Queer Rights/Animal Rights
Weighing in on the Montreal pit bull ban.
Elijah Jack Blagg
There's a lot of stereotypes about lesbians and vegetarianism, and while I know my fair share of bacon-eating lesbians, the stereotype does have some merit, I believe at least in part because we have an awareness about the intersectionality of issues like concerns for the environment, animal welfare, etc. Thus I think it only makes sense that as lesbians we need to think about the ways that laws and society are treating animal companions and wild animals. I believe that as queer folks we need to be thoughtful and aware of animal rights, just as we would any other social justice issue.
Over the past month I've been deeply concerned about news coming out of Montreal, Canada and their proposed, approved, and now stayed by court order breed-specific legislation targeting "pit bull type dogs." As I read the news all I could think about was how devastated and helpless I would feel if someone, let alone my government was telling me I couldn't have my dog. I also was struck by the ways in which these dogs in opposition to science and animal behavior were being judged, accused, tried, and convicted as “dangerous,” in most cases for doing nothing other than having been born.
If you live in Montreal and have a pit bull-type dog in order to keep your dog would need to be able to pass a criminal background check (racism and classism at work here if we look at the overrepresentation of poor people, and people of color, and especially for queer, poor, people of color!), these dogs would only be permitted in public if being walked on a 4 foot leash and wearing a muzzle. Their guardians would also have to pay a high registration fee (about $650) to the city after applying for a special permit, which in some cases would only be made available by appointment with scheduling options for a few hours in the middle of the workweek.
Dogs who have owners that are able to meet all these requirements would have been the lucky ones, the legislation was a death sentence for homeless dogs the associated mandates banned the adoption of any pit bull or pit bull type dog, and that any pit bull in shelter or rescue (where they are over represented) must be euthanized. The legislation is vague too about what it defines as a pit bull. By their subjective definition, pit bull-type dogs encompass any stocky dogs with big heads. These are dogs, which could in actuality be a mix of any number of breeds. In fact, the law was drafted quickly by city officials after a woman was mauled to death by a neighbor’s dog. Initial reports said the dog was a pit bull, but in reality the dog was registered as a boxer. Obviously this was a horribly tragic incident but what we know from other jurisdictions across the United States and Canada banning a certain type of dog doesn't reduce dog bites.
The good news is that as I was writing this column, a judge in Montreal issued a stay in response to the Montreal SPCA's lawsuit against the city. These folks were doing amazing advocacy to get pit bulls out of Montreal before the law went into effect and mounting a legal opposition in the courts. This order from the judge means that for now at least pit bulls in Montreal are safe as this case continues to wind its way through the legal system. Families with pit bulls are at least temporarily safe, and for now adoptions of these dogs from shelters and rescues in Montreal can continue.
As queer people we know what it's liked to be judged for who we are. We know what it feels like to have our government legislate against us. Many of us know what its like to have people pull their children away when they see us, or say we shouldn't be allowed to teach, or adopt kids. We are labeled as immoral predators simply because of who we love. I can't help but draw a correlation to the way that certain breeds of dogs are looked at by those who are acting out of fear and misinformation. In court proceedings René Cadieux, the city of Montreal's legal representative was quoted in defense of the law as saying: "If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it's got to be a duck...It’s like pornography. You know it when you see it." This argument sounds so much like the anti-gay rhetoric and legislation we see gaining traction again across our country. LGBTQ people know what it's like to be discriminated against, and so I believe it is essential that we speak out when we see discrimination happening against another — human or canine.
Photos accompanying this article came from wonderful Curve readers who responded to my request for queers to send me pictures of their pit bull companions. A whole additional angle of this story that I don’t think has ever been researched is what percentage of dog-owning LGBTQ people share their lives with pit bulls? Based on my unscientific request for photos on social media? A whole lot.
About the author:
Sassafras Lowrey is the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. His books— “Kicked Out,” “Lost Boi,” “Roving Pack” and “Leather Ever After”—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras also writes regularly for canine press, is a certified trick dog instructor, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, two bossy cats, and a semi-feral kitten. Ze is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. www.SassafrasLowrey.com