Question: “How do I best defend my dog when people say mean things?”
Our answer: “None needed, really. Simply live your life, know your rights, be a conscientious dog owner and follow your dog’s happy example. Your joy is all the defense you need.”
When I was working with new teachers, it seemed like all they ever wanted to know was what to do or say “when a student does x.” They don’t want to hear about theories, concepts, or common sense philosophies (like the one above)–however practical and effective they may be. They wanted “classroom management tricks.” They wanted the quick fix. The one-liner. The magic bean. But that doesn’t exist with real teaching. And it doesn’t exist with real advocacy either. Be proactive with your advocacy, not reactive. Be thoughtful and respectful with what you say, do and share; not reckless. And in that spirit, here are my five favorite ways to advocate on behalf of pit bulls, dogs and all animals in general.
1. Stop telling everyone how “special” pit bulls are. Breed discrimination and public misperception of pit bulls exist because people think that they are different from other types of dogs. Well, they’re not. So stop telling everybody that they are. The only thing unique about pit bulls right now is the disproportionate numbers in which they are abused, neglected, discriminated against and killed.
Every time you utter a phrase like “pit bulls are the most loyal dogs” or “pit bulls used to be nanny dogs because they’re so great with kids” or “pit bulls are the best working and sporting dogs because they’re built for it” and so on, you are telling anti-pit bull people that they are correct, and that pit bulls are in fact different from other dogs. It doesn’t matter how positive what you’re saying is, and it doesn’t matter what your intention was. You’re doing a disservice to your advocacy efforts and just further perpetuating breed stereotypes every time you play that game. Here is the phrase you want: Dogs are individuals . . . just like people. Individual dogs can be special. But the minute you generalize that to an entire breed or type of dog, you’re unraveling the argument you’re trying to make.
2. Be a dog person, not a pit bull person. And even better, be an animal person, not just a dog person–and by “animal” I mean human and non-human animals alike. As long as you limit yourself to focusing only on information and groups specific to pit bulls, you’re handicapping yourself as an advocate. Peace, Love & Fostering offered a lovely post on this recently. When you branch out and look for information beyond your immediate area of interest, you’ll find considerably more useful ideas, tools, and resources than you will by clinging to your comfort zone. And more importantly, you won’t alienate others who might have slightly different but parallel interests to your own. Don’t just read about “pit bull” training and behavior; read about dog training and behavior. Don’t just read about dog training and behavior; read about animal training and behavior. Here are three of my favorite and most trusted resources for moving beyond just “pit bulls” or dogs when it comes specifically to advocacy efforts: Best Friends Animal Society, the Institute for Humane Education, and the Animals & Society Institute.
And don’t kid yourself. You’re not perfect either. Unless you’re a self-sustaining, vegan farmer who lives entirely off of solar power and locally made products while working for Habitat for Humanity, chances are you’ve made one if not many decisions this week that have either directly or indirectly caused the suffering of other animals or people. Dog fighting and breed discriminatory legislation may make you sick, but that burger you had today or that reasonably-priced kibble you just bought for your dog was likely made possible by factory farming atrocities that make most dog abuse look trivial. This is the world we live in, and it’s why I like Zoe Weil’s approach to living: “Most Good, Least Harm.”
3. Don’t feed the trolls. I hate to break it to you, but nobody has ever changed anyone’s mind via Facebook comments. At best, you’re hoping that the masses will gang up on the offending party and beat their opinion into submission. So stop engaging with the haters. Every minute you spend responding to the people looking to pick a fight is one less minute you’ve spent on the stuff that matters. I feel like this advice is doled out frequently by some really great advocates, and yet very few folks actually listen to it.
The other day some goofball added a Dogsbite.org link in one of the comments on Peaches’ Facebook page. You know what I did? Deleted the comment. Banned the user. It’s really simple. Someone who posts that kind of link on a dog’s Facebook page is not interested in what I or any of Peaches’ fans have to say about pit bulls, and so I’m not going to waste my time or tarnish the positive, educational page I’ve created by trying to reason with an unreasonable human being. Let the page’s success speak for itself. Let your own relationship with your dog and your track record as an owner speak for themselves. Again, be proactive, not reactive.
