Sunday, September 30, 2007

Turn Up the Volume

I'm dreaming that I'm in a world class hotel...and it's full of pit bulls and their friends...People are smiling at us...and well dressed valets are holding the door for us as our wriggly dogs glide in like movie stars over polished wooden floors...
Wait...Not a dream. We were really there, at the Claremont Resort with our pit bulls, for the third annual Turn Up the Volume BAD RAP Conference. *Pinch me.

Last weekend's event really did have a dream-like quality. Overlooking the gorgeous San Francisco bay, we discussed pit bulls non-stop for two days with movers & shakers from around the country. Heaven!

Bambi and the crew pulled off a seamless event full of great food and new inspirations in a top notch setting. Claremont staff was more than welcoming, and only one person freaked out at the sight of our dogs. ...There's one in every crowd, I guess.

A hot topic this year was Marcel Harnois' (Solano County Humane AS) presentation on American Bulldog history and particulars. More than a few animal welfare professionals were shocked to realize how easy it is to misidentify ABs as pit bulls. To help illustrate the futility of trying to identify breeds, Leslie Nuccio (BR) marched several dogs up to the front for a live version of the 'Find the Pit Bull' game. Not easy! A small bull mastiff stumped more than a few people by pretending to be a funny looking brown pit bull.

ASPCA's Ledy VanKavage roused everyone awake by pointing out some of the media's bigger fiasco's in 2007, and Sergeant Cronin from the OPD gave us his sage advice on ways to curb animal cruelty in our cities. There was so much more ... Loads of video of dog intros and rowdy play sessions; dog evaluations and kennel enrichment.

Conference goers watched a demo of 21 pit bulls at our Pit Ed Class training grounds, then, handlers turned their leashes over to our guests and they practiced what they'd learned. One guest actually teared up at the sight of so many well loved pit bulls in one place -- a good reminder that what's commonplace in our corners is not so common in other towns.

It was one of those weekends when you feel something bigger happening just beneath the surface of the calm goings-on; sort of like realizing a mild earthquake is rumbling beneath your feet while you're absorbed in doing the dishes. We look forward to watching the ripple effects of this event and are grateful to everyone who added their fire so this special gathering could come to life. Thank you!

Update: Sophie

The Queen of our Hearts enjoyed her first weekend with the comfort of warm blankets, good food and - luxury! - a pedicure. Her foster mom Stephanie tells us that she's so happy to have a cozy bed that she's reluctant to leave it. Can't say that I blame her.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Respect Your Elders, Dammit

Our 3rd annual conference at the Claremont Inn was wonderful ... but before we could decompress and digest, the dogs started calling. Right now, this little lady has us all distracted....

She's a senior pit bull who lived much of her 11 years tied up out a yard. She may look a little beat up (Well okay, a LOT beat up) but she's somehow maintained the optimism of a puppy.

Sophie is missing an eye and an ear and is full of fight scars. She's been way-way-waaaaay overbred and she walks on wrists that have been broken and left unmended. Her jaw was broken somewhere along the way, and she doesn't have many teeth left. Her skin is bad, and her titties are hanging low from a very recent litter. (WTF!?) Despite the obvious trauma, drama and hard knocks, she loves people. Viva pit bull resiliency.

A BR member just brought her home so she could have some comfort while we scratch our heads and try to figure out what to do with her. For now, we plan to do a lot of standing back in amazement. More news to come as we get to know this beautiful soul.

Watch: Sophie's Movie

Update on Gary - Our other compassion case is improving very slowly. He loves chicken livers, but distrusts digital cameras. He's still sleeping off years of neglect, but comes alive and "Woo Woo!s" to hurry us along at dinner time. He's a funny, sorta simple kind of guy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bubble Head Boris

Ahhh Boris. Such a good excuse to try out a new Internet toy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tellings v. Toledo: Revisited

Did anybody else see this article?

It's a piece written by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer that showed up in the opinion section of Ohio's Marion Star newspaper. After the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the challenged breed specific laws were constitutional, Paul Tellings, and the amici parties filed a motion to reconsider the case. That motion is still pending before the court.

