When Society Labels You a Killer

Posted: Oct 13, 2016
Views: 5061 - Comments: 7

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UPDATE: The Quebec Court of Appeal has lifted the temporary suspension of Montreal’s pitbull ban, putting the bylaw into effect.

Pit Bulls have recently been all over the news as the target of a controversial ban which came after a Montreal woman was killed by her neighbor’s dog. The bill proposes stricter ownership guidelines for owners of Pit Bull type dogs. The bill would also prevent shelters from adopting out dogs that look like Pit Bull type dogs; Montreal shelters predict that would equal about 1/3 of their adoptable dogs. This may literally mean hundreds to thousands of Pit Bulls will be euthanized annually in Montreal alone, regardless of health or behavioral factors. 

I think it’s safe to say that, in veterinary medicine, it is easy to find many fans of Pitties. There are multiple DoveLewis employees who own Pitties that are GREAT dogs.  We often see dogs in this group judged, neglected, and over-populating our local shelters. Inevitably, this ban brings on a lot of emotions and before we go much further, you should know that this isn’t exactly the point of my blog…

Let me tell you briefly about another story currently in the news in Ohio. A shelter humanely euthanized 99 dogs after a dog tested positive for distemper. “Shelter Killed 99 Innocent Dogs” and “Mass Killing at Ohio Pound” were just two newspaper headlines.

Lately, seeing these articles in the news, I’ve found myself thinking about the shelter staff. I spent several years working in a rural, open-acceptance, high-volume, and low-budget humane society before “retiring” to emergency medicine, and these articles bring back a lot of emotions.

Shelter workers have one of the hardest jobs in the veterinary field. They have to work with low budgets and on patients in extremely stressful environments. They have to figure out what‘s wrong with the animal without any history, and often without knowing patient signalment. They have to carefully consider the areas of public safety and education, zoonotic diseases, and always be aware of factors like stress and the immune system, not to mention communicable diseases and “herd health” issues. On top of all that, they have to always be aware of their personal feelings surrounding loss, grief and the ever-present guilt that comes with working in a shelter. Compassion fatigue is VERY real and if you don’t believe in it, talk to shelter workers in Montreal or Franklin County, Ohio.

Sarah working at shelter

The point of my blog is to bring awareness to the delicacy and complexity of some of veterinary medicine’s current affairs; not simply whether you advocate for Pitties or not. Often, people try so hard to hold someone accountable in these situations that the attack gets pointed at the shelter staff. The potential for this bill to pass makes me very sad. Sometimes, after tragic events, panicked decisions are made and they aren’t always the right ones. A woman lost her life and this bill is meant to prevent that from happening again. However, this bill will lead to shelters becoming over-crowded with some GREAT dogs that have no place to go. With rescues that are all over capacity and a ban preventing adoptions, shelter workers will find themselves with their hands tied and the victims of verbal attack from angry people opposed to the ban. 

So, what can we do to help? We can help by public education. I have to believe if we invest our time and energy educating the public on vaccinating, licensing, spaying/neutering, or obedience training for their pets, we can be much closer to eradicating these stories in the news.

On Monday, October 3rd a judge suspended Montreal’s ban on Pit Bulls. I hope that in the meantime they are able to come up with a more thoughtful solution that could save the lives of many of these dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. While we wait for the decision we should try to always remember to support our coworkers, and know we are all in this field because we care about companion animals. Constant criticism, especially public, and verbal attacks can weigh heavy on a person; you can’t imagine their feelings of loss and guilt and what if feels like to be judged so harshly. Be kind to one another and to those who are making tough decisions.



Christopher Gill's picture

Breed bans for dogs are equivalent to racism in humans. It's not these pups faults that they weren't raised correctly.

richard haro's picture

i agree the breed is not the problem its the people that get these dogs thinking they know hw to properly train them owners should be penalized for this expect any and all accidents to happen but you need to know how to control the situation asap i get so angry at all these youtube videos showing way to many incompetent ownership !!!!!!

Gretchen Knapp's picture

When I was in tech school, you came to our class to speak about what options a tech can do in the shelter/rescue portion of the field. While I had already worked in shelters for a few years by then, and knew about the mental and emotional toll, I greatly appreciated your insight into working there as a professional. I am currently working in GP, so thanks for the reminder to be an advocate for the rest of the veterinary world.

Sarah Harris's picture

Great to hear from you Gretchen and great job surviving school! Also, way to go continuing to work hard everyday in GP. I'm a firm believer that diversity in work experience makes you an even stronger employee. No matter what area of veterinary medicine we are in, I think it's safe to say that our jobs are stressful and emotional, and any support and encouragement is welcomed. Thanks for being a fellow advocate!

Jennifer Colvin's picture

Great read!! I currently live where there is a breed ban. I have been told it is a "complaint driven" thing. Unless someone complains, animal control is not going to press the issue.
In every situation I have seen where someone was bitten or killed by a pittie, I have known exactly what caused such a reaction.
I think education is a BIG key! Humans don't understand that 99.9% of the time, THEY are the "problem" not the dog. No matter how much we love them and see them as our "babies", they are still animals with animal brains! :-) We want to humanize them and they are not human . I know I'm guilty of saying things like "she knows exactly what she's doing" or "she understands exactly what I'm saying" but I KNOW that isn't true...but for many pet parents, that's not the case. Every opportunity that arises, I like to reiterate to people that their "baby" IS an animal and cannot comprehend things like the human brain can.