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Republican Legislator Takes Pit Bull Battle to Edgewood

I received this email from Rena Distasio on the latest in Senator Sue Wilson-Beffort’s quest to rid the Land of Enchantment of pit bulls. It is rather long, but I believe it is worth reading. All of the links in the quoted texts were added by me.

Just thought I’d pass on to you the goings on at the Edgewood City Council meeting this past Wed., January 12, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting was held to present information on the pros and cons of breed specific legislation [BSL] since Edgewood is considering banning pit bulls.

I have to hand it to the council; they allowed everyone to ask questions or make comments after each of the four speakers — Vicki Lenderman, Edgewood’s animal control officer, Viki Elkey from Animal Protection of NM, Bob Schwartz, Governor Bill Richardson’s crime expert, and NM State Senator Sue Wilson Beffort.

Pretty impressive line-up. Good to know that Gov. Richardson’s crime czar was on the scene.

Lenderman was conducting the meeting, but comments she’s made previously in the press are decidedly anti-BSL; Elkey and Animal Protection is against BSL; Schwartz made it clear he wasn’t there to state his personal point of view, just to present the Governor’s dangerous dog law, which seems to be non-breed specific; Sue Wilson Beffort is the Republican Senator pushing for a state-wide ban of pit bulls and a dozen other so-called dangerous dogs.

Actually, she isn’t yet proposing a ban on the other dangerous dogs – just attempting to fill state coffers.

I think we managed to sway the council towards non-breed specific laws. And much of that credit must be given to Beffort herself, who is cutting her own throat with this issue.

When I elect a public official, I do so hoping that they will do for me what I often cannot do for myself: research, objectively and fairly, all sides of an issue, and present to me the pros and cons of that issue as it pertains to my civil liberties. With all due respect to the senator, she is overstepping her bounds as a public official. Not only is she woefully ignorant of the basics of canine behavior, temperament, and history; she has admittedly based her argument on emotion, gut feeling, and, in my humble opinion, the desire to wield control over others.

Hey Rena, you should probably go easy on the Senator. It’s not entirely her fault that she is pushing an issue before she has really had a chance to learn all of the basics. These legislators only have 60 days to introduce and attempt to pass over 2,000 bills (subscription). With such fierce competition to get credit for a new law, it’s not really a priority to fully study the issues.

Just a few examples:

She quoted as the basis for her legislation an inflammatory remark made by a Denver judge (and non-dog expert) that pit bulls are “something other than dogs.” Ask any dog expert and they’ll tell you: ALL dogs belong to the same species, Canis lupis (familiaris), just like all humans whether Asian, Caucasian, Native American, etc. — are Homo sapiens. You wouldn’t say that Hispanics, by virtue of their culture and skin color, are other than human beings. So it makes no sense to say the same thing about dogs. Like human beings, dogs share the same genetic makeup of their specific species.

Well, as an all-American mutt (Ecuadorian Hungarian Jew), this all sounds scientifically sound to me. I’ve always felt comfortable in my knowledge that I am a member of the same species as the other humans around me.

Further, according to Bob Schwartz, Senator Beffort intends to include in her breed ban up to a dozen other dogs. However, the one dog that is exempt is the American Staffordshire Terrier. Another example of Beffort’s ignorance and unwillingness to research her issue. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of dog breeds knows that the American Staffordshire Terrier IS a pit bull, only with slight differences in conformation from the American Pit Bull Terrier. At the turn of the century in the United States the UKC was established to register the American Pit Bull Terrier and the AKC in turn registered the same breed, only under the American Staffordshire Terrier name, so that they could distance themselves from the dog’s fighting heritage.

Unfortunately, I was not able to address this issue with Beffort. But I did get to make several other pointed comments: One, I asked the Senator to explain where she got her information on dangerous dogs. Her answer: “Well, I’m not sure, but you know, it’s out there. It’s widely agreed upon. ”

Then I pointed out that her legislation tramples all over our Constitutionally guaranteed right to due process. She couldn’t meet my eyes and had no answer, either.

Other members of the audience made great points as well. Tom Payne of Lodestar Dog Ranch (a Lab rescue) here in Tijeras likened Beffort’s legislation to the government banning people of Irish decent in New Mexico because it’s been “proven” they drink more and are therefore more likely to be involved in DWIs.

A journalist from “The Independent” pointed out that Beffort’s required $1,000 licensing free for each “dangerous dog” already in existence would place undue hardship on lower income families. Beffort further revealed her class-ism with a comment to the effect that when she lived in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, her neighborhood had no dog bite problems because those kinds of people tend to own “poodles and such.”

Senator Beffort makes me ashamed to be a Republican. I always thought our party believed in upholding our civil liberties as the first principle of American citizenship. Guess not. Because Beffort’s legislation presumes us all guilty of a crime simply by virtue of the kind of dog we own. I believe this runs contrary to the founding judicial principle of the United States of America: that we are all innocent until proven otherwise by a jury of our peers.

Rena is right. There has been a recent trend in New Mexico of legislators introducing laws that attempt to punish all for the irresponsibility of a few. This needs to stop. Moreover, an introduction of more than 2,000 bills show a lack of focus on issues that are truly plaguing this state. I challenge any New Mexican to come up with a list of more than 20 truly pressing issues that need to be addressed statewide. Please Senator Wilson Beffort, I hope you’ll reconsider this crusade and get back to the priorities you had in the past.