I admit I am super bummed about the comments you made while interviewing Christopher Walken on your nationally televised talk show this week. Two reasons: (a) I like watching your banter with Andy Cohen, and (b) I like pit bulls.
“[...] if it’s a gangster it would have to be a dangerous pit bull kind of dog, right?”
Oh, Kelly. Gaw. There are a bazillion kindhearted, scared pits sitting in pounds across this country — hopeful someone might give them a second chance before they’re fatally overlooked, and you laid out a death-sentencing stereotype for a ginormous viewing audience. You’re a human; you say dumb stuff like the rest of us. I get it. Of course, the difference is when I say ridiculous things rooted in ignorance, my face isn’t in front of a camera that’s feeding to millions of households. That said, you’ve got the tools to make it right, so, come on with it.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I used to believe pit bulls were dangerous dogs, too. In fact, I almost spontaneously combusted when my daughter returned from a visit with her father and announced, “Dad got a new puppy. He’s a pit bull/Mastiff named Rupert.” Certain the pit mix was going to eat my daughter’s face, I scrambled to the phone so I could yell, “Why are you taking a chance like this with our child? What are you thinking?!” I complained to anyone who would listen until one day a friend of mine said, “You know, I respect you, but you’re way off base here. Rupert is going to be a great dog.”
Years later, I’ve discovered my friend was…wrong. Rupert isn’t a great dog; he’s an exceptionally outstanding, magnificent dog. And I was an uneducated jackass.
Since meeting Rupert, I’ve worked with quite a few disadvantaged pitties in the animal rescue circuit. The shelters are full of them not because they are dangerous, but because the mythic stereotype — like the one you and I perpetuated about them — keeps many prospective adopters at bay. Even worse, breed specific legislation (BSL), which is an unjustified witch hunt against protecting the welfare of dogs who “look dangerous” to the nosy-old-bitty Miss Suzy Q. Peabodies of the world, is a current item voters in many areas are addressing as I type.
Kelly, whether you realize it or not, there’s probably at least one dog who died today because your fans decided not to adopt a pit bull on death row. There are probably many other fans who decided to vote in favor of BSL because: “Kelly Ripa is a savvy chick, and she thinks pit bulls are dangerous.”
You have the power to say you’re sorry and make a difference in a way most of us combined would be unable to achieve within our lifetimes. I bet you could have an intelligent pit bull advocate on your show tomorrow morning. I bet you could have a hundred. Or a thousand. I bet you could save a lot of lives and reverse an enormous amount of bigotry by giving these dogs five minutes of your airtime.
You slipped. It happens. Fix it, homegurl.
Wantin’ to be your fan,
***UPDATE 4/18/2012: Reward for information leading to conviction in Justice’s case is now $25,000.00. Justice died 4/14/2012 from injuries suffered as a result of the abuse.***
During an adoption event last weekend, one of the volunteers described Justice, the newest puppy our rescue group is fighting to save from an animal cruelty case.
Attempted strangulation. Doused in lighter fluid. Lit on fire. Found hiding behind an air-conditioning unit after a group of young men tried to kill him for fun. Luckily, a good Samaritan called 911 and extinguished the flames with a t-shirt.
Poor Justice. It’s hard to feel anything that isn’t completely primal when you see images of a blistered, badly abused pup struggling to stay alive.
Obviously, this is what severe abuse looks like. No question there. Lots of comments from outraged individuals expressed the need to understand how anyone could do this. How could a group gather to collectively torture a young puppy? What causes someone to be so heartless, to be uncaring, to think this kind of thing is acceptable or funny or entertaining? I admit, I don’t get it either.
Even so, I believe bullies aren’t innately insensitive. They learn from society, from their families, from the people who are their role models. These learned ideals — often rooted from systemic abuse — manifest themselves in various harmful behaviors. This doesn’t excuse the crime in any way, only goes to show that we need to take a closer look at prevention.
Abuse begins somewhere.
On Sunday, a local church minister encouraged his congregation to attend Easter services, during which he promised to unveil a huge surprise. When the big moment arrived, the pastor revealed a small cage on wheels with bent bars. Inside this janky-looking contraption sat a living, breathing, seventeen-year-old lion, who’d been forced to spend his life performing for the sole purpose of human entertainment. Without debate, this creature served as nothing more than slave to mankind — an unnecessary prop.
The crowd watched as the handler riled the lion into moving, defending himself for the audience’s bewilderment as the church leader — proud of himself — attempted to connect the spectacle to a message within his religious service.
While holding a crying, newborn baby lamb, the minister paced the stage near the lion, as he delivered the rest of his performance.
Public outrage followed. Some church members who witnessed Easter services defended their minister’s actions by claiming that no animals were harmed. The comments on various articles insisted this was a “lion who had been in movies.”
