I have been meaning to write this post for some time, and I cannot believe it took me so long to do. It is lengthy, but it’s from the heart. This is probably, in my opinion, the most important post I have ever written.
For many, the word “pit bull” conjures up images of horrifying violence: brutal dog fighting, attacks on children, blood, teeth, muscle, and an innate desire to kill, mutilate, and destroy. Public perception of this breed has reached an all-time low, swept away with the hype, hypnotized by the media.
The pit bull that I love is far from this common vision. The pit bull that I know and respect is a beloved family pet, an agile athlete, and most importantly, a best friend. The pit bull I fight for is an 80lb lap dog, a docile and gentle canine. The real pit bull is something we need more of in this country, and this is the real pit bull. This is my dog, Jade:
An issue this close to my heart does nothing but bring me to tears. I recently started volunteer work with a pit bull rescue organization in the city of Milwaukee. Our motto: Changing minds-Saving lives. And that’s exactly what we do. America has destroyed our pit bulls: they have been bred in backyards by uneducated citizens as a way to make a quick buck with no regard for the dog’s DNA, medical history, or temperament. No other breed has seen this phenomenon of such magnitude. This is the pit bull’s uphill battle, and it’s losing.
Breed specific legislation (BSL) is spreading through the United States to ban and euthanize pit bulls- all pit bulls. The media tell us that these dogs are evil, that they attack on a whim, are unstable and not fit to live in our communities. The sad fact is this: the wrong people got their hands on our pit bulls. Putting this dog in the hands of an uneducated and uncaring owner is like putting a fire hose in the hands of a ten year old child. Unless one knows how to responsibly contain and direct the sheer power and utility, consequences can be dire. This is not a reason to punish everyone for the actions of a select few.
The origin of the pit bull is hard to pin exactly, but the breed first came to America in the 19th century. Brought by the British (who yes, used them originally to fight), they soon began to understand the more humane uses for the dogs. Pit bulls were often used to herd and guard cattle (their high pain threshold guaranteed that they could withstand powerful kicks from the cows and bulls), assist with other heavy pulling/lifting farm work, protect against attacks from wild animals, and as general family pets. Since then, pits have developed a great deal. They are commonly used as therapy dogs for troubled youth, the sick, and the elderly. Many have become search and rescue specialists. One of the rescued Michael Vick dogs, Johnny Justice, helps children who have a hard time reading out loud in front of others. Johnny visits grade school and middle school children who practice their skills by reading short stories to Johnny. http://vickdogsblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/behind-scenes.html
At this point, I should probably mention a little-known fact: “pit bull” is not a breed. This term actually encompasses SEVEN DIFFERENT BREEDS who are dubbed with this ominous name. Media stories that state a pit bull has harmed an individual never reveal what breed of dog was actually involved in the accident.
Here are some stats on the passing rates of “pit bulls” as a result of studies done by the American Temperament Testing Society:
American Pit Bull Terrier: 84.1%
American Staffordshire Terrier: 83.9%
Staffordshire Bull Terrier: 88.0%
Bull Terrier: 91.5%
Compare these passing rates with some popular “family” dogs:
Yorkshire Terrier: 81.1%
Miniature Schnauzer: 78.6%
Overall, the dogs labeled under the “pit bull” category, earned an average passing rate of 88%, compared to an average of 77% for the other 122 breeds tested. Perhaps the public has been misled.
Pit bulls are bred specifically for their human-friendly demeanors. While pit bulls do tend to display aggression toward dogs, dog-dog aggression is a completely different category from dog-human aggression, and should NEVER be associated with one another. Many breeds display dog-dog aggression and is in no way related solely to pit bulls. The American Kennel Club describes pit bulls as a “friendly” “people-oriented dog that thrives as a member of the family”-a breed of dog “brimming with joy and enthusiasm”.
The reason that pit bulls are so people-friendly is actually the same reason the breed is so feared: dog fighters need to be able to enter a dog fighting ring and separate two dogs in the middle of a fight. They must be certain that neither dog will attack a human that gets in the middle of a fight. This trait has been bred into pit bulls since the early 1800s and is deeply ingrained in their DNA. In most cases, when pit bulls have attacked humans, it is learned that the dog had been trained by its owner to do so.
