“Daddy, why are they calling dogs like me dangerous?”

NOTE: As of March 19th, this bill has been withdrawn :)! Thanks to all the dog lovers out there who made that possible! Since awareness of breed specific legislation is important, I am leaving the blog post from yesterday:

This week (March 20th), lawmakers in Tennessee will decide if they can require owners of a specific breed to carry $25,000 worth of insurance on their dog. Judging others based on appearance is simply a fancy way of saying discrimination. When we think of people being stereotyped by the physical characteristics they brought with them when they were born, we cringe. But now they are teaching the concept of discrimination through dogs.

Week 2 with Mia

Tennessee House Bill 621 has tossed in an amendment that labels all pit bulls as “dangerous.” What breeds will be next? shepherds? chows? dobermans? Since most of us do not have a family tree of our pet’s linage (nor do we do the expensive DNA testing) this leaves us with a lot of guessing on what they are.

Years ago, without intending to, I became a person who adopts dogs others have cast out. We had a beagle mix whose former owner named “Hunter.” They gave him to me since he was not what they wanted and thus had been a neighborhood stray for two years. This little guy enjoyed rolling in the dead as much as any dog, but he never harmed a furry or feathered creature that we ever saw. Squirrels dashed around our yard with no fear of Hunter, who would sniff along as they gathered their dinner.

Little Hunter

When the cicadas came up out of the ground a few years ago, he would crunch on the dead ones, but those on the ground still alive, he would simply sit and listen to their song as if meditating. The last two days of his life, a cicada got inside our patio and sat near Hunter’s bed, making its familiar noise for a not-your-typical beagle. He defied the label that society (and even his own name) stuck on him.

This beagle’s lack of sticking by his stereotypes always made me smile, but now, our other dog is being stuck with labels that could affect legislation (and the adoptability of an entire breed).

Six months after little Hunter died at age 16, we went in search of another all-American-mutt. Petfinder.com led us to a dog who had been tossed around and returned for two years. Her photo showed a scared but sweet face. The rescue organization said she was a good match for our blind elderly dog so we did a meet and greet with them where they pretty much sniffed and then ignored each other.

After adopting Mia, an animal expert friend came over with her own dog and determined that Mia (a pit bull-boxer-basenji mix) had been severely abused at an early age, confirming what we had already thought based on her behavior. No one would blame this dog for not trusting humans, but luckily for us, she did. I’ve never seen a more snugly creature. She curls up next to us like a cuddly toddler and has come a long way in seeing that she does not always have to bark to keep new people at a distance, but can let them love her.

Day 1 with Obi Wan

And then there is our other dog Obi Wan, a chow-shepherd mix who exudes the comfort and calmness of a true Jedi Knight. At only 3-months-old, he used his mind trick skills to quickly have me open the car door where he jumped in as if he already knew the way home. He was quite happy for a dog that had been dumped out of a truck earlier that day, according to the nice young man that had been caring for him outside a store. When I brought home this begging-for-a-bath dog, I did not know that 12 years later, he could be next on the list of breeds being legally considered “a dangerous or vicious dog” like his adopted sister.

I never intended to adopt these types of dogs, but now that we have them, I’ve taken up a torch that has been handed off by people who spend countless volunteer hours to bring their misunderstood pets (many certified as Canine Good Citizens by the American Kennel Club program) out into the community to shine the light of truth on breed stereotypes, mainly pit bulls.

And what do they get in return? Breed specific legislation.

Day 12 with Mia

Even though pit bulls (see Staffordshire Bull Terrier) are ranked higher in temperament testing than the average dog—passing 90.7% of the time vs. saint bernards at 84.6 (per the American Temperament Test Society)—pit bulls are one step away from costing responsible owners $25,000 worth of insurance coverage for “…harboring a dangerous breed.”

As a certified dog trainer, the big smile of a pit bull brings out my baby-talking voice: “Who is a sweet baby? You are. Yes, you are.” (Insert kissing noises here.)

Do not stereotype us

So why not legislate against dangerous owners like dog fighters, or those who chain their dogs up outside and torment them so they will be “good guard dogs,” or those who let their dogs roam free to snarl and snap at anyone passing by? (We get this in our neighborhood from dogs not considered “dangerous” so they are left for my leashed pitty-mix and me to deal with.) Trust me, dog fighting ring leaders will not be rushing out to insure their sixty or so dogs, however, responsible owners will be obligated to do so, and others just won’t adopt them all due to cost of insurance.

If you want your voice to be heard on this issue, you can email the sponsor of the bill and those voting on it this week. Here is the information to politely ask these representatives to vote NO on HB621:

 

“These are not the dog owners you are looking for.”

