Tips For Writing or Talking About BSL

Pits in the news and info on Breed Specific Legislation.

Postby cheekymunkee » September 2nd, 2007, 2:13 pm

Tips For Writing or Talking About BSL

Aurora, Colorado City Councilmember Bob Fitzgerald explained the need for a citywide pit bull ban thus: "We don't want 'those people' here." Owners of certain breeds of dogs - especially pit bulls and Rottweilers - suffer from strong stereotyping that can make it difficult for them to be heard or treated seriously, especially when it comes to talking about BSL. Government representatives typically believe that owners of certain breeds are drug dealers, criminals, young punks, poverty-stricken, or otherwise marginalized and "dangerous". And many owners of these particular breeds are seen as anti-social, uncaring, thuggish, or violent.

No scientific studies have been done to determine whether the stereotype is in fact the norm, and as is often the case, I suspect the stereotype is pretty far off. (Some informal polls indicate that most pit bulls are in fact owned by middle-age white females of average socio-economic status.) However, when talking with your representatives about BSL, you must be aware of not only how you are portraying yourself, but also how the representatives already see you. If you are already shoved into the negative category of "anti-social, drug dealing pit bull owner", your representatives are going to discount or abuse every single thing you say. You can make the situation worse through your own words and behavior, so it's important to tread carefully. Here are some tips regarding how to properly portray yourself and communicate for best results.

  1. Keep it short and to the point. Legislators really don't read everything they get. It's not humanly possible. Often they just ask their aides to keep a tally of "yays" and "nays". Make sure you state your position clearly and firmly in the first few sentences. Make it simple: "I do not support SB 1111." Then elaborate.
  2. Steer clear of stereotypes. In politics, appearance is everything. When you talk face-to-face about BSL to politicians and the media, you must also adopt that same philosophy. Hide your tattoos, brush your hair, put on some nice slacks and a dress shirt, stand up straight, and use good grammar. I know it doesn't seem fair that you can't just "be yourself", but the fact is, life isn't fair, and this isn't about you. It's about your rights as a citizen and your responsibilities as a dog owner. If you don't convey an attitude of respectability, you will get two negative results: first, you won't be taken seriously, and second, you will be reinforcing a negative stereotype, thereby making it much harder for all the rest of us.
  3. NEVER speak or write rudely - ALWAYS be respectful and mature. As the saying goes, "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Or like my mom used to tell me, "if you want to be treated like a grown-up, you need to act like a grown-up." If you want your views to be heard, you need to be patient, open-minded, and mature. If you name-call, swear, threaten, or lash out, you risk losing your audience. Not only that, but you are reinforcing a negative stereotype ("all pit bull/Rottweiler owners are uneducated and immature"). Denver councilmembers recently expressed interest in a non-breed-specific alternative to their draconian pit bull ban - until they started getting angry hate mail and threats from some pit bull owners. That just confirmed to them that pit bull owners are scary, angry, dangerous individuals; they now defend their BSL with fervor, and hundreds of family dogs have been put to death as a result. Don't let your passion and emotions carry you away when you speak!
  4. If you choose to mention your dog, be very careful what you say. When you speak out against BSL by arguing "My pit bull is the friendliest dog on the planet and everyone loves him!", that is not helping your case. Your pro-BSL representative believes you own a ticking time bomb. Your protests that your dog "loves everyone" only confirms in their mind that you are in denial - and anything else you may try to say becomes more crazy talk to them. On the other hand, if you speak to the representative as a concerned citizen - not a dog owner - you are more likely to be heard and respected as an equal rather than discounted as a nutjob.

