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Why BSL fails our dogs


My husband John hates that our dogs, Emmett and Lucas, sleep in our bedroom. Emmett curls up next to my side, Lucas dozes at the foot. Throughout the night, they lick their lips, whimper, twitch, and keep John awake. Me? I can sleep through anything, so they don’t bother me at all.

For a while, we encouraged them to sleep in their dog beds in another room, but at some point in the middle of the night, every night, they wandered into our room and curled up in their usual spots. Because, really, all Emmett and Lucas want out of their lives is to be with us. All the time, no matter what, they want our company.

It’s humbling to think just how much our dogs want to be in our presence. It’s easy to forget, though, because it’s easy to ignore them, to put them outside, to get caught up in work, errands, kids, life. But they wait for us, no matter what.

So we owe it to them to protect them, to take care of their basic needs, their psychological and physical needs, and – most importantly – to help them succeed in our oh-so-human society. If we fail to do those things, then we fail our dogs.

The reality is that a dog doesn’t know not to potty in the house until you teach him. A dog doesn’t know that dinner is served at 5:30 or that this row of bushes indicates our yard versus our dog-hating neighbor’s yard. How can he know or understand these human constructs unless we teach him? They’re dogs, after all. Not people.

While dogs happen to be really, really good at catching on to our rules and reading our emotions, not all dogs are afforded the chance to learn how to interact with other people or dogs. Some languish on chains in their backyards. Some are abused, some neglected. Others are left to their own devises, free to roam the neighborhood looking for food or a mate or a fight. Yet we expect each of these dogs to act within the bounds of human society.

How is that fair? If we haven’t helped the dog along, taught him our rules, how can we be surprised if he bites someone who wanders just a little too close to his chain? Or attacks a neighbor’s puppy when he breaks out from his solitary backyard existence?

Dog bites are inexcusable. They’re sad and unfortunate and can have devastating consequences. They’re also preventable. But if we don’t take the time to teach a dog how to behave appropriately, how to greet strangers, how to meet another leashed dog, we can’t expect a dog to just know how to behave in our human world.

Breed-specific legislation does just that: It places all the responsibility squarely on the dogs’ shoulders instead of on the people who let the dog down. Why should we hold a dog responsible for not following society’s rules when no one ever taught the dog what those rules are?

Instead of counting on dogs to behave – and euthanizing them when they don’t – we should hold owners responsible for their dogs’ behavior. And at the most fundamental level, this isn’t a breed thing. It’s a people thing. It’s a people-failing-their-dogs thing.

Regardless of what type of dog a person has, that person needs to be responsible for teaching their dog appropriate behavior. If the person fails to do so, then the person needs to face the consequences. By legislating against a specific breed, bad owners get off the hook. They can get another breed – but they’re still bad owners.

We as a society need to put an end to breed-specific legislation because we – especially dog owners – must hold people responsible for neglectful, abusive behavior. We need to focus less on the breed of a dog and more on how that dog is being trained and treated. We need to educate and help people become good dog owners, whether they have a Pekingese, a Staffie, a Poodle, or a German shepherd.

The fact that Emmett and Lucas want nothing more than to hang out with me makes me want to be a better person for them, which is why I’ve decided to fight BSL. My dogs choose to spend their days lying around my desk, waiting for me to finish work. When I finish, I owe it to them to take care of their needs, regardless of the fact that Emmett is a “pit-bull-type” dog and Lucas is a shepherd. It’s why John lets them sleep in our room; night after night he gives up a sound sleep to let the boys be exactly where they want to be – with us.

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