Is ‘Pit Bull Awareness’ Becoming Mandatory?

Well, it’s October, which means it’s National Pit Bull Awareness Month again.  All month we will be forced to watch, read and listen to banal anecdotal editorials and pointlessly poignant exposes’ about the world’s most misunderstood dog breed.  This annual celebration comes once again on the heels of a busy September, when at least three people were mauled to death by pit bulls – Connie Storey, 62, Barrett Hagans, 1 month old, and Kathy Nichelson, 61.  Not to mention numerous other serious, though non-fatal, attacks on humans.  (As an aside, some victim advocates have likewise christened October 28 as National Pit Bull Victim Awareness Day as a response.)

Not to worry, though, we are reassured by the pit bull advocates who organized Pit Bull Awareness month, that pit bulls are misunderstood, and they only seem more dangerous because of “fake news” and sensationalist media.  Though they have never provided any evidence to dispute that pit bulls are implicated in 60-70% of fatal and disfiguring attacks on humans, and more than 90% of attacks on other animals, these pit bull advocates still insist that the only problem is unfair prejudice and media bias.  So this month-long event is meant purely to raise awareness of “good” stories about pit bulls, somehow ignoring all the relentless reports of continued pit bull-related tragedies.  Read more here.

Notwithstanding the fervor over Pit Bull Awareness month, I saw something outside the usual hype and bluster of pit bull advocacy that caused me even greater alarm than this month-long propaganda parade.  Apparently, a law was passed in California this week banning the sales of pets from pet stores unless those pets are provided by rescue shelters.  Assembly Bill No. 485 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown, and while this seems to be a noble and necessary action to alleviate the crisis of abandoned pets, and is ostensibly aimed at “puppy mills,” I fear that the motivation behind the bill is much darker.

We do have a problem with animal rescue services in this country.  It has become an overworked, understaffed and overflowing repository of abandoned animals.  The system is buckling under its own weight as more and more pets are dropped off or picked up off city streets. There are approximately 3-4 million dogs entering shelters every year in the US.  Alarmingly, almost half of those have to be euthanized, mostly due to overcrowding.  Of course there is a growing “no-kill” movement, led in part by Nathan Winograd, that is only making matters worse, trying to ward off the high rates of euthanasia by insisting that all dogs can, and should, be saved.  But this concept is unrealistic and has resulted in some pretty terrible side effects, not least of which is increased overcrowding and charges of instances of animal cruelty.  See a detailed analysis of “No Kill” here, and its consequences here.

What is alarming to folks on my side of the argument is that the vast majority of residents in the nation’s shelters are pit bull type dogs.  In fact, it is estimated that up to 70% of shelter dogs in the US are pit bulls.  And sadly, most of these animals fail to be adopted, and must be euthanized.  All in all, over 1 million pit bulls are put to sleep in overcrowded shelters every year.  And I agree, that it is tragic and unfair to the dogs.  But instead of focusing on how to get more of these pit bulls adopted, which is what I suspect this California bill is custom-made for, we should be focused on reducing the number of pit bulls that need to be adopted.

Another controversial proposal was made last month in Los Angeles to remove breed labels from shelter animals, an effort aimed solely at encouraging more people to adopt pit bulls.    A similar measure has previously been passed in other cities, including one in Orlando, Florida, which was accompanied by a modest 12% increase in pit bull adoptions.  It is clear that these animal advocates are painfully aware of the overpopulation of shelters and are trying to reduce the need for euthanasia.  We can certainly admire the effort, but still criticize their proposed solutions.

Despite the lies and insults of our opponents, most people on my side of the pit bull propaganda debate are not dog haters.  Most of us, in fact, are dog owners, pet lovers, and animal rights advocates.  Therefore, we do not enjoy watching the suffering of other animals, even if they are primarily pit bulls.  But as we have repeatedly pointed out, the overzealous advocacy of pro-pit bull organizations contributes more than anything we do to the dogs’ continued suffering by encouraging the continued proliferation of the animals.  This is where we have to plant a flag and make our stand.

This California bill will ensure that most – up to 70% – of dogs available for sale and/or adoption, are pit bull type dogs.  One of the reasons conscientious people go to pet stores to buy dogs is that shelters are full of pit bulls, and many conscientious people do not want to own a pit bull.  This bill will have the effect of ignoring the considered preference of citizens to own a dog breed that they feel comfortable owning, and will lead to the adoption of unwanted dogs, which will inevitably lead to those same dogs being abandoned again, to make their way back to the same shelters.

There are also reasons that pit bulls end up in shelters at a vastly disproportionate rate.  Undoubtedly some are abandoned by dog fighters that breed pit bulls for illegal fighting and have to get rid of dogs that have fought past their prime.  The pit bull advocates want us to believe that dog fighters are exclusively responsible for this en masse abandonment.  But this is absurd.  Most pit bulls are owned by law-abiding citizens that buy into the relentless propaganda funded by pit bull advocacy groups, like Best Friends Animal Society and the National Canine Research Council.  Many people get pit bull puppies from backyard breeders to raise them in a peaceful and responsible setting.  Unfortunately, as pit bulls mature, their breed-specific instincts also mature, and adult pit bulls become much more difficult to control.  Many times, although there are warning signs that go mostly ignored, a single violent incident will compel an owner to give up his beloved pit bull.

