Big City Discrimination

June 29, 2011  

New York City may be known as the melting pot, but not all dog guardians welcome diversity

By Nicole Stagg, My City Hound

When Finn and I moved back to New York City in January ’07, I was excited to be in the melting pot of the world. I love being in a place where no one looks alike and yet everyone manages to get along anyway. But little did I know that acceptance only applies to people, not animals.

The morning after we settled into our new apartment, Finn woke me with a lick to my face as if to say, “Let’s go; let’s go!” He and I both couldn’t wait to go to the dog run to meet other dog guardians in our neighborhood. Since it was the middle of winter, I dressed Finn in his light blue Old Navy sweater, grabbed his pink ball, and off we went.

No Pit Bulls Allowed

As we approached the gate to the dog run, I saw an owner running toward me.

“Wait! You can’t come in here,” she said and held her hand on the gate, preventing us from entering.

Immediately I panicked. Were dog runs for members only? Did I have to pay or apply or something? I was confused.

“Huh?” I said. “Why not? I’m new here.”

“We don’t let your kind in here,” she said.

It was early in the morning, before I had my coffee, so I was having a hard time understanding what she meant. “Um, what?” I asked. “What do you mean by my ‘kind’?”

“Pit bull. That’s a pit bull. We don’t want them in here,” she said.

That’s when a few other people inside the dog run walked over. At first I thought they were going to help me out, but immediately they started chiming in. All I remember hearing was:

“Pit bulls kill.”

“Get that dog out of here.”

They just looked at his eyes and decided he was vicious.

Tears welled in my eyes. I couldn’t even speak. I was in complete shock. I turned around and Finn and I walked home. He looked at me as if to say, “What happened? Why can’t we go in?” Neither of us understood. Finn has no history of violence and besides, these people didn’t even know us!

Needless to say, we never went back to that dog run again. It was just traumatizing to be banned like that for no reason. Instead, we discovered that New York City has a law that before 9 a.m., dogs are allowed to run off-leash in Riverside Park and Central Park. I knew Finn would be fine off-leash because he’s incredibly obedient. But despite his A+ behavior, unfortunately our problems didn’t end there.

Fear and Prejudice

One day, Finn and I ventured into Riverside Park as we did every morning before 9 a.m. for a run and a romp off-leash. But on this particular day, I decided to go to a different part of the park to be closer to the Hudson River. It was a beautiful winter morning, and I thought it’d be nice to play by the water for a change.

As always, Finn was dressed in his blue Old Navy sweater and carrying his pink ball in his mouth. Anyone who knows Finn knows that one of his favorite things to do is to play fetch with someone – anyone – besides me. He will eagerly go up to strangers and literally throw the ball at them to entice them to play fetch with him. Most people find this not-so-subtle hint adorable, and he makes new friends easily because of it.

As we entered the park that day, there was a group of dog owners a few feet ahead of us. They were standing in a group and chatting, while their dogs ran around out and played together. They were big dogs – a Golden Retriever, a Lab and a shepherd. Finn ran right over to the group of owners and threw his ball in the middle. The other dogs didn’t even notice him arrive. But the next thing I knew, complete chaos ensued.

“Get that pit bull out of here!”

“We don’t want your dog playing with our dogs!”

“You can’t have that dog here!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Were these actually other dog owners telling me off? I felt like a mother at the playground who’s just been told that her kid can’t play with the other kids. I was in shock. They all grabbed their dogs by their collars as if they were afraid Finn would attack them. And they continued to yell at me to leave.

If people will discriminate based on a dog’s eyes, who knows who they’ll discriminate against next?

I felt a swell of anger rising in me. What gave these people the right to judge my dog? They didn’t even know him. They were completely ignoring his tail wagging high, his ears perked up, and that he was smiling in the way only a pit can smile. There was nothing at all for them to be afraid of, and clearly their dogs had no issues with him. Finn just wanted to make new friends and play fetch!

Instead, he was greeted with what can only be called discrimination. They just looked at his eyes and decided he was vicious.

