Over the course of the last two years, we’ve been fortunate to develop relationships with like-minded organizations and individuals across the country. In some cases, we’ve been able to actually meet those Facebook friends in person – and each of those meetings has reinforced our belief that the motivation to get involved often comes down to anger. And nowhere is that anger more justified than with the story of one online friend we finally got to sit down with face-to-face this week.
Perhaps you know her? She goes by the page “Berwick Louisiana it’s discriminatory breed specific law” (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Berwick-Louisiana-its-discriminatory-Breed-Specific-Law-one-drop-rule/218674484854183?sk=photos) and her story unfolds like something out of a 1950s horror movie, yet it happened in America just two years ago.
In 2011, this woman and her husband, recently retired from the military, moved to a small town in Louisiana to be closer to their son. The town called Berwick is advertised online as offering “an exceptional quality of life on the beautiful Atchafalaya Basin.” Sounding like a retirement dream come true, they bought a house, packed up and headed south with their two pups and three pet parrots. The couple had a fence installed and added double locks to the gates so when they were in the yard with Zeke and his brother, there was no chance of either getting out. For eight months, life went merrily along as the couple got settled and acclimated to their new surroundings by taking daily dog walks through the streets in town. On August 15, 2011 that peaceful façade came to an abrupt ending.
That afternoon, the woman’s husband was stretched out in a chaise in the back yard; Zeke curled up in the shade next to him. Without warning, they were suddenly surrounded by what looked like a Swat team made up of the local Sheriff and deputies with guns drawn. Thinking there obviously had been some mistake, they asked what was going on. That was when the Sheriff informed them, pit bulls weren’t allowed in Berwick and he was confiscating their dog.
The couple argued that Zeke wasn’t a “pit bull” – in fact, they had a DNA test to prove it. Apparently DNA tests don’t hold water in Berwick, as the Sheriff explained – he is the one who determines a dog’s breed and he’d already determined it was a pit bull. At that point, Zeke was put in a crate in the back of the Sheriff’s pick up truck and off they drove. A little while later, a neighbor called a to say she’d seen the truck, now parked outside the Sheriff’s office in the blazing Louisiana sun, with Zeke still in it. Frantic over what would become of their pup in the August heat, the woman’s husband packed a cooler with ice and water, and headed to town. His intent was to stay with the dog, but within a few minutes, was told if he didn’t leave, things were going to get physical fast – and both he and the dog would be the losers in that game.
At 8am the next morning, the couple received a call that they could pay a fine and pick up their dog – on one condition. They leave town and never come back. After gathering important papers and throwing a few things in a bag, they drove to the Sheriff’s office and paid a $250 fine to release Zeke. Deputies then escorted them across the bridge and out of town.
That was two years ago and they’ve since relocated to another state. They still have a house in Berwick, a house they can’t visit, let alone sell. Rumor has it, if they return to Berwick, there’s a warrant for their arrest. The charge? Disturbing the peace. They’ve tried to get help from the Berwick Mayor, City Council and Attorney General of Louisiana, all to no avail. Yet, in spite of the magnitude of this injustice, this woman will be the first to tell you – she and her husband were the winners in the end. They still have their beloved Zeke along with an unassailable determination to be a voice for animals in need.
Lest you think Berwick’s story is an isolated incident – the same thing is happening to another military family in Louisiana as we speak: https://www.facebook.com/FightingforMazzy