A letter to Mike Gardner, a letter to California

A few weeks ago I had the unique opportunity of actually debating a sitting Riverside City Councilman, Mike Gardner, over the issues of Pit Bulls and breed-specific legislation. A few days prior to our debate Mr. Gardner wrote an op-ed on the local government news website PublicCEO.com explaining his “rationale” for supporting the ordinance. With our debate now in the past, and now having met the man personally, I wanted to respond to his write-up.

First, let me give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that Mr. Gardner actually stepped up to the plate to have a hotly contested discussion in a fairly public medium. Most politicians would never do this, so for that he deserves credit. Secondly, I’d like to say that he came off to me as a nice guy. With that being said, Gardner still introduced the county law verbatim into the city side of proceedings, and is working in lockstep with both the Board of Supervisors and shelter director Robert Miller.

After sitting down, and before the cameras came on, Mr. Gardner asked me about losing Sway. I thought this was an interesting icebreaker, as we were both there to debate each other over the issue of dog discrimination, and Mr. Gardner was about to defend laws that aim to negatively target dogs that look like my dog Sway, who he is now asking me about. This communication was all friendly, and I didn’t take it negative, but it was interesting. It was then that he shared a personal sentiment about recently losing his own family dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback.

As I’m sharing my condolences for his loss, I’m thinking to myself, how can this guy be here? How does he not understand the fallacies of targeting certain dogs based on their appearance and physical characteristics? A Rhodesian Ridgeback is a pretty hefty dog that, on average, weighs about 30 pounds more (and stands much taller) than an American Pit Bull Terrier. Rhodesian Ridgebacks were also bred to hunt Lions in South Africa.

I say none of this to criticize Ridgebacks in any way, as they are great dogs. Only that I’m not the one calling for, and/or attributing to, a witch hunt of any breed, type, or term of dog. That’s not me. That’s him, the rest of his Council, the Board of Supervisors, the tyrannical shelter director, and the majority of the media!

Anyways, Gardner starts his op-ed by noting that all breeds can (and do) bite people and other pets. But he follows that up with how seldom “you hear” of serious attacks on people or other pets by other breeds. He then admits that there are “some great Pit Bulls” and agrees that it’s “the owner, not the dog, who often creates problems.” He ends this thought by saying that there are “many more” bites by Pit Bulls than “other breeds and mixes.”

Before this goes any further, let’s flesh out a few points that are highly instrumental in any debate on this topic. It needs noted that what falls under the term “Pit Bull” is not any specific breed of dog. It’s rather the exact opposite, and this term is loosely thrown around by tagging any muscular dog, and usually at the total discretion of some individual who is not even qualified to make such a determination. Secondly, when the media reports that a “Pit Bull” has been involved in anything, there’s usually not any evidence or even an image of the alleged offending dog or dogs. This term still gets reported, and then parroted, around the news cycle (and now the internet) and is multiplied sometimes hundreds of times throughout different media platforms and outlets. Animal control officers have also told the ASPCA (per them) that when they contact the media about serious bites and attacks involving other types of dogs, this information mostly goes ignored, and that most media have “no interest” in reporting on incidents that do not involve Pit Bulls. This is important context because when you hear of all the offensive stats about human fatalities and serious attacks, this information is solely derived from media reports!

Now back to Mr. Gardner… His claim about “what you hear” is a total misnomer. How often is “what you hear” inaccurate? Why is “what you hear” driving this debate, when so many other things (discussed below) could (and should) drive it? Further, his claim about dog bites and what is or isn’t caused by a Pit Bull is a total fabrication. There is absolutely no database that keeps track of dog bites, at all, and especially not by breed. This doesn’t exist! So how can he make such a generalized claim? It’s either a total lie on his part, or more likely, something inaccurate that “he heard” from someone else. See how that goes?

Gardner’s next paragraph about spaying and neutering is relevant to all dogs of any breed or type. Whether you agree totally with his specific claims here is irrelevant. What’s much more relevant is the fact that he is talking about issues that pertain to all dogs, not just dogs deemed by him to be Pit Bulls. I’m all for the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats, my own dogs certainly are. But I’m against mandating it from government because it’s shown time and time again not to work at addressing any of the issues that the legislators claim to want to address (shelter killing, dog bites, actions of reckless owners). These laws also hit low-income communities hardest, which I get into further if you actually watch our debate.

When Mike Gardner mentions how many “Pit Bulls” Riverside kills in their shelters, he fails to even remotely realize that on many levels this is an utter failure by shelter director Robert Miller. Like I stated to both the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and to Mr. Gardner himself, the main Riverside shelter has 3 buildings that are off limits to the public. Here they are. The dogs that they store in these buildings are primarily dogs that they’ve deemed to be Pit Bull-type dogs. These dogs do not sit there for a few days prior to being moved to the publicly viewable adoption floor. These dogs are stashed away from public view and then killed without ever being made available for adoption or acknowledged by anyone.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any selected Pit Bulls out in the public buildings, because there are. But Robert Miller cannot with any speck of a straight face proclaim that “they are never adopted out,” or any other reworking of such a defeatist lie, while also having such control over their ultimate fate. This type of disingenuousness simply takes his massive failures as a shelter manager and packages them into little talking points that aim to universally blame the public, and worse, the dogs themselves, for a predicament that he has full control over!

