Protesting against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is an emotional experience for me. The entire notion of BSL both breaks my heart and infuriates me at the same time. The fact that my dog suffers unwarranted discrimination and has to comply with unfair restrictions that other dogs do not have to endure (such as wearing a muzzle, not being allowed in dog parks, having to be registered as dangerous, etc.) solely because of her appearance is upsetting beyond description. My dog, who falls under the umbrella of “pit bull” type dog, has never harmed anyone. Bella is a loving, loyal and sweet-natured dog who truly is a member of our family. And it is because of that fact that I fight for her rights and for her life every single day of mine.
On Saturday, July 15th, I participated in one of several Global Anti-BSL Day events. There were eight events hosted across Canada, two events in my native England where BSL has been in place for over 25 years now, and one in Germany. I live out towards the “country” and driving to downtown Toronto is a battle, yet I made the effort for my dog. Despite the fight against traffic, against road closures, the numerous events taking place that day and the expensive parking (I mention those because they are often-used excuses from people as to why they don’t attend, despite saying they are fighting for our cause), I put on my anti-BSL outfit, grabbed my protest sign, and ventured downtown, in support for my targeted dog; to be her voice and protest this ineffective and unjustified legislation.
I have lost count of how many anti-BSL protests I have now attended over the years, but this Toronto event was by far the most attended and the best-covered by media that I have ever seen. It was hosted by two organizations that I wholeheartedly support: Hershey Anti BSL Group and Redemption Dogs. All of the city’s major news networks were present, shooting a lot of footage and doing multiple interviews (I spoke to three networks myself and made certain they knew my appreciation for their being present) as well as two student documentary teams (to whom I also spoke) who were doing films about BSL. One of these documentaries will be called “BullSh!t” – I cannot wait to watch it! The CBC news, to whom I spoke at length, were not only shooting for their nightly news piece but also for an upcoming “Fifth Estate” documentary-style piece as well. There were police guarding the area that had been designated as our meeting point and in speaking to them, I quickly learned that even they were against BSL. For that reason, they were relaxed with all of us that day, especially after they saw how great all of the dogs were behaving, and did not enforce the muzzle law for our event. While I respect that it is the law, I am really thankful for that, because it enabled us to present the dogs in a much more favourable light to the general public. It cannot be argued that muzzles make our dogs look scary, which is ironic as it’s supposed to be protective, according to the law.
The start of the rally was fantastic: It’s always a comfort to see familiar faces who you know are on your side, and nice to meet new ones, to greet all of the dogs (my favourite part!), taking photos, giving interviews, signing “Have a Heart” campaign postcards to our Premier Kathleen Wynne (who refuses to even discuss BSL), collecting information to hand out, posing for the group photo and realizing that we had over 70 people there, and eventually preparing to march … until a Toronto council member (and I don’t know which one) apparently complained that we were interfering with the art exhibit that was taking place in the square that day (we were hundreds of feet away) and we were asked to get moving!
Marching along the streets of Toronto is empowering. It feels good to have the freedom to express our discontent with this law, it feels good in my heart to know that I am actively doing something in hopes of giving my dog the freedom she deserves and that I’m not just a keyboard warrior, it feels good that I am fighting for the future of her breed and for the freedom for my daughter to have a dog like her one day … but if I’m not careful, I can easily become overwhelmed by the sinking sadness of why we are here, thinking about how many dogs have been needlessly killed because of BSL, how many have been stripped from their families and either relocated or killed, or worse, tortured in testing labs, and how many more will suffer … like I said, it’s emotional work.
It is also emotional when you see how many people in attendance have lost their “pit bull” type dogs and are marching in their honour. This was the first event without Josie, a sweet dog who was always at these events but who passed away earlier this year. She was with us on her mama’s protest sign and in many of our hearts. There was another woman marching who carried a framed photo of her late dog, with a ribbon around the frame. Moving tributes indeed.
I was pleasantly surprised, as we marched, by how many people were interested in what we were protesting against. Hershey Group had created powerful postcards for this event and I was one of several people handing them out on the street. I lost count how many people asked me what BSL stood for and, once I got explaining the law, how many people had no idea such a thing existed. I had one guy try to tell me that the government didn’t really kill dogs, that we were exaggerating to get our point across. I had another woman cover her mouth in disgust and walk away from me when I mentioned the lab testing (yes, the reality is horrifying!). And I had one man tell me that our Liberal provincial government has more important things to do than care about dogs, to which I said to myself: “Clearly this man never had a dog. How sad for him”. But all of these conversations, and several other protestors reported similar discussions from their experience that day, made clear to me the fact that we have a lot more work to do here. We need to find more ways to reach out to the general public on this issue, to enlighten them, to educate them and to engage as many of them as possible in this fight against BSL. Because BSL is not just a “dog issue”, it’s a human rights issue. This is the elected government, in the year 2017, in the first world country that is Canada, telling us what kind of dogs we can and can’t have, and telling us how to manage them. This should disturb each and every single person in the know. History has taught us that any “breed” can be targeted (it has been the Doberman and the German Shephard in the past) and so anyone who owns a dog should be very concerned about BSL. In the province of Quebec, where BSL has recently been proposed province-wide, Rottweilers have been included as “potentially dangerous dogs” in the proposed legislation, along with “pit bull” type dogs. What dog will be targeted next?
I was also shown that we have some educating work to do amongst our own members as well: One guy was at the protest with his beautiful dog, who he claimed was an “American pit bull terrier – mastiff mix”. His dog was sniffing a couple of really small dogs at one point and his dog began to growl at them. The owner pulled his dog away and said “There’s the pit bull aggression coming out in him!” and this was someone who was supposed to be a part of our efforts to educate people about the truths of these dogs, to promote positive imagery, to abolish the stereotypes. I just shook my head.
Perhaps the most distressing part of this event was the fact that there should have been so many more people present. Like I said, this event had the best turn out of any event I’ve attended, but there are so many more dog owners, so many more advocates for “pit bull” type dogs in Ontario, so many more activists against BSL who should have been there but were missing, for whatever reason (and I recognize that some are valid reasons). And then there are the internal politics that prevent some people from attending certain events because they have personal issues with others. It’s high time that egos were removed from the equation and that we all unite for the sake of our dogs. Dogs are dying because of this law. And because this law has been in place for twelve years this year, almost all of the legal “pit bull” type dogs in Ontario are gone and we will not be able to get another one as long as BSL is in place. A well-respected trainer from the U.S. said recently on my United Paws page that humans remain the biggest obstacle to the abolishment of BSL and until we can get over our differences, we cannot really say that we are fighting for a cause while we are too busy fighting against each other. Something to think about.
I left after the event in Toronto feeling a renewed sense of hope for our dogs. Having seen so many people participate, so many people inquire and so much media coverage, I felt really positive heading home. This feeling was confirmed when the photos from all of the global events started to be posted on social media. What a showing of support! And when I got home, I was reminded why I will not stop fighting for my dog, for her rights and freedoms, and for my own. #EndBSL
* Header photo courtesy of Sharon DiGenova
* Police photo courtesy of Fran Coughlin