March against violence
Soap actor's death spurs Austin animal lovers to join national protests againstbreed-specific discrimination
Brace yourself, because the following story will not be an easy one to sort out — neither in your head nor your heart.
This Saturday, animal lovers in Austin will gather for a candlelight vigil and march on the steps of City Hall to protest breed discrimination — particularly against pit bulls and dogs that look like them. They’ll meet at 4 p.m., march to Republic Square Park and then hold a vigil and memorial for dogs and their owners who have lost their lives because of discrimination against pit bulls.
This includes dogs that have been killed by police who not only entered the wrong the house but assumed that a dog that looked like a pit bull would attack.
This includes people who have been thrown out of their homes or been forced to give up their animals because of discriminatory leasing rules.
And this includes Nick Santino, a struggling 47-year-old soap opera actor in New York City who was reportedly so harassed by his building owner and neighbors about his peaceful pit bull rescue, Rocco, that he had his dog euthanized. Then, overwhelmed with guilt, he killed himself.
This Saturday, animal lovers in Austin will gather for a candlelight vigil and march on the steps of City Hall to protest breed discrimination — particularly against pit bulls and dogs that look like them.
“Today I betrayed my best friend,” his suicide note read. “Rocco trusted me and I failed him. He didn’t deserve this.”
No, he didn’t. Neither of them did.
The Jan. 24 deaths of Santino and Rocco have spurred demonstrations across the country by animal rights activists who lay blame for both their deaths directly in the hands of not just the people who actively discriminate against pit bulls and their owners, but also so-called rescue organizations that advocate for the across-the-board destruction of pit bulls.
Santino’s dog had lived with him for nearly five years when, in 2010, his landlord passed rules against owning dogs that looked like pit bulls. Rocco, who already lived there and had caused no problems, was grandfathered in and allowed to stay.
But he was banned from riding elevators in the building. He couldn’t stay home alone more than a few hours a day (though there are many who would agree that a ban on leaving a dog alone in an apartment for 10 hours is not the worst idea).
Regardless, and with nothing more than hysteria to bolster them, Santino’s neighbors repeatedly called the building owner to complain about the dog, though it never hurt anyone. They fabricated stories that cost Santino hundreds of dollars in fines and, by all accounts, made their lives miserable.
“It was open season on him,” one neighbor told the London Daily Mail, just one of myriad international publications that reported Santino’s death in late January.
“It was obvious” that the building management was harassing him, another neighbor said.
Santino, who grew up in foster homes and bounced from acting gig to bit acting gig, so loved his dog that he posted on his Facebook page: “I didn’t rescue Rocco. Rocco rescued me.” Photos show them two of them cuddling, playing, horsing around like... well, like a man and his best friend.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Santino’s 47th birthday, he was found dead in his apartment bedroom, having reportedly overdosed on pills. He had called an ex-girlfriend to express his anguish over his decision to put Rocco down. His note left no doubt the amount of pain he was in.
Saturday’s march should be include animal lovers of all stripes — not just pit bull owners and advocates.
It’s hard not to ask questions like, “Why didn’t he move?” and “Why couldn’t he find another home for his best friend?”
There are answers. Santino clearly was despondent over his situation, afraid for his dog’s safety, trapped in a home he obviously would have left if he could — whether he owned it or it was rent-controlled is hard to discern from the media reports.
What isn’t hard to discern, however, is the utterly sick behavior of people who took it upon themselves to police a neighbor by discriminating against a dog that, by all reports, wouldn’t have hurt anyone and never had.
In Santino’s words, he put his trust in us and we failed him. Every time someone commits violence against a pit bull, a look-a-like or an owner, it’s because we have allowed it to continue. It’s because we have let the media, and the so-called rescue groups, and our friends and family members continually advocate the torture and killing of these creatures — in spite of definitive evidence that all the hysterical anti-pit bull information out there is false.
Saturday’s march should be include animal lovers of all stripes — not just pit bull owners and advocates, and not just owners of German Shepherds and Dobermans and Chows, also breeds that regularly face torture and discrimination.
This is a stand that anyone can take. If you can’t find a way to take that stand for Santino, take it for Rocco. Because Santino was right — he didn’t deserve that.
Love-A-Bull just took in nearly a dozen dogs from three states that were victims of neglect and abuse, a first for the organization and a rare act for any local group. Many of the dogs are small, less than 25 pounds, or very young. They've been cleared veterans to be adopted or fostered and they need places to live until they can find forever homes. Follow the link to Love-A-Bull for more information and to contact them about being a foster.