Some people don’t even realize at first that Finn is part pit. Aside from his eyes and large-size chest, he’s much taller and longer than most. A DNA test revealed that he’s part American Staffordshire Terrier, part Basset Hound and part Chesapeake Bay Retriever. If you look at his eyes, you see the pit heritage. Beyond that, not so much. But all of that didn’t matter: These people just saw his eyes, and their pre-conceived notions got the best of them.

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but cry again. I felt so offended. And scared. While I realize their behavior was ignorant and cruel, there’s more to it than that: It shows that discrimination is still alive and well in this country – even in this big city where supposedly anyone can fit in. If people will discriminate based on a dog’s eyes, who knows who they’ll discriminate against next?

Ever since then, I’ve encountered these types of situations more than a few times. But I’ve gotten a thicker skin about it and usually reply with a snarky remark like, “What? You don’t like Jewish dogs?” Just something to shock them into realizing that they’re discriminating against my dog in the same way Jewish people, African Americans, Asians and countless others have been discriminated against.

It’s unacceptable – and by the way, illegal – to discriminate against people based on appearance. Too bad that doesn’t extend to dogs, too.

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Comments

27 Responses to “Big City Discrimination”
  1. motelska says:

    I encountered the same thing when I tried to take my Sheba to Petsmart for doggie daycare. They told me it was their policy to sequester “bully Breeds” from other dogs and people. Upon reading their OWN guidlines I was disgusted to see they would disricminate based on APPEARANCE.

    “†Dogs in the “bully breed” classification (e.g. American Pit Bull Terriers, Miniature Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Bull Dogs, Bull Terriers or mixed breeds that have the APPEARANCE or characteristics of one of these breeds). For the safety of all animals and associates, and at the discretion of PetSmart, some pets may not be permitted.”

  2. alisonster says:

    Hang in there Nicole!! I live across the county in Oregon, and I too have faced ignorance from others when it comes to my pit – some from my own family!!! Finn is adorable and I hope you find others to help support you in NY.

  3. tdotcopeland says:

    Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your story. My dog and I encounter this type of discrimination all of the time in New York City, even from other “well-meaning” pit bull owners. This is compounded by the fact that I am African American and Asian, so people assume that when we show up at expensive training classes and charity events that I “rescued” him. I didn’t pay a dime to acquire him (no adoption fee) because he came to us the way many people get their dogs outside of Manhattan–a family friend had a litter in Atlanta, Georgia, gave him to my sister (who was on Spring Break and paid to transport him to New York on a plane). She brought him to a very good home (we live in a two-bedroom apartment near Central, Riverside, and Morningside Park) and as we all benefited as a result. I invested the time, energy, and resources to treat his medical issues and because I believe knowledge is power, we went to training classes to learn more efficient ways to communicate with him. Now I know hand signals and have implemented behavioral changes and he rewarded me with obedience. Teaching him tricks only strengthens our bond and provides entertainment for other people. I use words to communicate to other people that I recognize when he is acting on his natural instincts (some of which have the potential to hurt other people and animals if left unchecked), and issue corrections and praise as warranted. Whatever it takes to get people to understand that it’s the people, not the breed, that’s changed. I also remind them my dog is not “smart”–he is 72-lbs but has the problem-solving skills of a two-year-old. What makes my dog so “different” is his desire to please people, but I had to work very hard to gain his trust and respect.

  4. tdotcopeland says:

    @motelska

    We have had a very different experience at PetSmart on East 117th Street–the employees there love my dog and we have completed two training classes there. On the rare occasions that I leave my dog for short sessions in Doggie Daycare (he is not permitted in the free-for-all that is Doggie Daycamp), I have the assurance I am leaving him in the hands of an experienced handler who is not afraid of him because of his appearance. It’s been a win-win for all of us.

