My husband and I spend most evenings squished on our couch with our laptops and our two Pitbulls. As I write this, Meiko and Mizuki snore and stretch out, and John reads me the latest article on Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback accused of dog fighting. I’m nothing short of disgusted. As someone who is dedicated to helping Pitbulls, people like Michael Vick represent the enemy. But Michael Vick isn’t the only one we’re fighting against. Pitbull fighting is just one aspect of the epidemic problems that these dogs face. No other breed is more abused, neglected or put to death due to overpopulation. No other breed suffers more hype and misinformation from the media. Pitbulls need our help more than any other dogs. The public doesn’t want to help because they are misinformed and view the dogs as the criminals. It is almost always the person standing at the other end of the leash that is to blame.
The beginning of my Pitbull story started on May 5th, 1995. I went to a city pound in Norwalk Connecticut to “just look” at dogs. I’d grown up in a family that always had a full cast of adopted and rescued animals. I was on my own and missed having a dog. I walked through the kennel that day and every dog was literally bouncing off the walls. These dogs were obviously hungry for attention and exercise. I got to the last cage on the right and came to a dead stop. There he was. He was perfect. I didn’t know what kind of dog he was, but I knew I’d just met my new best friend. He was black, with huge brown eyes and an enormous block head and the widest, cutest smile I’d ever seen. I was in love. When I found out he was a Pitbull, it was too late for hesitation. The staff told me that because of his breed they would have to hold him for evaluation until the following Tuesday. They’d found him roaming in an area that was known for dog fighting. One of the kennel workers suspected that this was a dog who just wouldn’t fight – so they threw him out on the street. I visited him daily and on May 9th, 1995 I adopted Kaneda.
Kaneda loved all people. He was smart, silly, and sometimes strong-willed. We had an incredible bond. People were shocked when, after loving him up and fawning over him, they found out he was a Pitbull. So often I heard “I thought Pitbulls weren’t good with people.” Kaneda stole many hearts and changed many minds. He made me a better person. For 10 years I was blessed with his companionship. When Kaneda passed away, I promised I would do my best to pay forward into the world what he’d given me.
I used to say, “I could never work with shelter dogs. I’d want to take them all home. I couldn’t handle it emotionally.” Now when I hear people say that, I explain that it’s not a good enough excuse, that people who care are the people that these dogs need the most. If we all made excuses, these dogs would have no one. It’s not easy, there are times when it is depressing and heart wrenching. Even though the numbers will never add up – and the victories will never even outnumber the defeats, the dogs you help save make it worth every moment. It will always be an uphill battle, but it is a war worth fighting.
I am a Pitbull Advocate. Over the past few years I have dedicated much of my life to volunteering, teaching, and training at shelters. I also started a non-profit organization called Hello Bully to help rehome, rehabilitate, and repair the reputation of Pitbulls. Our initial focus is to help educate the public about Bully breeds. So let me take this opportunity to share the basics with you.
“Pitbull” or “Pit Bull” is not a breed. It’s a catchall term for a handful of breeds including the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. In the 1800’s large Bulldogs were used in England for Bull Baiting. When Bull Baiting was outlawed in 1835, the sport of dog fighting escalated in popularity. People began to cross larger Bulldogs with smaller, faster, sleeker terriers to create the “Bull and Terrier”, a dog similar to the Pitbulls of today.
There are many Pitbull myths. Locking jaws, three rows of teeth and swelling brains are common myths, and there’s not an ounce of truth to any of them. The monster of Pitbull myths is that Pitbulls are aggressive towards people. Pitbulls have always been bred for predictability, stability and generosity in their temperament with humans. In fact, the American Temperament Test Society grades Pitbulls on even ground with Golden Retrievers. Pitbulls who are not people friendly have a flawed temperament, and are the exception to the rule. In fact, Pitbull lovers commonly refer to their dogs as “wiggle-butts”, because they approach people with so much excitement that the tail wags the dog.
In the early days, dog fighting handlers and referees had to be in the pits with fighting dogs. Any dog who would turn on a human would be castrated or killed on the spot. Breeders couldn’t afford the bad reputation of breeding dogs that would turn on people. These same dogs that were in the pits in the 1800’s lived in the home with the family. To this day, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are nicknamed “Nanny Dogs.” While it is true that Pitbulls may have issues with interdog aggression, this does not translate to human aggression.
When Pitbulls were first brought to the US in the mid 1800’s they were much more than fighters. They worked on farms and were beloved family pets. The most decorated war dog in the history of the US was a Pitbull. Sergeant Stubby was originally a stray, found wandering the grounds of Yale. He served in 17 battles, was awarded many medals, marched in parades and even made visits to the White House. The Buster Brown dog, the RCA dog and Petey from The Little Rascals were all Pitbulls. So what happened? How did the All-American Family Dog become the most hated and feared breed in canine history?