4. Have a fabulous relationship with your own dog. Focus on creating a positive narrative to replace the old one. If we provide people with our own positive, inspiring, evidence-based stories, they’ll replace the negative, biased, and myth-based ones that we so desperately want to prove wrong. In a nutshell, nothing pisses off an anti-pit bull person more than seeing the image of a loveable, friendly dog surrounded by smiling, happy people. Our dogs speak for themselves. Be a respectful person, a responsible and well-informed owner, and a committed partner for your dog(s) and your work is done. And for those of us who incorporate advocacy efforts into other activities like therapy dog work or agility and other competitive sports, remember that our dogs still come first . . . even before “the cause.” When we push our dogs to do more than they’re comfortable with or neglect our relationship with our dogs for the sake of advocating for dogs, we’ve lost sight of what matters most.
5. Be a critical reader. I’ve left this tip for last because it is, to me, the most essential. Remember all of those annoying essays, term papers, lab assignments and critical reading exercises you were given in high school and college? Well, believe it or not, those actually had a purpose. While not wanting to delve into how great or horrible your own teachers actually were, in theory those educational experiences were intended to help you learn how to be a thoughtful, critical consumer of information. In simpler terms, they should have taught you to recognize what’s quality . . . and what’s crap. And in a social media driven world, this has become more important than ever.
When I share something on Facebook, it’s because I’ve done my best to thoroughly consider the content of what I’m sharing and the quality of its source. Don’t just share a photo because it’s cute. First look at where it came from and why it was produced. Don’t just share an article because you have a positive emotional response to the title. Read the entire article, consider who wrote it and who the intended audience was. Evaluate the quality of the information and the presentation of it. Consider which sources of information and experts are cited. And make sure to determine whether it is appropriately aligned with your own advocacy goals. Even if a piece of writing echoes certain things that I agree with, if the overall message and/or source of the information is in conflict with my own fundamental beliefs, I don’t share or endorse it. Instead, I find something better.
As advocates, we have to learn to evaluate our information and resources. Recently, an article titled “Pitbulls Used to be the Perfect ‘Nanny Dog’ for Children Until the Media Turned Them Into Monsters” went gangbusters on Facebook, with people referring to it as “a really good article” and “a great source of information.” As someone with a writing, research and education background, let me be one of many to say that this article is crap. Really, it is. And I mean no disrespect to its author in saying that, but it is a poorly written, poorly researched, irresponsibly presented piece of writing. Here’s why . . .
- The title itself is sensational and appeals to both positive and negative breed stereotypes: “Nanny Dogs” and “Monsters” (The fact that many pit bull advocates were immediately drawn to this headline is no different than other folks being immediately drawn to a headline like “Family Dog Mauls Child.”)
- The first two sources of information cited are the UKC and the ASPCA, neither of which have particularly helpful or accurate perspectives when it comes to pit bull welfare, and the first of which trades in the maintenance of breed stereotypes and is unconcerned with the need to keep dogs out of shelters and away from irresponsible owners. The ASPCA does a lot of really great things, but advocating appropriately for pit bulls isn’t one of them.
- The author spends the first several paragraphs creating an absolute orgy of sensational language and imagery and then hilariously manages to go on to say “these incidents are then reported – and very often misreported – with breathless sensationalism by the media, and the cycle continues.” Yeah, no kidding, buddy. Way to prove your own point.
- The majority of the article more or less plagiarizes Karen Delise’s The Pit Bull Placebo.
Ultimately, what would have been great is if the author had provided one or two well thought out introductory comments, and then simply offered the link to the free PDF of the book. (He does include the hyperlink, but it’s buried and unlikely to be used by most readers.)
- The photos included with the article are depressing, uninteresting and of poor quality.
- A section titled “Dog Racism” is included that not only falls flat in its intentions, but is sure to offend pretty much everybody because of the complete lack of care and thought that went into its development.
- The article ends with a brief and unorganized mention of some outdated pop culture references like Linda Blair and Cesar Millan as evidence for a change in attitudes towards pit bulls, ultimately proving that this author’s research on the topic was superficial at best.
Yes, I’m sure the author of this article was well-intentioned, and good for him for trying to stick up for “pit bulls”. But the above list constitutes all of the things that I noticed and carefully considered before deciding how I felt about this article and whether or not it was worth sharing in the name of pit bull advocacy. Yes, doing extra reading and thinking takes more time–sometimes more than we have. But so does everything else in the world that makes a real difference.
Instead of having your friends and family get lost in the unfortunate labyrinth of a poorly crafted pop-culture article that probably does more harm than good, why not turn to the piles of other fabulous, carefully crafted resources available through individuals and organizations you know and trust? Animal Farm Foundation, National Canine Research Council, Best Friends Animal Society, BAD RAP, and Animals & Society Institute. And more importantly, start to look at the types of resources and information that they’re sharing (or not sharing) to help give you an idea of what else might be out there waiting to be discovered by a committed advocate like you.