AP Photo/David Zalubowski
A pit bull peers out from the door to its pen in the Denver Animal Shelter.
Aug. 20, 2007 | When you fall in love with a pit bull, you need to be prepared for a lot of abuse from strangers -- a lot of accusations, a lot of glares. Walking down the street with my dog, Sula, cars slow down as they pass. People cross to the other side of the street, as if my canine is a convicted killer or I am an associate of Michael Vick. In a vet's office on the other side of town, people talk trash about Sula while she waits motionless on the waiting room floor, her legs splayed out behind her like a roast. "I guess you like those dangerous dogs," a woman offers as a conversation starter.
"She's too nice to be a pit bull," a friend said on the day I found Sula as a stray. One eye was torn open, there was a crack across her nose from being hit with a stick, she was in heat and her heart was infested with worms. I was living in Florida at the time and called all the local animal shelters -- none would take her, except to put her to sleep. I brought her home, temporarily I thought, and then we fell in love. I already had a pit bull mix that I had adopted in Manhattan, where the shelter had registered him as a shepherd mix. "We don't want the city knocking on your door," they said, worried that the city might come to get my dog if a pit bull ban was passed.
No one came knocking on our door, but six years later, New York City is once again considering breed-specific legislation. The idea of targeting specific breeds -- and their owners -- is spreading to city councils across the nation. Here is the Bush-era logic: By limiting or banning pit bulls altogether, they will not only reduce what is frequently (but inaccurately) termed a "dog bite epidemic" but also rid the community of the unsavory characters associated with these dogs -- as if drug dealers, gang members, and dogfighters will all disappear once the corrupting element, the American Pit Bull, is banned. This concept sounds too idiotic to make it through the courts, yet breed-specific legislation (known as BSL) is coming to a town near you. Among the municipalities that are currently or have recently considered some form of BSL: San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore and virtually the entire state of Ohio. In fact, there isn't a state in the country where BSL is not being considered, even if, as in New York, there is a state law preventing legislation that identifies dangerous dogs strictly by appearance rather than individual temperament.
The terms of the legislation vary from mandatory spay/neuter and higher licensing fees to mandatory euthanasia. And while the primary target is the American Pit Bull, in many cases the list of evil breeds includes Akitas, boxers, chow-chows, Dobermans, mastiffs and German shepherds. In Ontario, after legislators successfully banned the pit bull, word spread (though was later discredited) that the government was also considering a ban on Labrador and Lab mixes, since -- due to their popularity -- they are responsible for more bites in the province than any other breed. The goal, according to the politicians who endorse BSL, is keeping people safe. They don't seem to care that the ASPCA disagrees. The American Veterinary Medical Association disagrees. The American Kennel Club disagrees. And the Centers for Disease Control disagrees, although an old CDC study on dog bites is frequently misquoted for the purpose of supporting the idea of targeting specific kinds of dogs.
Two years ago, Denver began enforcing its own ban, which had been on the books for 17 years. Pit bull owners had to give up their dog to be euthanized, or they had to get out of town. At a Border's cafe just across from Columbine High School, I huddled with several pit bull owners who spoke in whispers and looked over their shoulders, making sure no one...