    Mention your dog only if you have proof - a title, certificate, award, or other evidence - that your dog is capable of "above average" good deeds and is highly unlikely to be a "ticking time bomb." If you have a therapy dog, a search-and-rescue dog, a hero dog (which received some sort of recognition from a major group), or an obedience-titled dog, you can mention it. If your dog's credentials are average (i.e. Temperament Tested, took some agility classes, lives with a child and hasn't eaten him yet), that's great - but not good enough to get out of the "could snap at any moment" category, so it's probably best to leave him out of it. Yes, you have every right to be proud of your dog, and yes, you should tell people all about your great dog - but not when you're talking to a pro-BSL legislator. They have a tendency to tune out words from pit bull and Rottweiler owners in particular.
  5. Join your representative in worrying about the human victims. Aurora Councilmember Bob Fitzgerald gives us a wonderful quote regarding his reasons behind supporting a pit bull ban: "The thought of one kid getting hurt is too much for me." If we think further about the context in which Fitzgerald gives this comment, he seems to be implying that he does not care about children who are attacked by dogs other than pit bulls. In fact, some months prior to Fitzgerald's insensitive comment, in a city very close to Aurora, a young girl was killed by two Alaskan Malamutes. This child's needless death was apparently not "too much" for Fitzgerald, since he shows no interest in banning Alaskan Malamutes.

    This sort of exclusionary thinking is pervasive among legislators who support BSL. They are so focused on the victims of attacks committed by certain breeds of dogs that they tend to overlook victims who were attacked by less "controversial" breeds. In effect, they are minimizing the danger posed by non-targeted breeds, the fear suffered by individuals who live near a dangerous dog of a non-targeted breed, and the pain inflicted on victims of attacks committed by a non-targeted breed. Ultimately, pointing this out to representatives is helpful; politicians do not want to seem insensitive toward victims, and the only way to treat every dog attack victim equally and fairly is through non-breed-specific legislation, where all victims are entitled to the same justice and retributions regardless of the breed of dog that injured them.
  6. Provide good examples of non-breed-specific legislation that works. Identify some possible solutions to the problems your community is having with dangerous dogs. Perhaps your animal control department is underfunded and understaffed, resulting in paltry enforcement of laws. Maybe your community has a blase attitude toward leash laws and other dog laws. Perhaps school children are not getting any lessons in dog safety. Try to identify what areas need to be worked on in order to improve public safety and reduce dog bites. Offer model non-breed-specific dangerous dog legislation to replace breed-specific proposals (the AKC and the HSUS can both provide this). Our government representatives need to look like they're doing something - anything - to protect the public against vicious dogs. They automatically default toward BSL because it seems so easy, but if you give them something better, safer, and more effective...
  7. Phone calls, snail mail, and fax are preferable to email. Email is too fast and too easy - our legislators get emails by the truckload, and even after weeding out the spam, they still have to sift through countless poorly written or incomprehensible emails and rantings. (I know from personal experience that some representatives don't bother checking their email at all.) Sending a letter in the mail, or, if time's a factor, sending a letter via fax, is often the best way to show that you are a concerned, involved citizen who has given a lot of thought and energy to the issue at hand. You can also make a quick phone call to express your opinion if you are able to control your emotions and not let any anger or anxiety leak into your voice or words.
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Postby Wyldmoonwoman » September 2nd, 2007, 9:21 pm

Since this is a sticky...I thought I would add some information because I write a letter a day. It is hard to not be emotional with your letter of breed support.

Here are some more resources that I have saved in my favorites... ... ation.html
from this page
Writing effective letters to officials

One of the most difficult things for those new to fighting BSL is expressing your feelings to the legislators and/or other officials who have proposed it. There are some very important things to remember when communicating with officials:

First and foremost, ALWAYS BE POLITE AND RESPECTFUL in all your communications with officials. Don't be combative or argumentative regardless of the difference between your point of view and theirs. Our dogs are worth putting your personal feelings of anger aside in order to communicate effectively.

Stick to the facts. Try to avoid being emotional. It is a given that you love your dogs or you wouldn't be fighting for them. The simple truth is, the officials do not care how much we love our dogs -- they care about the safety of their constituents and their community. To that end, the facts related to the inefficiency of breed specific legislation and the integral part that irresponsible owners play in dog attacks are important facts to get across to them.

Money talks. One thing that always catches the ear of officials is cost. Reinforce the fact that breed specific laws cost a lot of money - additional animal control, shelters fees, vetting, litigation, etc. The bottom line is simple... BSL costs tax payers A LOT of money!

Breed identification. Another important flaw with breed specific laws is breed identification. There are a minimum of twenty-five (25) breeds that possess the physical traits of 'pit bulls.' Breed identification by animal control officers is subjective and, therefore, opens the city up to a liability issues in the event of mistaken identification. The "Find the Pit Bull" game is an excellent tool to demonstrate the difficulty of identifying 'pit bulls."

