Oh. Good. God. Somebody's stereotypes were clearly showing that day. (Bribing dog owners is not a tactic BR uses when promoting responsible ownership by the way). Nevermind that Jesse - a family man and accomplished artist whose art pieces are selling faster than hotcakes - was taking time out of his insanely busy schedule to help low income pit bull owners at the fair - Someone figured he looked the part and needed a talkin' to. You know, the backwards hat, baggy pants dude who probably has a litter of blue puppies for sale at home, right? NOT.
We laugh about it, but not in a happy ha-ha way. More like one of those Oh-my-god, can it get much worse than THAT? laughs.
And so we're faced - in our own community and even with so-called progressive animal welfare partners - the unmistakably annoying head bang of stereotypes. They're the same biases that lead so many to believe that "urban youth" is a code word for street fighting gangsters. That anyone who wears a black hoodie or lives the hip hop culture and is attracted to pit bulls MUST be overbreeding or - very likely - fighting them.
Those biases will continue to damage the dogs by making it so much harder to build bridges to under-resourced pit bull owners. I'll go one step further and call these the same biases that have lead some to believe that "urban youth" is SO very lost and unreachable that only a convicted torturer can reach through to inspire - ahem - empathy for their animals.
Shelters that deal with pit bulls on a daily basis are not so convinced that street fighting is bigger than other issues that affect the breed. In fact, when the HSUS surveyed animal shelters at their expo in 2006, only 18% saw dog fighting as a key problem. Survey Link (Page 12)
One open-ended question asked, “What do you think is the single biggest problem facing pit bulls today?” Forty-seven percent pointed to abusive or otherwise bad owners, while 43 percent said the pit bull’s image and reputation is his main obstacle. Thirty-three percent blamed overpopulation, backyard breeders, and indiscriminate breeding, while 18 percent considered dogfighting to be the culprit. - HSUS Animal Sheltering Mag Oct 06
So why the hype about urban youth and street fighting? Without hardcore data, we have no idea if labels like "epidemic" accurately describe the trend, and we certainly don't know that it's so widespread that desperate measures - ie employing highly controversial role models like Vick - are warranted. The consequence of unbalanced red flagging of any crime is that it can feed the fascination, resulting in copycat crimes, while creating an atmosphere where stereotypes flourish. There's no doubt that street fighting is a common form of animal abuse in our cities, but our experience as well as in our ongoing communications with shelters around the country shows us a very different perspective that matches the results of the 2006 HSUS survey. Most report these key causes for the breed's suffering: POVERTY. Lack of accessible resources - vet care, housing, training. And the heart wrenching consequences of breed bias and discrimination.
"The real truth is, problems in life are never as simple as we want them to be. But the answer is not to stereotype. Don't avoid the issue, but find the real problem and speak to people before believing what you read." - Fairbridge Narrator
I can't speak to how it feels to be under the microscope of owner bias that "urban youth" are under because I'm - you know - a middle aged gringa. But these young people in the UK do and I want to kiss every one of them for telling us what it's like to be stared at and pre-judged as dog fighters and thugs - just for owning a pit bull. Rock on Fairbridge filmmakers - you done good.