Documenting Discrimination

July 18, 2011  

A filmmaker investigates breed-discriminatory legislation in his home state of Ohio

By Jeff Theman

Throughout my life, there have always been two constants: a never-ending affair with art and a love for animals, especially dogs. Years later, it came as no surprise when I combined the two.

In early 2007, I spent weeks researching animal cruelty in an effort to narrow down a subject matter for a documentary film. It seemed natural to focus on abuse towards animals to raise awareness and seek change. The moment NFL star quarterback, Michael Vick, was suspected of dog fighting crimes; I took that as a sign and ran with it, focusing on the victims … the dogs.

About 10 months later I visited a local pit bull rescue looking for information about the “breed.” There, I found the dog that changed everything for me. Preston is a little black American Pit Bull Terrier who was used for dog fighting and saved during a drug bust. I was amazed that this beautiful dog, who probably experienced more distress and anxiety than I will ever in my life, had the ability to forgive and be a happy, affectionate dog. He had a contagious zest for life that I admired, and it affected me instantly. I immediately made my intentions known to adopt, but it wasn’t as easy as that. Not long after I first met Preston, the city I resided in (Lakewood, Ohio) proposed and eventually passed breed–discriminatory legislation (BDL), banning pit bull type dogs within city limits.

Six months and a new residence in a different city later, I finally was able to bring Preston home. And so, with that, the film’s subject changed to breed discrimination, and my life changed forever.

I initially wanted to tackle BDL as a whole, globally, but quickly realized a story materializing right in my home state of Ohio. Since 1987, pit bulls, by law, are declared inherently vicious at birth in Ohio, where there’s a statewide restriction, which includes mandatory $100,000 of liability insurance. At one point, there seemed to be an epidemic of cities in Ohio, and other parts of the country, enacting this legislation that made it legal to kill someone’s family pet, basing the judgment on the perceived appearance or breed of the dog.

My film, “Guilty ’Til Proven Innocent,” chronicles breed-discriminatory legislation in Ohio since its inception and challenges its future. Trying to maintain a somewhat unbiased stance so that the interviews can tell the story and the viewer can decide right and wrong, people from both sides of the debate were interviewed; including the two politicians who passed the breed-discriminatory law in Ohio back in 1987. Other interviews include Best Friends’ Ledy VanKavage, National Canine Research Council’s Don Cleary, Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates’ Jean Keating, animal behaviorist Ken McCort and members of Rescue Ink.

“Guilty ’Til Proven Innocent” is produced in a partnership by River Fire Films and Engima Digital Media, directed by me and edited by the talented Bryan Porter. We hope to tell the story as we see it, facing the fear element that the media has perpetuated and exposing the truths about the most misunderstood type of dog on the planet: the pit bull terrier. We’re hopeful that change is right around the corner, and there will be a day that no dog is legislated against. Do we have a dangerous dog breed problem, or just dangerous laws targeting dog breeds?

The documentary is set to be complete this winter and will be submitted to festivals, after which it will be available for purchase. For more information, visit

Click here to view the trailer.

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4 Responses to “Documenting Discrimination”
  1. JeffTheman says:

    Thank you StubbyDog for asking us to do this article and helping get the word out on this film.

  2. StubbyDog says:

    @JeffTheman We were glad to do it. Thanks for contributing.

  3. AlyxWegner says:

    I cannot wait for this film to come out! The trailer looks amazing. It will be a great tool to educate our communities about discriminatory laws and will hopefully open some eyes…

  4. JeffTheman says:

    @AlyxWegner – thank you Alyx, we are working hard to try and meet our deadline release. Please share and help us spread the word. We are confident that this will have an impact in changing these ridiculous laws.