Turning Tragedy Into Activism for the Dogs

February 2, 2012  

By Laura Allen, Executive Director, Animal Law Coalition

This past week, the persistent though baseless discrimination against pit bulls claimed more lives, including actor Nick Santino who took his own life, devastated after having his pit bull dog, Rocco, euthanized by his veterinarian. Santino left a note saying, “Today I betrayed my best friend and put down my best friend.” He had previously posted about Rocco, “I didn’t rescue Rocco, Rocco rescued me.”

In 2010, Santino’s building in New York City, One Lincoln Plaza, banned pit bulls. Rocco was allowed to stay under a grandfather provision, but management and other residents were relentless in their efforts to oust Rocco. A friend of Santino, a law professor, was quoted as saying it was “open season” on Rocco in the building. A number of restrictions were placed on the dog and unfounded complaints were made about him. Santino was urged to put the dog down. All because he resembled a “pit bull.” Though Nick Santino was not without courage – he was part of the first search and rescue team on 9/11 – the harassment was apparently too much to bear.

This is simply devastating. Though local governments in New York are prohibited from passing breed-discriminatory laws, prejudice persists in bans by condo associations, apartment buildings and the like.

But this tragedy is not the end of the story. It’s only part of the battle to end fear-based discrimination against pit bulls or dogs that resemble pit bulls. Here’s what you can do:

First, join the peaceful vigil organized by Animal Farm Foundation to remember Nick Santino, Rocco the “pit bull” dog, and all victims of canine discrimination. As Kim Wolf of Animal Farm Foundation put it, “We wish to empower community members with information and resources to replace fear with facts and to advocate for equal treatment and opportunity for ‘pit bull’ dogs and their owners.” The Vigil for Victims of Canine Discrimination will begin on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. at Dante Park at the intersection of Columbus Avenue, Broadway, and West 63rd Street, New York, NY. Those in attendance will march down pass One Lincoln Plaza, the building where Santino and Rocco lived. A press conference will follow.
Speakers include Stacey Coleman, National Canine Research Council, Rachel Hirschfeld, New York County Lawyers Association’s Animal Law Committee, Ellen Kapit, Sotheby’s International Realty, Drayton Michaels, Urban Dawgs, Henry Stern, New York Civic, Former Commissioner NYC Parks and Recreation & Former NYC Councilman-at-large, Kim Wolf, Animal Farm Foundation and friends of Santino.

Check here for vigils in other cities or how you can organize your own effort to educate condo associations, apartment buildings and others to stop breed discrimination.

Then there is the example of Miami Marlins baseball pitcher, Mark Buerhle, (photo right) who is actually prohibited from living in Miami-Dade County because one his four dogs, Slater, is a pit bull adopted from a Chicago shelter. Buerhle and his family live in Broward County. Buerhle is strongly supporting the effort to pass bills H.B. 997 and S.B. 1322 to overturn the two decades old law that has allowed Miami-Dade County to ban pit bull dogs. Go here to sign Buerhle’s petition to the state legislature. The bill has already passed one committee in the legislature! Go here for more information and how you can help.

The bill to repeal Ohio’s breed-discriminatory law is also making progress through the state legislature. Go here for an update and information on how you can help.

Don’t give up. The dogs are depending on us.

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2 Responses to “Turning Tragedy Into Activism for the Dogs”
  1. JMD says:

    Let`s not forget about Mark Amston from the U.K. who took his life in 1991 after having his pup put down.


    I had just coincidentally written a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario the day before this tragic suicide in New York entitled “Political Bullying,BSL and Suicide”

    I told him I hoped I was wrong but I felt it wasn`t a matter of if there would be a Suicide or an act of violence in Ontario due to BSL but rather when and where.

    Grief quite often clouds out reason and logic.

    You don`t have to have mental Health issues.

    All we can hope is that people who are losing their pets due to BSL can hang on and they have people in their lives who can help them with their grief and anger.

    I know how hard it was when I lost my pit bull terrier due to illness a few years ago and it was 1 really good friend who helped me get through the early stages of the grieving process.

    I still get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes at times and he died 4 years ago.

    Grief can be overwhelming when a pet dies and that`s why I never pooh pooh the death of a pet as some people do.

    They`re family and Political Leaders must understand that before more people are overwhelmed by their grief.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @JMD Anyone who has loved a pet, knows all about the grief that comes with losing one. Thank you for taking action, it’s the only way things will change.