Happy Wednesday, readers, writers, and shark fans! I have something to discuss with you today that will feel off-topic at first, but please, bear with me. It’s important.
This past weekend was a whirlwind. My kids really wanted to watch Sharkdog on Netflix, a cartoon show about a young boy who comes across a four-legged shark with dog-like characteristics, adopts him, and keeps him a secret, believing his parents would not let him keep him. Upon meeting him and getting to know him, the parents not only let him keep Sharkdog, but the show then follows the shenanigans that only a kid with an ornery but sweet land shark could get into.
My kids absolutely love this show, and while no one asked, I’m absolutely certain that Sharkdog is meant to represent a Pit Bull. His body build, large head, large mouth, and even people’s reactions (like, “We can’t let that thing near the children!” “What if he turns?!” “We don’t know what that thing is capable of!) mirror public biases toward Pit bulls and similarly stigmatized breeds. There’s honestly no convincing me otherwise at this point.
So, in case you needed some backstory, I’m evitably going to lovingly refer to Pit Bulls and other similar breeds as Shark Dogs going forward. It’s a natural progression. It’s coming from a deep place of love. And it’s fitting for our community. Win-win-win.
Now… onto the heavier stuff.
The Ban of XL Bully Dogs in the UK
In case you haven’t heard, here’s a summary of what’s happening in the UK in regard to banning XL Bully Dogs.
Pit Bulls, XL Bully Dogs, Staffordshires, and other breeds have long been targeted for banning and increased social restrictions. As of right now, XL Bully Dogs have been banned in England and Wales. As of December 31, 2023, all dogs who fall into this category and are currently housed in a shelter will be euthanized. As of February 2024, if they have not gone through an appeal process to keep their dogs, families with this breed will lose their family pets. Those who are able to keep their dogs will face far steeper social restrictions, only beginning with leashing and muzzle laws. Those who currently own dogs within this category are also being offered $200 compensation to voluntarily bring their dog to a veterinary office and have their dog euthanized themselves.
All of this information is alarming enough, but the category is intensely problematic. An “XL Bully” does not cover one specific dog; rather, it applies to their stature: males are between 21 and 23 inches (53 and 58 centimeters), and females are between 19 and 22 inches (48 and 56 centimeters). This could easily cause dogs who otherwise do not qualify as XL Bully Dogs to be reprimanded, fined, taken from their families, and/or euthanized, simply for their height or width.
I inevitably made myself sicker this weekend. Not from watching Sharkdog but from scrolling for far too long on TikTok through videos about XL bully dogs, their families, and the UK ban. I’ve sobbed uncontrollably, I’ve mourned, I’ve cried silent tears, I’ve screamed, I’ve raged at what is to come for these dogs, and inevitably more.
If something doesn’t change between now and the end of December, all XL bully dogs currently kept at a dog shelter in the UK will be euthanized on December 31st. As of February 2024, all families without an approved appeal will be required to surrender their dogs—and we know what will happen to them, as well. In under two months, we’ll see a terrible massacre across England and Wales.
I Have to Do Something. I Hope You Do, Too.
I scrolled for hours through videos of people protesting and mourning, people showcasing their dogs to not be the terrible villains some believe them to be, of the high numbers of this breed that are in shelters… and I scrolled through comments, DIGGING for action. All I found were comments like, “Something has to be done,” “We can’t let this happen,” “I wish I could just take all of them home with me.”
I’m very much in that last group. My youngest is very allergic to dogs, so we’ve committed unfortunately to a life without dogs. I already told my husband this weekend that if our son wasn’t allergic, we’d be making a trip to the UK to pick out one of these dogs to start the long, detailed, and expensive procedure of getting them adopted into Croatia, as well as making sure we have everything in place for them living on the coast. My husband said he knew, and I could tell by the look on his face that he meant it. Regretfully, we can’t do that to our son.
But… I’m not staying in just that group. I DO wish I could take them all home. I DO wish I could go out and buy a 100-acre ranch and coordinate a massive team of people to transport all of these dogs out of the UK to this ranch where they’d stay until they’re placed into good, forever homes… but in my current position and with the current size and reach of Lit Shark, that’s a dream, not a reality. And right now, these dogs need a swift dose of reality—a positive one.
But I’m not staying in that mindset, either. I have to come up with solutions that can actually be played out. Maybe it’s having everyone in the EU contact the rescues in their country to see if they can take 1-5 dogs and transport them to the rescues with openings. Maybe it’s helping a family adopt a dog who can’t afford those initial fees but who can afford everything else. Maybe it’s flying some of these dogs to the States. Maybe it’s volunteering to foster or to transport dogs or to create social media profiles/posts for each dog to help more people see them.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I can’t just… be content with not knowing the answer. Action is required. Research is required. MORE ACTION is required. Sitting is not. Wishing is not. Complacency is not. It can’t stop with “I wish…” Too much is at stake.