  5. tdotcopeland says:

    @motelska

    We have had a very different experience at PetSmart on East 117th Street–the employees there love my dog and we have completed two training classes. On the rare occasions that I leave my dog for short sessions in Doggie Daycare (he is not permitted in the free-for-all that is Doggie Daycamp), I have the assurance I am leaving him in the hands of an experienced handler who is not afraid of him because of his appearance. I can tire him out while I go shopping instead of leaving him at home. It’s been a win-win for all of us.

  6. doogag says:

    That is astounding. Particularly because PetsMart Charities contribute so much to pitbull-specific rescue initiatives. I hope that disgusting policy is specific to that location.

  7. ruiner86 says:

    It’s the doggy Holocaust. Mine as well make the Pits wear the Yellow star of David!

  8. alexa.silverman says:

    We are NYC people too, writing a blog about raising out pittie in this city. For every discrimination weve encountered we meet some great pittie lovers…

    http://www.twogradstudentsandapittie.blogspot.com

  9. StubbyDog says:

    @alexa.silverman Great idea! Glad you are also meeting wonderful pittie lovers.

  10. StubbyDog says:

    @tdotcopeland Thanks for sharing, sounds like you are doing everything right which in turn shows people a well-behaved pit bull that will hopefully change people’s preconceived notions.

  11. motelska says:

    @doogag Unfortunately as copeland stated, All pits are not permitted in the free for all that is doggie daycamp. and they are all sequestered as is written in their company policy. Funny thing is i mentioned the policy to the gal who trained Sheba and thought that her own company policy was ridiculous. Everyone in our local petsMart loves Sheba and her painted nails.

  12. katereeve says:

    My beautiful Ruby is part pitt part shar-pei. Honestly, people have stopped their car while we are walking to tell me how pretty she is. But, one day I was jogging with her (because if I am jogging at night in Phoenix, I’m taking my dog!) and some teenage girl with two guys remarked to her friends, as if I was deaf, “that’s one of those mean dogs,” and since I was only 2 feet away, I corrected her. I said “No she isn’t mean. She is one of those “friendly dogs” who likes everyone.” and kept on jogging. I heard the two guys crack up at their ignorant friend and felt I had done my duty to educate someone! Similarly, a friend commented on a FB picture of Ruby crashed out in front of a fireplace (her fav spot) that “she looks mean” and I kindly told her that what she said was like me telling her that her son looked mean. How would she feel if the innocent thing she took care of was talked about like that? Just educating whenever I can! it will get better

  13. Her_Benjamom says:

    That’s why I refuse to go to Petsmart. I had the cashier scold me for bringing a “vicious” dog into the store and I’ve had customers do the same thing inside the store as well. Luckily I found a Petco that has a friendly atmosphere and actually encourages owners with well-behaved bully breeds to bring their dogs into the store.

  14. StubbyDog says:

    @katereeve It will get better with people like you and Ruby! Thanks for sharing.

  15. skreidle says:

    @Her_Benjamom And our local Petsmart, where my wife works as a dog trainer, adores pit bulls and bully breeds, so they’re not all like that–far from it.

  16. skreidle says:

    A friend of mine in another pittie community had this to say:

    “As much sympathy as I have for this person, I would like to pipe up for NYC and say this has NOT been my experience here. I am consistently impressed with how pit bull friendly people are. I walk into my bank, or the Gap, or many other of my neighborhood stores and they greet Freya with a cookie and ask to meet her. I didn’t know that there were ANY dog runs in Manhattan that forbid pit bulls (and I’ve been to a bunch of them). I have a lot of dog-friends who have pit bulls in my neighborhood and this has not been their experience, either.

    One big caveat: a couple years ago pit bulls and other large dogs were banned from NYC public housing, booooo! But the article didn’t mention that.”

  17. peanutmomma says:

    That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! We dont want your kind here?! My dogs are my family members, and that, to me, is racism. I used to take my dogs to our local dog beach here in San Diego, but have since stopped. Seems like every time I go there my little baby staffie gets attacked by some strange dog. Everyone seems to think thats okay. Its never a problem when its a “good” breed being aggressive toward a bully breed. But if my dog were as poorly behaved as some dogs we’ve met, Im sure no one would think its okay. Good thing theres a park right up the street from the beach, thats been pretty much over run by bullys! Never seen one fight there.

