Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Part one, the players.

To understand the politics of pit bulls, one needs to identify the players. In the case of Ohio HB 14, there is a rather long list.

First is Representative Barbara Sears, who worked tirelessly for the passage of the bill. Rep. Sears is Ohio House Assistant Majority Leader, she brought the power of the majority party to the issue. Rep. Sears has no identifiable link to the world of dogs but she does represent the area served by the Toledo Blade. The Toledo Blade is arguably the most pit bull friendly publication in the United States. More about the Blade later.

Senator Mark Wagoner also represents the area served by the Blade. There is also no known link to the world of dogs. When the bill was sent to the Ohio Senate for hearings, it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Senator Wagoner. The question might arise, is it ethical to send a bill to a committee headed by a legislator elected from the same district as the House proponent of the bill? Is it ethical to send a bill to a committee headed by a very vocal proponent of the bill?

A not-so-major character in the creation of HB 14 is Joseph Russell, Senior Legislative Aide to Representative Barbara Sears. Russell is a Statehouse insider, works closely with Sears, and he generated a great deal of correspondence on the bill in his own name. Russell is the most honest of the proponents of HB 14. The original HB 14 simply removed designation of pit bull as a vicious dog from Ohio law. Russell's responses to the repeated complaints by the Legislative Agent of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners and questions about the individual responsible for the change that included the due process which appears in Sub HB 14 give a great deal of information.

On June 30, 2011 Russell writes "Rep. Barbara Sears is responsible for the Sub bill as its sponsor. The original Bill would not have passed because there were too many groups against it, and it would have died in the Senate for the third time. Rep. Sears wants to insure that this bill see(s) the light of day, so changes needed to be made so that we could get the needed support for it to become law."

On July 7, 2011, Russell says to the same individual "I understand your issues with some of these provisions. However this bill is better than what we have now, even if nothing changes. It would be a shame is you wouldn't support the bill because of small discontents. Would you rather have BSL? Simply removing the definition of pit bull as a vicious dog will not get the support of the majority. If we didn't replace BSL with a due process the current law would stand."
Russell has clearly stated that the due process is simply paper to wrap around an unpassable bill, a bill that has died in committee or in the Senate many times.

Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah based PAC and animal sanctuary. Best Friends was founded in the 1970s as The Process Church of the Final Judgement but quickly found that donations increased when potential donors were told their money would go to protection of animals. Since that shift Best Friends has turned into a multi million dollar a year PAC with an animal sanctuary in Kanab Utah. The organization has taken an extremely pit bull proponent position since they discovered that pit bull advocacy is very profitable. Best Friends received 22 of the Vicktory pit bulls, each one of these dogs came with a dowry of about $18,000 (in total nearly $400,000) as part of the settlement with Michael Vick. This money was to provide for the care of each dog for its lifetime. Despite an order from the Federal Government that was part of the deal to release the dogs to Humane groups that they NOT be used as fund raisers, Best Friends has shamelessly promoted these dogs for profit. Please note the final paragraphs in this Best Friends blog post for their acknowledgement of the agreement, followed by a "please donate" button. If one clicks on the BF page for one of the Vicktory pits, this donation form appears. For a time Best Friends sold wine with artist portraits of the individual Vick dogs on the labels.

Best Friends runs a breed specific program headed by Senior Legislative Attorney Ledy Vankavage (more about Vankavage later) called the Pit Bull Terrier Initiatives. The Pit Bull initiatives pushes pit bulls into communities that may not desire them and in fact have written laws to regulate them in response to vicious pit bull maulings and deaths. Best Friends PAC spends a great deal of money fighting any attempt at regulation of pit bulls.