General letter writing tips:
It is not necessary to type your letter. In fact, a handwritten letter has a tremendous impact. (As long as its legible!) Even a postcard is fine, as long as it's nott the pre-printed "form" card.
Be brief and to the point. Try to limit your letter to one or two subjects. Include all bill titles and numbers whenever possible.
Send your letter as soon as you hear about an issue or bill. If it comes up again later in the session, you can always write again or make a phone call.
During the legislative session, send letters to the State Capitol building. During the interim, send letters to the legislators' home addresses.

Below are some form letters (ranging from very simple to quite detailed) which oppose BSL that you can modify to fit your current situation and send to officials.

* * * * * * *

Simple Letter

The Honorable John Q. Official
State Capital
Nashville, Tennessee

Re: House/Sentate Bill No. [or] Proposed orginance on

Dear :

I am writing to you about House/Senate Bill No. [or] the proposed ordinance on [specify details of ordinance]. I am strongly opposed to this [bill/ordinance] and ask that you vote against it. Passage of this bill will not address the root cause of the problem, and it will have a negative impact on responsible, law abiding dog owners while those who do not abide by the law will simply continue to do so.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Letter #2

Dear :

I am writing in response to the pending resolution regarding regulations specific to [targeted breed] with the use of breed specific legislation in [your town].

ANY dog can become a problem for the public if the dog is allowed to run loose and is not supervised. The key word is responsible. Webster's definition of responsibility is: Being legally or ethically accountable for the welfare or care of another. To say [targeted breed] are dangerous does not address the real problem - irresponsible owners.

Please reconsider and retract your breed specific resolution. Please do not punish responsible owners who maintain their dogs as companions and members of the family; dogs that do not pose a threat to anyone. Why should we be punished simply because irresponsible owners of the same breed of dog have not "ethically and legally" protected others from injury?

Please provide our community with non-breed specific legislation that is competent to regulate the irresponsible owners and protect those who maintain their dogs safely and humanely. Please provide definitions for vicious and/or potentially dangerous with measurable actions which cannot be questioned or misinterpreted due to bias.

The irresponsible owners do not care what breed of dog they lose the right to own - they'll find another breed of dog to fit their needs. As a responsible owner, I ask you to seriously consider the impact of breed-specific legislation.


Detailed Letter

Dear :

To be useful, legislation must be effective, enforceable, economical, and reasonably fair. Recently, a resolution has been placed before you that fails all of these tests. This legislation is motivated by fear and lack of relevant knowledge. It is discriminatory, impractical, and unenforceable. Worst of all, it will not solve the problem. I urge you to vote against it.

The proposed bill would restrict the ownership of certain types of dogs, specifically [targeted breed]. These breeds have been the subject of irresponsible and sensationalist reporting across the country. The media and the inexperienced would have you believe that these breeds are vicious and should be prohibited.

The plain fact is that there is no relationship between the type of the dog and the number of incidents. If your town has 100 German Shepherds and 1 Poodle, you'll soon learn that the German Shepherds are responsible for 100 times as many incidents as the Poodles. Does this mean that German Shepherds are intrinsically vicious? Of course not.

Taken as a whole, [targeted breed] have proven their stability and good canine citizenry by becoming 'Search & Rescue dogs, Therapy dogs working inside hospitals, and family companions for years. A five year study published in the Cincinnati Law Review in 1982, vol. 53, pg 1077, which specifically considered both Rottweilers and "pit bulls," concluded in part that: - statistics do not support the assertion that any one breed was dangerous, - when legislation is focused on the type of dog it fails, because it is ... unenforceable, confusing, and costly. - focusing legislation on dogs that are "vicious" distracts attention from the real problem, which is irresponsible owners.

In light of the studies, the facts, and the discriminatory nature of the proposed legislation, we urge you to take the following actions:

1. Reject the current legislation, which is contrary to fact and distracts from the real issue: responsible ownership.

2. Work to establish reasonable guidelines for responsible pet ownership, and encourage legislation that supports owner responsibility without reference to specific breeds.