All this being said, I’d like to list a few FACTS that are little known to the greater public:
-Pit bulls do not have a locking jaw. Ask any reputable veterinarian, this is a complete myth.
-Pit bulls are wonderful dogs for children. Their pain threshold renders them able to gently put up with the rough play of toddlers and young children. They were even nicknamed “nanny dogs” throughout much of the 1900s. (Don’t put words in my mouth though- children should never be left unsupervised with any animal).
-Helen Keller’s therapy dog was a pit bull -The first and most decorated war dog in United States history is Sgt. Stubby, a pit bull who saved his entire unit in WWI. He is still haled as an American hero.
-Out of the 51 pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels, 47 have found new homes. Two had to be put down: one for incurable psychological damage, and another for a fatal physical condition. These dogs lived their lives in the midst of fear, pain, and violence and recuperated fully to find loving homes. That is truly a feat of resilience, strength, courage… and an unbreakable love and trust for human beings.
-In America alone, almost 500,000 people are killed per year by cigarettes
-Over 42,000 are killed in auto accidents
-30,000 are killed by guns (accidents, suicides, homicides)
-More than 200 children are killed by their parents (not including non-blood related caregivers) every year in the United States, according to the American Anthropological Association
-AIDS takes 3,000,000 lives ever year -Starvation kills 14,000,000 every year
-“Pit bulls” kill 3 people every year. Three. (And remember, “pit bull” is a blanket term which includes seven different breeds)
I think we have bigger issues to tackle.
I am an advocate for our pit bulls; they have no voice of their own. I am an advocate for the responsible pit bull owner: the man or woman who respects what kind of creature the pit bull is, who exercises their pit bull’s body and mind, who does anything and everything to make their pet an ambassador for the breed. I love these dogs and I would do so much for them. I beg all who read this to take a moment before judging this wonderful dog. Give a pit bull and his responsible owner ten minutes of your time, and I promise you will not regret it.
To those who are pit bull owners or considering a pit bull…
1. Please, please, PLEASE spay or neuter your dog. The pit bull population is unsustainable at its current rate, which is why so many pits are euthanized each year in animal shelters.
2. Adopt! Purchasing a pit from a backyard breeder is costly and only perpetuates the problem of pit bull over population. Decreasing demand will decrease supply (go capitalism!). Type “pit bull adoption [your city, state here]” into your Google search engine, and you will not be disappointed! Pit bull rescue shelters spay/neuter your dog, make sure they are up-to-date on all routine shots and have their dogs microchipped all before you adopt. Most of the dogs are given basic obedience training and are typically house trained before you even bring them home! The price of an adopted pit is about $250-$300, and this money goes right back to the rescue group to help future rescues. All of these medical procedures, if you had to do them yourself, would cost about $1,200. What a bargain right?!
3. Before purchasing a pit, be sure you can dedicated at least 45 minutes per day to exercise. These dogs are members of the working class, meaning they are high energy. They thrive on regular exercise, advanced obedience training, and being given jobs to perform throughout your home. Your pit bull is like Velcro, and you may never go to the bathroom alone again. These dogs don’t like being without you for very long spans of time, and need your constant care and affection.
Here are some great websites for help/support/information about pit bulls. If you feel you want direct answers, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions!
http://www.badrap.org/rescue/ This group actually helped with rehabilitation of the Vick dogs and is an amazing resource for prospective owners
http://vickdogsblog.blogspot.com/ Curious about the Vick dogs today? This is the blog where many of the adoptive families post their pup’s progress
http://www.pbrc.net/ This is another great informative site but can also lead you to an adoptable pit in your area! Click the “Adopt a Dog” link on the top right of the page, and punch in your city, state, zip code to find a pit bull rescue center near you. Be prepared to go through a VIGOROUS adoption process, as pit bull rescues want to avoid at all cost putting a dog in the wrong hands.