  18. StubbyDog says:

    @skreidle @Her_Benjamom We suppose it just depends on the individual store, sad that the ones that discriminate are missing out.

  19. NatValCas says:

    “Qui me amat, amet et canem meum.” a quote by St. Bernard.

    Meaning something like: Who loves me, must love my dog as well.

    So, Nicole and Finn I love you both!

  20. StubbyDog says:

    @NatValCas Aw, how lovely!

  21. laurapmooney says:

    Our boy, Buddy is a pit mix of some kind and has the same description of Nicole’s dog. He’s just a big loveable goofball, who loves everyone, and everything and thankfully we have found a trainer who loves him for his enthusiam for life 🙂 He’s working on his obedience skills and agility and our goal is to pass the CGC test. Everyone who meets him, just loves his attitude, if you don’t mind being licked to death. At our vets last time, we did have a lady with a small dog leap up and clutch her dog to her with a look of panic, when we came in, Buddy didn’t even look at her–he was too busy greeting the vet tech 🙂

  22. BarbaraKolada says:

    The year was 2005, Katrina was nearing land, and I was having an emergency appendectomy. One of my sons came home to help me recuperate and brought his new puppy – a Pitbull. To say I was upset would be inaccurate, I was SCARED! of a 4-month old puppy!!

    Fast forward a few years and that lovely dog has sure taught me a few things: she is the BEST sweetest thing on 4 legs, and my son also pointed out some history facts…Enough that in 2008, I rescued a Lab/Pit mix who I cannot imagine living without! She is my best bud.

    Education is the key, and I am living testimony of someone who had been programmed to picture TOTAL terror & destruction whenever a pit was within sight. If only we could do something about those inhuman humans who abuse these loving creatures with their gangbanging & dogfighting! Let’s BAN them instead!!

  23. Erinsutton says:

    It has been my experience that people are ignorant, and most judge dogs and humans based on appearance. I have been a pit owner the majority of my life and i have had guns pulled on my dogs, and watched people usher their animals and children in the house when they see us coming. I live in the country, and although every dog out here runs loose, and my dogs are kind and loveable, i keep mine contained and on leash at all times because im terrified that someone will shoot first and ask questions later. I have had many people not come in my house based on this breed, but i ask them to at least let me introduce them one at a time on leash. Most people are willing to do this and my dogs have changed the minds of several people, but there are some that continue to unfairly say that my dogs are not to be trusted. I had a woman tell me that i was a bad mother, and that my children should be taken away because their lives are in danger. Well all i can say is that in 15 years i have never had an issue arise with my dogs. That being said, i never pt my dogs in a situation where they are uncomfortable without my close supervision. Not because they are who they are, but because they are dogs and dogs dont understand things like we do. Its all about being a responsible pet owner. As far as the discrimination goes, we just have to change the world one pit bull at a time.

  24. Erinsutton says:

    It has been my experience that people are ignorant, and most judge dogs and humans based on appearance. I have been a pit owner the majority of my life and i have had guns pulled on my dogs, and watched people usher their animals and children in the house when they see us coming. I live in the country, and although every dog out here runs loose, and my dogs are kind and loveable, i keep mine contained and on leash at all times because im terrified that someone will shoot first and ask questions later. I have had many people not come in my house based on this breed, but i ask them to at least let me introduce them one at a time on leash. Most people are willing to do this and my dogs have changed the minds of several people, but there are some that continue to unfairly say that my dogs are not to be trusted. I had a woman tell me that i was a bad mother, and that my children should be taken away because their lives are in danger. Well all i can say is that in 15 years i have never had an issue arise with my dogs.

  25. StubbyDog says:

    @Erinsutton Thanks for sharing and what you said is so true, ‘we just have to change the world one pit bull at a time.’ It sounds like you have been doing that with your dogs.