The dictionary defines prejudice as “an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.” When prejudice is widespread, it suggests a prevailing environment of fear and ignorance. Institutionalized prejudice with regard to people is illegal.
Isn’t it strange then that a law that is so obviously based on a prejudicial judgment of dogs assessed on their appearance has managed to remain on the books in Ohio?
In Ohio, any short-coated, muscular dog with a blocky head can be declared vicious at birth because Ohio law regards pit-bull-type dogs as automatically vicious regardless of the individual dog’s behavior. The determination of whether or not a dog is a pit bull terrier is left up to the visual judgment of the local dog warden. So, if the dog warden decides that your boxer/Lab mix is a pit bull terrier based on appearance, your dog would officially be considered vicious and you would have to obtain $100,000 in insurance and keep your pet inside a chain link fence or other suitable enclosure. If you have two dogs like that, the dog warden can arbitrarily seize one.
Beyond the inevitability of misidentification of breed type, the law makes no sense whichever way you slice it because declaring all pit bull terriers as vicious is equally disconnected from reality.
This type of sweeping breed discrimination always stems from fear mongering and misinformation.
Best Friends speaks with authority regarding the fallacy of breed stereotyping. In January of 2008, 22 of the dogs who survived Michael Vick’s dog-fighting house of horrors came to Best Friends. (Lucas, pictured right, has broken many stereotypes as one of the Sanctuary’s most beloved Vicktory dogs.) They were all pit-bull-type dogs, and each one of them was an individual with a different personality. One of the reasons that we took on the Vick dogs was because they had been smeared as the worst of the worst by the media and even some animal organizations that wanted to see them put down. We knew that these dogs deserved to be treated as individuals, not dismissed as a category.
Despite the extraordinary trauma the dogs experienced in their former life, six have been adopted, one is in foster to adopt, seven spend their days in staff offices, while the rest are still working on their social skills and doing well at the Sanctuary.
At Strut Your Mutt in New York last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the Vick dogs who is in his forever home. Cherry (pictured right, at the event) is a sweetheart and seeing him participate in the walk with hundreds of other dogs was just confirmation of the fact that every animal deserves a chance at life and that stereotypes and prejudice have no place in the law when it comes to our best friends.
The Ohio Senate will be voting on a bill soon, HB14, that will change that state’s ill-conceived vicious dog law and replace it with a comprehensive dangerous dog and reckless owner bill that does not target dogs based on their appearance.
If you live in Ohio, please click here to contact your Ohio state senator.
CEO, Best Friends Animal Society