Libby Sherrill first decided to tackle a film about pit bulls as a grad student at the University of Tennessee. Three years later, her theme has been honed to reveal the perils of breed-specific legislation as carried out in three cities that ban pit bull-type dogs: Denver, Miami, and Cincinnati—along with San Francisco, which requires the animals to be spayed and neutered. Although she wasn't a pit bull owner herself when the film project began, Sherrill is now. She took a break from producing one last segment for the Sept. 3 screening of Beyond the Myth at the Bijou Theatre to talk about her creative journey.
What's the film about?
Beyond the Myth explores the contributing factors behind the public's generalized fear of pit bulls, and examines the conflict between advocates and opponents of breed-specific legislation in four cities. BSL has nothing to do with an owner or dog's behavior, it's based entirely on physical characteristics.
Some of the stories you filmed about people having long-time family pets confiscated are very sad. Did you end up feeling any sympathy for the other side, the ones advocating BSL?
No. I'm being honest. I started out with a less biased approach; my aim was to give people on both sides a chance to defend their positions. But as I got further into it, I myself could see no merit in BSL. It doesn't decrease the number of dangerous dogs in communities, and it doesn't stop irresponsible people from having dogs and it doesn't stop dog attacks. Whenever you ban a particular breed, it does nothing to change the behavior of people who are in fact responsible for creating dangerous dogs through training and inhumane treatment. They can always get another dog or another breed.
Can you give an example of a story that really touched you from the film?
Desiree and her dog Coco, who was taken from her backyard by Denver Animal Control. She never got Coco back. Denver enforces their ban more stringently than any place I visited, killing close to 4,000 pit bull-type dogs since 1989. A lot were strays, I'm sure, a lot were owner surrenders, but that also includes confiscations.
Does this film have profit potential?
Its primary purpose is to educate, and its secondary purpose is to make money for my company, and at the very least recoup my expenses. Once that happens, I plan to turn over a lot of the money to non-profits who advocate for pit bulls and fight BSL. I have done so much of the production myself and it can get overwhelming, but knowing that innocent animals and people are suffering helped me get through the difficult times.
Does this issue remind you at all of the Arizona immigration law?
The Arizona immigration law is a good example of profiling, and breed-specific legislation is no different when we look at it as a principle. Laws that stereotype an entire population based on certain characteristics, whether it be with dogs or people, with religion or race, are ineffective at solving our societal problems, and discriminate against the innocent.
What would you tell the average person who is a bit scared of pit bulls and would prefer not to have them in the community?
We have cause to be concerned over any dog in our community because any dog can bite. For me, personally, before I owned two, I didn't believe pit bulls were all vicious, but I felt on some level there might be something different about them. But they are born dogs just like any other breed. I can see from my own dogs, Fern and Joey, where, because of their tenacity and desire to please people, pit bulls might be more at risk to be used in fights. And just like any other large, smart breed, they would be at a higher risk of this inhumane act by irresponsible people. Instead of fearing them, we should be protecting them.