On the surface, I may seem like a dog-crazy-animal-loving-fanatic, especially when it comes to pit bull terriers. I wear t-shirts that say, “I may seem nice, but if you mess with my dog I will break out a level of crazy that will make your nightmares seem like a happy place” and “I Kissed a Pit Bull and I Liked It.” I often post unsavory images of abused, neglected, and abandoned animals on my Facebook page. I may notice subtle looks of judgment or the occasional moment of frozen quiet when someone realizes that my wife and I are strict vegetarians, and we spend at least 50% of our daily lives fostering, rescuing, or supporting animal rescue groups, such as Pit Sisters, but that type of social marginalization doesn’t scare me.
If you acknowledge my posts or the language on my shirt, I am victorious in conveying the messages so important to the animal rights causes which I aim to champion. The risk of minor discrimination is not a deterrent for my continued outward expression of my convictions. Only the threat of immediate physical harm or exigent social injustice alarms me. I gladly assume the “crazy dog lady” label, but the truth is far more intensive.
Who I really am is a writer-activist. I use creative writing as a means of exposing controversial issues and championing various causes, like the blatant and unlawful breed discrimination occurring in St. Johns County Florida.
At first glance, St. Johns County Animal Control may seem like any ordinary shelter, which conducts euthanasia on animals that either cannot be sustained medically or who outlive their stay inside the confines of the establishment (non-human animals who are unadoptable through no fault of their own). People who no longer feel they can take care of their dog or cat swing by the local shelter and drop them off. Maybe the dog or cat became a nuisance on the street, prompting a citizen to call animal control for assistance. Sometimes, the dog or cat is spotted by citizens because the animal is visibly sick and starving.
Citizens and former owners believe the animal is going to a better place. A place where people LOVE dogs and cats. Where humans use specialized and sophisticated discernment skills to assess the condition and behavior of each animal prior to either adopting them out or killing them. But take a closer look. You might find that some dogs experience far less assistance than others. Some dogs are treated with a severe level of disdain or fear just because they are labeled pit bull terriers or pit bull terrier mixes.
“Florida state law prohibits municipalities, like St. Johns County, from enacting any breed discriminatory law, ordinance or regulation.” However, the dog you might find yourself dropping off at animal control, for some reason or another, may not be handled with the care that you’d expect. If, for some arbitrary reason, the dog is labeled a pit bull terrier mix, then he or she is listed for euthanasia and housed in an exclusive area of the facility where no one is allowed to handle them, play with them, walk them, or adopt them.
I am a critical thinking crazy dog lady. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if pit bull terriers were branded as innocuously as Yorkshire terriers? My Doberman Pinscher, Willow, doesn’t seem to differentiate Milo (pit bull terrier) from Eddie (Yorkie-poo). It seems to me, she bases her decisions about playmates and pack members on the behavior of the individual dog, not the size, fur color, or jaw shape. No one has ever told her the lies inferring that pit bull terriers are offensive, ruthless, attack dogs – though she may have overheard some ridiculous commercials depicting pit bulls as villains.
I’m asking you: What would happen if St. Johns County Animal Control picked up your lost Yorkie and immediately shoved him in a secluded area of the facility? Directly following the mandatory isolation sentence, what if they listed him for euthanasia without even the slightest hesitation all because Yorkies are supposed threats to ankles across the nation?
What if pit bull terriers were the favored breed, the kind, gentle, ball-chasing, ever-smiling, treat-loving, dogs who I, and all other pit bull lovers, know them to be? And what if St. Johns County Animal Control dismissed the evidence supporting the actual facts about Yorkies? Would you consider St. Johns County Animal Control officials cowardice in their efforts to maintain a pattern of discrimination and lynching of tiny 6lb Yorkies?
Maybe, instead of being a compassionate citizen, you are the abuser or neglector. Maybe, you don’t give a damn what happens to that stray dog because she was merely a breeder or your bait dog for your fighting ring or he kept getting off the chain in your backyard and you were racking up fines from the city for the infractions. As a criminal, you might not find it as appalling as I do that the people of St. Johns County Animal Control also think they are above the state law which protects breeds, like pit bull terriers, from being discriminated against. They also discriminate against humans by denying us the opportunity to adopt or voluntarily interact with the breed of our own choosing.
