We Are Not Who You Think We Are

IMG_20150703_131517_resizedPit Bull parents that is. I know, stereotypes call for us to be careless, irresponsible people with a fierce dog as a status symbol. And said status symbol is often thought of as inherently dangerous by so many people, in most cases simply because of bad information that gets shared like a wildfire in a rain starved area. That fallacy could not be further from the truth most of the time. But quite honestly, even when it is partially true, it’s far less the dog/breed in question who is at fault but rather than the human who was looking to use a dog in so many inappropriate ways.

I have always personally felt this stigma because I am a Pit Bull parent. But recently I felt it even more strongly because for the first time ever with my current dogs, I planned a vacation away from home with my dogs that didn’t involve traveling to a friend’s house to stay. I live in Pennsylvania, a state that prohibits breed specific legislation or BSL as it is typically known by. I got lulled into a feeling of safety knowing that no municipality in my home state can ban my beloved dog. But Pit Bull parents in other states don’t have such a secure feeling. It occurred to me that I had to check the status of all the states that I would be passing through to make sure that my dog was safe. I was grateful to find out that my entire route was safe for both of my dogs. Sadly, that isn’t the case for everyone doing what I did.

Some areas allow immediate seizure of a dog based on looks alone. Can you imagine a routine traffic stop resulting in having your dog taken from you away from home? Or to have some stranger spot your dog at a rest stop where a police offer was present and the unthinkable happening? Think about this in human terms. If you looked a certain way, you could be jailed and sentenced to death for nothing that you actually did. That is frightening. I can’t even fathom why this is legal in any state. It makes no sense at all.

When I booked my dog friendly cottage, I was asked to provide a short description of my dogs. I froze. What would happen if the owner saw the word Pit Bull and changed his mind? I have never been in that position before. I was terrified. So I said that Trent was a Terrier/Shar Pei mix which he is but I didn’t use the Pit Bull part of his breed description. I did send a picture of my dogs and it’s obvious what he is in the picture. But I felt ashamed that I had to even think such a thought to be treated normally. It wasn’t a good feeling.

I live in the city where there are plenty of pit-bull type dogs. But even here in the city, there are very few of these dogs that actually are aggressive. The commonalities with the incidents that make the media are not limited to one area. What these tragic stories share are the following facts: the dogs that are involved are typically intact, untrained, in need of better nutrition, lacking in healthcare, social isolated and starved for proper attention. The percentage of Pit Bull type dogs that exist in most urban areas is a much larger percentage than all other breeds located in the same areas. So the likelihood that an unfortunate incident involves such a dog is going to be higher than with the other breeds in these areas. The sheer numbers alone are staggering. Given this information, the fact that there are so few incidents in relation to the number of the variations of dogs that fit into this category speaks volumes about the inaccuracy of the stigma.

What do I mean about the variations of dogs that fit into this category? Well, what generally gets called a Pit Bull by many different sources is usually a mix of two or more breeds with very little in the way of an accurate method to properly determine the actual predominant breed. There are of course purebreds with several breeds in that category. American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier all fit into that category. But in general, well bred purebreds of any breed are not finding themselves in shelters and in rescue. Nor are they the ones who find themselves in a media spotlight story.

Most dogs identified as Pit Bulls in shelters and rescues are a mixture of one of the aforementioned breeds along with some other bully breed such as Boxer, several types of Mastiffs or even several of the Bulldog breeds. Some are mixed with Labradors or German Shepherd Dogs or Huskies or Akitas or Rottweilers or even Chows. So many variations but if the dog has any part of what is thought of a Pit Bull appearance, they are labeled as such and the stigma is then attached by some people. First and foremost they are dogs. Behavior is behavior. For more on that subject, see this blog post.

But here and now, I want to tell you who we really are. Pit Bull type dog parents, that is. We are a varied group but most of us are responsible law abiding citizens just like you. We just happened to fall in love with a blocky headed dog. You can easily read my own bio so let’s skip who I am and I will introduce some others.

