To Law School and Beyond

July 26, 2012  

How a Hurricane Katrina refugee inspired one woman to go to law school and fight breed-discriminatory laws


By Katie Bray Barnett, first posted on July 26, 2011

When animal control came for my dog Katrina, I seriously considered running. I thought about hiding her and denying that I even knew who she was. Instead, in response to the banging on the door, I invited the officers in to meet her and to hear her story.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the levees in New Orleans and flooded the city. Among the survivors was a cute buckskin and white Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix. I volunteered with the rescue effort and spent several days with that little dog while she weaseled her way into my heart. I admired how she could enjoy the simple things like sunbathing and letting the wind blow her ears back, despite the destruction around her. At the end of my stay, and after she went unclaimed, I couldn’t resist bringing her back home with me for a better life in Kansas. Not only was Katrina abandoned after the hurricane, but she was heartworm positive and pregnant.

Surprisingly, the city I lived in labeled little Katrina “dangerous” simply because she had a short coat, a blocky head, and a stout, muscular body. In fact, the city told me that prohibiting my dog actually kept residents safer. Instead of seizing my little girl, the city gave me three weeks to get out of their city or get rid of my dog. It was the first time I ever felt discriminated against and powerless. Not only that, but I also found out that I couldn’t go home for Christmas because even my hometown had breed-discriminatory legislation.

At the time, I was litigation paralegal. In all my conversations with attorneys, no one could grasp the logic behind prohibiting a specific breed of dog. I honestly didn’t even understand how it was constitutional. Realizing how lucky Katrina and I were in escaping the city, I felt a call to action. I volunteered for a local pit bull rescue and started working with Kansas City Dog Advocates.

There had to be a way to reason with cities that banned dogs because of their breed and a way to stop cities from running people like me and dogs like mine out of their homes.

In 2007, I met Ledy VanKavage. If you have a pit bull type dog and you don’t know her, you need to. She probably saved your dog’s life. Ledy works countless hours meeting with legislators, law enforcement and community leaders to ensure communities target dangerous dogs by behavior, instead of by breed.

The first time I spoke to Ledy she was giving a presentation on how to prevent cities from enacting breed-discriminatory laws. I said, “What do you do if your city already enacted breed-discriminatory legislation?”

“Talk to your city councilman, meet with your city attorney, go to law school!” she said. And for Katrina, I did just that.

Two years later, I started my first year at the University of Kansas School of Law. Like the advocate I knew she was, Ledy invited me to start writing alerts for Best Friends Animal Society that help communities prevent the enactment of breed-discriminatory laws.

Soon, I started working on doing away with laws that targeted “pit bulls” in my own area. In 2010, I worked with the City of Topeka to repeal its “pit bull” regulations of nearly 25 years.

Knowing that I could spend a weekend at my mom’s house in Topeka with Katrina by my side, the two of us sunbathing, the wind blowing her ears back, was bittersweet.

I graduated from law school in May of 2011 and am currently working with over 12 cities on repealing their breed-discriminatory laws.

Katrina motivated me to go to law school to save dogs like her, and Ledy gave me the opportunity to advocate for people like me.

I made the decision to stand up for my dog, but I didn’t need a law degree to do it. All I needed was Katrina.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About the author: Katie Bray is the co-founder and adoption director of Game Dog Guardian , where Katrina has a sponsorship program for rescue dogs in need of heartworm preventative medications). She graduated from Missouri State University and received her juris doctor (JD) from the University of Kansas School of Law. Katie was awarded the Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award by the law school faculty, which is given to the student whose service to her fellow students, university and community demonstrates the greatest promise for contribution to the legal profession and to society. She is the founder of the KU Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and worked for Best Friends Animal Society while in law school. Prior to law school, Katie worked for the city attorney’s office in Springfield, Mo., for several years and worked in the complex litigation field for nearly five years. She volunteers for her local county animal response team and is a former board member of the Mid-America Bully Breed Rescue. Katie has volunteered for various animal shelters and breed-specific rescues, worked mass spay and neuter clinics, and coordinated the successful adoption of hundreds of bully breed dogs. She has also traveled to various locations to help with large-scale animal rescues and dog fighting seizures, and assisted law enforcement with the evaluation of seized dogs.

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Comments

39 Responses to “To Law School and Beyond”
  1. Nancy_1 says:

    Dear Katie,

    I read your story about adopting Katrina on LinkedIn. What a great story! We too adopted a dog from Hurricane Katrina and named her Nola (after her home town). She was heartworm positive and had just given birth to a litter of puppies. Like your Katrina, her favorite activity is catching the sun on the deck, even on the hottest of summer days.

    I commend you for standing up for the rights of pit bulls. Our other dog, Rosie is a lab/pit mix. She has the most loving, devoted, gentle desposition and it hurts to know that she too is seen as a threat. Your story is inspiring – thank you for all that you have done to protect the rights of our dogs.

