Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Politics of Dogs

As I type this, the dogs are having a play fest and boy is it noisy. Here I have a few dog laws, one of which is that they ARE required to be a dog sometimes and playful shrieking and fun is required. And yes, for those that are dogs, but haven't accepted that notion yet, they are, nonetheless, required to learn it if possible.

Dogs are not always equal to one another and any human with a dog should know that. Owners with two or more dogs must know that. I have ten here, and the photo is of foster "The Redhead" (my tribute to Lucille Ball because she is not only a redhead but funny) sleeping against the paws of my staffie, Kacee.

Dogs have their own hierarchical order and, for their safety and ours, we are best to respect it. We, of course, as humans, are the head of the household nation. King, Queen, President, Premier, Amir... whatever. We, the two-leggeds, are (or certainly better be) the top dog.

That's the household politics of dogs. But the worldly politics of dogs are quite different.

I own a pitbull/border collie/lab mix and a high-bred staffie mix. The pitbull mix owns up to all the traits: A bit shy, athletic and a sweetheart. So, you ask, what is the pitbull part of this? Sweet and athletic. The shy and athletic and sweet is probably the border collie part. Sweet is definitely the lab mix. The hard mouth is the pitbull, but can also be the border collie (here I train to the term "gentle" from the time they come in, regardless of age meaning that no matter WHAT they are touching--my hand, a bone, another animal--they are gentle about it. This is all dogs, not just this dog).

I am currently fostering two pitbull mix puppies, now about 4-8 months of age. They have both been raised around eight other dogs on a daily basis, and 5-10 cats, depending on the number in rescue. One came at 4 weeks as an underage rescue with generalized alopecia, the other came at four months with demodectic mange. Both came as fosters.

Where I live, about 75% of the dogs in the shelter are pitbull or pitbull mix dogs. Most are killed by lethal injection. I do NOT use the word euthanized because that word, by definition means: the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.

Pitbulls (or anything identified as such) are killed because of their breed. They are NOT killed to advance the notion as defined. Likewise with every other dog in a shelter that is not irremediably suffering.

And the other dogs here? Well, today, there is a labrador retriver mix, a husky mix, three chihuahua mixes, a German shepherd, a rat terrier mix, a poodle, and a min pin mix.

My dogs go to the dog park which has a side for the small dogs (wise) and large dogs. There among the scent and sight hounds, the retriever, bully, terrier, herding and other breed groups and mutts, my short-legged but husky politically incorrect dogs do just wonderfully. In fact, one of my pit mixes is the clown of the park. And why?

Some of it is genetics and some of it is raising. My dogs are heavily socialized from babies and are kept socialized to humans, cats and other dogs throughout their lives. I don't take risks. If I feel ANY rescue or personal dog, regardless of breed, is not capable of appropriate behavior at a dog park or other public place, they don't go until they are appropriate. Period.

One of my pit bulls is actually a staffie terrier, but most cannot tell the difference. Even dog people see a big head and a stout, strong body and jump to the conclusion it is a pit or pit mix dog.

When I enter the dog park and unleash my dog, I constantly brace myself for questions (because I eventually get them). I can feel everyone tense up. But my dog trots right up to the people sitting on the benches, with his characteristically funny gait, in the shade, to say hi. He wiggles into their hearts and minds, a diplomat of his breed. He engages humans for pets and scratches. He leaps around like a deer, cheerful and funny, only to take a nap in the shade. He saunters around the park, slowly, picking up the many interesting and unique scents absent here, and returns to say hi, once again. Usually, I practically have to peel him off of a human he has taken to. He loves people. He's a klutz, and I have to be careful with small children only because he has not been raised around them and frankly, I have not done MY job in training to respect size. My bad, not his. He would never hurt children unless, of course, kissing-to-death is a crime. He is a bull in a china shop, though, and I have to respect and deal with that reality.

So, what has caused the mass hysteria of people who are so scared to death of this breed? Media. They don't report every labrador retriever that bites, or the American eskimo dog or the poodle or any other dog. But identified (true or false) as a pitbull, it's on the front page. The San Francisco tragedy did not involve pitbulls. But it was made to sound as if it did.

Don't get me wrong, I love labradors (actually my favorite breed), Am Eskies and poodles (was raised with poodles) and I generally only take in mutts leaving the purebred dogs to pure breed rescues only taking them if I can, and they can't. But as a rescuer I do not approve of the kind of swamp fury that entices mob mentality with a supposed "pitbull problem" with more going unreported in other breeds. Why? Because, while I own labs as well, this has become political.

When was the last time you saw a picture of a gang member with a labrador, poodle or Cavalier King Charles? And what does that association mean? Think about it.

Two doors down from me lives an animal control officer for the county I live in. My dogs play with his. Recently, I asked him how many pitbull or pitbull mixes that are mean to humans he has had to corral and take to the shelter. In three years: None. Zero. Not one. Half the time, he says, they jump right into my arms or right into the truck.

As many of us in rescue have surmised, pitbulls are not only frequently misidentified (which my animal control officer friend says is a real common problem), but the media has so biased the public that even noisy play is identified as hostility. Good grief. If noise is an issue, my extremely noisy snoring dog should alert the National Guard and an amber alert should be immediately issued. There is not a human on this planet that snores like he does.

The last many years have brought us a plethora of breed legislation. Many insurance companies will not insure homeowners with certain breeds. Many cities and counties have endorsed breed specific legislation to ban breeds, and, in some cases, impound and kill them all within jurisdictional borders if found past the legislative date. This is reminiscent of China where authorities recently, prior to the olympics, shot or clubbed dogs to death to make sure China "looked" good to westerners. Rather unsurprising: We westerners are certainly more likely to care about looks versus content and our breed specific legislation is no different. As a dog-loving nation, we said little about the last Greek Olympics when Greece pitifully poisoned tens of thousands of animals and we say nothing now. What a disgrace.

So: take this test. Can YOU find the pitbull?

So do me a favor, would ya? The next time I go to the dog park (right after the greyhouds run... and be sure there are no little fluffy dogs in the park when they do, please), might you just once say... "boy, what a neat dog. What is it?"

I'd be happy to talk all you can stand about him and laugh with you as he inevitably wends his way into your heart.