But there it is — the beginning of a cycle. The public accepts this dog-and-pony show as non-abusive because the scars aren’t evident. There are no blisters, no burns, no blood. They believe everything must be fine because that is how it appears on the outside. In itself, I understand how someone, without knowing differently, might fail to see the picture in its entirety. In this case, groupthink perpetuates the cycle and, as in the case of Justice the puppy, the crowd enjoys watching for entertainment purposes, unable to grasp the undertones of extreme psychological abuse. I’m sure if some of them realized what was truly going on behind the curtain, they would be horrified.
Sadly, some of the people in commentary expressed irritation that the lion and the lamb made news. They claimed these were only animals, that the message was delivered. So what. Pfft. Who cares? “Don’t these people have something bigger to complain about?”
To those folk, I’d ask if they value their lives, the lives of their families. I’m sure they must. Animal abuse, which begins at the point we accept discouragement of proper care, is directly connected to many well documented, violent crimes against humanity — rape, torture, murder, etc. By embracing various levels of abuse as “OK” and “not OK,” we’re segueing further into a world where people who commit crimes against creatures don’t signal portents that can be corrected and addressed before affecting our children, for instance.
This afternoon, though, with his undeniable scars visible for all to witness, Justice waits another day to see if he will live tomorrow. Then tomorrow, he’ll wait again. With thousands of dollars in reward money offered for the capture of his attackers, I hope someone will be brave enough to step forward. Until then, all we can do is hope, demonstrate love, and donate for his extensive care.
Let’s begin something new now: Teach our children and educate others about understanding the abuse cycle, where it begins, and how to end it together. Kindly and with compassion. Ask yourself: What harm is there in that?
For information on how you can help donate to save Justice’s life, and the lives of other dogs being treated and rescued from cruelty and neglect, please visit: http://www.dfwrescueme.org/Donate/.
This is Pierce. Like a lot of thirteen-year-old boys, he loves hanging out with awesome dogs. Don’t be fooled, though. He’s not your average kid. In fact, he’s a true pack leader.
We met last year when he and his mom were shopping near an adoption event I attended. Adamant about staying with the rescue dogs while his mom shopped, I offered to keep an eye on him for her. He came back the next day to help again . . . bright and early, waiting for the doors to open. Cool dude.
This morning, I was rifling through old photos when I came across one of Pierce holding a DFW Rescue Me pup from that event back in December. Remembering that I’d asked his mom for her number, I scrolled through my contacts. Victory of victories, it was still in there.
I dialed the number and explained to his mom, Julie, that I’d taken a cute picture of her kid and wanted to share it, but she stopped me short: “Pierce has been asking me about the rescue group, but we lost the card you gave us. It’s a miracle you called. He’s been having a tough time, lately, and we would really like to get him out to walk dogs.”
Having unsuccessfully battled his bipolar disorder, Pierce’s older brother, Carson, committed suicide year before last. Naturally, this wasn’t easy for anybody in the Brooks family, but the loss was crippling for Pierce, the youngest of five children, who also was diagnosed as having bipolarity like his brother.
Trying to keep Pierce mentally afloat, Julie pulled him from public school when troubles surfaced, began homeschooling him, and looked for ways to help her son manage the tragedy as well as his mental illness. Her search led to the non-profit organization Shadows for Life, a service dog group that specializes in providing assistance to individuals with special needs, military vets, paraplegic people, etc.
“He was struggling with the psychiatrist, and, well, stress only worsens the disorder. We hoped a dog might be good for him.”
And it has been. When the Brooks brought their new dog home, Pierce named him “Buddy,” the nickname his older brother Carson used to call him.
“We also have two Greyhounds, who are rescue dogs,” Julie said, “but when there is a shift in Pierce’s mood — if he seems a little sad — that’s when I notice Buddy will stay close by him.”
During the two days I hung out with Pierce at the adoption event last year, I remember how he told everybody about Buddy and how much he meant to him. I admired his honesty and willingness to discuss what he was going through, and Pierce insisted, “We all go through stuff, right? I’m not different. I’m just working through it.”
Julie agrees, “We are using our sorrow to educate others. Our transparency in what we’ve been through is the only way we can help others.”
One of Carson’s older brothers set up a website, hoping to create awareness about chronic bipolar illness and suicide prevention.
“When Carson was eighteen, he got a tattoo that said ‘Not a Day Promised’ across his back. His dad and I had continued to decline his requests for one, but when Carson showed it to me, at that time, quite honestly, a tattoo was the least of our challenges. We look back now and are stunned at the revelation of the statement, a reminder that life is not forever, that literally, not one day is promised — not a single day. That’s how the website got the name notadaypromised.com.”
Pierce continues to work with Buddy, strengthening their bond, but still wants to donate his time rescuing homeless dogs, as well. Julie says, “When he’s out of the house, his mind is working, and he’s able to think about other things.”