    Nancy Anderson

  2. AndreaHunter says:

    Wonderful story! And I love the “It’s our turn to fight” t-shirt – where did you get it?

    Andrea

  3. woofslc says:

    Katie, we LOVE you, thank you for all of your amazing, hard work for Best Friends, Game Dog Guardian, and pit bull type dogs everywhere, I have so enjoyed getting to work with you, you are a rising superstar, don’t mess with Katie Bray Barnett!! xo ~melissa

  4. MadelinePenleyAmos says:

    katie,your katrina looks like my sadie,council where i live has also voted in breed discrimination laws.my sadie has tried to b taken several times and i had to fight to keep her.i left my hometown cinci ohio because of her.now i live in west union oh and they have it here as i said.sadie is 11yrs old now,she is so special she watches over my 29 yr old special son with many disabilities.HB14 to end bsl in ohio will be goin to the senate in sept,i have written letters and shared to others to write letters also.what else can i do?i also love your tshirt.

  5. JesslynBarriault says:

    her t shirt is available on the game dog guardian website 🙂

  6. blazer says:

    THANK YOU! What an inspiring story. I feel lucky to live in an area (southern MN) that hasn’t really been touched by BSL etc but I always fear that things could change. Keep up the great work!

  7. What a beautiful story. Thank you to Katie and Katrina — they’re both beautiful!

  8. Anne says:

    Wow, one great story after another on Stubby Dog! Keep them coming! Thank you, Katie, for standing up for the rights of our loyal dog companions. We need more people like you — good things do come out of Kansas!

  9. StubbyDog says:

    @Anne Thanks Anne, Katie is a special person for sure!

  10. StubbyDog says:

    @AndreaHunter It’s available on the Game Dog Guardian website: http://www.gamedogguardian.com/

  11. StubbyDog says:

    @JesslynBarriault Thanks Jesslyn!

  12. StubbyDog says:

    @blazer Thanks, we all must be vigilant, it can happen anywhere.

  13. StubbyDog says:

    @annedreshfield They sure are! Thanks Anne.

  14. CelticMyste says:

    What BEAUTIFUL, loving trusting souls pibbles are.. I love ’em so much

  15. StubbyDog says:

    @CelticMyste So true, thanks!

  16. AndreaHunter says:

    @StubbyDog Thank you!

  17. SimoneClark says:

    You and Katrina are an inspiration and are lucky to have found one another! Thanks for your great work!

  18. StubbyDog says:

    @SimoneClark You are right Simone, they are quite an inspiration for us all!

  19. ferris.kathryn says:

    I am so happy to read of your success. I am beginning law school next month after having worked a a few years in different law firms. I have long been an animal advocate (with a special place in my heart for pitbulls) and known for many years that I wanted to practice law. However, I admit that for the longest time I was nervous about combining the two passions. After attending Best Friends ‘How to Start an Animal Sanctuary’, I become more comfortable with the idea. This is my calling. Even if it must be a small capacity initially, I am meant to change laws for the betterment of all creatures.

    Your success helps me to push towards my goal of using my future law degree to make the world a better place for all animals. Thank you for all of your work and sharing your story.

  20. gryphster says:

    I have a Staffy mix too . The fact that she’s banned in numerous jurisdictions is a bad joke. Did I miss something here?. What happened when the animal control officers met Katrina?

  21. thebattleison says:

    … in so many stories i have heard the animal control officer wouldn’t make him/herself available to listen and/or to not take the dog. How were you able at that point to get the officer to not take Katrina? With the 75 Breed Ban List that targets so many and the lack of reasoning that some AC officers and departments examplify since they refuse to exercise having the ability to reason because their focus is only to up-holding the laws, how did and do you suggest handling such an emotional and pivotal moment? I am very concerned that once the dog is taken, there is no way of getting it back again. I could not blame an owner for taking his/her pet/family member and running for the purpise of protecting it and fighting the injustice from a distance!

    Considering the actions officers are taking on people’s pets these days. there is a growing concern of letting an officer in one’s home or near their dog for fear they will just shot it. “Vicious” has become the “kill a dog with no repercussions” card for so inclined LEOs. Look at what they did to Rosie a Newfoundland. By the way, Newfoundlands as well as Golden Retrievers and Labs are also on the 75 Breed Ban List! That list is horrendous as well as the BSL!

