Last week, I posted a blog in response to a media story (and a couple of other sources confirming the situation) about the authorities in Sikeston, MO rounding up pit bulls registered within the city. The blog received an unprecedented amount of popularity….receiving nearly 100,000 page views in less than 72 hours. I’ve had popular blog posts, but never anything like that.
The final result of the “roundup” or “audit” (depending on whose words you want to use) did not end up nearly as bad as it initially sounded. Some close to the situation say the city backed off due to the harsh
public outcry, the city says it was never going to round them up and was just performing an “audit”. I do think the shelter director’s actions of sending 30+ dogs to other communities to make room for what he thought would be an influx of pit bulls that day sure signifies that he had reason to believe this would be far worse than it was, and the city is covering their tracks a bit.
I have my theories, but I’ll let you make your own decisions on whether the initial story by the media, and me, was greatly exaggerated or whether you think the city is covering their tracks and backpeddling a bit. I will say this though, if the city was just "driving by to verify that somebody who had a registered pit bull still lives at the address" (as the city manager claims) -- then I highly doubt that more than 10% of the city's registered pit bull population would have ended up at the shelter that day (and at least one other owner being forced to plead to keep her dog when authorities stopped by. I also think that the shelter sending 30 dogs to other communities signifies that they had reason to believe the "audit" would be worse.
That aside, the popularity of the story caught me off guard, not because I don’t think the story deserved the attention, but because, the story itself is unfortunately not terribly unique.
As a writer of this blog, and an advocate for dogs and owners for several years, I regularly get emails from people who are losing their pet due to breed-specific laws. A few weeks ago I got an email from a woman in Tonganoxie, KS who lost her Rottweiler because of the city’s breed-ban.
Then there’s the story of Nikko – a dog that was adopted from the pound in Kansas City, KS as a shepherd mix puppy, but then months later, was confiscated from the owners because animal control said the dog he adopted from their shelter was an illegal pit bull. After nine months of fighting for their dog, and DNA evidence to prove the dog was not a pit bull, the dog was allowed to return home.
Then there’s Simba, a dog that was banned by the city of Grandview, MO. Simba’s owner went through the process of getting her dog grandfathered in with the city. The dog would have to be licensed, muzzled she was outside, and behind a 6 foot tall fence. Simba’s owner couldn’t afford a fence, but regularly let her dog outside to pee on a pee-pad on her deck – that was set 20 feet above the ground. The only way for the elderly dog to get down would have been to jump, and she no doubt would have broken several limbs in the landing. Regardless, animal control seized her animal and she needed legal help to get Simba returned to her and her mentally disabled daughter.
These stories are terrible, and separate good owners from their family pets, and they happen across the nation in cities like Denver, CO with laws that target dogs based on their looks, not behavior.
This is what breed-specific laws do.
And there is no doggie beach resort that these dogs go to when they’re confiscated. At worst they
end up dead. At best they end up transferred to other communities to take up shelter space needed by dogs in those other communities.
I guess I was just a little surprised by then the outrage about the situation in Sikeston – because this same thing happens in relative obscurity every day.
But that’s what else I learned about the situation in Sikeston.
First off, the media narrative is changing. I’ve talked about this before, but it used to be solely that any time a pit bull story ran, it was in connection with the dog being aggressive, with a stock photo of a
snarling dog. It’s not necessarily that way any more; with more and more positive stories, and various books being written about the dogs, and often times the dogs being painted as the victims. This is a very good thing.
Also, as people who advocate for dogs and owners, we have the ability to mobilize to help dogs and owners like never before. Facebook and other social media outlets allow us much more access to each other. Within a couple of days of the story breaking, hundreds of thousands of people had heard the news and literally 1000 letters, only from Missouri residents, were sent to the city council via Best Friends’ letter-writer program. And the pressure was clearly felt by the city.
We have the power to change this, and we are changing this. Public support is swinging in our favor with entire states like Ohio (repealing their state-wide breed-specific law) and Massachusetts (making breed-specific laws illegal) turning the tide in just the past 12 months (along with a host of individual cities).
Let’s make these laws end. The data about the ineffectiveness of the laws is clearly in our favor. The data about the unreasonableness of the laws, is clearly in our favor. Expert opinion is clearly in our favor. We just need to ensure that politicians are also; with thoughtful, polite communication with these politicians about why breed-targeted laws are wrong, and why behavior-based laws are better.
Because even if only 3 dogs ended up getting seized in Sikeston, that’s three too many. And if you’re the owner of one of those three dogs, then it’s your world that has been rocked by the loss of your family pet and that three might as well be 3,000.
It’s unnecessary, and we do have the power to change it. Go.