Read. Cried. Read some more. Got seriously pissed off. Read some more and finished on a bittersweet note. The Lost Dogs
tells the tale of a landmark dog-fighting case, the swirl of celebrity politics surrounding it, and the precedent-setting processes and activities that were developed to rescue and rehabilitate the dogs - for the first time viewed as victims, not evidence; saved, not destroyed. The facts it reveals about pit bulls were and still are critical to advancing the anti-cruelty, anti-BSL and animal welfare movements.
Well-told, not flabby like a lot of non-fiction (Gorant's journalistic style is ideal for the material). A hard
read, in the emotional sense, but not as hard as you might anticipate or fear. Gorant's scenario-setting from the POV of 'the little red dog' and 'the little brown dog' (who turns out to be cover-dog, Sweet Jasmine) occasionally strays into anthropomorphism, but I think he strikes exactly the right balance for the vast majority of readers and his purpose in telling the story, too. There's enough pathos and sadness to make you feel for
and bond with
the dogs--the subjects of his tale. This is a better, more ethical and more constructive approach than dredging up anger as the primary emotion, which would be the case had he chosen to focus on the criminal-celebrity on the other side of the case and/or his supporters. I have an immense amount of respect for that strategy, both here in literary terms as well as in the broader context of pit bull advocacy and education.
Gorant is clear, at the outset, that he wanted to write the book to address the main and most frequent argument offered up by Vick defenders: "they're just dogs; why do they matter?" Anyone reading my threads here or on FB knows my response to that so I won't belabour the point. I'll end by saying: this is an important book. Vick's cruelty and celebrity created an alchemy that, ironically, has served this breed well, providing a high-profile focal point that advocacy groups like Best Friends
and Bad Rap
could use to reach the broader population and dispel the myths, misperceptions and realities of 'pit bulls', human beings' relationships with them and dogs in general, and our responsibilities to them. With this book and their work, the tide may be turning.
Some preliminary thoughts. This topic is weighing on my mind these days as I watch my 14-year-old Wheaten Terrier decline, and think about what's next in terms of dog ownership for me.
I read the Sports Illustrated article
upon which this book was based, and almost immediately afterwards, started to follow badrap.org
. Bad Rap is the pit bull rescue group out of California which--along with a group of other forward-thinking and rational lawmakers, humane society workers, rescuers and volunteers--turned the atrocity of what Vick brought to light, the horrid underbelly, history and current situation of dogfighting and of this breed, in particular, to something good.
Learned a ton, in the process, about pit bulls, to the point where I now want to adopt one, but can't.
Here in Ontario where I live, there is province-wide, breed-specific legislation that prohibits the breeding and severely restricts the owning of any pit bull or "pit-bull-like" dog (yes, the legislation is that broad). The legislation also requires sterilization of all existing dogs -- pit bull terriers, am. staffordshire terriers and mixes. Any dog that bears even a trace or whiff of pit bull.
The reality of this law in practice is that any pit bull rescued in Ontario is euthanized immediately, if it can't be found an appropriate, out-of-province foster home.
What this means is that rescues of pit bulls in Ontario are dwindling to a trickle. Go on petfinder.org and type in pit bull, Ontario and all you will see are pleas for funds to ship rescued dogs out of province, by a few--very few--non-profits and shelters who continue valiantly to rescue the breed.
Most Ontario pit bull and "pit-bull-like" dogs are euthanized immediately, regardless of temperament, situation or history. The effort and cost is too exorbitant to even attempt rescue, much less rehabilitation.
But worse -- far worse -- dogs are still being fought and bred to fight, with efforts to stop this barbaric and inhumane practice underfunded and unsupported. Whoever is breeding pit bulls in Ontario now is doing so for one purpose--dog fighting--and doing it underground, way beneath the radar. In his review of The Lost Dogs
, Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer) quotes Malcolm Gladwell, who says: "Dogs who bite people are vicious because they have owners who want vicious dogs."
The battered and abused dogs that are rescued from dog-fight operations in Ontario, if any are, will have been bred to fight; their rehabilitation that much more problematic and resource-intensive. It would take a Herculean effort -- and a high profile case such as Vick's -- to correct the incorrect assumptions about this breed, replace ignorance with fact, and turn the tide of public opinion. It's pretty much a lost cause. Along with it, we are losing a breed of dog that, WHEN BRED AND OWNED RESPONSIBLY (yes, I'm yelling), are among the most affectionate with humans and the most temperamentally stable -- ironically, specifically because
they have been bred to be fight dogs (read the article(s) to learn why that is true). In the American Temperament Test, pit bull terriers score higher than golden retrievers. Of the Vick dogs that were not too far gone, either physically or emotionally, when they were rescued, 48 out of 49 dogs were stable enough temperamentally to either be fostered/adopted out or kept in a sanctuary. Only one -- "a female who had been forcibly bred to the point where she was irredeemably violent" -- note, BRED not FOUGHT -- had to be euthanized for behavioural reasons.
Read more here: The Lost Dogs