Now, St. Johns County Animal Control’s decisions to alienate pit bull mixes does not physically harm me. Their refusal to allow pit bull mixes the opportunity for a better life through adoption into a loving, careful family bears no immediate threat to my well-being. Their actions clearly represent their personal opinions and apprehensions about the breed, ignorant or not. What does bother me is that the organization which St. Johns County tax-paying citizens pay to keep running is led by people who obviously have no interest in knowledge or justice. People who would look at my t-shirt which says, “Pit Bull Lover 4 Life,” and tell me I am crazy for adopting a pit bull terrier, even though the breed is continuously and successfully adopted out by surrounding animal control facilities.
If St. Johns County Animal Control officials were accessing intelligence, they might seek and cognitively process the ample submissions of statistics and reports that demystify and dismantle the negative stigma attached to pit bull terriers proffered to them by canine behavior specialists and pit bull rescue groups. Instead, the leaders of St. Johns County Animal Control summarily dismiss the educational material facts which clearly equalize all dog breeds (showing that no one breed is immediately more violent or aggressive than another), opting to sustain a primitive and unjustifiable, and I’d say, brutal practice.
St. Johns County Animal Control Officials are people who would kill my pit bull terrier, Milo, who is far gentler than my 10lb Yorkie-poo, Eddie, and who I doubt would ever bite me in the face, like my childhood Irish setter. Just like they did with the family whose pit bull was picked up when she was lost and wandering the streets. Although this family searched endlessly for the dog, made repeated phone calls to St. Johns County Animal Control about her whereabouts – Even though she was chipped, tagged, and ID’d – Baby Girl was euthanized without any attempt by the workers to contact her guardians and loved ones.
St. Johns County Animal Control’s website welcomes me to come in and peruse their shelter dogs:
The St. Johns County Animal Control Pet Center is able to house, hold, and adopt stray and unwanted animals. We also have a Veterinarian who spays and neuters our adopted cats and dogs. We welcome the public to come and visit us. Whether you are looking for your lost family member or adding a new one, we are always delighted to have animal lovers come and visit the Pet Center!
However, the dogs I might be looking for would not be there because the leaders of St. Johns County Animal Control deem them unadoptable for their own fallible personal reasons. The leaders of this organization systematically kill dogs and discard carcasses at the taxpayers cost for reasons that would never hold up in a court of law, or even in a community-wide hearing. Their advertisements are false, and personally, I hate to be at the receiving end of a malicious lie.
St. Johns County Animal Control’s behaviors call me into immediate action because they create injustices that cause despair and inequality, injustices to not only the subject, but to those who are unrightfully oppressed and discriminated against because of the seeds of destruction St. Johns County Animal Control plants each time they make criminal decisions.
I have the right to protect and care for pit bull terriers, but St. Johns County Animal Control keeps me from pursuing that privilege. Like my tee-shirt says, “If you mess with my dog, you mess with me.” Harming dogs, as they do, is a direct violation of my rights and yours, too.
Like Willow, I am smart enough to realize that my pit bull terrier – every pit bull I’ve ever connected with – is not the demon and sinister creature that St. Johns County labels him. Not even close. Like you, I am smart enough to know when an organization’s unethical decisions harm others, they are likely harming me, as their mistreatment of finances and the state law will ripple out into that ocean of citizenry where each of us can feel the pain and incur the expense.
What you would know, if you dismissed your predisposition for labeling me, is that I am someone who cares deeply about the welfare of my community, and its literary palette. I love people as much as I love animals. My urge to help tell the stories of our conditions as humans, and assist in improving social inequalities, is as strong as my desire to alleviate the pain and suffering of bears, dolphins, chickens, cows, and dogs of all breeds. Ask anyone. They will tell you my compassion for any version of sentient life is just as strong as my passion for creative writing. I write truthful stories about the events we (animals and people) experience. Writing is my way of provoking social awareness and validating my citizenship.
As a dog-lover, and as a writer-activist, I intend to use my writing for the empowerment and encouragement of anti-breed discrimination and criminal activities against the dogs I know are just as innocent, loving, fun, and intelligent as any of the millions dumped at shelters across the country. And thanks to repeated and tireless efforts of animal rescue groups, like Pit Sisters, I am one of many who know the truth and are not afraid to speak that truth to power.
In solidarity, we change the flawed archetypes of the systems that we tacitly support as constituents of our local government. We write new stories for our community and our dogs.
For more information or to help combat unlawful breed discrimination, please click here
Andrea Collins, “Tough Girl”