Study after study shows that ANY dog, regardless of breed, will be whatever its owner makes of it....nothing more, nothing less. Owners can and should take responsibility for their pets. We suggest that the appropriate policy is "blame the owner, not the dog." If a dog attacks a person, the law should treat it as though the owner attacked that person.

Voting for this proposal as it stands will harm both the law abiding, responsible dog owners and the victims, but it won't solve anything.



I reference court cases in some of my letters to get my point across

From this web site

Court cases
to aid your battle against BSL

If you are interested in additional information regarding any of the below cases, please contact me.

Altman, et al. v. City of High Point, et al. (2003)
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
The Court held that dogs qualify as property protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
How does this case help you? The U.S. Constitution guarantees that you shall not be deprived of your property without due process. BSL deems all dogs of a particular breed as "dangerous" or "vicious." As such, owners are not provided the opportunity to dispute or offer proof that that their dog (their "property") is not dangerous. Dog owners of this particular breed are automatically subject to the law and, thus, are deprived of constitutionally guaranteed due process.

* * * * * * *

Carter v. Metro North Associates (1999)
Supreme Court of New York
The Court ruled that courts cannot take judicial notice of a dog breed's particiular behavior when a dog's "propensities" are not "authoritatively settled."
How does this case help you? In plain English, this simply means that a court cannot rule your dog vicious simply due to its breed. The court cannot say, "Oh, its a pit bull, it must be dangerous." Proof of the dog's dangerous propensities must be offered.

* * * * * * *

City of Huntsville v. Sheila Tack, et al. (2003)
Supreme Court of Alabama
The Court affirmed the lower courts ruling that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous.
How does this case help you? This is our "landmark" case. It doesn't get any better than this with respect to countering the myth that pit bulls are born mean.

* * * * * * *

State of Ohio v. Cowan (2004)
Supreme Court of Ohio
The Court determined that the statute that penalizes owners of dangerous dogs who fail to buy liability insurance and properly confine their dogs was unconstitutional for failure to provide due process.
How does this case help you? See above under Altman v. High Point.

* * * * * * *

City of Toledo v. Paul Tellings (2006)
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth Appellate District, Lucas County
On March 3, 2006, the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, in and for Lucas County, issued an opinion in the case of City of Toledo v. Paul Tellings. The court's ruling is monumental to the fight against BSL as it found breed specific legislation to be unconstitutional and it rendered expert testimony that was both relevent and up-to-date, dispelling many of the past notions on pit bulls and BSL.

Click here to view the Decision and Judgment of the Court.

For a breakdown of the 2006 ruling, please click here.

**It should be noted that the City of Toledo has appealed this judgment to the Supreme Court of Ohio, and the 2006 decision has been stayed. Until the Supreme Court rules on this matter, the decision of the municipal court (see below) still stands.

Tellings v. City of Toledo (2004)
Toledo Municipal Court
**Please be careful if using this case. The plaintiff lost and BSL was ruled constitutional, but the Court determined several important points in our favor.**

Positive findings of this case:
*Gives pit bull owners the ability to challenge the law by rebutting the prima facie evidence that pit bull are dangerous, thus relieving them from restrictions. Plain English: Prima facie is a Latin term meaning "on its face." This goes back to owners being deprived of due process as a dog is deemed dangerous "on its face," i.e., due to its breed and not due to its actions.

*Sets forth that there is no scientific evidence to confirm that the pit bull's bite is any more powerful (in terms of PSI) than any other breed of dog.

*Determined that there is little, if any, evidence presented that would indicate that the breed itself is a dangerous breed when trained and adapted in a social situation.

*There is no stastical evidence that indicates that pit bulls bite more frequently than some other breeds of dogs.

* * * * * * *

Zuniga v. County of San Mateo Department of Health Services (1990)
California Court of Appeals
The Court found that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous.
How does this case help you? Again, this ruling dispells the myth that pit bulls are born mean.
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Postby airwalk » October 4th, 2007, 11:24 am

This is yet another case of someone that had never considered the impact of BSL until it visited her she is rightfully upset.
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Postby mad.phoenix » February 14th, 2008, 11:16 pm

Thanx again all I will be using the Detailed letter and the case citing on the 27th
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