The Story of Ruby: Pit Bull on Death Row

December 26, 2011  

Writing from Denmark, blogger Leo Scheltinga looks at what his country can learn from the Dutch

By Leo Scheltinga

Now that there is a chance the breed ban in Denmark might become abolished after the election of a new government, it would be interesting to have look at other countries that repealed their breed bans in an attempt to learn from their experiences.

In the first installment, I wrote about the Dutch, who repealed their breed ban in the start of 2009. This is the second installment.

What we can learn from the breed ban repeal in Holland is best told by Ruby. This is her story.

Ruby was seized in 2008 under the Holland’s original Dangerous Dog Act, which banned pit bull type dogs. Ruby was put on death row after being accused of attacking a 1-year old boy, but her owner appealed that decision in court.

When the Dutch repealed their breed ban in 2009, Ruby was still on death row and her case in court still ongoing. The new law required any dog involved in an incident, regardless of breed, to undergo a behavior test before euthanizing. Ruby seems lucky. As the new rules apply to her too, she should be tested first.

Ruby gets her test and fails. Spending 11 months isolated in the pound has stripped her from any social skill that was possibly left. Again Ruby is back on death row.

Ruby Becomes a National Celebrity

A famous Dutch trainer, Martin Gaus (the Dutch “Victoria Stilwell”) goes in and offers to re-socialize Ruby so that she can pass her behavior test. The judge allows it. Ruby gets her second test and passes!

Ruby was finally set free, after spending more than one year in “dog jail” on death row. Politicians embrace her success story. On April 22, the Dutch minister responsible for animal welfare, declared in parliament that Ruby was no longer a danger to society.

One month later, Ruby finds herself in the midst of a media storm. She apparently “attacked” two persons on the same day, together with another dog. Ruby is seized once more. The media goes in a frenzy:

“The lobby for the pit bull and the new freedom of a notorious pet.”

(See this link for the complete intro to her story as the press wrote it).

The television program “Zembla”, the Dutch equivalent of “60 Minutes,” aired a 35-minute special (video in Dutch) with the above headline. The message is clear: Ruby must die, and the Dangerous Dog Act must be re-installed. The behavioral scientist responsible for Ruby’s tests, Matthijs Schilder, declares: “The test seem not to work as intended and this behavior must be genetic,” and decides to put Ruby on death row once again.

Seeking Justice

The minister is under tremendous pressure, but stands firm to uphold the law. Once again, Martin Gaus steps in. He refuses to believe that Ruby could have attacked those people: “I know Ruby so well, she could never have done this.” Together with the Dutch foundation Help For Seized Dogs and Ruby’s owner, they go in court once more.

As it turns out, Ruby’s so-called “attacks” where nothing more than incidents in which she jumped up on people. As was the case with her very first incident, which put her on death row in the first place. The owner could not keep Ruby under control and stop her from jumping on to people. The Dutch Foundation and Martin Gaus’ plea for the re-homing of Ruby. The judge allows it.

That was two years ago. At this very moment, Ruby is living happily with her new, specially selected, family. Her is a video of Ruby in which you can see Martin Gaus on the left and Ruby’s mom on the right. It is in Dutch but have a look just so you can see who I am talking about.

Ruby almost died three times because legislation failed: Jumping up on people was misunderstood as aggressive behavior, and her owner could not control her appropriately. As a consequence, Ruby spent 1.5 years of her life in isolation on death row.

(Ruby with her new best friend, photo right)

What Ruby Teaches Us About the Breed Ban Repeal

The elements missing in the new law that replaced the breed ban came quickly to the surface in Ruby’s story:

Behavior tests: You cannot test dogs that have been isolated for a long time. They will need to go through a re-socialize program first. This is now provided by the foundation Help For Seized Dogs. It doesn’t always work. Some dogs cannot come back, or they do have an issue that cannot be repaired. But at least they should have a fair chance.
The owner: A part of the problem lies with the owner. If you cannot fix that, you cannot fix the dog. There is one Dutch municipality, that after Ruby, has implemented a test for the dog as well as the owner. When the owner fails and the dog passes, the dog is re-homed. This is managed in Holland on local level, but hopefully makes it way into national legislation.
Law enforcement: The police are still poorly equipped and educated to investigate and report on incidents. In Ruby’s case, it was long unclear what the facts were. Good instructions are needed, or better yet, a specialized unit concerning dog incidents.
Fear: The sentiment of people that are afraid does not change because you made a law. Neither does the media. In Ruby’s case, her jumping was still misunderstood as aggressive behavior with people. It underlines that exact and precise dog-(bite)-incident statistics not only are necessary for proper legislation but are an essential ingredient to inform and educate the public. Enabling them to make the shift from a state of fear into a state of knowing. Unfortunately, the Dutch have not put a sufficient registration in place yet.

The breed ban is still “out of order.” Let’s hope we all can learn from Ruby’s story and how the Dutch are dealing with their breed ban repeal. The breed-discriminatory ghost is still just around the corner. The Dutch had a close call. Thank you Ruby.

To read the story as it was originally posted, visit Leo’s blog here.

« « What Are the Pit Bull Stories that Inspired You? | Rooney in Amsterdam » »


One Response to “The Story of Ruby: Pit Bull on Death Row”
  1. Thank God for Martin & the Dutch Judge. How many other dogs jump on people? Are they considered dangerous? It really bothers me to see this bully breed tortured and damned the way they are; it’ snot fair and more has to be done to protect them. 2012 is the year of the Pit Bull!