My whole life, I’ve been about fighting for the underdog. I have very personal reasons for that, and though you don’t need to know the details- you should know this about me. I tend to not deal with BS very well, and I can smell it from a mile away. That doesn’t always mean I am going to deal with it well, but generally I will confront it head on- especially if the well-being of a person I care about or an animal is at stake. I am not the toughest cookie- I am just as likely to cry as I am to yell, and I desperately wish I was better at standing up for myself and the things I believe in, but I’ve decided that I am going to do it despite sweaty palms, a dry throat and the fact that I don’t always express myself as well as I wish I could. I will, and do speak the truth even if my voice shakes. And shake it does at times.

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And here we are. It is September 28, 2016 and a city in Canada has decided the fate of hundreds, if not thousands of dogs. And my heart is breaking, and I feel an undertone of panic that is all too familiar. In 2015, the municipality that I live in discussed various measures that amounted to Breed Specific Legislation- without calling it that, because BSL is prohibited in Pennsylvania. But, the idea was the same: target dogs instead of people who don’t follow laws. I cannot abide by this line of thinking. I can’t for the life of me understand how targeting dogs, whose lives we are in charge of makes more sense than looking at the other end of the leash and thinking “How could YOU have been more responsible? How could YOU have made this avoidable? How can WE hold you responsible? Where did WE fail?”

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I get it. I do. Dogs are easy targets and talking about dogs makes it look like you are doing something. Something to protect people, something for the community. Well, I’m here to say, as a tax paying, law abiding citizen of a community that the best thing we can do to protect communities is to enforce laws that are already in place. And I can say from personal experience, that given the amount of un-picked up poop and off-leash dogs I see, not a very good job is being done at that in most places. And I can say that every un-picked up poop and off-leash dog (in non-indicated areas) is ruining it for the rest of us. Not just us pit bull owners, but for every other dog owner who tries to do the right and legal thing because it’s THE LAW. And it’s decent and it’s kind and it shows a nice level of cognizance that your dog and your ideals are not the only ones that exist. And I can also say that for every cop or animal control officer who ignores these things, especially if you are aware of repeat offenders, you are contributing to the problem. Give people an inch and they’ll take a yard is generally how it works, and every time someone gets away with letting their dog roam sans leash, or they get away with not picking up crap, they will feel emboldened and push the envelope. It’s human nature. And quite frankly, if I was an entitled jerk, I’d do the same. But, I am not. I am prone to looking over my shoulder as I pick up poop, lest anyone be watching to make sure I get it all and I go nowhere without Hazel being on a 6′ leash and wearing her name tag, rabies tag and license. In part because it’s the law and in part because I own a pit bull and am a paranoid freak. And because I generally follow laws. Call me crazy, but it’s how I was raised.

I digress. This post is not meant to be about my outrage at poop or unleashed dogs- though they are, in my opinion, part of why we are where we are right now. As dog owners and dog lovers, we owe it to each other to do the things that help keep dogs safe- that means they are properly confined- unless in a designated area, we pick up their poop- to protect others from disease and because it’s good PR, we are aware of and follow existing laws, we heed other people’s requests to not say hello if they are uncomfortable, we don’t let dogs rush other dogs. Basically, let’s be decent. Let’s help each other out. Let’s show the world that responsible dog owners are the norm, not the exception.

I’ve been in contact with the Montreal SPCA since we launched our tee shirt fundraiser in June. At the time, I was hoping that the proposed BSL would fade away and that we’d be able to buy Kongs and fun stuff for the dogs, while knowing we might need to use the money raised to help get dogs out of the city. And it looks like that’s what we’ll be doing. I filled out the rescue partner application earlier this month, and if we can, my shelter will be bringing a few dogs down. If we can’t do that for some reason, we’ll use the money to help transport dogs, provide crates, whatever the Montreal SPCA says they need help with. I trust them to know how our funds will be best used and where they are the most needed.

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This summer has felt like a lot of “wait and see” and I can only imagine that it’s been like walking on eggshells for my friends and colleagues in the city. Feeling powerless is never fun and when you invest everything you’ve got into the care and protection of something, it’s that much worse. When you break all of this down, it’s even worse. We’ve got political ass-covering all over the place- the things leading to where we are today could have been avoided by enforcing laws that are already on the books. We’ve got discrimination of the worst kind- loose terminology, visual identification as a parameter (which sucks in the best of situations), fear-mongering and a lack of reason so strong it makes one’s head spin. One thing I ask is to please remember that if you are speaking up for pit bulls, remember that you are essentially representing all of us who love them and that what you say on social media will live on long after you’ve moved on to other things. Be angry, but be productive in your anger. Be morally outraged, but save the threats. Be moved to action. Not just for Montreal dogs, but for all dogs.

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For me, one of the most important things I can do is show the world who my dog is and that wearing a label is not what defines her. What defines her is her wagging tail, her willingness to learn, her optimism that meeting new people means good things (and I make sure that it does- first and foremost), her silly antics, her messy kisses and the way she has changed our lives. Loving Hazel has brought a depth to our lives that no other dog has. Whenever she meets new people, she changes their minds. We see the shift, we answer the questions and we let her show them that she is just a dog. A dog who barks, a dog who loves walks, a dog who loves hugs, a dog who is silly and goofy and trusting and spins in tight little circles when she’s happy. A dog who loves to show off her tricks, a dog who loves to be loved.

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I do more than my share of showing my dog off on social media. But, it’s important to me that the image adds up to the reality. The reality is that a dog is a dog is a dog. Breeds and types have different traits and characteristics, but the fact is that we made them all. Public opinion is changed by action. Words can help, but they can also sometimes hurt. Choose yours carefully.

I often ask myself “What did we do to deserve dogs?” We could take a page or 2 out of their book. Loving, loyal, trusting, resilient. In their honor, I ask that you try your very best to be an ambassador for dogs. Pick up the poop. Walk on a 6′ leash, put the flexi-lead away. Make sure your gate latches. Check your paperwork and make sure you are up to date on everything from vaccines to licenses. Do that for dogs everywhere, not just your own.

And for Montreal dogs, be respectful in your discourse, even though you are angry. Step up in some way if you can. Learn as much as you can about this situation so we can help ensure this never happens again. Be part of the solution.