Some of you may know that my love for animals originated in the world of horses. I began riding at the age of 7, and soon started competing nationally. For the majority of my life, I slept, rode, ate, rode, slept… not necessarily in that order. I even graduated high school a year early in order to afford me the ability to travel to compete for a national title. My hobby was one that necessitated receiving judgement on a regular basis. My horse’s talent, as well as my own, were constantly under scrutiny, from my trainer, the judges, and even the other competitors. Riding is as natural to me as walking, and the thrill I got from competition required me to remain open to criticism.
One of the things I so love about spending time with dogs, whether it be attending training classes or volunteering at local shelters, is the lack of judgement. While this was never something that I felt bothered by while riding and showing, I realized what it was like to come in to a group of people that offered no criticism. The other volunteers, and of course the dogs, were just happy to have another set of willing hands.
However, if any of you readers out there share an affinity for pit bulls, you know that what I’m writing about may not always be true. Unfortunately, pit bull type dogs are judged on an almost constant basis. Whereas the ‘popular’ breeds like Golden Retrievers and Labradors may have the freedom to act out on occasion or misbehave in public, the same is not true for our dogs. If our pitties even let out a low warning growl to another animal they can be considered aggressive.
My favorite example of dog breed discrimination occurred at the Jeep festival last summer. We had only had Gaige for about a month, and it was her first public outing. We took her to the busy festival, not sure what to expect, but we wanted to start socializing her as soon as possible. Surprise? She was. an. angel. (Note: as much as we love her, this is not how she regularly acts at home!) She sat any time someone wanted to pet her, walked patiently on the leash, and was all around a fabulous representative of her breed. We had recently learned how much Gaige adored children, and this festival was no exception. Anytime she saw a pint sized human, she sat her butt down, wriggling her tail and front feet with anticipation. When one particular little lady came up to us with her grandmother, they politely asked us if they could pet our puppy. As Gaige sat down, soaking up the little girl’s lovin, they remarked on how sweet and well-behaved she was. They asked us a few questions about her, until they got to asking what breed she was. We told them that we didn’t know for sure, but we thought she was probably a pit bull – black lab mix. The grandmother glared at us, grabbed the little girl’s hand, and dragged her away, muttering “How could they bring that dog in here in good conscience…” Poor Gaige just laid down and watched the little girl walk away, presumably wondering what she’d done wrong to scare her off!
Of course, it is not fair that we as owners have to deal with the scrutiny that our dogs come under. We love our pups, and know that if others would just take the time to get to know them as they are, they would probably love them too. However, you can put a positive spin on the negative publicity, and use it as encouragement to make your relationship with your dog the best it can be. Attend obedience classes and work on socialization. Start training for agility competitions. Perhaps even make it a goal for your pittie to be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Any of these things will strengthen your bond with your dog, and also show the public one more positive ambassador of the breed we know to be loving, loyal, and strong.
Where these stereotypes really hurt is in the shelters. Unfortunately, pit bulls fill most of the shelters across the US. Even worse, most of these animals never find loving homes. It is estimated that 1 million pit bulls are euthanized in shelters ever year, some of them just puppies, and many of them without ever having known the love and protection we so willingly offer to our four-legged family members.
Recently, after sharing some of the issues we face in Animal Welfare, a well-meaning family member asked me, “Well, what can you do about it?” I know that my blog may only average 100 readers a day, but my hope is that I can help even just one animal through what I do. Perhaps our stories will inspire someone else to foster an animal in their home, or even to just consider a rescue instead of a breeder when looking for a new pup for their family. I don’t think what I do will put an end to animal abuse or to the unwanted animal epidemic, but maybe if we all did our small part, we would see a large change for the better.