Advocacy Overdrive - How social networking can create change and save dogs.

With the touch of a button on a computer or a phone anyone can disseminate information or voice an opinion. This simple yet powerful act can transform the direction of politics, save cities and towns money and essentially save the lives of dogs. Now that’s pretty cool.

A few cases in point are recent victories in the area of Breed Specific Legislation in NJ (which at the state level declares breed specific laws unconstitutional) and Ohio, which if you know about BSL you know Ohio is one of the worst states.

On May 11th Garfield NJ attempted to enact a Dangerous Dog Ordinance due to recent incidents involving Pit Bull dogs. No humans were killed. A small child was bitten due to approaching a strange dog on leash. Though no one was hurt severely, the reason these incidents occurred was that the humans were not doing the right things. However the overblown hyperbolic press and the emotional outrage of the victims led the city council to “do something”.

Within days of the announcement that an ordinance would be considered a Facebook page was created and thousands of people contacted the city council and the mayor and the Dangerous dog ordinance was shut down rather quick. In fact the mayor announced that he had never received as much feedback on any other issue.

The council reconvened again on May 27th and it was decided that an educational approach and strict enforcement of the existing laws concerning dogs was the logical path to follow. What will make this a remarkable opportunity are the educational aspects for the community of Garfield NJ.

I am now part of the city councils new committee to educate dog owners, police officers, animal control and the dog owning community in general. Kids from grade schools to high schools will also receive education about dogs. We are currently discussing the organization of educational seminars for professionals and the general public.

As I wrote about in my last Adblog, why the humane treatment of dogs and BSL are connected, BSL is only one part of the equation, the other part is education. It is the educational aspect that will really impact a community and set them up for success. After all even if dogs are not banned or discriminated against, people still need legitimate education about dogs and training so dogs are sound and people are safer.

May 27th seemed to be a big day for dogs all around as The Ohio House of Representatives struck down the long-held designation of pit bulls as inherently vicious under Ohio law. Anyone that has been involved with BSL in any serious way knows that Ohio is in many ways the front line in the war against breed discriminatory laws, perhaps only second to Colorado, but assuredly just as fertile in its callousness in so far as Ohio has been the suspected of mass euthanasia and out and out vengeance against any dog that remotely looks like a “Pit Bull”.

 Recently the previous dog warden in Lucas county OH was ousted and replaced by Julie Lyle, who has a degree in animal behavior. This is quite a step up from her predecessor who it appeared by all accounts had little to no understanding of dog behavior and certainly had no regard for pit bull type dogs.

Having done what I could from a distance with the internet and mailing copies of The Pit Bull Hoax DVD to various groups fighting BSL in Ohio I can only surmise that the social networking and pressure of the internet had played a part in the recent progressive changes in Ohio. I know that Jean Keating co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, a stalwart soldier in Ohio for the rights of Pit Bull dogs, she and her colleagues have done a wonderful job in educating Ohio far and wide to the detriments of BSL and their work is driven largely by the internet, as are most efforts by advocates these days. Let’s hope the Ohio senate continues the common sense thinking and finalizes the house bill when they vote on it.

There were also a few recent incidents where social networking has helped change the perception of Pit Bulls. In an article in Huffington Post they had Pit Bulls listed as one of the most dangerous pets in an absurd article alongside such animals and reptiles as an Ostrich, venomous snakes and  alligators. got wind of this and through their online efforts they were able to get Huffington Post to remove Pit Bulls from the list.

I attribute this mainly to Huff Post having the sense to see their mistake and how it was offensive and destructive. It also shows that even people at open minded and assumingly well informed media outlets can hold false beliefs or get bad information. Now if the rest of the media vultures could follow suite and leave breed out of fatal or serious dog incidents we’d really be getting somewhere. 

Astonishingly as it may seem the popular internet game Mafia Wars attempted to include dog fighting as a “sport” in their game, and within 72 hours they retracted the portion of the game that would have made it possible for people to actually fight dogs and bet on them in simulated fashion. It may seem like an overreaction to some people that are not in any way associated or involved in the fair and humane treatment of Pit Bull dogs, none the less, these images influence and continue the notion and belief that Pit Bulls are monsters, owned primarily by gangsters and not suitable companion animals.

The largest age group at risk for becoming involved in dog fighting is age 13 – 17. That also sounds like a large portion of the video game culture at any given moment. Seeing as Mafia Wars is an internet game it can be played by anyone anywhere in the world it could be dangerously influential to kids everywhere.

Zynga; the company the created Mafia Wars and distributes the game on line issued a really strong statement and apology, and letting the world know that they messed up. Digging a bit further we find that Zynga is a strong supporter of dogs and has raised money for the SFSPCA and they even have a few Pit Bull dogs around the office.

