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June 2007 - Nr. 6


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by Dave McKague

My Dog Teaches … about Discrimination

Hunny: "Throw the ball and I love you forever!"Three years ago, I accidentally became a member of a visible minority.

You may wonder how this could happen to me, a middle-aged white male living in Canada. And to make matters more confusing, I’m not always one. But when I am, I sometimes run into the ignorance, prejudice, fear, disdain and even hatred that members of other visible minorities must on occasion experience.

You see, I adopted an American Staffordshire Terrier. When I am with her, most people see Hunny for what she is – a playful, happy and friendly dog. But there is the odd person who seemingly cannot get past the label "pit bull" and who must have me categorized in his or her own mind as something even worse – a "pit bull owner".

Like the man who, arriving after hours at an industrial mall where I was playing fetch with Hunny, launched into a verbal tirade without warning and demanded that I put my dog in the car. After his wife went into their place of business, I talked to him at his car window. At first, he refused to take copies of the Petitorials I carry specifically for the purpose, asserting that he already knew all about "pit bulls". To his great credit, after we had been talking for about half an hour and he had apparently decided that I was not such a bad guy after all, he did apologize for his angry outburst, shook my hand and took the Petitiorials to read.

Like the woman who stopped her car to vehemently chastise me for not muzzling my dog on a hot summer day. No amount of gently encouraging her to see the situation in front of her could change her preconceived notion. From what she was saying, this woman was apparently fixated on the idea that Hunny would attack a child if given half a chance. Yet for those who could observe, the nearest child was several hundred feet away and Hunny was walking contentedly beside me on a leash. Her parting shot as she sped off in a cloud of dust was "I hope you get sued!" (This in fact was one of the incidents that got me started researching and writing, as I was quite taken aback at this woman’s vehemence towards the simple activity of walking my dog.)

It’s hard to know what pre-conceived ideas some people have in their minds when they classify me as a "pit bull owner". Perhaps I am perceived as a drug dealer or other criminal. Whatever stereotype is used, judging from the reaction of a very small percentage of people, I am probably considered at the least to be a less-than-desirable person based solely on the type of dog I own.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, physical appearance, sexual orientation and other attributes. This is based, quite rightly, on the concept that each one of us is an individual human being with a unique personality and abilities. Every one of us can laugh or cry, reach for the stars or lie in a gutter, do good or do evil, and change our course in life or our minds or our actions if we choose.

Our fundamental human rights are taken away if we allow laws to be passed that can paint an individual with a broad brush. Not all that long ago in the 1950’s, signs were posted on Toronto beaches and other public venues proclaiming, "No Negroes or Jews Allowed." A decade earlier during the Second World War, people living in Canada were taken from their homes, thrown into internment camps without trial and their property confiscated for no other reason than being of German or Japanese descent. The 1930’s saw the forced sterilization of "mental defectives and moral degenerates." These were all sorry chapters in Canadian history and representative of similar events that have occurred throughout the history of the world.

These historical atrocities all have one thing in common – they generalize real or imagined traits of one group to every single individual in that group. One can find bad apples in any barrel, but declaring the whole barrel bad instead of identifying the rotten few is the height of folly and ignorance.

And so it is with Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act which bans "pit bulls". But apparently, because we are dealing with dogs, anti-discrimination laws do not apply.

As history shows, perhaps our legislation to a large extent merely reflects the prejudices of the day and fixes these ideas in time. Although it might take a while, knowledge and education have always proven more effective in helping to reduce discrimination.

 Previous "Petitorial" articles by David McKague:

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