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I have been trying to figure what to say as white dog business owner about Amy Cooper. Amy Cooper is the white woman who called the cops on a black man who asked her to leash her dog, in an attempt to cause him serious harm. She was not at any point in physical danger, and she even actively physically threatens the space of her victim Christian Cooper who asks her to stay back. PS- We are in the middle of a pandemic and her mask is draped across her chin, so as better to use her "call the cops" panic voice.
I keep thinking, over and over, is that it is deeply ingrained white privilege that assumes you don’t need to have control over your dog, or follow rules regarding dog management (ie: leash laws, poop scooping).
Firstly, I will be honest and say I didn’t notice Amy Cooper’s former dog struggling at first in the now infamous video. The pitch of her feigned terror, the laid out plan of threats, the knowing look in her eye- it was all too familiar and I was focused on her lies and the danger she posed. If you haven’t seen the video, take the time to watch it.
Many white animal lovers noticed the dog first, which is undeniably racist. Yea, she manhandled that dog during the conflict. She manhandled that dog with a lack of compassion that paled in comparison with her maliciousness in threatening Christian Cooper, a queer comic trailblazer, Harvard grad, and innocent bystander to her law disregard. The dog was in short term, minor distress. Christian was in peril. That is the reality of policing in this country. And that is what we need to be focusing on.
The RT team is regularly engaged in these typical interactions. A poorly trained, off leash dog comes bounding up to our structured pack, with their white owner waving their hands, sometimes attempting a failed recall, sometimes yelling about the supposed friendliness. Often times, these instances escalate quickly, and several of my team are vulnerable to police violence, but none in the very specific way that a black man is, as we currently do not have any black men on our staff.
During a recent family photo shoot, I asked a white man to leash his dog in a leash-only section of a local park. I am direct, firm and unyielding. I am also incredibly visibly queer, and so is my spouse. The enraged white man began threatening us, causing a scene. It was ugly. Cara (who was also having family pics taken) had to step in with her dog Jonas and offer to remove his muzzle if he continued harassing us. The white man had his dog in a non-off leash section, had little verbal control, the dog wasn’t wearing the required license tag to access the off-leash space (known as a green dog tag). Rio, sensing my panic, was in a full shield bark in a blocking position. I asked the man to leash the dog because we had our full pack on leash, and were taking a few pictures when the off-leash dog entered into the shot. The mere suggestion of a leash turned to aggression in almost no time flat.
If the cops had been called, I would have run. Trans people are not safe in police custody. But the man didn’t threaten that, which one can assume was also because we are white, and eventually wandered away to ruin to someone else’s day. I know that had we been Black, it would have been exponentially worse. This guy wasn’t going to tolerate two white queer folk telling him to leash up- with a pack of 3 (then 4) defensive dogs, and a photographer and a witness. If we had been anything other than white, we could be dead. By the police. For asking someone to follow basic regulations.
Today, June 1st, a memory popped up on my Facebook, and I hesitate to share it because I don’t want to take away from the the fact that we need to focus on justice for Black folx, individually and systemically. But I want to drive home the incredible, presumptuous privilege, that comes within white people and dog culture.
Last year I was assaulted 4 notable times (and countless stupid verbal interactions) as a visibly queer person with a service dog. The first time, I was grocery shopping. I had my back turned to Rio, who was standing in a tight position behind me, facing the cooler I was reaching into. A kid, between the age of 6-8 waltzed up to her and gripped the fur on her back. I startled as Rio changed position, and turned around. The child knew she had done wrong. I calmly said “Stop touching her. It is incredibly rude to touch a service dog. Go away and find your parents.” The child began to cry. I do not feel bad, I wasn’t overly cruel, and this kid was screwing with the settings on my medical device while I tried to get through an errand. It is not my job as a person with a disability to make other people’s kids comfortable with my adult with a disability boundaries. When the kid returned to her dad crying- he came at me. Up to this point, nose buried in his phone, he was not paying any attention to his kid, who had wandered 3 aisles over to harass me. He ran up to me screaming, and threw a punch, which I avoided mostly because he couldn’t get too close to me because Rio was in a front shield (creating space). He threatened the dog, he threatened me. Customers all around us watched silently. He then tracked me through the store until I went and got a manager, which I could do because I was white- who made him stop but didn’t ask them to leave- because the man's comfort was still more important my safety as a transperson with a disability.
White privilege is in EVERY action, EVERY system, every engagement. I have it, even as a trans person with a disability, I would be impacted differently, and more severely if I was also a person of color.
It is a place of privilege to believe you are above leash laws. It is a place of privilege to believe that your dog deserves better treatment then black people, subconsciously or actively. It is work to change the inherent racism that permeates white people's actions. We must do it. My dogs have their own bedroom and are the most spoiled creatures that have ever lived. But they do not deserve to run off leash more than anyone else deserves to be comfortable in their presence.
To go one step further, I believe that it comes from a place of privilege to not properly train or manage your dog. I am not talking about the people who can’t afford professional help, and are googling the best they can while wrestling their pup on a leash. I am talking about the Karens who believe that if I am allowed accommodation for my highly trained service dog in public, they should be able to shove their doodle into a vest because they like having their dog around. I am talking about the Amy Coopers who believe they don’t have to leash their dogs, and when asked, threaten murder. That’s what calling the cops on black folk is in this situation- threatening murder.
Dogs have a long and complicated history of being involved in racial violence, and comment from the President this week reinforces this. To quote Donald Trump, he threatened with “The most vicious dogs”. Do you know how white people, especially law enforcement, have weaponized dogs specifically to terrorize black communities? They have, and there is a long historical record of it. You can do some further reading, here.
White people, white dog owners- we have a lot to do. We have a lot to be accountable for, we have a lot to work incredibly hard to dismantle and make better. But don’t leave your dog ownership out of it. Do not weaponize your dog by refusing to leash, by poorly training recall, by not using an e-collar to reinforce and correct misbehavior in high distraction environments like public parks, faking service dogs, by not using long lines. Your dog does not have the automatic right to access to off leash exercise over the right of black people to live. You do not have the right to assume that your dog is “good enough” when it could terrorize another human being- simply by approaching them.
As white dog professionals, we have the obligation to call in our clients, ensure that they understand that anything less than 100% recall means we stay on leash unless we are in a designated, fenced, dog area. As white dog professionals we have the obligation to follow leash laws and encourage others to do the same. As white dog professionals we have the obligation to recognize the role of dogs in systemic violence, and work to create avenues that allow safety, emotionally and physically, for those afraid of dogs. As white dog professionals we have the obligation to provide a welcoming, safe, informed environment for BIPOC seeking services and support for their own dogs. We have the obligation of calling in white dog owners who believe their dog is "inherently racist".
Ruff Translating’s official company stance is that we are with Black Lives Matter. We stand against police violence. And we stand against the Amy Coopers of the world who are irresponsible dog owners, but more importantly- are so entrenched in dog owner privilege they commit racist acts endangering the lives of those more vulnerable. Don’t call the cops. Leash your fucking dog. And remember that training is the only way to access public spaces, and that your poorly trained dog is a threat to the safety of both people and other dogs. White dog culture is not just memes, it’s not just dogs in sweaters, it is also deeply entrenched entitlement. That entitlement is downright dangerous, for people and dogs. And we must change.