Where Love Was Against the Law

10 Jul, 2019
Bark Avenue Foundation

Although it was mid-summer, the sun was already almost to the horizon where I-70 hit the curve of the earth far in the western distance. I took a right off the interstate as instructed and found the unnamed, unmarked construction site that was to be our rendezvous place. Most transports are done at common, public locations: McDonalds, Starbucks, and the Chevron off the I-5. But this one was different. I wasn’t just the happy chauffeur for a dog on his freedom ride out of the shelter. I was an outlaw’s getaway driver on his escape to safety.

I had been traversing the country picking up dogs from shelters and rescues and delivering them to fosters and forever homes. On my westward journey back to California, I received an email from a rescuer in Kansas City, Kansas who needed to help a “middle aged gentleman” get to the San Diego Humane Society. I balked at taking an animal to a shelter; I had, after all, been taking them out of there. But this situation was unusual and called for drastic measures.

I had missed the original window of time to pick up Bogey during Mary’s lunch hour, so on the fly, as work ended, Mary came up with a new location and a new time. After animal control got off work, at the furthest exit off I-70 within Kansas City I had the best shot of getting my charge out of the city alive. That was the goal. Get him out, keep him alive. Take this dog to safety.

He wasn’t a victim of a domestic abuse case. He hadn’t been stolen from a dogfighting ring. He was just an eight year old 60 pound mixed breed dog who the Missouri shelter labeled as a “Dalmatian/pit mix.” That second half of the description is what put his life in danger. In Kansas City, where I sat at the construction site after hours like a criminal waiting to meet my partners to discuss our upcoming bank heist, that description was a death sentence. Mary and I were aiding and abetting a criminal whose only crime was the physical appearance he was born with.

A white van slowly made its way up the dirt road and parked in front of me. A slight woman with short blonde hair exited the driver side as I got out of the vehicle and we met up at the back of her van. We briefly greeted one another, knowing our time was limited. She opened up the back doors and at first I only saw her decoy dog, her Great Pyrenees. She politely asked her own dog to step back and then from out of the shadows came my charge, surprisingly only a head shorter than the Pyrenees, and yet only the 60 pounds Mary had described to me.

Bogey hopped down out of the van and I instantly agreed with Mary’s assessment of him being a “gentleman.” Perhaps it was the black fur that coated his entire back and ran down his legs as if he was wearing a tuxedo jacket. Or the subtle smile his giant jowls formed, or the twinkle in his old soul hazel eyes. This dog had been loved at one time in his life—that was certain. But circumstances had brought his body into neglect: rotten teeth, scarred skin, and a stench that wafted off him like a pungent aura.

I worried for his comfort, for I only had a passenger seat in my pickup truck, and Mary had written that, “He rides best in a seat.” Certainly not a child’s seat. I think the shelter might have been inaccurate in their breed assessment; he seemed more like an English Setter and Great Dane. I couldn’t say no at this point. I just had to make it work… for the next 1600 miles. I had committed to getting this dog to safety, and I would do just that—whatever it took.

Bogey had been a shelter favorite in Sikeston, Missouri. In a small town shelter, this lumbering old soul greeted each visitor with a smile and a tail wag. As we traversed the country, he did the same thing at every rest stop—making sure every human he saw was properly greeted and made to feel welcome. He certainly was a well-mannered midwestern boy. But that didn’t matter according to the laws in Kansas and Missouri. All that mattered was his blocky head and large mouth. In the eyes of the law, he was a menace to society and deserved nothing less than death.

The year was 2007. Breed specific legislation targeting pit bull type dogs was rampant across the country, but most prevalent in the south and midwest. In the Kansas City area, almost every town had some sort of legislation regarding them: some were outright bans while others were more subtle laws making adoption and guardianship so prohibitive no one wanted to adopt. Some towns demanded a pit bull guardian hold $100,000 personal liability insurance; others demanded “beware of dog signs” on the property, others had to have special cages and chains built; others required a muzzle in public—some didn’t even allow them to be seen in public at all.

For Bogey, his adoption options were limited despite his kind and easy-going nature. Pit bulls were not fully banned in Sikeston, but he still hadn’t found home when the time came for the shelter to make difficult decisions. No one wanted Bogey, their own Walmart greeter, to be sentenced to death. So they called Mary.