Sponsor of the bill: Brenda Gilmore at rep.brenda.gilmore@capitol.tn.gov
Ron Lollar, Chair (Shelby) rep.ron.lollar@capitol.tn.gov
Curtis Halford (Gibson, Carroll) rep.curtis.halford@capitol.tn.gov
Andy Holt (Weakley, Obion, Carroll) rep.andy.holt@capitol.tn.gov
Judd Matheny (Coffee, Warren) rep.judd.matheny@capitol.tn.gov
Billy Spivey (Franklin, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall) rep.billy.spivey@capitol.tn.gov
John Tidwell (Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery) rep.john.tidwell@capitol.tn.gov
Ron Travis (Bledsoe, Roane, Sequatchie, Rhea) rep.ron.travis@capitol.tn.gov

Also thank them for their time and consideration on this issue.

Our new neighbor

Last week we had a visitor, one I did not think we would ever see again. It came in the form of a pure white squirrel.

“I know I left it here.”

Two months ago, this creature bounced around our backyard while I made my breakfast. At first, I thought it was a rabbit and was amazed at how white the fur was on a muddy day. But then the animal swished its long fluffy tail and ran up the tree. In complete awe of the squirrel that looked as if it had been dipped in snow, I wasn’t sure what to do. Stand and appreciate it, or rush for my camera?

I thought about the symbolic (animal totem) meaning of squirrel. Then I remembered the fully charged battery in my Nikon.

Symbolism could wait until I got my zoom lens.

“Really? More photos?”

I noticed the other squirrels ran from the white one like rats leaving a sinking ship. Unlike the obnoxious human (me) in her bedroom slippers in the mud, they wanted to keep a good distance.

But now the other squirrels seemed to be okay with their bright buddy. Some even played chase with it up and down the trees. Maybe over the last two months they saw that this squirrel was no different than they were, except easier to spot (and stalked by the human with bad morning-hair).

“Some privacy please”

After googling white squirrels (that’s just fun to say), I found they are indeed rare because of low occurrence and their beautiful coat. See The Wild Classroom.

Unlike the lovely brown squirrels who blend in with their environment, this glow-in-the-dark mammal might as well have a lighthouse beacon on its back for hungry hawks and other birds of prey. Because of that, they don’t have a long lifespan and therefore do not leave behind as many cute babies to carry the gene.

I realized that this precious creature will not grace our backyard for years to come like so many other squirrels (including the one that ran in the doggie door and made my husband scream like a 5-yr-old girl).

Crow totem meets new squirrel

Like winter snow, this unusual squirrel appeared out of nowhere, making the landscape seem more alive, only to fade away as quickly as it came (that is, if you live in the South).

So what is my point in this squirrel appreciation post? I suppose to step back and appreciate differences when we see them and maybe even wonder why they offer us a different view than we are used to seeing in our own backyard.

Written on March 15th, 2013 , Uncategorized Tags: ,

“Why am I eating an hour early?”

The spring forward weekend reminds me that our middle Tennessee winter—the brief period of darker days and searching for a glove you lost last year—is close to an end. As humans, we often try to fight the cold months of nature and curse its bone chilling winds while wishing for sandals and sun. (I am firmly planted in this population.) But if we follow the seasons and flow with them, we can adapt just as the animals do.

I use myself as an example since friends and family aren’t fond of my using them. (Oh, wait, I’ll just share one photo of Dad, flowing with the seasons by digging out all of his superhero underwear each year at the first sign of spring.)

Dad’s “Welcome Spring” wardrobe

When the cold weather comes, I ramble indoors like a bear to a cave, snuggling in deep to create a new story (insert your own project of choice here). I curl up into the plot and hear the characters’ innermost thoughts inside that hollow cavern. Their truths hover all around me like a warm fire, keeping out the cold of the unknown…what will happen next? Whispers echo from faraway places, luring me into the story. Some characters stick to the page. Others haunt my mind and spill out conversations at any time of day, or night. I’ve asked them to please hold their inspirational thoughts when it is freezing cold and I’ve just climbed into a warm bed, or while I am doing 70 mph on the interstate. So far, my requests have been ignored.

But when those first flowers of spring pop out of the soil, it is time to come out of our creative caves to see what we have made. My characters will stretch their arms and legs (and in some cases, their wings) and greet the sun with a new understanding of what they discovered during those cold months of hibernation with only their emotions and ideas to occupy their minds. Spring will be the time to feel the grass beneath their feet and awaken their senses. A time to connect again with the rest of the world. A time to play with the story I wrote in a cozy winter womb.

Written on March 7th, 2013 , Uncategorized Tags: , ,
Debbie Emory

Making Magic Out of Everyday Moments