University’s animal policy embodies ‘bad dog’ myths

By Rachel Cywinski


Two years ago one of my dogs was banned from campus — although I didn’t realize it until recently.

Readers who have met them will certainly assume my foxhound (pictured here in a photo that ran in the Logos spring 2012 snow photos) was banned for barking at possums. But it’s my “golden oldie senior puppy,” Hooch, who was banned, not for any bad behavior, but because of the way he looks.

The animals-on-campus policy, effective Jan. 1, 2011, bans “pit bulls”, Rottweilers and their hybrids, as well as “dogs with a history of aggressive behavior.” Hooch is a pit bull. As such, he cannot be banned strictly for his breed by any government authority in Texas. The Texas Health and Safety Code allows counties and municipalities to “place additional requirements or restrictions on dangerous dogs if the requirements or restrictions are not specific to one breed or several breeds of dogs.”

Thirty-eight states do not have such a prohibition. As a result, in the past decade nearly 10,000 dogs who have never exhibited aggressive behavior have been forcibly removed from their humans and killed by municipalities that had arbitrarily banned as many as 25 breeds each. Aug. 21, 2013, President Obama issued an official statement on this matter: “We don’t support breed-specific legislation — research shows bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and a waste of public resources. In 2000, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 20 years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog-bite injuries to people and that it’s virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.”

The pet policy for employees living in university housing includes prohibitions of “pit bulls and Rottweilers, and any hybrids that are mixed with these breeds” as well as any dog over 40 pounds or “larger than medium-sized breeds.” Medium-sized breeds are not defined. The policy specifically exempts “executive administrators who maintain a permanent residence on campus”. Likewise, the animals-on-campus policy specifically allows “domestic pets owned by the executive administration that maintain a permanent residence on campus and are on call at all times.”

As a student, I look to university leadership to make decisions based on facts (just as we students are expected to when writing reports) and to promote social justice. These policies are based on ignorance and prejudice. The prohibition of feeding stray animals references “the increase in rabies cases in the San Antonio area.” The number of rabies cases has not continuously increased even when the local population has. There has been no case of rabies in a dog in Bexar County since 1996, the first year for which statistics are readily available. There has been a marked increase in rabies confirmed in cats, with the first of six cases appearing in 2002, but the overall trend (the majority of rabies cases involving bats) is not definitive. There are other reasons for not feeding stray animals on campus; why make up one that doesn’t exist?

The animals-on-campus policy is a thinly veiled violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). In 2010, DoJ issued revised guidelines to “clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years” [since the ADA went into effect]. One of the issues prompting this revision was illegal discrimination which banned service animals by breed, thereby prohibiting the disabled people who used them.

These guidelines state: “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Dogs are specifically recognized under Title II and Title III of the ADA, thereby applying to public and private entities. The guidelines also recognize miniature horses that have been specifically trained to perform certain tasks for persons with disabilities as service animals. States are allowed to broaden the definition of service animal but not to narrow it.

The animals policy states: “Individuals with a disability that require the use of a service animal are at particular risk.” Yet it violates the ADA guidelines by banning service animals by breed. Since 2007, pit bull dogs have become an ever-growing segment of the service animals in the San Antonio area. Heaven Sent Pit Bull Rescue trains pit bulls, which have an exceptional ability to sense when someone is going to have a seizure, as service dogs. HSPBR also rehabilitates abused pit bulls to perform search-and-rescue operations, and generously takes numerous pit bull dogs to local assisted living and nursing care facilities. My father, who has Alzheimer’s dementia, has greatly benefitted by the time generously shared by the owners of these energetic dogs, as they never fail to perk up the residents.

Pit bulls are one of many breeds humans created from the Old English bulldog, and they have perhaps played the largest part of any breed in our national military and sports histories. They were the live mascots of nearly every farm-league baseball team and countless softball, basketball and football teams. During the civil wars, soldiers took their own pit bulls with them into battle. Pit bulls served as military service dogs and were the symbol of the American military on posters during World War I. Today, pit bulls are trained as therapy dogs for military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as service dogs for those with disabilities. Possibly the best-known pit bull of all time was the pet of Helen Keller, who wrote: “His boundless good nature, his readiness to be friends with everybody, and his mirth-provoking antics won the favor of all who were wise in the ways of bull terriers.” Today, Helen Keller’s dog would be banned on our campus.

ADA-revised guidelines state, in part: “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.

“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

“A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

“People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.”

The university’s on-campus animal policy flagrantly violates the spirit and the law of the ADA by prohibiting a person who uses a service animal from going “inside any University-controlled building” freely, stating the person “must notify in advance the respective office of the need to use a service animal. Visitors wishing to utilize a service animal…are directed to contact the Office of Safety and Risk Management.” Thus the university continues its longstanding tradition of isolating people with physical disabilities and treating them differently.

Institutional discrimination often seems linked to other institutional problems. This policy completely ignores known, research-supported methods for preventing animal behavior problems; the most obvious being spaying and neutering. The Humane Society of the United States lists roaming, aggression and dominance-related behaviors as behavioral problems eliminated by spaying and neutering: “Studies also show that most dog bites involve dogs that are unaltered.”

Recently I was in the lobby of one of the university buildings when a dog came out of an office and started sniffing my shoes, then kept nosing my purse, which was in the basket of my walker. He jumped up on the sofa and I rubbed his ears. After several minutes, he ran down the hallway and toward the other end of the building. His owner sprinted out of her office in pursuit, explaining, “His mistress is over there.”

The animals-on-campus policy allows unaltered male and female animals to be in the same building, a well-known risk factor for dog attacks. The national media sensationalized the death of Nicholas Faibish as a pit bull mauling even though his mother left him locked in the house with a male dog and a female in heat because she wanted the dogs to breed. The campus policy likewise makes scapegoats of pit bull dogs and Rottweilers rather than addressing the real problems: irresponsible human behavior. The unneutered animals in employees’ offices certainly pose a threat to public safety; a trained pit bull service dog does not.

Prejudice, discrimination and murder of groups based upon their physical characteristics have played a shameful part in our human history as a nation. Banning dog breeds continues the same ignorance and allows us as a species to continue denying the real problem: our own irresponsible behavior. We can do better.


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