Leanne and Shaun Bird adopted their pit bull Peanut in 2012, not knowing that she inherited a disease called progressive retinal atrophy which has basically now left her blind.
The Birds tell me that Peanut was such an integral part of both their lives that they would support her through her disability as they, like many dog owners, treat Peanut as a member of their family.
Peanut attracts a lot of attention as neighbours and friends are often in shock at how well behaved she is, and how capable she is at functioning while blind. She is often around children, other dogs and large groups of people who all seem to accept her as one of the family.
The Birds' friends say their toddlers love Peanut. Family events such as barbecues and camping trips are not complete unless the blind puppy is present. She wears her "Blind dog" badge proudly and the Birds are quick to explain that doesn't mean that she is leading a blind person, but rather that they are leading their blind dog.
The couple have been in the news lately because they're seeking changes to a bylaw in Richmond, B.C. that requires dangerous breeds to wear a muzzle in public.
As Leanne has said "I am a bit of a rule follower." She registered Peanut because the dog shows characteristics of a pit bull, and this then subjected her to the bylaw.
But this creates an obvious additional issue for Peanut as she uses her snout and whiskers to help her navigate.
The Birds went to Richmond city hall, armed with letters from friends, neighbours and statistics showing that other communities have proven a change to legislation works, and that there are options. But they were told that the city would not amend the bylaw.
The requested changes to the bylaw are not about Peanut specifically. The headline is the grab, but what is happening here is a couple petitioning their city to review a bylaw similar to how other cities have -- and make an across-the-board change for all responsible dog owners whose pets may show characteristics of a dangerous breed.
This is a situation where we are clearly seeing a divide. On one side, you have passionate, responsible dog owners who do not appreciate their animals being discriminated against because of their breed; and on the other, you have politically geared debate regarding the safety of members of the community.
There is also a lot of commentary from people who land in the middle. All very important to the decision process that our policy makers need to take into consideration when creating laws for the better of our communities.
The Birds are asking that the city implement an amendment to the bylaw that allow responsible dog owners to put their dogs through the Canadian Kennel Club's Canine Good Neighbour Program. Then with that certification, certain rules within the existing legislation could be allowed (such as, a dog not having to wear a muzzle when in public, but still remaining on a short leash.)
Other cities in the province, such as Nanaimo, have done this, and you can read about cities across the world implementing similar policy.
It is very simple, the Birds are not asking: "Please exclude our blind dog from the law because she is blind." They are not asking for a one-off exception due to circumstance.
They are asking for equal opportunity and a bylaw change because of statistical data of what other communities have implemented. In fact, a certification process might actually assist owners in becoming more responsible pet owners. Anyone who owns a dog in the city of Richmond would then be able to train their dog, achieve certification and their dogs would then be muzzle free.
The Birds have created a petition asking the City of Richmond to rethink its decision.
Watching this petition attract media discussion from both sides of the argument has been interesting. I believe taking both sides into consideration is a critical part of policy determination. What this is proving is that sometimes it takes a specific situation (such as a blind dog) to really open up that discussion and get people talking.
Let's hope this causes the City of Richmond to re-open consideration and really look into the amendments the Birds are proposing.
Dog bites and attacks are a horrible thing, but I think a general consensus is that more responsibility should be put on the dog owners. I'm fairly certain the Birds would agree as they have spent a majority of the past few years working with their pit bull to ensure she lives the best life possible.
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