Shawn in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: An IT quality analyst who adopted his first Pit Bull after noticing that Salvador was a resident at the local shelter the longest. He did some research and took the plunge and added Sal to his family that already included his male Lab mix. He wanted an energetic dog to keep them active and he definitely got that in Sal and then some. Sal competes in disc dog competitions and although slowly down a bit, is still active several years later. Shawn recently added a Salvador look-alike now named Skye to his household and the family is very happy with their addition.

Jeff in Cleveland, Ohio: A salesperson as well as a documentary filmmaker, he grew up with dogs, but met his first Pit Bull type dog, named Preston and the ultimate reason for his first documentary, Guilty 'Til Proven Innocent. Preston was rescued by a Pit Bull type dog rescue group he was interviewing for information on his film. It was a love connection at first sight. Jeff now proudly parents three Pit Bull type dogs after adding Ferga and Era to the family.

Michele in Hopewell, Pennsylvania: A corporate attorney with 2 dogs already, a male German Shepherd Dog and a female Mastiff mix. Enter Jasmine, a Pit Bull/Boxer mix who was left tied to a tree in the middle of the woods and left to die. Jasmine was only 20# when rescued by the local humane society and two years later is a healthy 65# and gets along wonderfully with the family’s one year old twins as well as any visitor. Once boundaries were in place, her manners have improved quite a bit with the other two dogs in the home

Courtney in Covington, Washington: A vet tech, she never knew of the stigma associated with the breed so had no hesitation adopting her male, Marut and now has added Rousey to her household.

Amy K. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: With a vocation working in human services such as with autistic children and adults, she knows compassion and empathy well. Gremlin is perfect for this environment. Gremlin was adopted 11 years ago at the age of about 2 years when Amy was a volunteer at a local shelter. Amy also has 3 other dogs in her family.

Amy D. also in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: In her management position at a local health non-profit, she is also well acquainted with compassion and empathy. Her family includes her husband, two young children and four dogs. Two twelve year old Shepherd mixes, a four year old Pug and Buster, a four year old Pit Bull mix. Buster adores everyone including the kittens that Amy fosters. Buster was added to the family after their Bulldog passed away

Jenn in Rochester, New York: Owner of a dog boarding facility as well as president of a Pit Bull rescue group. She grew up with a Pit Bull so her start with the breed came earlier than most people I talked with. When she bought her first house, she was ignored by rescue groups she applied to due to having a young child. When a family member to her BFF brought home an infirm Pit Bull puppy, she got involved and the rest was history.

Jessica in Grand Bay, Alabama: Formerly a stay at home mom, now involved with rescue as well as a professional dog trainer. She has a ten year old Katrina rescue Pit Bull, a Chihuahua and a foster Pit Bull puppy.

Cathy in Houma, Louisiana: A bank employee as well as a professional dog trainer, Cathy first fostered her current female Pit Bull. She was so impressed with her temperament, she became a foster failure. Cathy has a large family of canines that all get along wonderfully.

Cathy in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina area: Cathy is a nurse practitioner who works with military families in an Oncology unit. This Cathy also fostered Callie after pulling her from a shelter where she ended up as a stray. She also became a foster failure and went on to have Callie certified as a Canine Good Citizen as well as a Delta Therapy Dog. Cathy has written 2 books about Pit Bulls and Callie. A Pit Bull on my Pillow and Callie’s Story.

Brittney in Johnstown, PA: A veterinary technician, she acquired one of her dogs because his former owners brought him in to be euthanized because they could not find a home for him. He is now a therapy dog, and has competed in obedience and agility.

Tiffany in South Carolina: A physician, she initially was hesitant to adopt the breed but took a chance on now five year old Zeus when she was in medical school. He was found thin and starving as a stray when she met him and now he is a beloved family member.

This is just a small sample of the people who responded when I asked this question on Facebook. The variety of people who make up Pit Bull type dog parents is staggering. We ARE just like you. Our dogs are not monsters. They are just dogs, just like any other dogs. Just like people are all individuals, so are dogs. My point in writing this is that I wanted to make is clear how frightening it is to have to worry about your dog’s safety when in a certain area. Hate actions against humans are similar yet illegal. Yet BSL is still legal in so many areas targeting dogs. It’s time to reexamine this and move forward as a society. Generalizations made regarding any group are never accurate. Coexist with us please. Blame the deeds, not the breeds.


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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