Not long after that motion was filed, however, Justice Pfeifer published that opinion piece in the paper.

Tsk tsk.

So much for judicial ethics and Ohio's own canon that says, "While a proceeding is pending or impending in any court, a judge shall not make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness or make any nonpublic comment that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing."

'Course I sent in a letter to the editor. In case it never appears in their newspaper, I copied it below. If anyone else is inspired to send your own comments, please do. Psst to you Ohioans out there -- your judges are elected, and, should he run, Judge Pfeifer comes up for re-election in 2011.


As an attorney and dog lover, I have been following this case with interest. Both the factual findings adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court and the legal analyses made are illogical and contradictory.

Judge Pfeifer confirms, "there is no evidence that pit bulls bite more frequently than other breeds," but then reports, "The trial court cited the substantial evidence supporting its conclusion that pit bulls, compared to other breeds, cause a disproportionate amount of danger to people."

Is no one else scratching their heads at this contradiction?

The "substantial evidence" relied upon was taken solely from the testimony of one witness -- the dog warden who so proudly touts that he has set the record for the most pit bull seizures. Let's look at what that substantial evidence is.

First, pit bulls cause the most severe damage when they bite. But Warden Skeldon testified that, actually, bites by the chow breed caused the most severe damage.

Second, pit bulls have killed more Ohioans than any other breed. According to the testimony, the plain statement that pit bulls have killed more Ohioans than any other breed is incomplete without evidence of the total population of dogs by breed. In other words, if there are 1000 poodles, 50 border collies, and 5 retrievers in a given population, and a statistic that showed 20 poodle-related fatalities, 10 border collie-related fatalities, and 4retriever-related fatalities, it would be illogical to give any great weight to the fact that poodles have killed more people than the other breeds. By having the total number of dog breeds available, the percentage calculation would show that poodle fatalities are 1 in 50; border collie fatalities are 1 in 5; and retriever related fatalities are 4 in 5.

So far, the first two factors are not persuasive, much less "substantial" evidence.

Third and fourth, police officers shoot at more pit bulls than any other breed and pit bulls are frequently shot at because police officers encounter them more during drug raids more than any other breed. I can only assume that these are the "problem circumstances" that pit bulls have the unfortunate luck with which to be associated. The subtle problem with this rationale is that being "associated with problem circumstances" focuses only outside environmental factors that have nothing to do with the inherent nature of a dog breed. Being "associated with problem circumstances" has no relationship to statutory language that sweepingly defines a breed of dog as inherently vicious.

Notably, there was no evidence that police officers shot at pit bulls because they felt threatened or because they were under attack or because the dogs were in any way dangerous or acted improperly. The state of Ohio elected to define an entire "breed" of dog solely because some individual dogs of that breed are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let's summarize. Ohio's statute defines "vicious" dog as any dog commonly known as a "pit bull." The courts found that there's no evidence that pit bulls are inherently dangerous or vicious. Because police officers see and shoot at pit bulls more than any other breed, a statute defining the entire BREED as vicious is rationally related to public safety.

How can that statute be related at all, much less, rationally, to the legitimate interest of public safety?

Because Paul Tellings, the plaintiff, violated these laws, he was forced to give away one of his three family pets and had another taken from him and killed. Did that further public safety? How about the fact that since these laws were enacted, dog fighting complaints have doubled in number and dog bites in Mr. Tellings' county reached a record high in recent years? Furthering public safety, eh?

Perhaps public safety would be better served if the government would crack down on the root cause of "problem circumstances" rather than focus its misdirected energies on restricting, and in too many cases, euthanizing, those things "associated" with them.

I am also more than a little disturbed that Judge Pfeifer wrote this public piece that so plainly states his opinion on the constitutionality of the Ohio and Toledo laws while the case is still pending a motion for reconsideration. I can only hope that he upholds his duty as a judicial officer to be impartial and apply the law to the facts when ruling on that motion, and if not, that he remove himself as a decision-maker.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I guess I can talk about Gary now.

We didn't plan on bringing a Special Needs foster dog into our home with everything on our plates right now: BAD RAP's conference just hours away, more travel plans to the east coast just ahead, November's Pit Ed Camp to plan for and the Tuff Love Art Show all breathing down our necks. But sometimes louder voices call to you and you just have to listen.

