Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

An "editorial cartoon" was recently brought to my attention. The cartoon, pictured here, depicts a large, pseudo-militant man in camouflage pants with a leather jacket covered in chains and studs, a motorcycle helmet, and a sour look on his face. The man is clearly intended to look scary - criminal, even. Two women walking small dogs say "even without the dog, you can always spot a pit bull owner."

I'm not sure if you can imagine the shock I received from viewing this. Why, it was like looking in a mirror. Having been a pit bull owner for over six years, to finally see myself so perfectly depicted in ink was like a huge weight off my shoulders. Sure, I've been leading this double life as a well-educated woman who has worked in the (recent) past as an educator of autistic children, and now works for both an animal shelter and a humane positive-only dog-training school. I donate a high percentage of my income to charities, and am President of a non-profit organization dedicated to responsible dog ownership for all. I am a knitter, a spinner, a cancer survivor, and was raised in the church. I have the two dogs, but also three cats, and currently two foster kittens as well, that I fed from a bottle when they were two weeks old until they were old enough to eat on their own. But all that is false, right? Because I'm a pit bull owner.

For the less intelligent, that was just a touch of sarcasm.

Let me show you what this pit bull owner looks like *with* her dogs, since you could obviously recognize me without them.

This is my dog Oscar. This photo was taken at a two day seminar for search-and-rescue work, where Oscar was frequently complimented on his obvious love for people, his determination, and his fearlessness and heart in tackling new obstacles - all life-saving qualities in a SAR dog, and all very, very typical qualities in pit bulls. Oscar is a rescue dog, coming to me at about nine months old, and has trained in formal obedience, rally obedience, agilty, and SAR. He loves school and going for hikes, and is always tolerant of dogs whose irresponsible owners have let them wander off leash. He plays gently with his family cat members and foster kittens.

Liberty is the newest addition to our family, having come to me just over a year ago when she was three years old. She has recovered from unthinkable abuse at her previous owners' hands, and falls madly in love with every person and animal she meets. She has trained in basic obedience and tracking (similar to Search-and-Rescue), and is in training to do therapy work - visiting nursing homes and children's hospitals - since one of her greatest joys is snuggling up with a human who loves her.
And I assure you, everyone who meets Liberty loves her.

Still, what we can learn from this cartoon is that none of the above matters, because we can tell what "kind" of person would own a pit bull. It isn't someone who wants a people-loving, goofy, energetic and athletic dog. It's a criminal, a thug, a bad person.

Consider for a moment nearly any other stereotype in the place of that cartoon. Let's say instead of "pit bull owner" the cartoonist had inserted "racist" or "drug dealer" (that is what was implied, isn't it?) What if there had been a black man pictured, and the cartoonist had said "gang banger"? If the person had a large nose and the caption read "Jew"? Why is one despicable cliche more acceptable than any other?

The fact of the matter is that the only thing you can tell by a person's appearance is what they look like. You can't determine my education level (college grad, thanks), my health (cancer-free!) or my what I had for dinner last night (homemade pasta puttanesca). And you certainly can't determine what breed of dog I own, or infer anything about my character from it.

What I can infer, on the other hand, is that a media source willing to run such a prejudicial smear-campaign under the guise of being an "editorial cartoon" maybe cares more about sensationalism than actually producing a trustworthy, ethical, and objective news source. Which means, this isn't actually a news source at all, it's trash.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go walk my dogs. You might not recognize me as a pit bull owner with them, since I don't look like that cartoon. I'll be the one with the two well-mannered dogs wagging their tails happily at every person they see.

Marriage is love.