The question that begs to be asked then becomes how did it happen? It appears it was an oversight, or perhaps someone was literally unaware of the fact that dog fighting is a crime that involves innocent dogs. Whereas other crimes involve humans with moral intellect and they have a choice. This is why it is wrong to fight dogs; they would not choose to do it to that extent if they were allowed to choose.

We’ll keep the discussion to how social media has helped dogs in the past few months, and leave the discussion about aggression in the social construct of canines for another time. Thanks Zynga for doing the right thing. Besides the Zynga logo is a very typey looking pittie dog if I’m not mistaken…. 

The latest advocacy campaign to catch my attention is being started by Maggie Marton. Her idea is to have 10,000 plus post cards sent to the Mayor of Denver Colorado. The post card mailing is to be a message that BSL is not effective and it is wrong. The mailing will coincide with BlogPaws 2010 which takes place in Denver in September.

Who knows perhaps this will be the next volley to get the attention of enough people both within political circles as well as among dog owners and Pit Bull lovers to finally repeal the Denver ban, after all Ohio is getting smarter perhaps it will catch on in Denver? Denver city council member Carla Madson is opposed to the breed ban, so who knows perhaps the tide is turning?

The financial aspects of Denver’s  BSL are reason enough to repeal them. Denver spends roughly $256 per “pit bull” for euthanasia. Since May 9, 2005, Denver has impounded and killed at least 1,100 dogs pursuant to the breed ban. That amounts to $281,600 spent on one city ordinance, not including the costs of legal fees incurred when the ban is challenged in court. Furthermore if a city is rounding up 1,100 dogs being considered “pit bulls” it is safe to say this breed ban that began in 1989 is clearly not working to rid the city of Denver of any “pit bulls”. Over 5 years it breaks down to roughly 2 dogs a day being seized and euthanized. When we look at the ban over the past 25 years it has cost Denver roughly 7 million dollars for their breed ban on Pit Bull dogs.

All this for a dog that got into an incident in the 1980’s?!?!

That is ridiculous by anyone’s logic. This is the type of slippery slope that BSL creates. It is the illusion of safety that makes us more vulnerable, it is preparation and education that makes us safer.

When waging the war against BSL it is smartest to take the financial costs and illustrate them loudly. After all every city in the USA has a budget concern.
In addition every city has animal laws on the books that adequately serve to protect people with common sense leash and fencing laws.

Enforcement of existing laws will raise money for the city which can then be used in ways to make repairs or further educate or assist its inhabitants.

It boils down to motivation. During the discussion in Garfield New Jersey I asked the Mayor if he would be able to “motivate his chief of police” and he said “that would not be a problem”. It is this type of proactive involvement we need from city officials. After all; laws only work when they are enforced by the people able to do so. Looking the other way and neglecting to take personal responsibility are what has led dogs to be in trouble with BSL in the first place.

Sadly Elgin Illinois was not as receptive to pleas from their community or anyone else’s that voiced opposition the Pit Bull Ordinance they are in the midst of discussing.

Going so far as to ignore people that flew in from around the USA and telling people they were “not interested” in hearing from people if they did not live in Elgin.

Perhaps they can get on Facebook or Google all the info that exists to support the fact these bans and ordinances of dogs are not only the wrong solution they are harmful fiscally and do nothing educate a community. Perhaps we should send the Eligin Illinois mayor some postcards as well?

The next time you feel overwhelmed by the Pit Bull – BSL issue take comfort in the fact that some people are making gains that will have a ripple effect on other areas. Good ideas and common sense and a reminder that money is also a large factor in any new legislation, these are the points that are having an impact in some places. As long as people make decisions out of fear and ignorance there will always be a need for advocacy to help Pit Bulls and dogs in general.

At least these days we can gain and transmit legitimate information at break neck speeds and gather troops to have collected voices be heard. Remember those of us that speak up for dogs do so because they cannot. 

We all want our dogs to be there for us so it’s only right we in turn are there for them. BSL is insidious and usually creeps in the door because the humans in that city that can protect innocent dogs were in some way not aware of the legislation or could not or would not be heard. These days that is no longer an excuse.

What makes all this so interestingly new is that people are able to immediately gather information. This then supports positions with facts and figures which inevitably will outweigh emotions and feelings.

Rightly so, the issue of dogs and breed bans are emotional. Though let us never forget we have math and science as well as long standing common sense laws that surround dogs in USA. We have what we need to keep people safe, keep dogs sound and advance everyone’s knowledge base as much as they desire. We have dogs pretty well figured out. We get in trouble when people seek information from outside the humane scientific community and start believing myths and media.

So when that dog walk gets delayed or dinner time starts to become a bit later than the pups have grown accustomed to, and the dogs are looking at us and pawing legs for food, know this our beloved dogs we’re typing away on the computer for you and all your friends.

If dogs only knew the fuss us humans make over them in the myriad of ways us humans do, I imagine they’d be laughing their heads off while they kissed us in appreciation, oh yea they already do that no matter what.

Thanks to everyone working hard to protect dogs!



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