There are countless stories of people that have adopted pit bulls with full belief in the argument that all dogs are individuals and that every dog can be a loving and loyal family pet with the right training and environment.  These people may even get puppies to make sure they are starting with a blank slate, and can safely raise the dog to be a model canine citizen.  However, they notice small signs of territorial aggression, unpredictable prey drive, or other aberrant behavior that they write off as “dogs being dogs.”  But in one instant, they see their world torn asunder when their beloved family pet unexpectedly attacks the neighbor’s cat, tearing it to shreds.  Or, even more horrifying, the dog suddenly, without any warning, viciously attacks a friend or family member, causing intense damage requiring immediate and comprehensive medical attention – or worse.

Whatever the individual circumstances are that lead otherwise-responsible people to abandon their pit bull at a shelter, there is a valid generalization that may be made that pit bulls often grow to display breed-specific aggression or prey drive which can make the average pet owner feel anxious or overwhelmed.  Even the ASPCA, who has been actively complicit in the spreading of pro-pit bull propaganda, admits that “pet problems are the most common reason that owners re-home their pet.”  They go on to define these problems as “problematic behaviors, aggressive behaviors, grew larger than expected, or health problems owner couldn’t handle.”  The responsible pet owners bring their pet to the shelter to be surrendered, while the irresponsible ones simply let their pets run away and become strays that wind up in shelters nonetheless.

Regardless of the reasons that people surrender their dogs to shelters, the real problem does not stem solely from their decision.  The real problem is that we still continue to allow average pet owners to get these dogs that we know can be challenging to care for.  We still allow backyard breeders to swell the already-overpopulated landscape with new pit bulls for profit.  And we continue to allow propaganda that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that pit bulls are no different than any other dog breed.

Even some pro-pit bull groups seem to get it.  “Save-A-Bull Rescue”, for example, admits that “there are too many [pit bulls] and not enough people willing to adopt them.”  They go on to note that “[u]ntil we can educate the public and move them to spay and neuter, we’re just putting a band-aid on a gushing wound.”  They additionally note that a female dog can produce two litters of 6-10 puppies per year, and that in 6 years, that female and her offspring can produce upwards of 60,000 puppies.  That’s a lot of pit bulls, and there are already too many.

This California bill admits that there is a problem with shelter overcrowding, but it does nothing to alleviate that problem, at least in the long term.  While there may be some initial relief for the system with increased adoptions, I predict that many of those adoptions will end badly – either with tragedy or re-abandonment.  If they truly want to help the animal rescue industry, they can instead pass comprehensive legislation requiring spay-neuter with tightly controlled licensing and enforcement for breeding exceptions.  This problem has to be addressed at the supply side, not the distribution side.  Make fewer unwanted animals available, and you will have fewer unwanted animals to distribute.  Compulsion of pit bull ownership will only make matters measurably worse, not only for the animals themselves, but for unsuspecting new owners as well.  Then again, the US hasn’t been on the cutting edge of rational legislation for some time now, but hopefully we can change that trend sooner rather than later.

Until next time, I remain Your Lawscholar.

The Wealth Gap: How Wealth Inequality Poisons Everything

I saw a shocking number today.  According to an Oxfam report titled An economy for the 99%, 8 individual people own as much wealth as 50% of the world’s total population.  That’s 3.6 billion to 8, or roughly 450 million to 1.  Just think about those numbers.  Somehow, even looking at that number, some of the smartest people I know refuse to believe that the deck is stacked, the game is rigged.  They honestly believe –

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A Letter to President Obama

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First Amendment 101: A Refresher For Our President-Elect

Donald Trump, who became our presumptive president-elect earlier this month in an electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton, has already been outed as perhaps the least qualified president in modern history.  He has no government experience, and seems to lack even a vague awareness of how our political system functions.  But most alarmingly, he seems either completely ignorant of, or completely hostile to the U.S. Constitution.  And to think, he has been running for president

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Disappointed, but not shocked, I have remained quiet since election day because I didn’t want to say I Told You So.  I warned about the hazards of nominating Hillary Clinton, who could not generate the excitement and enthusiasm to beat the populist Trump.  I warned about the mainstream media’s overconfidence that might have the effect of dampening voter turnout in swing states.  And I warned everyone about underestimating the movement behind Trump’s unlikely rise.  And

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We(ed) the People…DEA Says Screw the People

Another blow was dealt to reasonable and rational drug policy last week when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declined to re-schedule marijuana, choosing instead to keep the substance on the most restrictive schedule (Schedule I).  In so doing, they are claiming, once again, that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, and no known medical value.  Of course, both of these determinations are completely contrary to ALL the evidence we have available to us, but

