Why Pit Bulls Deserve a Fair Shot
By Kelly Conroy
As a pit bull owner, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of sideways glances and nervous parents tightly gripping their children as we pass by. It’s become normal for me to justify these interactions – just a byproduct of owning a controversial breed.
But honestly, this reaction extends past casual encounters on the street and creates real life discrimination.
My dog isn’t allowed in most doggy day care facilities or overnight kennels because she’s a “bully breed.” As a homeowner, insurance companies can deny me coverage because I own a certain dog breed. And don’t even get me started on trying to rent with a pit bull…
I do my best to dispel myths and use my own well behaved pit bull as a breed ambassador in daily life, but there’s a level of public apprehension around blocky headed dogs that seems truly impossible to break down.
*Side note: not all blocky heads belong to pit bulls. American bulldogs, boxers, and mastiffs (to name a few) have similar features that can be just as confusing when trying to pinpoint a mixed breed dog.
Unfortunately, this mindset is fueled by an unsavory breed history and sensationalized media. The American Pit Bull Terrier was bred to be an athlete and used to compete in barbaric sporting events. The lasting effects of which are big muscles, strong jaws (contributing to the square face), and any dog attack earning irresponsible headlines like, “Hide Your Kids! Pit Bull Strikes Again!”**
Yet, despite this unfortunate heritage, pit bulls have made it into the hearts and homes of many Americans. The original Petey from The Little Rascals was an American Pit Bull Terrier and Cesar Millan touts the pit bull as one of his favorite breeds. Even the American Temperament Test Society ranks the American Pit Bull Terrier second on their list of “the most tolerant dogs tested.” That’s higher than the Golden Retriever, people!
I know that I could spout pit bull positivity until my face turned blue, but it wouldn’t have the same power as the misguided fear that follows these pups throughout their lives.
It’s the fear that leaves pit bulls in shelters instead of in responsible homes. It allows local governments like the City of Denver to implement Breed Specific Legislation mandating that all “pit bull type” (and oftentimes other breeds like Rottweiler and German Shepherd) within jurisdiction boundaries be euthanized, even if they live in responsible, loving homes.
But that fear doesn’t prevent dog attacks or stop dog fighting rings. A dog’s existence doesn’t create those issues, people do. Pit bulls aren’t used for fighting because they’re more vicious than other breeds, it’s because they’re super athletic and have a crazy high pain tolerance. Which actually makes them great at agility competitions, and they don’t freak out if you accidentally step on their tail. They don’t have an innate instinct to maim or have locking jaws (which don’t really exist), but they’re forced to fight because they’re meticulously obedient and bred to be non-reactive to their humans (even if their humans are terrible people *cough*Michael Vick*cough*).
And I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, I know it’s not all pit bulls. It’s all in how they’re raised.” I appreciate your attempted validation, and I hate to burst your good-intentioned bubble, but many a dog that was raised in a safe environment has had behavioral problems or aggression issues. And many, MANY a dog rescued from violent environments has been rehabilitated and lived to be a loving, stable companion. Of the 50 dogs seized from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring, only 1 was euthanized for dangerous aggression. The rest went to various rescue groups, and 22 of the “most challenging” went to Best Friends Animal Society to be rehabilitated and adopted with lots of loving success.
I understand that I’ll continually have to deal with undue discrimination because I own a pit bull. That no matter how kind, tolerant, obedient and amazing my pit bull is, it often won’t make people consider that maybe other pit bulls are this way too. In the end, every dog is an individual, regardless of the breed. Every dog should be trained, understood, supervised, and loved. But don’t pit bulls deserve a shot at “America’s Sweetheart” just as much as any other breed?
If you’re interested in learning more: “Beyond the Myth“.
If you want to give some pit bull love: Chako Pit Bull Rescue (www.chako.org), Bad Rap (http://www.badrap.org/), City of Sacramento Animal Care Services (http://www.cityofsacramento.
**Not a real news headline, I hope.