Advocacy Overdrive: A teachable moment in our midst

The corresponding video to this blog is on You Tube

In January of 2012 actor Nick Santino committed suicide after he euthanized his dog Rocco amid pressure from his condo board and harassment from his neighbors.

The NY Post reported that a Veterinarian had issued a warning that Rocco was “becoming aggressive” this has now been proven to be false.

Nick had Rocco euthanized at the ASPCA not at his regular vet. In NY State any pet owner can have his pet euthanized without too many obstacles.

By all accounts from people that knew Nick and Rocco, they all said Rocco was a sound, friendly dog and Nick was a great dog owner.

This film is not documenting any aspects surrounding this tragic event that deal with Mr. Santino’s personal life or the assumptions that have been made about his state of affairs.

We sincerely extend our condolences to his family and friends.

This short film is focused on why Nick and his dog Rocco were harassed when by all accounts they were both respectable tenants and had no history of negligence in any way?

Secondly; after the stringent dog laws and anti pit bull regulations were passed by the NYC Housing Authority in 2010 how much societal and legal pressure are dog owners facing in NYC?

At the state level there is no breed specific legislation (BSL) in New York State. So the question remains why does the NYC Housing Authority have the right to make breed specific regulations?

Insidious Practices

NYC is not the only state that cannot make laws concerning dogs breed specific. Florida is also a state that also prohibits breed specific laws at the state level yet Miami has a “ban”, “regulations”, “ordinances” directed at pit bulls”.

The Miami ban has had an overall conditioning effect in many communities, shaping a negative bias towards “put bulls” that “these types are the bad ones”. After 20 years people start believing this nonsense.

This ugly truth about BSL is not only does it promote hatred towards types of dogs and their owners it permeates the entire culture with a bias towards dogs that may or may not be “pit bulls”.

This insidious mindset trickles down to dog people that should know better and have the advantage of perhaps obtaining the proper, scientific and logical information from credible sources so they in turn are educated.

However people are people and not everyone, even supposedly educated “dog people” will take the time to clear up the myths.

The story of Nick Santino and his dog is not an anomaly, how can it be? BSL has been around since 1989 and many dogs and their guardians through out the world have been euthanized or victimized unfairly due to fear mongering and out and out disinformation based on fictional assessments and grand leaps in folklore and myth making.

The reality is that dogs are the product of their environments and the all the human’s in the dog’s life practicing kind consistency with the dog’s rewards and consequences. Period.

The reality is that people by and large do not take the time to educate themselves about dogs, even the dogs they own. Why expect neighbors in the community to take the time and educate themselves properly?

The tragedy of Nick & Rocco only puts another exclamation point on the millions of other dogs and owners that have been affected by BSL. It is blight on all communities as is any bias.

It underscores that all biases of any kind that are rooted in ignorance, fear and boogiemen will only lead to pain and misery for communities.

The system is what failed Nick & Rocco. There were other choices he could have made, and from what I have been told by close friends he tried to make arrangements for Rocco, but to no avail.

There were other choices people involved in this tragedy could have made as well, yet they chose to act the way they did.

Many times behavior is predicated on what the system is based on and not on what an individual might do if they were 100% free to choose or had they not been so indoctrinated by the system that they could see past it and finesse a better outcome.

The teachable moment here for the NYC Housing Authority is that it has placed massive stress on residents in NYC that own dogs, all dogs; please is reconsider your stance and make it fair.

Additionally the NYC Housing Authority has disseminated a wave of hysteria and fear for residents about “pit bulls” along with the media saturation it is no wonder certain people form biases about dogs.

The plea to the ASPCA in NYC that the euthanized Rocco, a dog that was by all accounts was sound and healthy; is to look at the system in place and fix the broken parts so sound dogs that deserve a chance get that chance. Really look to find out exactly why dog owners want to euthanize a dog. Owners that come into shelters and simply claiming their dog is “aggressive” is not enough to put down a dog. There needs to be something behaviorally or medically that has occurred to warrant that. However the truth is there are very few obstacles for owners that want to or feel they should put down their dog.

Those of us in dogs know that many times “aggression” is not aggression at all, and perhaps the professional that is now commandeering this critical juncture when a dog owner asks for their dog to be down might be able to divulge more info and set things off on the right path with some educational understanding for the dog owner. However that would mean the professional actually has been educated properly to assess dog behavior and deal with scenarios like this. That all boils down to proper education.

The horizon and the end of BSL in the USA.
With Miami’s BSL on it’s last legs and looking as though it will end sooner than later, the State of Ohio at the precipice of ending it’s BSL and the city of Denver having its BSL taken into question over the use of pit bull dogs as service dogs by the Department Of Justice; Indeed the horizon looks good for 2012 and the end of BSL in these three pivotal places and others.

