As I write this, I can’t stick with one emotion long enough to decide if I’m sad or angry. The two feelings are so strong, it’s safer to say that I’m both angry and sad.
I wasn’t fully awake after yoga practice this morning, so I decided to scan Facebook in hopes of stalling having to get off my butt mat. That’s where the emotional debate started. While perusing Facebook, I ran across the story of Dan and his Pit Bull, Zanto. Have you heard about these two lives ended over a breed ban in Denmark?
For those of you who haven’t read the article yet, I’ll sum it up for you. Dan and his Pit Bull, Zanto, had a pretty happy relationship. They did their own thing and did not disturb anyone else while pursuing their happiness. Dan and Zanto lived in Denmark. Denmark established a breed ban on 13 breeds of dogs, and any dog mixed with one of these breeds. Guess what dog is on their list – Pit bulls. The government gave Dan a few days to prove Zanto wasn’t one of the banned breeds, which Dan could not do. The government then took Zanto and euthanize him. Distraught over the death of his dog and feelings of responsibility over the death, Dan committed suicide.
Do you see why I’m in an emotional debate now? No? I own Pit Bulls.
Now before you chalk me up as some hippie dog activist, blindly protecting every dog alive, with no idea of what I’m talking about – think again. This article is not a blind rant against Pit Bull discrimination. I realize that governments, insurance agencies, and neighborhoods have these bans to protect the public. I also realize that there have been cases where “aggressive breed*” dogs have attacked people. I do not think every dog attack by a Pit Bull was the human’s fault. There are cases in just about every species of animal where at least one individual has attacked a human (because we’re everywhere). While I acknowledge these concerns by the anti-Pit Bull party, it’s not the only valid side.
First, let me start with my qualifications to spout out facts, opinions, and accusations on this issue. I am not a dog trainer, veterinarian, or scientist. In all likelihood, you aren’t either. I do however, own Pit Bulls. I’ve had four in my life; my boyfriend has had 6+ Pit Bulls. I’ve also had toy poodles, cats, reptiles, rodents, and a myriad of other adorable pets. I’ve volunteered at shelters, worked with aggressive breed adoption agencies, been to dog parks, and worked in pet stores where I was exposed to all sorts of creatures with various temperaments. I have family members who have been bit by dogs at some point in their lives and are afraid of dogs as a result. I have owned two dog-aggressive Pit Bulls. I know what aggression is like in this breed.
This article is not about why Denmark is a bad country. I don’t think it’s full of monsters. I think it has a bad policy regarding these 13 dog breeds. I think it’s horrible that these two lives ended over a generalization of a dog breed. I believe it’s ridiculous to think an entire, or rather 13 entire, breeds are inherently bad. That’s the equivalent of saying 13 nationalities of humans are inherently bad. Ridiculous, right? This article is about the alternatives Denmark could have taken instead of creating this policy. So for the sake of this article at least, let’s all agree to concede that not all individuals born a specific breed or nationality are inherently bad. I don’t think this request is too demanding of anyone.
Since you’ve already agreed to at least the possibility that all dogs are not born bad due to their breed, I won’t go into more detail about breed banning problems. Like I said, I understand the Denmark government trying to protect the public. I don’t know the history in Denmark, so I can’t speak to any history of dog attacks they may or may not have had from these 13 breeds. (If anyone from Denmark has some more information about the country’s history with dogs, please let me know.) I do know that there are so many more options to deal with breed issues than to confiscate and euthanize the animals based on the idea that they are all dangerous. (Also, Denmark isn’t alone in their poor handling of dog situations. America and Canada are full of example of communities and governments handling breed issues poorly. Just look at this article about a soap opera actor committing suicide after he chose to give in to his apartment complex’s breed ban to get an idea of the devastation a breed ban can have on the breed and on humans.)
So what’s my optimistic solution to these world-wide breed issues?
Education. A World-wide commitment to abstain from generalized prejudices against animals. Programs set in place to help the animals.
