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By Cesar Millan

I’m very happy to announce that we hit a milestone last Friday, as my Facebook page reached three million followers. (I’m catching up to you, George Takei!) It’s very encouraging to have so many people to share with every day. But, obviously, while there are millions of you there is only one of me. I would love to help each of you individually, but that’s not physically possible. Yet.

But this is why I love doing my live shows so much, because it is a chance to interact directly with my fans and meet people all over this country and the world. I’d like to share one story with you, though, about a remarkable young man I met in San Antonio, Texas.

His name is Sebastien de la Cruz, and if you don’t recognize the name you might remember the story from last month. He’s an 11 year-old native of San Antonio, and he did two very brave things. The first was to sing the national anthem before Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals, as a last minute replacement when Darius “Hootie” Rucker was delayed in reaching the city.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d be nervous enough singing in front of a few people. Sebastien did it in front of nearly 20,000 people live and on national TV, and did it wearing a black and silver mariachi suit. Apparently, this outfit and the color of his skin upset some people and it led to a lot of very ugly messages on Twitter focusing on Sebastien’s Mexican heritage and telling this young American kid to “go home.”

This is when Sebastian did the other brave thing, and that was to rise above the negative comments, advising people with hatred in their hearts that, “They should think before they say things.” Two days later, the Spurs invited him back to sing the anthem before Game 4, and he did with even more heart and spirit than the first time.

The hatred came about because some people focused on the image and not the person, and it reminded me of the attitude that some communities still have about pit bulls. People look at the breed and not the species, then attribute all sorts of negative behaviors to the entire breed — pit bulls are vicious, they can’t be trusted around children, every pit bull bites eventually, and so on.

What they should really be saying is some dogs are vicious, some dogs can’t be trusted, some dogs bite eventually — and that most dogs are not dangerous at all. The important point is that canine bad behavior does not come from their breed. It comes from how they have been treated and trained. If a dog is abused or neglected, or trained to be aggressive, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a pit bull or a Chihuahua, purebred or mutt.

When I teach people how to assess a dog’s energy and behavior, one of the things that surprises them is how many dogs that are instantly classified as aggressive are not. That dog pacing around the kennel is probably just anxious or bored, and the one that barks or jumps on the bars when people come by probably is over-excited and has too much energy.

Now, when it’s some cute little dog, people can see the difference more easily. But when it’s a pit bull or one of the other “dangerous” breeds — like Rottweiler, Doberman pinscher, or German shepherd — a lot of people seem to have a hard time seeing beyond the breed and actually looking at the dog.

This can lead to many tragic situations, like the incident in Hawthorne, California a few weeks ago in which a police officer shot and killed a Rottweiler. I can’t help but wonder whether that dog would still be alive if it were a Maltese or a dachshund or any other breed not generally stereotyped as vicious.

I don’t think I need to mention that dogs are not the only living things being shot and killed when people make the mistake of seeing the “breed” and not the “species.” I know from Sebastien’s story — and my own — that some people can be all too quick to wound with words or worse when they only see things like a mariachi outfit and not the human being inside of it.

So we wind up in a situation where our animal shelters are overflowing with pit bulls more than any other breed, and where entire communities are passing Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) to ban pit bulls and have them killed if they are found living there, and we see the reflection of that in the way people treat each other.

One of my favorite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi is this: “You can judge the morality of a nation by the way the society treats its animals.” We may have eliminated the human equivalent of BSL, but we still have people who act like we haven’t. But we also have a young hero, Sebastien de la Cruz, who did not let insults and hatred deter him from his dream one bit.

As we watched Facebook roll over to 3 million followers, it was a nice reminder that each of those “Likes” represents a unique human being, and that there are 7 billion unique human beings on the planet. It should also be a reminder that every single one of those 7 billion — of us — is interesting because of our differences, and it shouldn’t be any other way.

Stay calm and assertive.

 
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