Thursday, October 23, 2014

Demonization or knowledge-based support? Aurora, CO is getting ready to decide

October’s dappled light likes teasing us into reflecting on life's lessons and mysteries. In the spirit of celebrating our bond with dogs, our supporters have been sharing some truly remarkable stories of the power of dogs to change, and in many cases, to save the lives of their people. (When you can, please visit this amazing facebook thread for reflections on profound personal change.)

2014 has been an especially good year for activating lessons learned from living with dogs. At no time in our eons long history with canines have humans had access to so much credible information regarding dog behavior, bite prevention and the all-important human element in creating and maintaining safe, humane communities. That swell of knowledge is changing us for the better. As a result of dog owner education for example, the number of reported dog bites has been plummeting in many major cities. (Link)

This year, we’re happy to see Aurora, Colorado put its toe in the water of this exciting trend of progressive change. Thanks in part to a plethora of contemporary scientific research and expert opinion made available through the reach of the internet, Aurora's citizens may end their nine year long ban on 'pit bulls.' If they say ‘YES’ to Measure 2D, they would be following in the footsteps of numerous states and municipalities around the country who've recently repealed or rejected breed discriminatory laws in favor of breed neutral animal control mandates that hold all dog owners equally responsible for the care and management of their pets.

We can thank dogs described as pit bulls for a big part of the push towards a new and smarter era of dog ownership. 

Regarded as one of the most popular dog ‘types' in the U.S., a widespread passion for the dogs jump-started our collective search for answers after fears and misperceptions began victimizing the dogs and their families some two decades ago. Despite the efforts of a handful of detractors who demonize blocky headed dogs with World War Z-like warnings, credible animal care professionals have, time and again, calmly reminded us that pit bulls are simply dogs. And dogs as a whole faithfully reflect our care, our expectations, and our management - always have, and always will.

After 15+ years of rescuing and placing hundreds of so-called pit bulls into new homes, we would have to agree. Keeping the focus on the dog owners and supporting them with very basic care and training info can inject our communities with responsible action know-how, no matter the breed make-up of their pets, and even with individuals from some of the most bankrupt beginnings (Cue the Vick dogs).

Here’s the thing:

If we want our communities to enjoy safe, well managed dogs, we need only to activate the knowledge we have available at our fingertips. No manipulative stereotypes, no prohibitions or fearful Dooms Day warnings necessary.
Which brings us to another exciting trend that is growing as fast and large as this past summer's zucchinis. Dog Owner Support. Simply, it's bringing resources to dog owners in under served neighborhoods. And it’s catching on like wild fire wherever dog advocates are asking themselves "How can I be part of the solution?"

As residents of the dog-filled town of Oakland, CA, this would be our message to Aurora: We hear you! All citizens want and deserve public safety assurances as well as resources to help dog families do a good job. Of equal importance is empowering animal control agencies with the right tools for enforcement efforts and for the progressive sheltering for all dogs, no matter what they look like.

Our SF East Bay area cities are chalk full of pit bulls: They are THE dog of choice here, owned by responsible as well as irresponsible people and everyone in between. Dog owners here are hungry for help after decades of resource neglect, and recognizing their needs has provided a crystal clear road map for lasting change.

Breed bans and restrictions force families to hide their pets away; forever under socialized, untrained, unaltered. But busting the door open and embracing dogs of every kind guarantees an increase in healthy, trained, properly socialized dogs and enlightened dog owners in any community. To ensure a quality of life wherever we call our home, pet owners need support, information and resources, and our animal control agencies need the right tools and support to do their job. It’s so simple, it could make urban policy makers cry tears of joy.

Aurora is uniquely positioned to enjoy this same bump in responsible ownership of ALL breeds, thanks to committed experts who are poised and ready to update their citizens in dog-think.  Not only is ColoRADogs, for example, on point with educating the public about dog matters, they’ve recently invested in a new focus to bring resources to the dog owners who need them most. They also serve as a hub for information about the dogs Aurora is now voting on. Check them out to learn what they and their colleagues have to say as voters ponder this new focus.
EDIT: Aurora, CO City Councilwoman Molly Markert stated in a news story on October 23 that she would like pit bull owners to be banned along with the dogs. We're presuming that she believes that only criminals own pit bulls. This kind of discriminatory language is completely unacceptable. We hope voters are watching and aware that at least one of its city leaders is willing to stereotype its citizens in order to avoid taking a breed neutral stance on animal control policies in Aurora. See the video here: LINK 
UPDATE: On November 4, despite having been being presented with doomsday warnings posted as newspaper ads by anti-dog people living outside of Colorado, one third of Aurora's citizens voted in favor of repealing their breed ban. ColoRADogs has vowed to continue their efforts to educate residents as they work towards an eventual end to the ban. LINK

"These bans are inhumane, ineffective and based on myth and misinformation," Cory Smith (Humane Society United States) said. "Aurora’s breed ban is one of very few left on the books because communities are waking up to the reality that managing dogs effectively has nothing to do with breed."

Photos in this post were captured by Daniel Beck at one of many Owner Support events rolled out in Oakland, CA this year. More info on BR's Keep'Em Home (Owner Outreach) Project.

One of our bigger challenges is keeping up with the demand for free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries. At each event, veterinarians help us accomplish up to 36 surgeries, depending on our location (fewer surgeries in our spay/neuter van, more at a clinic.) Below, Dr. Noe and Beth Allen-Garland work in our van. They fill the bulk of the need with high quality, high volume surgeries.

Below: The recovery tent at our outreach events is a buzz of activity. Many dog owners choose to sit with their dogs as they fall asleep and again as they wake up from their anesthesia.

Below: The young people who bring their dogs to us are our future. The most important resource we have.

All dogs receive support at our events, regardless of breed. First dibs for supplies and surgeries go to pit bulls because of the high euth rate in local shelters, although chihuahuas and chi-mixes are closing in quickly on those statistics. Small dog owners literally beg for help. We do what we can.

All dogs go home with cones and pain medication.

Providing free microchips for large dogs and targeted breeds like pit bulls buys them more time if they end up lost and at our crowded SF bay area shelters. Reuniting dogs with their owners is profoundly more productive than trying to find them new homes.