Something began to go terribly wrong in the 1980’s. It was then that stories began to pop up in the media about dog fighting – and not soon after, attacks on humans. Pitbulls quickly replaced Dobermans and German Shepherds as the dog of choice for the purpose of protection and intimidation – a shame for all involved, as their love of people make Pitbulls really lousy guard dogs. Pitbulls suddenly were associated with crime and violence. The demand for Pitbulls escalated, and unscrupulous breeding skyrocketed. Some cities banned Pitbulls and Pitbull type dogs. And the media was just getting started.
A Bad Reputation is the Pits…
It is a fact that that the media exploits the public’s fears to garner ratings. Just this week in Pittsburgh, the top headline was “Pitbulls Terrorize Neighborhood – Three Injured.” Three dogs were running at large. They approached a woman on her porch and bit her hand and ankle. Police shot the dogs and were injured by the ricochet of gunfire. The owner was shown standing outside of his dog’s housing, which looked like a very small shed. The door was boarded up and a stack of cinder blocks lined the bottom of the door. The inside was nothing more than chain link and dirt. Then they showed the owner standing in his driveway. He was furious and sure that someone intentionally let the dogs out. He picked up a chain that is as thick as my arm and yelled about a dog not being able to get away from a chain that thick.
How is it that people don’t see the real criminals in this equation? These dogs were obviously not kept as family pets. My guess is that this was one more person breeding to make a buck, without any thought to the welfare or safety of the animal. Any dog of any breed who is kept in such conditions is more likely to attack. Chained dogs are three times more likely to become aggressive because of the frustration of being chained. The majority of dog bites come from male dogs who are not neutered. Yet somehow, with the help of the 11 o’clock news, the dog ends up looking like the criminal.
As I said at the start, no other breed of dog is suffering more than Pitbulls. They are over bred, inbred, neglected and abused. They are forced to fight to the death. I’ve heard dog fighters say that it’s what these dogs are meant to do – that they love the fight. It’s the equivalent to saying that a rape victim “liked it.”
A great change is needed. The world is a very dark place for Pitbulls. The statistics are horrifying. Only 1 out of every 500 Pitbulls will find a good home. Some days it seems hopeless. It’s only hopeless if YOU allow it to be.
Problems and Solutions…
In May of this year, HR 137 was passed, making dog fighting a felony in every state. It’s a start, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. In order to really make a difference, we need to start at the beginning – the overpopulation epidemic. Urban shelters report that on any given day, their kennel population is made up of nearly 50% Pitbulls or Pit Mixes. Each year, nearly 5 million cats and dogs are killed in shelters.
The overpopulation issue is three-fold. The first issue is “Backyard Breeding”, people who are breeding dogs to make a buck. Some try to pass themselves off as reputable. The truth is that they breed for physical characteristics over temperament, often resulting in dogs with flawed temperaments. If these breeders were meeting all of the dogs nutritional, medical and other needs, they wouldn’t be turning a profit. The second problem is “accidental breeding”, and the solution is simple – fix your dog early, before there’s a chance to reproduce. The third largest contributing factor is the “just one liter” mentality. Our selfish romanticism about continuing the legacy of our beloved pets causes suffering and death. There is just no excuse for an unaltered pet. You can make every argument in the world, but math doesn’t lie. Even if you “already have homes” for the 7 puppies your dog produces, that’s 7 less homes that are available for dogs in shelters. It is obvious that people will not stop breeding for profit and entertainment until the laws force them to do so. You can help by supporting spay and neuter legislation and initiatives in your city.
The overpopulation issue is even worse for Pitbulls. Many shelters will turn them away, or have a “no adopt” policy. I hate to harp on the numbers, but it’s important to get this in perspective; there is a disproportionate number of Pitbulls in need of homes. Many people who are looking to adopt won’t even consider at Bully breed. Many shelters are ill equipped to deal with the staggering number of homeless Pits that end up on their doorsteps. Pitbulls who do end up in shelters often deteriorate rapidly. While the shelter environment is stressful for any dog, a Pitbull’s desire to be with people makes the solitude of the shelter almost unbearable.
Another issue that must be considered is dog aggression. Remember, dog aggression is not related to human aggression – but it is a common trait in Pitbulls. There are some Pitbulls who have extreme dog aggression. Many will tolerate some dogs but not others, and some may never show aggression at all. You can usually manage a dog and move them closer to the social side of that spectrum, but you cannot love or train a Pitbull to be something that they are not. Responsible Pitbull owners should not take their dogs to off-leash parks. Small, supervised playgroups are a wonderful alternative.
All of these elements add up to one hell of a battle, and it’s one that these dogs cannot fight on their own. They need you to stand up and fight for them. You can help by volunteering at a local shelter or getting involved with a Pitbull Advocacy group in your area. You can adopt a Pitbull from a shelter. There are many young and adult dogs who are wonderful pets just waiting for their chance at a forever home. While we admit that there are few things cuter than a Pitbull puppy, we almost always recommend adopting a dog who has already developed their “canineality.” That way, what you see is what you get. If you own a Pitbull, you and your dog can be ambassadors for the breed and show the world how wonderful these dogs can be. Please join us in being the voice for Pitbulls.
“There comes a time when silence is a betrayal.” – Martin Luther King
Thanks to Kelly and xsisterhoodx.com for helping us to raise awareness.