Denise Costa on Pit Bull Prejudice and Other Animal Rights Activism

Author/animal rights activist Denise Carey-Costa is currently promoting a book, “Tony’s Tale ” about an innocent dog that was euthanized by court order simply because of his breed. In this interview, Denise discusses the cruelty and prejudice these dogs face.

Justin Samuels: How did you learn about what happened to Tony? What breed was he by the way?

Denise Carey-Costa: Tony was a pit bull/sharpei mix.

I first heard of Tony’s case via a petition site called Causes. It was in February of 2012. The petition was to urge the Justice of the Peace in Clifton, Arizona to reverse her decision to have Tony killed. Months later in June I saw an update that Tony was killed via a court order. I was devastated when I read his story and saw the picture of him with his family. I looked into his sweet, gentle eyes and knew this dog was no killer. Something was not adding up with the entire court hearing. A person close to Tony’s owner Michelle Dozier contacted me asking me to write about the case and the tragic outcome. I wrote a story in my weekly news column.

I then contacted Michelle Dozier and asked her if I could write a book about Tony and her family. The book Tony’s Tale; Tragedy in Arizona was published in October 2012 and went into worldwide distribution.

JS: Can you tell us how big this matter really is? Is it an isolated incident, or is it becoming pretty common?

DCC: Unfortunately this is becoming an epidemic worldwide. Dogs are being seized from their owners on non existent or trumped up charges, thrown into county or city impounds, and then killed based on little to no evidence they even committed a crime. In the same summer Tony was murdered two other dogs also suffered the same fate. Wicca, an American Staffordshire Terrier was killed in Montreal and Lenox a pit bull in Belfast, Ireland was put to death just because the town in which he lived decided to outlaw pit bulls.

JS: The authorities had a number of complaints against Shelly, Tony’s owner. There were no vaccination records or license records for starters. Which doesn’t mean the dogs had to be put to sleep. Was Shelly given the chance to solve the accusations (vaccinate the dogs, put them behind a fence, etc.)?

DCC: Yes. Initially Michelle’s attorney reached an agreement with the court to have restitution paid to the owner of the dog Tony allegedly killed, to erect a fence around her property, and to have her dogs tagged and vaccinated. Michelle agreed and complied with all of these stipulations. Then after she made good on her promises the court turned around, and told her the other dead dog’s owner wanted one of Michelle’s dogs to be killed as well. The judge chose Tony of the three dogs since he was part pit bull.

JS: So though it could have been any of the other dogs around, you feel that Tony was ordered to be put down simply because the court was not fond of pit bulls?

DCC: Yes, the entire case was handled with a prejudicial slant. There were no witness that saw Tony or either of Michelle’s other two dogs attack and kill the neighbor’s dog. The area where they live is very rural, desert country with many coyotes and birds of prey. The dog was a Chihuahua which could easily have been attacked by a coyote or a large bird. The wounds on the chihuahua did not match Tony’s teeth as his front canine teeth were broken. Also, the day of the incident none of Michelle’s three dogs exhibited any physical evidence such as blood on their mouths or defense wounds to indicate they had attacked another animal.

The Justice of the Peace Grace Nabor based her decision solely on emotions and not on proof or evidence. There was even some talk that the judge and the neighbor whose dog was killed were related in some way.

JS: I’ve known a lot of friendly pit bulls. But this breed, when it bites, often clamps and doesn’t let go. Some people deliberately get them to make them mean and sometimes an innocent person gets hurt (or in extreme cases killed). So how to balance the fight against pit bull prejudice against safety of the public, knowing some people obtain them to make them into very violent animals? They aren’t naturally like this, but they can be made to behave like this.

DCC: There are so many laws in place against the pit bulls and punishments meted out to them when on the flip side those charged with dog fighting which is a felony in every state are let go with little to no punishment. Case in point Michael Vick. Historically the pit bull was the favorite famiy pet in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were even referred to as the Nanny Dog. Unfortunately as the decades went on and humanity became more corrupt they took these once gentle animals and capitalized on their innate strength using them for their own sick and cruel agendas. Harsher sentencing needs to be in place against those that fight dogs and the free to good home options on Craigslist need to be done away with as they make it far too easy to acquire pit bulls for the wrong reason. Any dog like a child, if raised correctly can be gentle and well behaved.

JS: Public housing in NYC has banned pit bulls, among other breeds. I’m sure some other housing development or locations have as well. Are animal shelters full of pit bulls? Do you have any data on this matter?

DCC: Miami Dade also has a ban on pit bulls. I volunteer at several animal shelters and the majority of shelter dogs that I see are pit bull and pit bull mixes.

JS: Clearly you love animals. Are you working on any other books on animals?

DCC:I am working another book similar to Tony’s story. It is called Faces of Judicial Murder and will be a compilation of other cases involving the unethical killing of pit bulls. I am also working on a documentary film based on Tony’s story. Josh Mitchell, producer/director of the recent film Helen Keller Had a Pit Bull is willing to take on the project. Right now we are looking for an Executive Producer(s).

JS: Is your animal rights activism only for dogs, or you covering other species? Do you deal with wildlife issues, such as when wildlife are indiscriminately slaughtered for reasons as stupid and unfair as Tony’s death?

DCC: Although the majority of my stories center on dogs and cats I am a staunch activist for all animals including those exploited in circuses, zoos, laboratories, and water parks. Also, the killing of animals for fur or leather or with elephants for their ivory tucks. I also practice a vegetarian diet and actively sign any petition against animal cruelty.

JS: How should the courts have behaved in Tony’s case?

DCC: I believe so much evidence was there that was never even discussed in the case such as Tony’s teeth not matching the bite marks on the chihuahua. Also, the court should have called in an animal behaviorist as an expert witness to identify if Tony had the ability to act aggressively toward other animals or people. Due to the lack of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt proving Tony killed the dog, the case should have been closed after Michelle complied with the court stipulations that were placed on her.

JS: What can the public do to be more involved in animal rights activism?

DCC: The public can do many things to be involved with animal activism. They can subscribe to nationwide/worldwide groups such as PETA, Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International or any local advocacy groups in their area. They can also donate time or money to their local animal shelters as well as sign a multitude of petitions that circulate online via Causes and Care2.

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