Mary lived within Kansas City, Kansas, where the all out ban was strictly enforced. If an animal control officer so much as saw you driving with what he suspected was a pit bull, he had the authority to pull you over, confiscate the dog and execute him. Mary had taken Bogey in under the cover of night, arranged for his placement at San Diego Humane Society and lined up a trucker to get him there… and then the trucker fell through. But she did not give up on this kind soul. She turned her life upside to care for him and keep him safe. She rose at 4 a.m. every morning to walk him long before dawn when her neighbors might see him. She hid him in her basement while she was at work. And then walked him again long after night fell. If anyone called animal control on her, it would mean a hefty fine for her to pay monetarily, but Bogey would pay with his life.

So when she wrote to me “I REALLY need to move him,” she wasn’t exaggerating. This is the reality of breed specific legislation. These are the lengths people will go to keep animals safe. This is the effort, the blood, sweat and tears involved, to save innocent souls whose only offense to society is being born where they’re born and looking the way they do.
Bogey had to travel 1600 miles from Kansas City to San Diego to find safety and a new life. The Humane Society fixed up his teeth, took care of his skin issues, cleared up an ear infection, got him on TV for an adoption spot, and ultimately, found him his forever home with a Navy officer’s family. I imagine him racing across the sands to the ocean each morning, a million miles and another lifetime away from the small town in Missouri where he may have been wanted, but no one could have him.

It was a long journey, and the ending was a happy new beginning. But the effort and the resources spent to make it all happen could have been avoided if Bogey could have just been adopted like any other dog in that shelter. He was housebroken, knew a number of tricks and commands, was a gentle giant, and would have been a loyal, dedicated member of any family who would have him. If only they were allowed to have him. The only thing wrong with Bogey wasn’t wrong with Bogey at all, but was wrong with where he lived.

But all that ended just a few weeks ago, over a decade after Bogey’s getaway ride. On May 30t, 2019, Kansas City voted to strike down its 29 year ban on pit bull and pit bull mixes. With better dangerous dog laws already on the books, there was no need for it. It had been a costly venture with very little reward. The detriment to families, communities, shelters rescuers, and dogs over the years goes undocumented. However now the rewards of taking the law off the books are clearly evident and priceless.

Based on the population of the area, today there over 100,000 more homes open to adoptable pit bulls like Bogey than there was only a month ago. Today, if Mary chooses to save the life of another “middle-aged gentleman,” she can freely walk him with her other dogs in broad daylight without fear of penalty or death to the dog. The city will save tens of thousands of dollars in resources being used to track down pit bull type dogs, feed them, shelter them, await trial, and then kill them. Rescues and shelters will save money and resources shipping dogs to areas of the country where they are lawful. Now when you live in Kansas City, Kansas and walk into a shelter, any dog is available for you to fall in love with—you no longer have to rule some out because of the shape of their skull. And the stress of hiding a dog to save his life or to hide your own dog to be able to keep him: those days are officially over.

But only for Kansas City, Kansas.

Now that I traverse the country with my very own companion of the pit bull persuasion, I am ever cognizant of breed specific legislation. I have to plan my route, check the laws on various levels: state, county, city, and township. I have to make sure my family—Tucker—is safe. There are many places we cannot go even today. While some states such as Virginia and Massachusetts have made statewide legislation banning any breed discriminating laws, not all states have followed suit. And then there are complicated exceptions to those rules. Even though Colorado has such a law, Denver sued to keep the strictest breed ban in the country and won based on “home rule.” As it stands, Tucker will never hike the Rocky Mountains around Denver, although I hope maybe within his lifetime that may change. Pit bulls cannot even be transported through the city, making it dangerous to drive through. Should I break down on the side of the road, Tucker could be taken away and killed.

Breed specific legislation isn’t on everyone’s radar, but it should be. If you own any kind of blocky-headed dog, be careful when travelling. Many laws are based on “physical characteristics” and not on actual DNA. Your Labrador mix very well could be put on death row simply for the shape of his head. And if you don’t have a pit bull, you should also be concerned. Some breed specific legislation discriminates against Akitas, Chows, German Shepherds and others. What breed will they choose next? Could it be the one your dog resembles?

I commend Kansas City and am overjoyed for the shelter workers, rescuers, and all dogs and their guardians in the area. Because when you outlaw a dog, you outlaw love. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, and is not bound by a certain size or shape or color. The smallest canines to the most massive working dogs all have the same amount of love to give: infinite.

Be a warrior for love; fight to end breed specific legislation everywhere. Because every dog of every shape and size deserves the same chance at family. And you deserve to find love in whatever canine shape it takes.

You can find more information on breed specific legislation across the country at https://animalfarmfoundation.org/community-advocates/breed-specific-legislation/
For more information in the Kansas City area, check out Brent Toellner’s unofficial local blog about animal welfare issues in the middle of America.: https://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/
Love is always worth fighting for and should never be against the law.