BSL in the Military: One Family’s Sacrifice

Blog post by a “sad ex-mom of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier” who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns regarding the military. Foreword by ARLP Education Director Kellie French.

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Foreword:

Reflecting on this past year I am thankful for so many things. One of the biggest is that another year has gone by and we continue to have a BSL-free (breed-specific legislation) Minnesota. We continue to live in a state where there is a law making it illegal for communities to enact-breed specific designations on dogs. I can rest assured that the two furry members of my family will not be judged, taken away from me, or euthanized simply due to their appearance.

Yet just four years ago, in winter 2008, this law was in serious jeopardy. Pit bull advocates, including members of A Rotta Love Plus and various other groups and community members, joined forces (enjoying strategy meetings at Summit Brewery - thanks Carey!) to educate legislators about the importance of judging a dog based on actions and not breed. Our efforts were successful and we got to keep our State Statute 347.51 Sub. 8:

Local ordinances. A statutory or home rule charter city, or a county, may not adopt an ordinance regulating dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs based solely on the specific breed of the dog. Ordinances inconsistent with this subdivision are void.

Although I am comforted by this law, I am not confident that this will be the last we hear of breed-specific bans and discriminatory laws in MN, so I am always ready to educate others to prevent a return occurrence. I recently was reminded of the fact that other states, cities, communities, and military bases are not as fortunate; I learned of a friend’s tragic experience and it solidified my conviction that anything that we can do about these types of injustices needs to be done. For all of those out there who have had similar experiences, I am so, so sorry. And for those of you who are fighting the injustices, thank you for everything you do.

________________________________________________

The time had come. It was time for me to prepare my young children for a painful loss, one that was too much for a five-year old or two-year old to process on their own. I knew when we welcomed our pup into our family, one year before our first was born, that I would someday have to mend broken hearts when she died. So why was I wiping tears from their chubby cheeks at bedtime when our dog was healthy, happy, and sleeping on the couch upstairs?

Our story starts in 2005. My husband and I had returned home from our separate deployments from the Army, and couldn’t wait to be under the same roof again and start a family. For us, the first step was to become “puppy parents” and get the cute dog that my husband and I had discussed over and over again while we would communicate over instant messaging while we were apart. We discussed different breeds thoroughly, reading books and researching online. Children were a must for us, so we made sure that the breed we chose would be great with kids. After extensive research, we decided on the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. We contacted a reputable breeder and welcomed our adorable red puppy, Willa, into our home.

Willa stole our hearts immediately. She loved to snuggle, and we would cradle her like a newborn baby at night while she fell asleep. We took her to swim in streams and laughed for hours at her antics of splashing the water with her paw and trying to catch the water in her mouth. She was full of personality and life.

One year after she came home with us, we had our first son. The memories we have of him giggling as a baby while throwing Willa’s rope and tennis balls to her will always make us smile. Willa tolerated the baby when he would climb into her bed, crawl on top of her, and pull her tail and ears. Never did she bite him or threaten him, which actually surprised me given how determined that baby could be! She was part of our family, no doubt about it. My husband and I often discussed what a great decision we made with this breed.

In early 2009, I was pregnant with our daughter. We were living on-post at what was my husband’s assigned installation in Kansas. Life was good. I was weeks away from giving birth, when one day I received an e-mail that concerned me. The e-mail informed me that the garrison commander had signed a breed ban for that post. Never, ever, had I thought that this was a possibility for the military. I had followed websites reporting on breed ban legislation because being military, we move. A lot. I wanted to be informed about the places that banned Willa and avoid them. To me, it was too easy. “I wouldn’t want to live in those cities anyway, obviously [if they support breed bans] they are full of ignorant people,” I often thought to myself. Since I enjoyed living on-post, it wasn’t an issue for us. But it quickly became an issue, and a big one: within weeks, the breed ban (which included something like 60 breeds) went from just being at that post to being Department of Defense policy at all military installations.

Willa was covered under a grandfather clause in Kansas, as she was already registered at that post. Once we left on-post housing, however, she would no longer be allowed on a military installation. I still cannot accept the unfairness of that policy. Military families move. A lot! My husband was transferred the next year to attend school in a civilian area. Willa continued to be the best dog in the world, with so much personality, and by this time putting up with three kids under the age of five. Ever since the day we found out about the breed ban, it was like a dark cloud hanging over our heads when we discussed our future and how Willa was going to fit into it. We knew that with my husband’s career – and with another 12 years before he can retire – the likelihood that we could avoid living on-post for all of that time was small.

And now that dreaded day has come. My husband received his next orders; he is set to deploy in a couple of months, after he moves us back to a different post in Kansas. This means that I will be moving to a new area, with no support, to take care of a house and raise three kids on my own for a year. There was no decision. We have to move on-post. After searching, we were lucky to find fantastic new owners for Willa in my hometown, which will allow us to visit her when we come to the area. This is little consolation to a 5-year old, a 2-year old…or their 30-something parents. Our hearts are broken.

As I was putting my kids to sleep the night before Willa was set to go to her new home, I was calm. Emotionally shut-down over the situation, made easier because it seemed like my kids were either oblivious to the situation (even though I tried to prepare them for months) or they just didn’t care. I was wrong. As soon as I mentioned dropping Willa off at her new house in the morning, the tears started pouring down their faces. My little girl started weeping “I don’t want to lose my dog!” over and over, tears drenching her blonde curls. I felt nauseous. I didn’t know what to say to a 2-year old who doesn’t understand what is going on in her life. She just moved from her familiar home, and now her dog is being taken from her? I then turned to talk to my son, to see if he was bothered by the conversation. His back was turned to me. I immediately knew that he too was crying, but didn’t want me to see his tears. Then my tears started.

I knew that I couldn’t explain this to my kids, but I tried. I started talking about breed bans (first having to explain breeds), and why some people agree with them. “Some people think that dogs that look like Willa can be mean and bite other people and dogs, so they ban them from living in Army cities,” I said. “But Willa isn’t mean and doesn’t bite,” my son replied. I was silent. He was right, and nothing I could say would make this fair. I then attempted to cheer him up and make his world feel a little more secure by saying “Just remember, no matter what, we have our family.” I knew mid-sentence that I shouldn’t have said it. He replied, sobbing, “but Willa is part of our family and we won’t have her.”

For the next hour, I held my kids as the three of us cried. They eventually fell asleep. I cried for a few more hours. The pain of losing Willa and seeing my adorable, sweet children with broken hearts at such young ages was more pain than I imagined. I am haunted by the faces of my distraught kids and their weeping voices.

My husband, my children, and I have made many sacrifices for the military, and have done so with pleasure; these sacrifices have been made for the love of our country. In the timespan of mere months, my children have moved across country, changed schools, and said goodbye to friends. But the loss of our friendly, playful, humorous, snuggling, PB&J snatching, constant companion is an unexpected, undeserved injustice – and is one sacrifice I will never forgive.

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3 thoughts on “BSL in the Military: One Family’s Sacrifice

  1. Chris Sacksteder

    This story is breaking my heart. I’m so very disappointed that your sacrifices are being met with this.




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