Wagging the Dog
BY KATHY Y. WILSON · JUNE 25TH, 2014 · KATHY Y. WILSON
“I’m sure there are lovely pitbulls but I know the capacity of pitbulls to injure because of how they’re engineered.” — Judge Judy
I thought I was done with pitbulls, with thinking about little Zanaibou Drame and all the Internet postulating about the two.
But the Cincinnati police shooting last Friday of a stray pitbull in Bond Hill brought it all back to me.
This, it seems, is pitbull season.
Or, has it always been and I/we have been asleep? Or, is it that pits are appearing and attacking in such frequency that the media is doing due diligence in reporting on these dogs?
Regardless, in this hour of the pitbull, I am again thinking about Zainabou, so much so that the 6-year-old — violently attacked June 4 by two pitbulls owned by her neighbors, a mother-and-son charged by police with drug dealing and gun possession — has shown up in my dreams.
In them, I am visiting her classroom, listening to her young classmates talk about what kind of girl she is, how much fun she is to play and learn with and what they will say to her when she returns to school knowing she will not be able to verbally respond to them.
When she does return they are comforting her the earnest way children do, knowing she has so much she wants to say to them but cannot. They stare at her but they also want to sit beside her at lunch and be her buddy on the playground.
It comforts her for now but her family thinks about the rest of her life.
Doctors could not save the girl’s tongue severed during the dogs’ attacks and it’s likely she will never speak again.
There are presently nearly 100 comments from pitbull lovers and pitbull detractors on CityBeat.com in response to my June 11 column, “The Pitbull Profile.”
Some of the pitbull proponents cry “racism” at my description that typical pitbull owners are, among others, white trash meth cooks or drug dealers who use the dogs as vicious protection against the law and drug thieves. Those calling for the ban of pitbulls call this tactical outcry of “canine racism” a mere distraction from the larger issue: Pitbulls are ultimately dangerous animals regardless of how gently and lovingly they’re raised and pitbull attacks are on the rise.
I stay mum to all that bickering and let the Internet chatterers slug it out; however, I am struck by how pitbulls have been relegated to outcast status among dog breeds.
Even by me.
But heinous things pitbulls do reflect on the pitbull community writ large, so pitbull criticism feels to their owners — to responsible owners — like direct criticism of all of them and not merely of the negligent owners who let their animals roam and terrorize neighborhoods.
And though pet owners are now creepily calling themselves “pet parents,” pet ownership does not come anywhere close to parenting human children.
I don’t doubt the love between owners and pets is real and valid, it just isn’t human love.
I would ask all pitbull owners to pause all their emotional transference, all their misguided anger, the claims of breed discrimination and hatred, even and especially all their pitbull pride and think for five uninterrupted minutes about the terror, confusion and silence of Zainabou Drame, whose life was irrevocably changed when two pits latched onto her face, maimed her and stole her voice.
Which brings me around to race and class.
Because this is, like most things dividing us in America and Cincinnati, couched somewhat in race and class.
A recent Cincinnati Pit Crew rally of pitbull owners reported by news stations showed scant blacks in attendance.
Not that blacks do not own pitbulls.
Clearly, we do.
In this city’s black ghettos I see plenty of black people with pitbulls; we have romanticized a bad boy/stud relationship with pitbulls co-starring a fetishized obsession with the movie Scarface. The whole sordid thing is soundtracked by 2 Chainz or some other slack-jawed rapper.
In these vignettes, blacks sport pitbulls like they’re matching parts of their outfits when really the pits are extensions of their personas: intimidating and ready to attack on a whim.
The people who left their pits unsupervised to attack Zanaibou are black folks. I have noticed, however, that white people are generally in some supernaturally pious — and staunchly defensive — relationships with their dogs.
These relationships transcend my understanding.
At Black Meetings we talk all the time about how white people treat their dogs too much like precious little people and how that treatment goes eerily too far.
We don’t get it, just like I’m sure there are things we do culturally — obsessing over whether or not Beyonce and Jay-Z are combing Blue Ivy’s nappy hair — that doesn’t resonate or make sense to white people. (Hell, that preoccupation doesn’t even make sense to me.)
In 2007 When Michael Vick was charged, convicted and imprisoned for being part of a large dog-fighting ring, many blacks at the time thought he should have been punished but that his punishment — 21 months in prison — was too stiff and did not fit the crime.
Meanwhile, the media exploded with white vitriol, with white folks who wanted Vick sentenced to life and to be forever banned from the NFL because white dog-love trumps a black man’s reach for contrition and rehabilitation.
The black family of man’s curious and violent relationship with dogs might have something to do with this cultural and racial division.
We have, after all, been hunted as runaways by dogs, attacked during protests for our civil rights by dogs and, historically, treated worse than dogs.
Forgive us if we don’t have white-deep, white-abiding relationships with dogs ranking them superior to human lives in our own lives.
There must be balance.
Zainabou’s family will miss the girl she used to be more than Zontae and Volores Irby will miss their two dead pitbulls.
This is proof of priorities.
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