a: something that covers or affords protection
The thing about flying is you’re left with so much time with nothing but your thoughts to consume you. Appearing out of nowhere, tears streamed down my face like a faucet left to run continuously on an even medium flow. I tried to keep them bottled up inside, but they were forced out like a dam broke open washing everything in its path. To divert attention from my public vulnerable moment, I looked out at the white pillows of clouds, feeling as if the windows were open I could shower a city with tears of rain and they wouldn’t know the difference.
On the plane flying home to Cleveland from Los Angeles, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dog that had no name, probably deemed something he is not, wondering if he will make it out alive and find love equal to what he showed me in the twenty or so minutes we spent together in this high kill chamber known as Carson Animal Shelter. Rolling on his back and exposing his belly, he yearned for my touch pressing up against the steel jail fencing he calls home, possibly the last home he would ever know. You could see it in his eyes, he just wanted to be held and called someone’s dog, to be part of a family again. But now, I’m en route a couple thousand miles away, left to relive my time with him over and over again.
I came to southern California on Friday, July 26, 2013 as part of the tour for my film, “Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent,” about Ohio’s statewide breed specific laws that restricted the ownership of “Pit Bull” dogs for 25 years before its repeal in 2012. I remember when the project began in 2007, I would visit the city and county shelters in my area in northeast Ohio, and it felt so hopeless. Dogs these shelters called Pit Bulls didn’t stand a chance to be adopted by people looking for new additions to make their families complete. They were systematically killed due to prejudice and a subjective, tainted law. They misled the public into believing their prejudice was a matter of public safety. And the general public generally bought in. Legalized mass murders of innocent dogs followed. This went on for years and years and years.
In 1989, at a time when many cities were passing breed specific legislation, the state of California passed a prohibition of discrimination towards any specific breed(s). An amendment was later introduced to allow localities to include breed specific policy only in the form of mandatory spay and neuter restrictions. Los Angeles does not have breed specific language embedded in their local law, yet the shelters here seem to have made their own one up…and then maintain “shelter” in their name, giving the public a false sense of what they’re actually doing…a contradiction to the very name “shelter.”
In June of 2011, Cleveland City Council put an end to our local breed specific law, instead moving to a neutral law that covers all dogs of all breeds and mixes, focusing solely on behavior. With this turn of events, change was in the air. But it wasn’t until late December 2011, where the pendulum swiftly moved on the side of the dogs. An east side Cleveland man became the center of attention for his involvement in running a dog fighting operation where 27 dogs were confiscated and removed from the premises. With this, a community banded together and fought for these dogs rights to be evaluated individually. Not only was the dog loving citizens and rescuers present, but several Cleveland Police officers spent hours and hours at the kennel walking the dogs and getting them the love they sorely needed and missed in their lives. Because of this, a non-profit organization, Badges for Bullies, was formed, comprised of several of those Cleveland Police officers and a few hard working Cleveland City kennel volunteers who started reforming the shelter’s prior primitive ways. If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I would’ve never believed it. Are we no-kill yet…? No, we still have a ways to go, but the effort in saving these homeless dogs is like something I’ve never seen. Coming to LA was a reminder that the rest of the country is not all on the same page in ending the unreasonable suffering to the voiceless victims of the shelter system.
I was brought to Carson Animal Shelter by Josh Liddy and his girlfriend, Dianne. Josh, a former Ohio resident, started a cause called SwayLove.org, named after his first Pit Bull dog Sway. During these regular trips to the shelter, he takes photographs and records video of the dogs in an effort to network and bring them to safety. In observing this specific shelter’s practices, it seemed they were more intent on killing the dogs than seeing them leave alive. Road block after road block, obstacle after obstacle, getting dogs out remained challenging at best. Anybody with a soul would have to question why they chose this draconian and barbaric manner of running a shelter. Their priorities are completely ass backwards. Is it possible to be an animal control department, enforce public safety, and still be unbiased on which dogs deserve a chance at life? That answer is yes, yes they can. Even in a city as large as Los Angeles. Before I left, I made a promise to the dog we named Presley – I would not allow him to become another Carson statistic. His name was derived from my boy, Preston, who turned my life upside down and forever changed who I am as a person.
Upon landing in Cleveland, I immediately started networking Presley, desperately searching for a rescue to come forward. It didn’t take long as one of my friends, Jean Keating, who runs Lucas County Pit Crew in Toledo, Ohio, offered her help as long as we could arrange transport from LA to Toledo. Jean was instrumental in changing Ohio’s breed specific laws – both on the state level and the local level, as she had her hand involved in Toledo, Cleveland and Cincinnati’s (among others) repeals. These changes in the state of Ohio, coupled with other defining moments, have reshaped the value system dogs are faced with in cities that allowed compassion to win.
I sometimes wonder why I put myself through this. Nobody likes feeling helpless by their own emotions. We all have our Presley’s… the dogs we were able to get out of the killing machine that is our shelter system. L.A. County shelters are no different than many others around the country and world. It’s the reason I am making it a point to visit one shelter in every city Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent is being screened in. If you don’t know what’s happening, how can you change it? We owe all the wonderful dogs imprisoned in these canine jails at the hands of a broken system designed to suck the life out of them that much.