Make no mistake about it, Robert Miller is being paid over $300,000 a year to relentlessly kill dogs. So don’t you dare, Mr. Gardner or any other politician, bring “intake” and “kill” numbers to the public as if they justify further criminalization of these innocent animals. That is such a horrendous thing to do. This is what hate groups like DogsBite.org, a website where most of the anti-Pit Bull propaganda originates from, are out consistently trying to do. It’s cowardly and it’s a brutally evasive attempt at using language to achieve an ultimate goal. To state that it’s “not fair to the dog,” while criminalizing millions of innocent dogs (Pit Bulls) in your process, is the definition of a sham. If Mr. Gardner takes away anything from our debate then I hope he takes away that.

Mandatory sterilization of Pit Bulls, or of any dog, does not reduce attacks on people or pets. What does is the enforcement of actual laws (many times already existing but rarely enforced) that focus on the individual behavior of both the animal itself, and more importantly, its owner. Enforcing the leash laws, the anti-chaining law, and the “dangerous dog” law would go a long way in addressing issues that could possibly manifest into something more severe. Mandating the sterilization of any dog caught running loose would also be a worthy idea. These are all concepts that are based around responsibility. Human fatalities are always preceded by an utter lack thereof.

When we are talking about human fatalities attributed to any dog of any breed or type then we are talking almost exclusively about either a roaming at large dog or dogs, or chained and tethered resident dogs who are not members of anyone’s family. When you add in the non-supervision of little children this almost runs the entire gamut. Oftentimes when looking in the rearview of a fatality there are prior incidents and citations attributed to the attacking dog, and yet no enforcement or follow-up at any level. Look for yourself.

Inexplicably the city of Riverside already has a mandatory spay and neuter law for all dogs and this law goes totally unenforced. What? Why would any municipality pass a breed-specific sterilization law when they have a sterilization law for all breeds already in place? On top of that, both city and county have the prior mentioned “dangerous dog” law that is exclusively meant to deal with dogs of all breeds who have individually shown a propensity for causing incidents. It, too, goes ignored.

Mr. Gardner will be quick to point out that the mandatory spay and neuter law for all dogs in the city of Riverside is a “secondary enforcement” law, but in the debate I actually pointed that out before he did. We all know that it’s a secondary enforcement, which means that it goes unenforced unless a dog comes into their department with another violation, but it doesn’t have to be! The very City Council, which Mike Gardner sits on, has the ability to change the enforcement level of this already existing law at any time. Thoughts on the effectiveness of such a law aside, it already exists for all dogs in the city! Pit Bulls are dogs, they fall under the law. If it is so good then simply enforce it. This is common sense.

Here lies the truth… This isn’t about spay and neuter, or saving shelter dogs, or decreasing killing, or increasing public safety, or being in any way genuine. This is about targeting the “Pit Bull” by singling them out and branding them as “bad,” both in the minds of their constituents, and more broadly, in the minds of the public in general.

In closing… What I’d say to Mike, and also to any other politician around the country who may be considering this type of legislation: Educate, reach out to the communities, make them a part of the process and show your genuine care and concern by explaining the need to be more responsible. Enforce your existing laws. Shun breed discrimination. Shun grandstanding on the opportunity to provide a false sense of security. Shun exploitation, fear-mongering and hate. Look at the individual incidents, look at the roots of the problem, don’t embrace the philosophy of scapegoating an entire group of anything. That is unjust. Think on that rule in the context of anything else. Is that okay? Breed-specific legislation is fundamentally the opposite of what it states. It’s a con-game that targets dogs that can’t even be scientifically identified, driven by unverified media mentions that then get parroted back as statistics meant solely to vilify millions of innocent dogs. Further, dogs are property. And the United States Constitution allows for due process of law. The due process failures in these ordinances are often times off the charts. Shifting the burden of proof, which is actually written into the Riverside law, is the most un-American thing that you could ever do.

I know what this is, we should all know what this is. This is a circumvention of state anti-BSL law, out masquerading as discriminatory spay and neuter. These people who are pushing these laws are people with an eventual banning-agenda. It’s patently obvious. Maybe Mike Gardner is not. Maybe he is being used. But plenty of them–John Tavaglione, Jeff Stone, Marion Ashley, Steve Adams, Steve Madison, amongst others–have a banning-agenda. This stuff creates precedent, which will then likely lead to an attempt at a statewide mandatory sterilization law for all Pit Bulls, which will then likely lead to an attempt at rescinding the current language in the California state law that prohibits the banning of dogs by breed. Please wake up California. This is so obvious.