This boney guy was covered in hundreds of fleas on his scarred, filthy dirty, starving little body. Just another day in an urban animal shelter. He was nobody's dog and he was basically, already dead. But he managed to look us in the eye with the calmest look of quiet resignation. Suckers-R-We ... we only meant to give him a bath before he went to meet his Maker, but his brown eyes sold us a bill of goods and five baths later, we loaded him up in the car.

When we can manage it, our group will take home compassion cases for the purpose of letting them die in peace after a few days of rest, love and sunshine. We don't talk about it much because, frankly, it's both painful and controversial. Why save a dog only to put it to sleep? In some cases, a dog's temperament is iffy, or - like Gary here - a dog might be too injured or too sick to invest limited resources into. I wish we could take on more of these cases, because there sure are a lot of shelter dogs that deserve a few days of quiet comfort before they pass on.

So, Gary.

Its hard to know exactly what his temperament is like. He's just too sick and shut down to care about much except mealtime and long naps. But today, after four days of food and sleep, he trotted outside, smiled at everyone, threw himself on the ground and did the classic Doggy Joy Dance on his back...legs kicking happily, tail wagging. We were thrilled. Even our personal dogs were happy to see it (he seems to like our dogs too).

Because dogs live in the Now rather than the 'What happens tomorrow?' future, we're happy just knowing that he's finally living. Whether or not he can be a part of our adoption program is still an unknown. Of course, we're hopeful...

Now onto that Conference! We so look forward to seeing old and new friends so we can plan better days for the Garys of the world. Bravo to all the participants and to the organizers who have been working long hours to create a fantastic event.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Media: Some Days, It's all Good

Every now and again, we up meet with someone who just wants to do a nice little story to help the dogs. Imagine that.
KPIX Story on Pit Bull Hall
This was one of those stories and producer Michael Murray is one of those people. Working with Mike and his ever-patient camera-man Brian was a very sweet experience, and a nice break from the norm.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Deja Vu in Fremont

In April 2003, an 80lb registered American Bulldog named Kain attacked a small boy in Fremont, ripping off part of his ear. The media immediately reported it as a pit bull attack, despite the fact that the dog's owner and the shelter knew it to be an entirely different breed.

Here we are again. A large male dog reported to be between 80-130lbs attacked a Fremont mother and child, and once again, the Diana Diamonds of the world have been clucking and tsking about banning these horrible pit bulls. Never mind that this current attack - not unlike the one in 2003 - was certainly not a surprise -- the dog had a well known reputation for being a problem dog and human aggressive biter.

Why did it happen? Well, not because of his breed. It happened because - in each situation - very troubled dogs that were known to have issues with people were not properly contained.

It's THAT horrifically, tragically simple.

A reporter contacted us for an interview and wanted to know what would lead a pit bull to attack a child. (I'm always amazed at these kinds of questions; somehow our experience with pleasant family pets gives us license to speculate on the behavior of sketchy randomly-bred dogs we've never met. Scary, huh?) I asked if she was sure that it even WAS a pit bull. Pit bulls typically don't come super-sized unless they're mixed with something else or are imposters altogether. I was pleasantly surprised when she hesitated and admitted that, No, she hadn't considered that the police may have made assumptions.

Of course, the police are not trained in Breed ID. And, breed misidentification is as common as plantar warts at the YMCA...a disturbing trend that is bedeviling wonderful dogs everywhere.

I reminded her that whether or not the dog was a pit bull or an AB or a mix or something completely unknown, the real issue wasn't the label, but the "perfect storm" of circumstances that lead to such frightening events.

We're so very relieved that the Fremont mom in this storm was brave, resourceful and that her child is safe. And we can only hope that this reporter helps her, and the rest of the bay area understand that blaming a breed is just another way to confuse people away from the real issue: Troubled dogs need to be obsessively contained, or put to peace. Period.

By the way, we haven't met this dog, but he doesn't look very much like a pit bull to us. Then again, who cares? His rap sheet is the only thing that anyone should be looking at.

Double your pleasure, double your fun...

