(This commentary was sent to Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.)
Mayor Ed Murray has said that Seattle is not Ferguson; I disagree. In Seattle, “white privilege” dictates Animal Control policy. The cultural values of African Americans, Asian Americans and recent immigrants from Africa, Asian and Eastern Europe are continually ignored in favor of “petophilia,” the quasi-religious attitudes of rich, white Americans toward dogs, particularly toward pit bulls.
People living paycheck-to-paycheck on food stamps cannot afford dog food, much less veterinary expenses. Only people with disposable income can afford pets. Pets are a First World luxury.
Recall the controversy of the ‘90s in Seattle. White people (many of them attorneys) harassed Animal Control officers, who were trying to enforce the leash law in our parks. Often, police had to protect the Animal Control officers from these white law-breakers. The response was not to call out the National Guard or bring in sociologists to pontificate about the social problems of these privileged white people. Instead the response was, as it so often is, to change the law to accommodate the privileged.
So the city spent a lot of money, illegally built fences in Olmstead parks and donated acres of park land, sacrificing the environment, all to accommodate the white folks’ First World luxury of “petophilia.” Can anybody imagine if African-American youths had been the owners of these off-leash dogs causing havoc? Would City Council have created similar laws in response?
When pit bulls were owned by the lumpenproletariat, they were evil. But when privileged, rich white people started owning them, they not only became respectable, they became misunderstood victims. “Petophilia” deified pit bulls.
The pro-pit bull lobby has hijacked the civil rights agenda and rhetoric and has equated breed-specific legislation (BSL) with Jim Crow laws. The pro-pit bull lobby, which believes in protecting the nonexistent civil rights of pit bulls, behaves as though it has donned the mantle of Robin Hood, Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Unfortunately, the statistical evidence does not support the holy mantra of the pro-pit bull lobby: “It’s not the dog; it’s the owners.” A nine-year study ending in 2013 concluded that 62 percent of all dog bite-related fatalities were caused by pit bulls. There is a clear correlation between breed and fatalities. All breeds bite, but not all breeds kill.
Ideas to protect the public
The mayor and the well-heeled members of City Council do not live in neighborhoods where criminals terrorize the neighborhood with pit bulls, not guns. (In Seattle, an ex-con cannot legally own a gun but can legally own three pit bulls.)
Since homeowners and the rich can be sued, it is primarily the judgment-proof who own pit bulls. Pit bulls live next door to the economically vulnerable and politically disenfranchised. If you are not a “Petophile,” you are marginalized.
Without banning pit bulls, there are several restrictive measures that can be taken to protect the public:
•Prevent criminals from owning pit bulls or any fighting breed of dog;
•Require muzzling to prevent bite injuries;
•Require sterilization to decrease roaming and a surplus of unwanted pit bulls;
•Limit the number of pit bulls to one per household; and
•Require liability insurance.
Many of the root causes of inequality in our society cannot be changed by Seattle City Council, but eliminating weapons — in the form of pit bulls and fighting breeds of dogs — can and should be changed.
Mayor Murray [and] members of City Council: How about rethinking the pit bull issue from a truly multicultural and class-conscious perspective?
ELLEN TAFT is a Capitol Hill resident. To comment on this guest column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.