Viral adoption story highlights absurdity of breed discrimination

It was a simple photo of Waterford, Michigan, resident Dan Tillery with his newly adopted dog Sir Wiggleton lying on the ground, smiling ear to ear. But it took the internet by storm — garnering more than 6,700 shares on Facebook.

The post spurred on thousands of news articles from around the world and it’s the kind of adoption story that has become the gold standard for animal welfare in this digital age. Best Friends and others urge organizations to use these kinds of images to tell the story of adoption so that others will make the same choice. It’s endearing, sweet and shows the power of the bond we have with animals.

Unfortunately, the popularity of this photo has caused problems for Dan and his new pup (who has been renamed Diggy). That’s because Waterford, a town located about an hour northwest of Detroit, has a law that bans the ownership of certain breeds of dogs. So when they caught wind of the story, the authorities visited Dan’s house and according to local news reports, “determined Diggy is a pit bull, therefore banned in the township.”

The case is still progressing, and Dan recently received a citation that carries a possible fine of $500. Next is an appearance in court, where he will have to present evidence that Diggy is not a pit bull and should be allowed to stay. A judge will ultimately determine Diggy’s fate. Before we go any further, let’s all watch this video of Diggy so we have a good idea of this dangerous dog we’re talking about.

If you work in adoptions, you may wonder why the rescue organization adopted Diggy to someone who lived in a town with a breed-discriminatory law in the first place. And while that may be a reasonable and natural reaction, this is actually an important moment in our fight to outlaw breed discrimination in Michigan.

Best Friends has been working with the Make Michigan Next coalition on getting a statewide bill passed that would ban breed discrimination in Waterford and any other Michigan community. We all know that every dog (just like every person) is an individual and should be evaluated as an individual, not as a category. Judgments about Diggy’s worthiness to live in Waterford shouldn’t come down to some archaic American Kennel Club breed characteristics (yes, that is actually what Waterford uses). It should always be about Diggy’s behavior and that of his owner.

This story has reverberated throughout the world and has put a spotlight on a backward policy that is in place not only in Waterford, but in more than 20 other communities in Michigan. We’d like to thank Dan and Diggy for standing up and speaking out — not just for themselves, but for every family that has ever been in this same unbelievably tragic situation. We know that together we can end breed discrimination in Michigan and other states.

Our bill in the Mitten State has passed in the Senate and is headed for the House committee. If you're in Michigan, please click here to take action and have your voice heard. If you're not in Michigan, we still need your support to help us save lives. If you aren’t receiving our action alerts, please just take a few moments to click here and sign up.

As we often say, politics is not a spectator sport. Dan and Diggy certainly are not spectating from the sidelines, so it’s important for them to know that their friends at Best Friends have their back.