This weekend, the BAD RAP crew was out in full force at the Marin county Bay Area Pet Fair.

This fair has a ton of people and dogs, cats and other critters of all shapes and sizes. This year the organizers also put on a dog show for the homeless animals among us, called "The Other Dog Show," which had fabulous categories like "Best Lap Dog" and "Most Muttalicious," as well as "Best Non-Dog."

My dog Gunther is a natural at these events, and it turns out that his doppleganger Millie - currently up for adoption in our program, and the dog in the above photo - is following in his footsteps.

Millie's appearance would, incidentally, indicate that I won't have to be one of those people cloning dogs; it would seem that whoever made Gunther is awfully busy.

As luck would have it, the wonderful folks at C&M photography were at the booth next to ours and captured a variety of shots of the dynamic duo.

Is it real or is it Memorex?

Because Millie and Gunther are such similar dogs, they always attract a lot of attention when they're out in public - to the point that I'm generally slightly embarrassed because I probably look like I'm breeding these diluted lightbulb-headed dodos. The most common questions are the "Are they related?" inquiries. The answer, of course is: They darn well must be. Gunther and Millie showed up at the same shelter 5 years apart. Are they littermates? Is one a parent to the other? Are they from the same parent but different litters?

We don't know, but we do know that they look and act so freakishly similar that I can mistake my own dog for Millie at a glance.

In any case, Gunther took a backseat to Millie's charms at this particular show, as Millie racked up two ribbons in "The Other Dog Show" - she won Third Place in "Best Underdog," and racked up a First Place ribbon in "Best Lap Dog," which she won by sitting quite nicely (and upside-down) on the lap of a 10-year-old judge. On her way to collect her First Place ribbon, she was actually attacked by a Dalmation on a too-long leash, but just jumped away and kept on trucking (good girl).

Fame has its price...

Because Millie is The Poster Child for homeless pit bulls with an all-too-common story - used as a breeding machine, lived in a yard as a cheap alarm system, dumped to die at the shelter after a preventable scrap with another female guarding the yard - we were all very proud that she was such a hit at this event.

For her part, Millie seems to know that the worst is over, and despite her uber-mellow nature keeps showing us that's she's enjoying her new life.

We can't wait for her to find her forever home so that she can really and truly know that she's home for good!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Money keeps talking...

Oh, irony, my fickle little friend.

No sooner had I just finished my blog post about Vick's apology than we received an article claiming that the Humane Society of the United States is auctioning off Vick's apology notes - notes that were apparently left on the podium during his press conference - on eBay.

The auction is live, and the last bid I saw was for $10,100.

This is the kind of stunt expected out of PETA or a private enterprise - headline vultures hellbent on cashing in on this tragedy by any means possible, regardless as to how their missions, beliefs or actions align (or conflict) with the well-being of the pit bull breed - or the Vick dogs in particular. PETA of course has continued to send out newsletters soliciting donations on behalf of dogfighting victims, yet their position on the breed has not changed. PETA wants to eliminate the pit bull breed and supports breed-specific-legislation, and one rationale stated was that only by eliminating pit bulls will the abuse to them cease.

Why are people so quick to blame and demonize the victims of abuse and exploitation for the abuse and exploitation?

In any case, that this means is that PETA's idea of "helping" the pit bull victims out there is to put them down and take steps to eliminate their cousins forever. Is this where the money being collected on behalf of all the dogfighting victims is going?


As for the HSUS auction, I simply hope that the money raised will be donated directly toward the care of the Vick dogs themselves, or toward the benefit of any real-live pit bull currently suffering at the hands of cruel owners, an overpopulation epidemic, an overcrowded shelter system ($10,000 can buy a lot of Kuranda beds and kennel enrichment toys, as well as spay/neuters), and a public discourse shaped by a sensationalist media machine most recently fueled by self-proclaimed pit bull experts who are only too happy to provide damaging, dramatic and untrue quotes about the breed - as long as those quotes are reported by a source with wide distribution.

Indeed, money keeps talking... and talking...

Actions speak louder than words...

