In honor of the quarterly Blog the Change drive to improve the lives of animals, I decided to focus today on the evils of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), laws based on the notion that certain breeds should be banned or destroyed because they’re inherently — and incorrigibly — dangerous. These days, one of the most prominent victims of BSL is the pit bull, and I’ve recently encountered two very powerful counter arguments against the prevalent myths about the breed. One is a book, which I’ll review, and the other a video, which I’ll post.
I admit to having had my own pit bull prejudices until fairly recently. A few years back, a friend in Austin had two pit bulls that I was terrified to meet. Even my eventual visit with them didn’t change my perceptions about the breed. Oh sure, they looked sweet and were very friendly, but I was certain they could turn around and tear my face off at any minute without provocation.
So much for certainties.
The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption,
by Jim Gorant, is about the persistence and, ultimately, the baselessness, of the widespread negative perceptions of the pit bull. As this book demonstrates, even members of the animal welfare community bought into the idea that the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring were vicious by nature and/or damaged beyond the abilities of even professionals to help them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Several people cringed when I told them that I was reading a book about the Vick dogs. So the first thing I need to emphasize is that the book is about the dogs and the people who helped give them a chance, not about Michael Vick or his cronies. They’re introduced in the first of three sections as context, to give background to how the dogs were raised so we can understand what their rescuers faced. Yes, there are a couple of stomach-churning moments, but they are the exceptions. When I found myself crying — fairly often — it was because I was moved, not upset.
As the subtitle says, this is primarily a book about redemption, canine and human — which alone should tell you that Michael Vick isn’t prominently featured.
Because I regularly read the blog of the Best Friends Animal Society, where many of the dogs remain, and because I read the long Sports Illustrated article by Jim Gorant from which this book grew, I was familiar with the rough outlines of the story and with Gorant’s style. For many, however, I suspect the notion of the dogs as a group of confused, often sweet, generally fearful creatures who are, ultimately, just like other dogs, may come as a revelation. Gorant personalizes the Vick dogs, just as the rescuers did when they eventually gave them names, and so we grow as fond of them and as worried about their fates as we would any other character in a book. It’s impossible not to root for their success.
Michael Vick’s court-ordered donation of close to $1 million went to pay for the care and rehabilitation of the dogs, several of whom went on to get their Good Canine Citizenship certificates, a couple of whom became therapy dogs, and some of whom became just plain old family dogs. I recall at the time these events played out that some people — including, naturally, representatives of PETA — objected to all the money going to these pit bulls when it could have been spent to save more dogs, and of less incorrigible breeds. But it was those dogs and no others that needed and deserved the chance for a new life that Vick’s money gave them. Without that money they wouldn’t have gotten the great care and attention they needed and we wouldn’t have learned what Gorant’s book makes abundantly clear: That pit bulls are just dogs, like any others. For better and worse.
This video by Ken Bell, #12 in a series of consistently excellent films on his Dog Files site, brings home the point made by Jim Gorant’s book: That pit bulls are just dogs.