I came upon a story today about a California Wal-Mart asking a woman and her service dog in training to leave the store. Why? Because the dog, 10 month old Chloe, is a pit bull. You can see a bit of local news coverage of the incident here.
There's so much wrong with this...first, it is illegal, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), to deny access to a person with a service dog. Everybody should know that by now. I t shouldn't ever be questioned. That's the last thing folks who use dogs to help them get around and get through their days need or should have to put up with. Secondly, there are no breed specifications on who can and cannot be a service dog. Just because we are used to seeing labs in service vests doesn't mean they are the only dogs that can perform the tasks needed of service dogs, or even that they are necessarily the best choice for service dogs. There are many breed characteristics of pit bulls (including loyalty, strength, and intelligence) that make them great candidates for service animals. The Wal-Mart employee who approached this dog and her owner/handler asked them to leave because "there are children in the store and we can't have a vicious breed in here" was showing nothing but plain ignorance.
And it's all so typical. Because the dog is what some schmuck recognizes as a pit bull, she must be aggressive, vicious, mean, and untrustworthy. Even though she's a well-trained and vetted dog, identifiable by her service vest, there's something wrong with her based on the physical characteristics that help someone who clearly doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground identify her by her breed. Did Chloe do anything wrong in the store? No. Were Chloe and her owner/handler completely within their rights as per California state law in being the store? Yes. But does any of that matter once people get "ooh, scary pit bull!" into their heads? No.
Now obviously, I am not a fan of Wal-Mart anyway, and this hardly surprises me in the context of their bizarre and prejudicial store policies in general. What really burns me up about this is the number of people to whom it seems perfectly fine. Pit bulls shouldn't be service dogs, they say, or what do you expect, bringing a member of a well-know vicious breed into a family store? Well, what I expect is for stores and their employees to respect the hard-won rights Americans with Disabilities are owned via the ADA. That is the very very least I expect. Beyond that, I'd love for people to get a fucking grip on their pit bull paranoia and actually listen when they are educated about the breed. Expecting every dog who looks like a pit to attack you the minute you see it is not only ill-advised, it's flat-out stupid, and you have no right to take your stupidity out on other people or their dogs.
For more up-to-date information on this story, see www.chloethepitbull.com.