Let’s face it. It’s hard being thirteen. Being thirteen and dealing with everything Pierce has lived through almost seems unfair. It’s heroic of this kid to bravely speak about his experiences for the selfless purpose of letting others know they’re not alone and that through proper medication and resources, like service dogs, mental illness can be better managed. Pierce has become familiar with the unwarranted stigma that often accompanies those challenged with a chronic illness of this nature. Even so, he freely champions the education of other kids (and adults) in similar situations so they know they are not alone.
Massive props to you, Pierce. Let’s go walk some dogs.
(And high five, Buddy. Paws in the air. Raise the roof. You rule.)
For more information about children’s bipolar management go here. Also, be sure to visit the Brooks and read about their story here. As always, visit www.dfwrescueme.org to adopt your next dog, volunteer, foster, and/or donate to the number one dog rescue group in the Dallas area.
Yesterday evening, while I was waiting in the lobby of the city’s animal shelter, a quiet family wandered inside. After a few minutes in line, the mother couldn’t conceal her tears and silently broke down while her daughter held her hand. It was hard to watch as the young girl turned her head every so often, wiping her own tears as if she was trying to be strong for her mom.
Moments later, two shelter employees reappeared after retrieving the family’s pet from the vehicle. They placed the elderly, gigantic, silver pit bull girl in a lower traffic area and stepped back to analyze her for a minute. I peeked over the counter just in time to notice her incredible amber eyes as they caught mine. Such pain behind them. I couldn’t stand whatever was happening there.
A bunch of head-shaking followed. Someone told the family, “I’m sorry.” Then another worker escorted the mother to a side hallway where I could hear lots of sniffling and a discussion about “prevention” and “next time” and “I’m so sorry” and “you are doing the right thing” and then . . . “heartworms.”
I walked over to the dog, close to where the young girl was now holding her brother. He stared at his old dog pal while tears crawled down his face. I knew when she was gone, it’d be the first time he’d probably ever remember being without her, and that broke my heart all kinds of sideways.
The family’s pet was bloated. Very bloated. I thought initially she’d been hit by a car or that she was already dead. She slowly moved her eyes, but I think those were all she could move. Her stomach looked like she was nine years overdue with ten litters. Sometimes she wheezed, trying to breathe. The old, silver lady was suffering horribly. I’ve seen some sad stuff in that building, but this was really awful to me — probably because it didn’t have to happen at all.
Heartworms. The family hadn’t given its dog any treatments, and she’d become infected with the nasty spaghetti-like parasites. They’d been in her heart for years by that point, making it difficult for her to live a comfortable life. Chances are, the family, who obviously was upset over losing her now, didn’t even know what heartworms are. At the very least, the mom and her kids might not have understood how easily dogs contract those parasites, how deadly and painful they are, and how simple prevention is. One thing was certain: the two kiddos and their mom — despite the adult’s failure to properly care for the dog for whatever reasons — loved that girl.
I was in no place to judge since years ago I could have found myself in the same situation. When I was twenty, I thought a good dog owner just made sure the food and water bowls were full, that there were things around for chewing, and that we took regular walks. Once a year, we’d get around to shots. I guarded against fleas. Most importantly, I treated my dog like a family member. I loved him more than almost any of the people in my life. Still, I was ignorant about heartworms until he was an older gentleman, when a vet took the time to explain my extreme oversight. Luckily for my boy, he didn’t end up like the silver pittie girl at the shelter.
Someone told me recently in regard to helping people who were clueless about proper animal care, like the family at the shelter and I once were, “There are those who think some people are too dumb to educate. I guess I’m just dumb enough to keep trying, thinking it’ll work.” Perhaps, the woman at the shelter, who was crying without hope, will make the same mistake with her future dogs, trying to save money, unable to grasp the importance of heartworm prevention. That’d be shameful, of course. In that case, I hope the kids at least took note and picked up on a lesson for the future. On the other hand, I am a convert. Because someone else was “dumb enough to keep trying” to educate others, I was able to learn and, in turn, spread the word. These days, even my two indoor cats get wrangled for their monthly dousing along with the dog. Year round.
As my husband and I secured the two dogs we’d been waiting to transport, I watched the woman get into her truck. She hunched over once inside, and I could see the daughter holding her. I wanted to go home and hug my dog, ASAP.
This morning, around 5, I woke up thinking about the silver-haired old lady with the heartworms and her family. I wished they could have said goodbye on better terms. I wished the dog was free from her pain. I wished the rest of the world with all of its people would eventually be kind enough to learn how to educate first, saving judgment for those who aren’t part of the solution. I wished I could help somebody else the way somebody helped me.
And, so, I tell this story here . . . for you. :)