A breed apart?

Diverse city
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  July 20, 2011

I'm about to stand up for dogs. It must be the heat this weekend, because I'm soooo not a dog person.

The stifling weather had me up early this Sunday, with two recent stories of pit bulls rattling through my head and it was this, of all potential diversity-related issues, that I couldn't shake. In the first case, a youth shot the family dog in apparent defense of the family, and in the most recent case, a pit bull shot dead by a Biddeford police officer responding to a call, who says (though the family denies this) that the dog bit him and wouldn't back down.

As I hear and read the arguments after these two cases, I recall how past stories of pit bulls (and other "violent" dogs) have so often caused battle lines to be drawn, with some saying the breed should be outlawed or seriously regulated, and others saying that bad dogs are the result of negligent owners and not some genetic predisposition.

And then it dawned on me that pit pulls and people of color in Maine share some similarities. See, whenever a crime is committed in Maine and the perpetrator ends up being non-white, the usual questions I see on places like the Portland Press Herald website are things like "Is the person here legally" or "See? This is the problem with darkies."

As much as I'm not a dog person — in fact, I have a phobia about the big ones — I have to wonder how it is any more fair for a few violent dogs to be used to malign an entire breed than it is to judge a black person or Latino by the actions of a few people.

And just like I cringe when I see that a perpetrator of a crime is black and mutter "What the fuck?" do the pit bulls look up from their chew toys and ear-scratchings when the news is reporting a pit bull attack and think: "Gosh darnit, Thunderbolt, why you gotta mess it up for the rest of us?"

Lest you think I'm elevating animals or diminishing humans with the comparison, take a moment to reflect.

How is it is proper or logical to say "ban pit bulls" because of a relatively small number of villains among that breed? It's no surprise they're more likely to attack than other dogs would be. Would you train a poodle or cocker spaniel to attack on command?

By the same token, men are far more likely to be perpetrators of assault than are women. And the bigger and burlier and tougher the man, the more dangerous he is.

So, should we legislate that men, if they reach a certain weight and build, be expelled from society or euthanized?

Sure, it's an extreme example, but the parallels are there.

And for a person of color like myself, who knows how easy it's been to exterminate whole groups in the past (and even now in certain countries) based on their differences, I can't help but feel bad for Fido and Spike and Queenie and all the other dogs out there, pit bull or otherwise, who get a bad rap.

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