I know that, like me, most of you probably assumed that once the adorable video of Bella the Pit Bull mothering a litter of kittens spread far and wide, everyone would stop believing the horrible stereotypes about Pits and treat them as they would any other breed. Also, there were supposed to be ponies and rainbows for all.
It turns out not to be so. It’s cloudy and raining outside today, and not one single pony has turned up on my doorstep. As far as Pit Bulls are concerned, recent events in Stockton, California, show that for a lot of people, they’re still a scary, ferocious breed.
In mid-May, the Stockton Animal Shelter announced that it would be eliminating all adoption fees for Pit Bulls and Pit mixes until future notice. The move was an entirely practical one: The shelter, like many throughout the country, has far too many dogs to handle, and most of them are Pits. There are a lot of people who abandon their Pit Bulls, and very few who want to adopt them, due to their bad reputation.
The shelter has been trying to transition to a no-kill facility for several years, but according to Animal Services Manager Phillip Zimmerman, the overcrowding is so bad that unless some of them are adopted, the shelter will have to euthanize dogs. “I am going to be completely honest with you,” Zimmerman wrote on the shelter’s Facebook page, “when this happens and we can’t find other positive outcomes for the animals, humane euthanasia occurs more frequently. The majority of the animals in the shelter are Pit Bulls that have been thrown away by their owners. No one comes looking for them, people don’t want to adopt them because of the reputation that the media has given them, and our staff and volunteers are doing everything they can to save them.”
Faced with that dilemma, Zimmerman decided that there was only one option: Make it free to adopt the Pit Bulls, rather than euthanize them.
Unfortunately, that solution is making nobody happy. The subject of Pit Bulls is already a raw one in Stockton: Just this March, two highly aggressive Pits ran through the downtown area, killing one cat and attacking two men. One of the dogs was shot and killed by a police officer. Many people in Stockton are not feeling generous toward Pits right now, and they feel like the shelter is trying to just dump violent dogs into their neighborhood.
But a lot of dog lovers aren’t happy about the new policy, either. Some people feel that the shelter isn’t taking enough responsibility in determining who gets to take a dog home. An online petition that’s gotten 7,500 signatures calls for a stop to the policy on the grounds that the shelter does no background checks or yard checks on people adopting the dogs.
The concern is that the dogs will simply be picked up by people who intend to use them for dog fighting. Talking to Fox 40, Zimmerman didn’t think that was a real danger. “We understand their concerns,” he said. “Some of the accusations are that, you know, people will fight these Pit Bulls. I don’t think coming to a law enforcement facility and picking up a spayed, neutered, micro-chipped, and vaccinated animal is a criminal’s ultimate goal.”
The petition was started by Tracy Lystra, who herself rescued a Pit Bull who had been involved with dog fighting and who has become a vocal advocate for the rights of Pits. Unfortunately, the petition itself gives off mixed messages. Although it means to advocate for the rights of Pit Bulls, it also reinforces some of the worst stereotypes by talking about them as a breed that was designed for aggression. It also associates Pits with criminality: “Fast forward decades later, and the Pit Bull has become the dog of choice for not only dog fighters but also as the preferred guard dog for drug dealers and gangs,” Lystra writes. “During raids of dog fights, it is common for law enforcement to find illegal firearms, drugs, and wanted felons.” Based on her description, I wouldn’t want a Pit Bull in my neighborhood either.
What do you think? Is the shelter doing the right thing, or just going for an easy solution?
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