Pit Bulls love to party.
Our dogs are in their finest hour when company's over - the louder and rowdier the better.
So when we decided to attend an author reading in a Berkeley bookstore - one that invited dogs in for the event - for a new book entitled "Let's Have a Dog Party," you'd think we'd find some common ground with the author.
Except that in this case, the author was Ingrid Newkirk. Would we find any common ground with a woman who has most recently been making noise about the Vick dogs as unpredictable and dangerous, and recommending that the pit bulls be killed - but that the deserving Beagles be saved? (Not that her public condemnation prevented PETA from raising money on behalf of the Vick dogs, of course...)
So I set out with Tim Racer, our fearless founder and resident rabbler-rouser. We of course brought Honky Tonk and Gunther in tow, since both of them have been known to enjoy a good dog party. We even dressed them in their finest - Honky wore his Therapy Dog vest, and Gunther was dapper in a striped sweater (he gets cold, after all). Hey, it's Berkeley.
To our surprise, Ingrid began her talk by talking about the Vick dogs. The very Vick dogs that she hasn't met but wants destroyed, the victims of abuse that PETA has publicly vilified and exploited as a fundraiser, and the same dogs that BAD RAP helped assess. She used these dogs again as an opening attention grabber, and to segue into a story about PETA's invitation of Michael Vick to their headquarters. She then named the various celebrities that had contributed to her book, talked a bit about what compelled her to write the book, criticized Paris Hilton for her irresponsible and ongoing collection of dogs as accessories (hey - something we agree upon!) - including a comment that insulted dog sweaters, which made Gunther feel a bit awkward (really, he gets cold) - and then read us a few delightful passages about dog parties.
After the reading, Ingrid opened it up for questions. Nobody raised a hand. So Tim raised his hand.
Tim mentioned that he was from Bad Rap and that it was interesting that Ingrid mentioned the Vick dogs, since she was publicly advocating that all the dogs be killed. He explained that we've been rescuing fight bust dogs for years and that some of them have been the best dogs we've ever met, and wanted to know how she could advocate that all the dogs be killed when she'd never met them.
Ingrid didn't really answer Tim's question. Instead, she began talking about Michael Vick being famous and about him funding the dogs, and said that she felt that the resources going to these dogs would be better spent on spay/neuter programs for all the dogs out there.
This of course made me wonder where PETA's money raised by mentioning the Vick pit bulls is going, since it's not going to the dogs. PETA hasn't been shy about sending out newsletters about the Vick pit bulls and soliciting money, so if PETA's objection to saving any of the pit bulls is that resources are better spent for spay/neuter, why don't they use some of their collected resources for this program?
While I was having this brief internal monologue, Ingrid went into a tangent about resources and the shelter system in general (the "deserving dogs" needing resources that shouldn't be wasted on pit bulls was the vague theme here), and Tim pointed out that the Berkeley shelter just down the street is 80% pit bulls. He clarified that, if she was saying that shelters shouldn't adopt out pit bulls, that she was eliminating 70-80% of some shelter populations.
Ingrid then said that she felt that the theft risk of the Vick dogs was too great to risk adopting them out.
Tim mentioned that this objection was no different from what she's been saying about pit bulls in general for years but that we've never had one stolen, and then we had what I like to call "A Berkeley Moment."
This Berkeley Moment was a large, long and creatively-haired dog owner across the aisle who randomly leaned in at Tim bellowed, "Hey, you ever hear of Darwinism? You believe in Darwinism?"
At this point too many people started talking at the same time, and the bookstore manager became noticeably agitated. She asked Berkeley Guy to hold his comments, and tried to end Tim's commentary as well. Tim asked if he could just get an answer to his question, and Ingrid said something to this effect:
"We can debate all day and we will still have the fundamental difference of opinion as to whether a pit bull should be taken out of a shelter and given to someone on the street."
Whether the audience had just noticed that the head of PETA had just told them that she doesn't feel that pit bulls are adoptable and don't deserve any shelter resources is unknown, as the book store manager was quite obviously uncomfortable at this point and cut Tim off.
After this exchange, people asked nice polite questions about neglected Pugs and such. I raised my hand 3 times, but apparently I had become invisible.
In addition to my question about PETA's fundraising allocations, I did want to discuss Ingrid's ongoing claim that her desire to eliminate pit bulls stems from her belief that if they didn't exist, they wouldn't be abused. Hey, I just wondered if she also advocates the extinction of Greyhounds so that they won't be raced, or children so they won't be exploited...
But these questions would go unanswered, because I was now the teacher's second least-favorite pupil (was it the dog sweater?), and she wouldn't call on me. Darnit.
The Q&A ended shortly thereafter and we had a short chat with Ingrid.
The short of it: she "fundamentally disagrees" with us on our viewpoint that pit bulls are adoptable pets. She feels that, should a Cocker Spaniel and a pit bull both be competing for resources, that the Cocker should get them because it's smaller and therefore less likely to do any serious harm if it "goes funny."
We mentioned that any defective dog with that size differential could do damage, and she said "Oh yes, them too." Tim then told her that, if we eradicated pit bulls tomorrow, we'd see the same problems with Mastiffs and other breeds. Ingrid eagerly agreed with this.
So listen up, non-Cocker-people: the pit bulls may be in the crosshairs now, but your breed is potentially PETA's next target.
Ingrid also made sure to pet my dog and tell me his sweater was perfectly ridiculous (which sounds remarkably less rude in a British accent). Gunther tried to tell her that he gets cold, dammit, but the store manager was fussing about again - if she'd had a stage hook, we would have most definitely been yanked outta there.
That a Berkeley bookstore manager was so uncomfortable about an honest exchange of conflicting opinion was somewhat ironic given that: (a) We were in Berkeley, and (b) the person speaking is the head of a group known for throwing paint on people and terrorizing children with fake buckets of dead chickens.
I guess I should have left the sweater at home and outfitted Gunther in more appropriate attire for the event...
So, we left - but not before the canine boys earned several fans by being their joyboy selves.
I have to say that I find it just baffling that an organization as large and influential as PETA can make so many policies and statements condemning a dog breed simply because its founder has a personal bias - and can continue to be influential in spite of it.
But hey - at least this founder knows how to throw a dog party.
Then again, my dogs have never had trouble getting down to party. Heck - they even have their own dog party invitations.
For more info: PETA's Call for a Pit Bull Ban