This is a teachable moment in the history of dogs and the lesson of fairness and kindness are the focus.

No matter how the numbers are calculated dogs always come back as a good thing for any society. The pet care industry is a 60 billion dollar venture in the USA. Dogs have a massive share of that economy.

BSL always costs taxpayers millions to enforce and in the end the bite statistics stay the same in these areas, yet the euthanasia rates go up along with the associated costs of rounding up dogs and banning them.

It is estimated that some 6 thousand “pit bull type dogs” are euthanized every day in the USA.

Conversely in 2011 only 30 people died from dog-related bite injuries.

These 30 deaths attributed to dog bites are out of 4.5 million bites reported to emergency rooms yearly. These 30 deaths also come with the same criterion that has been on repeat ever since statistics about these incidents have been recorded.

Out of 77 million dogs of all kinds and 300 million humans all running around essentially for the most part making it up as they go along and only 30 people a year are dying? Not bad numbers considering the possibilities it could be much worse. It seems dogs are quite a safe risk despite all the fear mongering that some keep alive and well.

Now imagine a more enlightened and educated community as it relates to dogs and we’d see even less bites, less tragic events and more community togetherness and cooperation.

Money Changes Everything.
The costs associated with BSL could be reduced and or eliminated once BSL has been ended. The monies generated from the taxes that once went to BSL could be lowered and then tax dollars could be used as a way to educate communities.

For instance if it costs a city a million dollars a year to enforce BSL, for far less tax dollars the entire community from grade school kids to groomers and shelter staffs and beyond could be properly educated about dogs.

Additionally there could be financial incentives for members of the professional community to become better educated and then go out and be paid to educate more people about dogs.

It may be a dog training professional that takes the steps to be more educated, and of course law enforcement would benefit greatly from a legitimate understanding of dogs and dog behavior.

However it might be the high school science teacher that has a dog and takes a paid for by tax dollars course and then a few seminars and then is able to go out and educate their community and continues to be compensated for their educational efforts.

No matter how the proper information ends up in the community as long as the proper information is getting out there the positive ripple effect is in effect eroding ignorance and ending prejudice.

If the city or town does not have BSL but perhaps there are concerns or an incident has occurred, or maybe a shelter director would like to hold a seminar for the community, there could be a more cohesive effort and a more unified educational system in place for the all people in communities to learn from legitimate sources.

Let’s face it one of the biggest issues surrounding dogs is this confluence of information that is part folklore, part “advice from a friend” and usually not scientifically accurate as it relates to their specific issues with their dog.

With BSL on it’s last legs it is time to start thinking of what the next phase is. That is educational efforts in all communities. Just because dogs will one day not be banned, does not mean we do not need education to ensure less stress in communities. With BSL’s end looming large it is even more imperative we educate properly and do so often.

Are there areas of this idea for taxes to pay for canine education that need further structuring? Sure. By and large that lay in the area of people organizing their communities and getting the tax monies appropriated by having a plan, a budget, a curriculum and showing the benefits of having an educated community.
There also needs to be a focus on obtaining the proper information and making sure it is based in science, safety and logic. Not an easy feat but something the dog centric circles in all communities need to start thinking about. Please run with it and get it started!

Lastly if anyone reading this is part of the canine advocacy contingency that has the means it would be a good idea to start thinking about setting up some safety nets by organizations or private donors to ensure communities have proper canine education in case there are no taxes that can be allotted as many times the economics of the community simply cannot afford it.

The teachable moment is here and those of us that seize it and finally clean up the mess that BSL and it’s false information about dogs has caused over the past 25 years will be cementing a good future for dog’s and their human guardians for generations to come.

Don’t hate! Educate!

To support the bills to end BSL in Miami Florida Bills SB1322 and HB997 please contact
Representative Carlos Trujillo: [email protected] (850) 488-5047

Senator Jim Norman: [email protected] (850) 487-5068

Please call/email Commissioner Sally A. Heyman and thank her for her support!
Commissioner Sally A. Heyman- District 4: [email protected] 305-375-5128 / 305-787-5999

If you have been a victim of bias and discrimination due to NYC Housing restrictions for dogs please contact The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals

If you need information about insurance companies that do not discriminate against breeds of dogs please visit
Animal Farm Foundation’s website

Should you be in or know of a community that needs educational support in regards to dogs, dog training, dog behavior and or myth busting about pit bulls or dogs in general please contact Drayton Michaels, CTC through his website

Are you a dog trainer? Sign up for the Professional Dog Trainer Program – Free on Dunbar Academy