What on earth is going on at the Roanoke Times? They have published yet another nasty and misleadingly inaccurate opinion piece urging people to hate and fear all pit bulls and continuing the pattern of an earlier and equally irrational opinion piece in the Roanoke paper suggesting that all “rescue dogs” are pit bulls. Accompanying the piece was an irresponsibly inflammatory photo of a muzzled pit bull looking for all the world like Hannibal Lector.
This most recent op/ed piece is by Nancy Harrison, who is an American Kennel Club judge (of course she is) and who shows pure bred dogs (of course she does). It takes the position that pit bulls have been exclusively and intentionally bred for fighting and are genetically obliged to “attack and kill.” The op/ed makes reference to a piece I wrote earlier which explains the reasonable and humane truth about pit bull type dogs but the link to what I wrote is faulty and does not take you to what I wrote. It is difficult to imagine that this is an honest error on the Times part since the paper is clearly promoting her fear-mongering viewpoint by repeatedly publishing these dangerously wacky pieces. Or, maybe, the Roanoke Times has just discovered how many hits it gets to its website when it keeps on poking this topic.
Ms. Harrison focuses in the piece the Roanoke Times published on the breeding issues and would have us believe that all pit bull type dogs are the progeny of dogs bred for fighting and therefore they are all killers at heart because of their genetics. This reminds me of Donald Trump’s statement that all Mexican immigrants are rapists. Both reflect the nasty and unreasonable bigotry of racism that does not give people or animals credit for being individuals. And both are intended to promote the personal interests of the person making the statement by playing to the most base of human motives.
Large groups of individuals do not all share the same traits. It is unreasonable to believe that every one of any group behaves in the same way. Having headed a humane organization for 18 years that has saved the lives of thousands of pit bull type dogs (along with tens of thousands of rescue dogs in general), I believe I have a great deal more direct experience with these dogs than does Ms. Harrison from her AKC perch. I know from direct contact that there are many gentle and loving pit bull type dogs (it is not a breed) who will make wonderful family pets if given the chance. Ms. Harrison’s bigotry would deny them that chance and, if shared by the rest of our society, would result in innocent dogs being killed.
She also seems to be totally ignorant of the law. She says that “dogfighting is technically illegal, but rarely prosecuted.”
“Technically” illegal? What does that mean? Animal fighting in Virginia is a felony and is aggressively investigated and prosecuted across our state. She ends her piece with this bizarre statement: “Laws need to be changed. How about seizing the property of any person found to have a dogfight on his or her property? How about charging any person who attends a dogfight with aiding and abetting a felony? How about prosecuting people who are not rich and famous?” Laws do not need to be changed for any of those things to occur.
I would know that since I have spent more hours than I could count in the halls and meeting rooms of the General Assembly working for the strengthening of our animal fighting statute which we achieved a couple of years ago. As a result, each of the things she claims should become the law in fact are the law. These things have been the law since 2008. Ms. Harrison was not a part of that effort and her suggestion that what she really wants is a change in the laws is disingenuous. She does not even know what the law is.
So, what is all this about – this series of opinion pieces that are meant to inspire fear of pit bull type dogs and that seek to blur the lines by using the generalized term “rescue dogs” to refer to them? It is most assuredly not about a concern for our laws. It is intended to instill fear in the general public about the nature of dogs in animal shelters so that they will be hesitant about going to a shelter to adopt their next pet. Why do that? Quite simple. Folks like Ms. Harrison want to protect the economic self interests of breeders who are becoming increasingly fearful of the growing public understanding that the best source for wonderful pets is your local animal shelter, and that, when you adopt a pet, you not only gain a great new companion but you also save lives. If they can make you think that all pit bulls are scary and mean and that all rescue dogs are pit bulls then they can prevent you from adopting a shelter dog and thereby push you toward a breeder or a pet store.
Don’t fall for it. Bigotry is always wrong. There are great dogs of all types in shelters. They need you so much. When you adopt a dog, whether from the Richmond SPCA or any other reputable shelter, you help a wonderful animal who has done nothing wrong but be homeless to have a happy life in a home with love and care. You open up a space for us to go out and save another dog in need. It fills your heart and your home with love.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.