The key to combat prejudice, improve societal tensions, and create a better world is education. In this instance, I’m referring to education on dogs. Many people don’t know how to properly act around dogs, how to train dogs, how to report their concern for dog abuse, or even dog psychology. Some people can go their entire childhood without interacting with a dog. They rely then on what they see in the media and what the adults in their lives tell them. Dogs aren’t humans, but they’re certainly just as complex as humans. You can’t just assume every dog is the same. Not all dogs understand your intentions, personal boundaries, or concerns. Not all dogs have interacted with kind humans, or any human for that matter. This is why you have to educate people at a young age.
School systems don’t expose children to animals early on. There are little to no community dog awareness classes to educate people on interacting and reacting to dogs. How hard is it to send a note home to parents explaining that their child’s class will have animals visit on such and such day? If their child has any allergies the parents can let the teacher know via email, phone, or note. Teachers and animal experts can bring in common household pets to desensitize and start educating people about animals from an early age. I’m not saying holding your hands up and screaming “I know you’re scared and angry right now, but please don’t bite me” isn’t going to stop a dog attack. I assure you however, that dog attack statistics will get better if more people had even a basic understanding of what to look for when meeting a dog, signs of aggression, and how to treat an unfamiliar dog. (Also, it’s 2015 people. EVERY parent has some way to get in touch with their child’s teacher. There are too many forms of communication in existence to excuse a lack of communication.)
Another, albeit more difficult, measure to take is a world-wide commitment to abstain from generalized prejudices against animals. I say this is more difficult, because our world can’t even abstain from prejudices against our own species. If we could all agree to at least not prejudge an entire dog breed, and instead take each dog as their own character representation, the world would see a change. Not all dogs of the 13 banned breeds are aggressive. If Denmark wanted to better regulate and substantiate its banned breed list, it should check its Dachshunds and Chihuahuas. A study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, the Official Journal of the International Society for Applied Ethology, found these little wieners to be the most aggressive dog breeds towards humans and other animals. Pit Bulls were only found to be more aggressive towards other dogs. If you’re worried about dog-aggressive dogs, I understand. This particular type of aggression is a much more manageable type of aggression than a human aggression. Trust me or not, I’ve owned and helped desensitize both types. It’s easier to keep a dog-aggressive dog away from other dogs than it is to keep a human-aggressive dog away from humans (because we’re everywhere). It’s also often harder to desensitize the human-aggressive dogs, because a human is the one trying to retrain it. If you’re worried about either, please judge each dog on its own aggression, or lack thereof, before condemning it.
Similar to a need for more education in the world, there’s a need for more programs to help the animals. There are tons of options the Denmark government could have taken instead of adopting a policy to euthanize these dog breeds. If you don’t want them in your country or community, create a rehousing program for those breeds that allows the owners to surrender their pets to someone outside the country or community. Give the owners a reasonable time-frame to surrender their animal or move. Eight days is not a reasonable time. Give these owners at least a month to start finding other options on before forcing them to comply with the options set forth by the country or community.
The community could have adopted a policy that all dogs found to be of these breeds need to have their animal tested and licensed in order to keep them. Programs such as the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen teach owners and their pets to behave with humans and other animals. Once the animal has passed the test, it gets a badge and certificate identifying that it has been through the program. The animals with these certificates have been officially tested and deemed fit to be around humans and other animals. If the animal cannot pass the test, or if the owner refuses, then the animal might need to be rehomed outside the community or there might be a need for more programs to give these animals options that include life.
There’s so many alternative options the government could have adopted, that I won’t keep listing them. It’s pretty bad there’s still a need for this type of article in 2015, but I think you’re all smart enough to get my points. They’re pretty outrageous, right? I’m a regular old, bare-foot radical. Watch out! I might disrupt your day with my anti-dog killing ideas. I bet my parents are proud of me.
If you agree with Denmark, and other policies similar to those in Denmark, I hope this article at least shows you these two lives didn’t have to end. If you agree with me, I’m obviously happy. Regardless, I hope no similar situations ever happen to you and your pet.
*”Aggressive breed” is a term used to categorize breeds of dogs commonly thought of as dangerous. You can read more about which breeds are associated with this list, and the problems with it here.
**Again, let me explain that I don’t hate Denmark. I don’t think the Denmark government is made up of a bunch of monsters. I simply think they need to give more options to prevent another situation like this from occurring.