People have asked me over the years what my favorite animal is (less as an adult than when I was a child, sure, but it still has its way of coming up), and I always freeze. I think of cats and dogs and foxes, but then my Midwestern heart thinks of horses and cows, and then I’m off in the ocean with sharks and sting rays and dolphins and whales… and then over here with red pandas and great pandas, and over there with elephants and giraffes and lions and tigers—and my heart just can’t keep up. It can’t keep up. It can’t choose. I love them all. I respect them all. They are living here. They deserve to be here. And I want to fight for all of them. I can’t sit by and watch another animal go extinct in my lifetime without knowing that I did everything that I and the Lit Shark Community personally could. I can’t sit by and watch a potential massacre like this play out.
It All Goes Back to Stigma.
As much as Lit Shark is about creative writing and marine life in general, a huge part of our mission is removing stigma… But stigma impacts large dog breeds like the XL Bully in the same way that it impacts sharks or sting rays or wolves. They are all marked, judged, and often hated for their breed, their power, and their appearance. But to be an apex predator is not to be a villain. To sport a large, powerful jaw is not to be inherently dangerous or aggressive. To hunt in a pack is not vengeful, conniving, or even calculating. It’s their inherent, beautiful design. Not a villain origin story. Not the front-facing example of being “agentic” or “evil.”
You’d think we would have learned enough about what placing too much on a person’s appearance can do by now. We should take those lessons and apply them to the creatures we’re sharing this world with. Most of them were here first, and in so many ways, we’d be better off if we let them teach us a few things and show us the way.
Despite our name, Lit Shark isn’t just for sharks. Our conservation efforts extend from the deepest parts of the ocean and seas, up through the coral reefs, and right up onto the land that’s impacted by those reefs. The land animals surrounding those shores, the plants, the birds that fly from place to place, we care about all of them. It’s just that a big part of our mission, too, is to destigmatize the image of the shark. They don’t deserve the villainous shroud they’ve been given. They are apex predators, and they should be respected; absolutely do not get in the water and try to pretend that they’re a puppy because they are not. But that doesn’t mean that they’re evil and seeking to kill everything for the thrill of it. The same is true for Pit Bulls and XL Bully dogs. The size of their heads and their jaws, and their jaw strength, are what frightens people. Media portrayals of them, like a Pit Bull nearly killing White Fang in the ’90s film adaptation, are what frightens people.
When in reality, what SHOULD frighten us is how the dogs are being raised by their owners. Maybe there need to be stricter public laws because there’s no telling how people are raising their dogs. Maybe that would be okay: more background checks, more appointments to ensure that dogs are being properly trained, etc. But an overall ban of the dogs themselves, including euthanasia? It’s too much. It’s heartbreakingly, overwhelmingly, maddeningly too much.
So anyway… This is the most rambly post ever to appear on Lit Shark’s website, and in THAT sense, I am sorry. But we have to do something. I can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, or spiraling over it until we do. But I—me, McKenzie, EIC, Fellow Shark Fan, and lover of ALL animals—am only one person. And I am a person who can’t even bring one dog into her home in order to protect her son; it’s too complicated. I can’t let that be an excuse and stop me from doing something, but I need your help in figuring out what we can possibly do.
It’s Time to Take Action.
Tell me in the comments—what are YOUR ideas? Can we start a program? An organization? Something that will get all of these dogs out of harm’s way and into a safe place where they can wait to find their forever homes? Ideas, research/resources, names—whatever you have to share is welcome. No hate, though. They’ve received enough of that already. We’re here to love and heal. And we’re going to break through and make serious progress.
Here’s what I have so far (the ideas get increasingly wild, desperate, and/or difficult to do the further down the list you get, but they’re SOMETHING):
– Sign petitions: This one from Parliament.UK, this one from Change.org, and this other one from Change.org are currently active (many have been taken down)
– We can’t blame the shelters; they didn’t do this. Keep donating funds, old blankets, food, and everything they need.
– Organize more protests featuring our pitties and bullies.
– Organize more protests featuring our FELLOW dogs who are showing support for our pitties and bullies.
– Share stories online about our pitties and bullies (ones we’ve owned, ones in our family, ones owned by our friends, ones in our communities and in our travels—heck, if we came up with enough, I’d make a Lit Shark Magazine issue for them, and it would be the SHARKDOG Edition; I would not hesitate to put the hours in to make that happen).
– Make merch like mugs, t-shirts, bookmarks, and more to raise money.
– Are there any fundraisers already out trying to move and help these dogs? Support them if we can.
– Call UK congresspeople.
– Call UK rescues and shelters and ask HOW MANY XL Bully Dogs they have on their roster. Any purebreds, any crossbreeds, anyone who could be impacted by that December 31st deadline.
– Call rescues in nearby countries (EU would be best, though I know the UK is separate now; the EU is nearby) to see how much room they have to take in 1, 2, 5, or even 10 dogs, and figure out how to transport them.
– Raise money to get these dogs vaccinated and legally papered to move from one country to another, and also figure out transportation plans/funds.
– Establish a whole (darn) rescue base for them in a nearby country, and just move them all there, and hold them there until they can find forever homes.
Tell me more. There HAS to be more.