    Congratulations for your courage and for the path you have been inspired to take in fighting such unreasonable predjudice and an unjustified, inexcuable form of exterminations …

  22. thebattleison says:

    … in so many stories i have heard the animal control officer wouldn’t make him/herself available to listen and/or to not take the dog. How were you able at that point to get the officer to not take Katrina? With the 75 Breed Ban List that targets so many and the lack of reasoning that some AC officers and departments examplify since they refuse to exercise having the ability to reason because their focus is only to up-holding the laws, how did and do you suggest handling such an emotional and pivotal moment? I am very concerned that once the dog is taken, there is no way of getting it back again. I could not blame an owner for taking his/her pet/family member and running for the purpise of protecting it and fighting the injustice from a distance!

    Considering the actions officers are taking on people’s pets these days. there is a growing concern of letting an officer in one’s home or near their dog for fear they will just shot it. “Vicious” has become the “kill a dog with no repercussions” card for so inclined LEOs. Look at what they did to Rosie a Newfoundland. By the way, Newfoundlands as well as Golden Retrievers and Labs are also on the 75 Breed Ban List! That list is horrendous as well as the BSL!

    Congratulations for your courage and for the path you have been inspired to take in fighting such unreasonable predjudice and an unjustified, inexcuable form of exterminations …

  23. jodi1211 says:

    You are AWESOME!!!! Way to take the bull by the horns and make something happen!!!! I am so proud of you and the difference you have made…I just recently adopted my first pit mix. To be honest, I hadnt heard anything about pits OTHER THAN WHAT THE MEDIA PORTRAYED!! However, went I first met her at the pound, she was so so sweet…She sat on command, never barked, lathered me with kisses and I was sold!!! I brought her home, a little leary, as I have 3 labs at home. She never once reacted to them in a negative way…She is a joy to our family and I am so glad that I have gotten to know more about pits and there TRUE traits…Education is key here…and if I have said it once, Ive said it a thousand times…Pits dont make themselves mean…its the HUMANS who possess them that do!!!!

    Way to go girl!!!

  24. techiechick says:

    Then next thing you need to do is get insurance companies to insure people who own pit bull and pit bull mix breeds. Currently you have to lie or they won’t insure you.

  25. ferris.kathryn says:

    @techiechick There are actually a few that do cover them. However, some require them to pass a Canine Good Citizen test. I’m with State Farm and the only thing they require is no record of a bite history.

  26. _ErikaLauren says:

    This is such an awesome story! So heartwarming and I wish there were more animal advocates out there like you!

  27. StubbyDog says:

    @_ErikaLauren Katie is fantastic, maybe her story will inspire others. 🙂

  28. StubbyDog says:

    @_ErikaLauren Katie is fantastic, maybe her story will inspire others. 🙂

  29. micaelamyers says:

    @techiechick Hi, State Farm, Farmers Insurance Group, United Services Automobile Association (USAA) and Chubb Group don’t discriminate!

  30. AnnVanderlaan says:

    @techiechick I remember State Farm standing by me 25 years ago when Dobermans were the focus of breed racism. And Farmers Insurance Group has been great as well.

  31. theprettychic says:

    oh my goodness this sounds like the path I am going to have to take. I graduated June 2011 with my bachelors and have been considering going to law school or obtain my Master’s in Paralegal Studies. Like you I am fighting to change laws in my area and beyond! Denver is one of the cities that have the pitty ban which made me start The Pretty Chic with the Pits, Inc. after watching the episode of PitBoss when Shorty went to Denver to challenge the ban. While there a rally member sought shorty to help her take her pittie Zoe out of the city without being caught. Being a softy I boo hooed the entire time and said enough is enough and threw my hat into the ring. Long story short thank you your story it truly has inspired me 🙂

  32. StubbyDog says:

    @theprettychic Thanks, we are thrilled Katie’s story has inspired you! It just shows how one person can really make a difference.

  33. swanodette71 says:

    You rock, girlfriend!

  34. AshleyRichardson says:

    My god, this is an absolute wonderful and inspiring story!

  35. AnnVanderlaan says:

    Well done, Katie. You’ve got an education, a profession, and the love of a wonderful dog. I’d say that’s pretty good for being so young.

  36. BullyBreedsAreBest says:

    What a beautiful story Katie!  Thank you for all the work you do.  Looks like you and Katrina have changed each others lives and are now helping countless others.  Love the pictures!  I do have to ask is there anywhere the t-shirt you are wearing that says “It’s our turn to fight…” can be purchased online?  It’s awesome.

  37. BullyBreedsAreBest says:

    What a beautiful story Katie!  Thank you for all the work you do.  Looks
    like you and Katrina have changed each others lives and are now helping
    countless others.  Love the pictures!  I do have to ask is there
    anywhere the t-shirt you are wearing that says “It’s our turn to
    fight…” can be purchased online?  It’s awesome.

  38. DeborahSlusher says:

    Love this, thank you Katie.

  39. rn4pitbulls says:

    Oh Katie Bray, my sweet Katie!!! How I love thee!!  You rock sister.  And give Leo (one of your other babies) a big kiss from me!!!!!!!