The American justice system stands firm on the presumption of innocence. The accused in a criminal trial is innocent until proven guilty.
The Latin term for this is Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. This means that the burden of proof is on the prosecution (qui dicit, the one who speaks out), which must gather and present legally admissible evidence that the accused (qui negat, the one who denies) is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt, the accused must be acquitted.
Unless he’s an American Pit Bull Terrier.
Tragically, thepit bullhas been routinelybetrayed by the American justice system. In the case of this most feared and legislated-against dog breed, the rule is: Guilty until proven innocent. The dog doesn’t even get to stand trial – he’s simplysentenced and removed.
Removed from thehome he knew for years, seized by animal control officers inthe presenceof the horrifiedchildren he loves; removed from the animal shelters that are meant to be a homeless dog’s port inany storm; removed fromthe compassionthat should encircle every dog, regardless of breed.
It’s unconstitutional and un-American, but it’s the way it is. Thousands of good dogs have been branded “bad,” found guilty without a fair trial. The breed as a whole has beencategorized as “dangerous”and handed the harshest possible sentence: Death.
The accused come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Even before they get a chance at life, pit bull puppies are put down at animal shelters in states where breed specific legislation makes it illegal to own one. The lucky ones are pulled by dedicated animal rescuers, then transported to other parts of the country where they may legally be fostered or adopted. The unlucky ones are euthanized by gas, intracardial(“heartstick”) or intravenous injection.
“Punish the Deed, Not the Breed” is afamous pro-pit slogan. But it’s the breed that keeps getting punished, over and over again. The dog paysthe price forits owner’sirresponsible deeds. The real criminals are the people who exploit, abuse, and neglect these dogs – not the dogs themselves. Yetit’s the dogs – not their owners – who get the bad rap.
Convicted dog fighter Michael Vickis enjoying a successful second career in football; his new employer received a congratulatory call from the President of the United States thanking him for giving Vick a second chance. The dogsVickkilled are forgotten. Some of them are enjoyingtheir second chance, experiencing love and kindness for the first time. Others – the ones Vick boasted about intentionally drowning or electrocuting- never got that chance.
The injustice that continuously befalls dogs categorically labeled “dangerous” has motivated many to rise to the pit bull’s defense. One pit defender isdocumentary filmmaker Jeff Theman. His production company, Riverfire Films, has spent the better part of the last two years shooting and editing footage for”Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent,” an investigation of breed specific legislation in his home state of Ohio.
All that hard work is evident in the trailer, which was just released on YouTube. Check it out here.
Jeff’s constant companion and muse throughout the long process of making this documentary has been his adopted dog Preston, rescued from an Ohio fighting ring by Cleveland’s For the Love of Pits and granted what all pit bulls deserve: a new leash on life.
In Jeff, Prestonfound a doting Dad: “Ive even received a speeding ticket for rushing back home to be with him!” he says. “Words just cant describe the unconditional love I have for him. Every day Preston changes minds; he’s a shining example of why dogs should be judged as individuals and not systematically killed.”
I’m proud to be one of the people speakingup forpit bulls inJeff’s film, and I’m looking forward tohis final cut. In the meantime, Ihope you’ll view the trailer andpost a comment about it. Prestonthanks you.