Libby Sherrill, Executive Producer, 'Beyond the Myth,' a Film About Pit Bulls and Breed Discrimination

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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.

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Comments » 4

AngelHeart writes:

Libby, THANK YOU. Many breeds are on the BLS and I agree that no breed of dog should be judge because of a particular dog incodent. The saying "Punish the DEED not the Breed" should ring true. I have a pittie who is about 1 1/2yrs old that I saved from a kill shelter in NY. From her scaring you can tell she was used as a bait dog. Yes, she has some issues, but with love and pacients she has come a long way since I aquired her in last May. I've been doing rescue for over 11yrs of another species who also has a bad reputaion just like the pit bull. Pretty much any animal can be rehabed to become a cherrished member of a family by way of love, pacients, training and a kind hand.
I know many will love yuor film that brings this breed into true light as a cherrished family member.

abbyowner writes:

I hope this film is a big success. It's time we talk about Breed Specific Legislature as no more than Racism by Proxy. Now that the Justice Department has ruled that BSL which restricts the breed of service dogs is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I hope those laws will start to tumble, and new more sensible laws targeting irresponsible owners who create dangerous dogs by tethering them, leaving them alone and unsocialized, will punish those owners and not the dogs. Or even better, prevent it from happening in the first place.

tcaruthers writes:

These dogs were once Nanny dogs---considered the best to be around children. Remember Petey of Little Rascal fame? Buster Brown's dog Tige? The RCA dog? Stubby the WWII decorated veteran that later became Georgetown University's mascot? All pitties!

When I was growing up it was German Shepherds that received the bad rap.

People need to realize there are no bad dogs. It's the people that are responsible. You get the dog you raise.

youngwilliams writes:

I do volunteer work at the Young Williams animal center in Knoxville, Tennessee, I see and work with many breeds and many mixed dogs. To single out a Pit Bull and say that it is more dangerous than many other breed is ridicules! You can make any dog bad and dangerous and because of this fact we screen every person wanting to adopt this type of animal.
There are many people refused adaption when it appears they have bad references and possibly a history of animal abuse or neglect they must also be resident of Knox County so we are able to have animal control check on certain breeds deemed dangerous by the general public.
I wouldn’t hesitate a minute to adopt a Pit Bull and one of my dogs is a mixed Pit Bull and she is wonderful loving dog

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