This week Anthony Riggs was killed by his newly adopted Rottweiler. The pain and suffering that Anthony’s family must be feeling as a result of this tragic loss of life is unimaginable – our hearts and thoughts are with them. At the same time we are concerned about the potentially negative impact this tragedy will have on the animal welfare community that Anthony, out of the goodness of his heart, reached out to and became a part of.
Breed Specific Discrimination
One of the biggest battles shelter workers, pet parents and animal welfare advocates fight against is breed specific discrimination; the idea that an animal, based solely on its physical appearance and genetic makeup, is “born bad”.
It’s a toxic belief and from breed specific discrimination we see things like:
- Housing Restrictions
When renting an apartment (especially) in New York City, there are a lot of housing restrictions that can make living with a pet difficult and hard to find. Personally, I was denied multiple apartments because my incredibly friendly Chow Chow had been blanket marked as “an aggressive breed”. There was no wiggle room. “Have a chow chow?” Live elsewhere.
- Breed Specific Legislation
These are laws used to regulate and restrict dog ownership. In recent years select breeds (often Pit Bulls) have been targeted and innocent animals have lost their lives.
My plea is for the media, and people generally, to not use Anthony Riggs’ death as an excuse to perpetuate or participate in this type of breed specific discrimination. What happened this week is not indicative of all Rottweilers, adopted Rottweilers, or shelter animals.
The Shelter System
Across the United States there are 13,600 animal shelters. Approximately 7.6 million animals enter the system each year, and only 4.9 million find loving homes. The other 2.9 million are euthanized. (Source: ASPCA)
In order to close the gap – and get more animals into loving homes – shelter workers, volunteers, fosters, past adopters, and animal welfare advocates work tirelessly to educate people that these animals make great pets. And they do!
You know what increases the gap and – instead of putting more animals into loving homes – strikes fear into the hearts of potential adopters? Stereotypes that shelter animals are “bad”, “unpredictable”, and that shelters themselves have substandard practices that endanger human safety.
Each year there are millions of happy endings for adopted animals and their families. Anthony’s death was clearly a tragic outlier to these success stories and to suggest otherwise you are perpetuating stereotypes and ultimately sentencing healthy, friendly, adoptable animals to death. Instead, let’s use this heartbreaking event as a conduit to talk about adoption. There are millions of dogs, cats, and rabbits in the US that need homes, and you can help them by encouraging people to visit their local shelter to learn more and maybe even meet their next furry family member.
By Bailey Schroeder, ResQwalk Founder + CEO
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