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Profiting From Injustice: Addressing Mass Incarceration & Prison Reform

 As a criminal defense lawyer, I have seen the inside of the justice system up close, and am well versed in the lies, misconceptions, inefficiencies and abuses that plague that system.  And I have seen my share of young, non-violent offenders slapped with oppressive prison sentences for relatively minor crimes.  Thankfully, there seems to be a new movement emerging in many parts of the country to reform the criminal justice system, but rest assured that

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Black versus Blue: Brought to You by the War on Drugs

I know a lot of people are trying to cope with a lot of enmity and loss this week.  The police shootings of #Alton Sterling and #PhilandoCastile, followed by the shooting of police officers in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter protest, has left the nation reeling.  People are understandably shaken by the deaths of two more black victims of over-zealous law enforcement.  And people are equally justified in expressing outrage and antipathy toward the

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Anatomy of a Case Part XIII: Ethical Considerations in Jury Selection

It should go without saying that attorneys are always bound by duty, our own sense of moral righteousness, and, of course, the Code of Professional Conduct, (CPC) to act ethically at all times.   For example, CPC Rule 8.4 explicitly prohibits criminal acts, conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” and conduct that is “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” These duties obviously extend to the courtroom, and to anything we do therein, on or

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Habitual Inequality: Inequity Built Into Habitual Offender Laws

I have noticed over the course of my legal career that criminal defendants with money, or supportive families with money, fare better than those who are poor.  We see it play out in several distinct ways within the criminal justice system.  It has been pointed out how poor people pay astronomically higher fines and fees in traffic and misdemeanor courts, such as Municipal Courts.  People with money get a traffic ticket, or some other minor

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In Memoriam: C. Wayne Beasley

This is my first post in a few months, and I apologize if anyone cares.  Unfortunately, my father passed away recently, and I have been slightly out of sorts. He battled a very long illness, and I am happy that he is, presumably, no longer in conscious pain and discomfort. However, even with that relief, losing a parent is still a painful and disorienting experience. I can’t say that we were extremely close, nor would

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Anatomy of Case XII: To Plea, or Not to Plea…

In the United States, every year tens of millions of people are charged with traffic offenses, misdemeanors and/or felonies in state and federal courts.  Approximately 95% of those cases resolve either through guilty pleas or other pre-trial devices.  In other words, only about 5% of criminal cases actually go to trial.  So prevalent is the guilty plea – almost always by means of a plea bargain – that a rather large body of caselaw and

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Obama’s Violent Record: The Truth About Obama’s Legacy

You don’t have to look very hard to find some kind and gentle soul posting hateful and divisive rhetoric on the internet.  Scroll through the comments section of any news story – and I mean ANY news story, it doesn’t even have to be about anything remotely political – and you will likely find some Obama-hater spewing rancorous prognostications about the collapse of America under the tyrannical rule of a Muslim-communist-dictator from Kenya.  Among the

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Anatomy of a Case Part XI: Urging Suppression

“Ms. Kaffee, cross examination,” announced Judge Waldron from the bench. Danielle Kaffee stood up, picking up her yellow notepad from counsel table, and approached the podium.  She was preparing to cross examine Detective Slade about his observations that led to the arrest and search of Sammie while he was visiting his cousin, Bam Bam.  She wanted to establish that there was “no probable cause” for the arrest of Sammie, and therefore no reason to search

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Anatomy of a Case Part VIII: Eyewitness Testimony

Recently, I had a minor incident with my memory.  As I was getting ready to leave my house for work, I gathered my things, made sure my briefcase was packed, and reached for my keys.  I kissed the missus, and jogged hurriedly out the door.  I got in the car, got situated, and then realized I had no keys.  I though I must have dropped them in the rear floorboard when I put my briefcase

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Anatomy of a Case Part X: Preliminarily, Hearing

On a crisp, late autumn morning, Sammie and Bam Bam appear in front of Judge Chamberlain Waldron, III with their attorneys.  The young assistant district attorney calls the case. “State of Louisiana versus Samuel Adams and Bernard Jones, case no. 515-234, set for Motions this morning.” While Sammy and Bam Bam are walking up to the podium where their attorneys are already standing, Judge Waldron says, “Will the attorneys for the defense make your appearances

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Anatomy of a Case Part IX: Joinder & Severance

This post is perhaps a little out of order, as I was going to discuss Suppression in this chapter, but I was asked a question recently about this subject, and I thought it was interesting.  I was asked why prosecutors choose to charge a criminal defendant with multiple crimes at the same time.  Wouldn’t it be better if the prosecutor charged multiple individual counts so that they could have numerous trials, thereby giving the prosecutor

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Why I Voted For The First Woman President

Happy Election Day everyone!  I hope you are all out exercising your fundamental right to vote today.  I myself have already cast my ballot, and I feel great about my choices, because I was able to vote my conscience today.  I chose to vote for a woman, because frankly it is high time we had one in the Oval Office, after 240 years of male dominance over the levers of power in this great nation. 

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