A couple weeks back, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to fighting breed-specific legislation (BSL, restrictions targeting “pit bulls”*) in the county north of mine.
This is one of my big issues, because I hate the idea of treating family pets like they’re vicious based on their assumed breed. The proposed legislation wasn’t a ban, but a bunch of additional regulations, including requiring “pit bulls” to be kept always on leash, even in their own yards unless they’re in a separately enclosed kennel. People also have to post “dangerous dog” signs if they have a “pit bull,” even if it’s a certified therapy dog that wouldn’t bite you unless you severely abused it first.
Lots of areas are using BSL instead of laws based on behavior and actions, partly because they hope they can prevent issues from occurring by targeting breeds. Pit bulls get a really bad rap largely because people use them for fighting or train them to be mean, but they actually do better on temperament tests than a lot of other breeds.
The thing that strikes me is the way that appearance is used as a proxy for temperament or behavior. People see a solidly built, short-haired dog and assume it’s mean, much like people see a fat body and assume the person is lazy and gluttonous.
Both areas of discrimination are based in part on the idea that you can somehow divine behavior from appearance. Knowing what an individual animal is going to do is hard and requires actual observation, but using appearance is quick and easy. And usually totally wrong. Just like making decisions about people is hard and complex. Who’s a hard worker and who’s a slacker, who should you hire, date, hang out with? So, it’s really easy to make snap judgments based on appearance. Quick, easy, and totally wrong.
Appearance isn’t behavior, or personality, or morality. Or health, for that matter. It’s just appearance.
*I’m using scare quotes because, like most breed-specific laws, they’re using a definition that includes the three breeds that are generally considered pit bulls, as well as American Bulldogs, mixes of the above breed, and any dog that looks like the above breeds (as defined by a vet, a rescue, or an animal control officer, none of whom are necessarily breed experts).