I was on vacation when the Michael Vick "apology" hit the L.A. times. As much as I was trying to stay away from skewed media stories and sensationalized reports complete with uneducated guests blathering away trying to pass themselves off as pit bull experts when in reality they were just talking heads seizing a chance to be on CNN, I was unable to avoid this particular article, as I ran across it trying to find the Jumble puzzle for my grandma.

Now, I don't expect much out of the mainstream media these days, and I most especially don't expect any hard news out of the Los Angeles times. But this slant on the Vick apology even disgusted my Mom - who's deathly allergic to dogs, doesn't think about them one way or another, isn't sure about the whole pit bull thing (she doesn't know any, so gets most of her information from the headlines), and has never had a dog in her life.

The title in the print edition of the Times was "Remorseful Vick enters guilty plea."

Remorseful? Really? Reading talking points crafted by PR people that carefully and specifically avoid all mention of the word "dog" or "animals" and refers to "the incident" as though this was an isolated, single transgressive event (of course, to Vick getting caught is the tragic event) counts as being "remorseful?" Huh - it would seem that sports writers are more easily impressed by words than actions - as long as those actions don't involve throwing a football really far, that is.

My mom and I - who are not, as it happens, sports writers - didn't buy the "remorseful" angle (it doesn't count as true remorse when you're just sorry you got caught), and we both received Vick's public "apology" with disappointment and disgust. Then again, I didn't expect much more out of a guy who got off on killing and torturing dogs with his own two hands.

That being said, it turns out that my disgust lies with the Atlanta Falcons franchise and the media outlets and commentators who seem all too eager to have an excuse to portray Vick as a repentant and worthy victim of circumstance.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that Atlanta Falcons owner, Arthur Blank, has no plans to dismiss Vick from the team's roster. Money talks, and this is a $130 million dollar investment parroting his meticulously scripted talking points. Of course, Blank was quick to pin his decision on (his version of) the greater good, noting that pulling him off the team would be "not in our fans' or franchise's best interest. It would be a short-term fix at the expense of our long-term success."

Rich McKay, President of the Atlanta Falcons, went on to say that the team would "aggressively" seek to recoup the bonus paid to Vick - an amount around 29 million dollars.

Gotta love this one - "We're OK with having a dog-murderer, felon and sociopath on our team, but we're not going to pay him extra money on a job well done for it!"


Clearly, it is much more important that the Atlanta Falcons owners protect their business investment than it is to do anything remotely ethical or moral in this case, making the Atlanta franchise no better than Vick himself.

Michael Vick did not only purchase a facility specifically to train and stage dogfights, nor did he merely sit and watch the numerous dogfights held at his location. Michael Vick tortured and abused the animals at his facility - he ordered the killing of, and killed dogs in horrific fashion with his own two hands, and this kind of amoral behavior is inexcusable. How much money does it take to make someone forget that the hands throwing a football are the same hands that enjoyed killing an innocent dog?

In this case, it would seem that it's around $130 million dollars.

It is vastly unfortunate that the Atlanta Falcons and the various news outlets are so ready to take a scripted "I'm sorry" statement as an excuse to portray an animal abuser and killer as a tragic, downtrodden victim worthy of sympathy. There are real victims in the Vick case - victims who were beaten, tortured and used to kill each other as entertainment - but apparently those lives, not being worth $130 million in contracts or $30 million in bonuses, aren't worth mentioning.

Pit bulls are dogs. Had Michael Vick been hanging, electrocuting, beating, drowning and otherwise torturing Golden Retrievers until they died, I wonder whether the Atlanta Falcons, the ESPN and CNN commentators, and the rest of the reporters calling his scripted apology to his fans "heartfelt" would be so forgiving.

Michael Vick has made it clear that he is not sorry for torturing and killing animals; his apology makes it obvious that his first priority is his image and his fan support. Not once was any regret mentioned as to the innocent dogs that were killed at his own hands; not once was an apology offered to the animals themselves or the organizations that routinely deal with the fallout from animal abuse. Vick's PR people are making a very concerted effort to avoid any mention of his actions or the word "dog" at all, and are making it very clear that what Vick is sorry for is getting caught, and getting caught so publicly.

Actions speak louder than words. But money talks the loudest of all.