Breed-specific legislation – A “cure” worse than the disease

Copyright Jim Willis 2009


Those of us who fight to protect animals have taken pages from history and learned from all the great campaigns for human rights and social equality – for religious freedom, for Jews, for women, against apartheid, for the American Negro, for the specially challenged, and for homosexuals. In each of those human issues, victims rose up, leaders emerged, and eloquent speeches rang out that continue to inspire us to action, from the likes of a Martin Luther to a Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Animals have no voice and their victims suffer in silence. When we speak out for them, we often have to scream to be heard, because those we’ve elected to represent us are often deaf to the needs and concerns of those who love, keep, protect, and save animals. 

As animal lovers and advocates, we are not immune to the disagreements and internal struggles that colored those other great campaigns. Our interior divisions and polarizations are often used against us by our opponents as a sign of weakness, or disorganization, or proof that we don’t know what we are talking about. Our critics like to dismiss us as “fanatics,” or “nutcases,” or “animal crazies.” They like to name one group that works for animals, with an undeniable talent for garnering media attention, and claim we’re all cut from the same cloth, we’re all members of one group, we only have one agenda. 

In reality there are thousands of groups around the world devoted to animal causes and our numbers include scientists and scholars, veterinarians and biologists, educators and eager students, the brightest and best of the entertainment world, royalty and a billionaire or two. Our opponents are lucky that we haven’t yet been able to focus all that genius, talent, and energy, but all change is incremental and it takes a while to amass the troops. The animals are waiting for us to focus. 

Our opponents ignore scientific data, statistical evidence, and legal precedence in order to concoct such “solutions” to animal problems as breed-specific legislation. They are sending us a message that their opinions matter more than our expertise. Universally, we have elected people who don’t know dogs and who impose their wills on those of us who do know dogs. Under the guise of protecting their citizenry and protecting our children from harm, they have managed to put into place, or propose legislation that discriminates against dog breeds and violates our rights. They break human and animal hearts, seize dogs in front of our children, and are guilty of murdering innocent animals. 

We are taught since childhood and often claim that America is the greatest country in the world. Our jingoistic view has sometimes caused people in other countries to hate us, or fear us, or be suspicious about our motivations. We are one of the greatest countries in the world, and we are known around the world as a beacon of democracy. 

Sometimes our patriotism has extending to believing we have the right to step on others’ rights, including our own citizens. Sometimes our government at all levels has assumed they are qualified to legislate away human stupidity or lack of responsibility. This is the only country I’ve ever lived in or visited where plastic drycleaner bags are labeled “This is not a toy.” Adults in most countries know to keep plastic bags away from children. 

It confounds me that the same country so adamant about defending our Constitutional right to own guns, while leading the world in violent crimes committed with guns and deaths by gunshot; that is so vocal in protesting a national healthcare plan, when almost 50 million of its citizens are uninsured; that is so “moral,” yet leads the world in exporting pornography; and so passionately resists “gay marriage,” when some other civilized countries have woken up to the fact that it is just plain wrong to deny homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals, especially for religious-based reasons in a country that demands separation of Church and State – would be the same country that would tell me what kind of dog I can own. Truth be told, I trust my dogs more than I usually trust our government. 

Our opponents didn’t ask those of us who know dogs for our input. They don’t realize that the media only reports the tragedies, and in a country with nearly 60 million owned dogs, those tragedies are few and far between. They quote “statistics” manufactured and tailored to suit their needs and misguided thinking. They don’t admit that many of us are parents, too, who have successfully raised kids and dogs together in a happy tangle. They don’t know our horror as responsible dog owners whenever we hear of a dog-involved tragedy (usually involving human error, lack of responsibility and supervision). 

There is no such thing as a “Pit Bull Problem,” or a “dangerous dog breed” threat in America, or anywhere else. But there is a history of ignorance, social irresponsibility, and lack of compassion where animals are concerned in general, and especially regarding dogs. As a society we allowed petshop sales, backyard breeders, puppymills, dogfighting rings, animal cruelty and neglect, unchecked accidental breeding, and disposability of pets to all take root – for lack of education, lack of societal disapproval, lack of government foresight, lack of public funding for legitimate, compassionate solutions. And now we are paying the price for the cancer whose proposed cure is sometimes more painful and insidious than the original disease. 

Only if we allow it. Ever since The Boston Tea Party and Henry David Thoreau’s treatise on “Civil Disobedience” (“That government is best which governs least.”), we have defended personal freedom and democracy at all costs. We shouldn’t allow government to dictate what kinds of dogs we keep, or allow them to take and kill our dogs. We can’t allow them to propose new, terrible legislation and hold onto old laws that don’t work and cost taxpayers to support. 

All the rest of a true and lasting solution – increased education, a call for more personal responsibility as dog owners, the recognition of what dogs need such as proper breeding, socialization, supervision and containment, eradicating the cruel sources of the problems, puppy mills and dogfighting rings, and adequate funding of an animal welfare system that works – that is our responsibility as compassionate citizens. As Gandhi said, “A nation and its moral progress can be judged by the manner in which its animals are treated.” 

We need to do a better job of working together and working with our government at all levels. We need to remind our politicians that it is still “We the People,” and that includes people with dogs who fight back with their wallets and vote their conscience. 

Jim Willis
World Animal Day Ambassador-USA


[Pictured: Author, animal advocate and World Animal Day Ambassador for the USA,
Jim Willis and his rescued American Pit Bull Terrier "Jewel."]

Join the International Celebration of Animals, WORLD ANIMAL DAY, Oct. 4th, 2009!
For more information in North America contact Ambassadors,
Jim Willis, USA,
Jane Bowers, CANADA,
Araceli Ferris, MEXICO,