best to become informed on all things dog, and in particular, the truth about dog temperaments, behaviours, and breed-specific generalizations.
I’m learning that there is a huge media bias against bully breeds. When there’s a story about a dog attack involving a pit bull, it spreads like wildfire and is much more reported than an attack involving any other breed. It’s been reported that pit bull’s bites are more dangerous because they have “locking jaws.” There’s an entire list of myths and inaccuracies.
The point of this post was not actually to advocate for any particular breed, but rather for all breeds. Dog ownership and the study of dog behaviour should not be exempt from evidence-based decision making — and skewed reporting from the media does not count as scientific evidence. Nor does hearsay. Sorry.
As some Halitrax readers may have guessed, this post was inspired by the recent establishment of a members-only dog park in Halifax. The membership information page contains the following paragraph:
I’m not looking to attack a local business (and hence will not name the business in question), particularly because I’ve not spoken to the owners personally, but this type of discrimination only perpetuates the problem. I’ve heard rumour that in this particular case it’s a matter of obtaining necessary insurance for the park’s operation. However, the language on the website clearly states that they are “not equipped to assess and monitor the following breeds in a totally off-leash setting sufficiently to offset the increased risk of liability.”
The fact is, a dog’s behaviour is determined by a number of factors, including their age, if they’re fixed, and their amount of training, and each should be judged on a case-by-case basis. If individuals and businesses are not willing to weigh all the factors before dismissing a dog, then the problem is never going to get better. Moreover, if a business is “not equipped” to assess one particular breed, then how are they equipped to assess ANY breed?
The risk of buying into this discrimination, and myth-perpetuating is that it could result in Breed-Specific Legislation that could go to as extreme lengths as breed bans, such as in Ontario where: “The legislation bans pit bulls in Ontario, places restrictions on existing pit bulls, and toughens the penalties for the owners of any dog that poses a danger to the public.” According to this legislation, a dog with AmStaff like Rigby would fall under these restrictions.
Rigby is not the only sweet, well-trained, and well-socialized pup in this breed. I urge people to give the matter some thought before passing judgement or supporting a business that would discriminate against a dog who has proven himself to function safely and happily in a social setting.
If you’re interested in following-up on some of the places that helped me get perspective on the issue, here are some that I would recommend: