Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Pit Bull Problem

We adopted a new dog yesterday. The rescue group listed him as a hound mix, which he might be, but once you meet him in person it is clear that he is a pit bull mix. Rebel, our new dog, has the sweetest disposition. He is good with our other dog, he is good with our cat, he is also apparently good with rabbits and birds. He is a love bug and I can't imagine anyone not adopting him after meeting him. I can't for the life of me figure out how this dog had been without a home for so long.

But with every non-dog person that I tell about our new dog, I get the awkward silence when I mention that he is a pit bull mix. The comments are usually prefaced by "I know not all pit bulls are violent and mean but...". Well if you know that then what is the but for? Do they really think that I would go out and adopt a dog that would endanger my life and the life of my pets? Or that a rescue group would even put a dog like that up for adoption? There are shelters that put down all pit bulls when they are rescued because they are worried that someone will turn them into a fighting dog. Innocent dogs all over the country are killed everyday because people can't be trusted.

I have friends with pit bulls and I've never had a problem with any of them. I have had problems with rottweilers, dobermans and chows in the past. They have bitten me, my dog or someone I knew. I'm sure that poor dog ownership had a lot to do with these incidents but it has still formed a bias in me. When I was looking for a new dog, I skipped over all dogs that had any of these three breeds in them. I do cross the street when the chow walks by because the hair on my dog's back goes up the moment she is within eyesight. It might be a coincidence (there are other dogs that she doesn't like for no apparent reason as well) but my dog's discomfort also justifies my bias.

But most people who have a bias against pit bulls have never even met one. They see these horrible videos on the news of teenage boys who trained their pit bull to kill the neighbors cat or who turned on people and they immediately blame the breed. These people seem to have convinced themselves that pit bulls are mean naturally; that they come out of the womb as blood thirsty killers. When the reality is that pit bulls are incredibly smart, loyal and hearty which, unfortunately, makes them the a great dog for these awful people.

Rebel has learned to sit, lay down, touch objects and walk through an agility tunnel in the 24 hours that we have had him. He follows me around the house and comes to check on me if he hasn't seen me for a couple minutes. When our German shepherd gets up to bark at something, he is immediately by her side ready to defend the house against whatever imaginary predators she has created. Rebel likes to sleep on the back of the couch. He fell off last night and hit the wood floor. He got up immediately and shook it off and didn't seem at all phased by it.

No take these same traits and think if I would have asked Rebel to attack another animal. If I praised him and gave him treats for doing something completely against his nature. His number one priority is to please me. I am his pack leader, the provider of his food and shelter. I am the person he doesn't want to disappoint. If he got hurt doing something I asked him to do, he wouldn't blame me; that's not how dogs work. He would shake off the pain because I would praise him for doing so. I would use his high pain tolerance and sturdy body to turn him into a fighter. He would learn very quickly what things made me happy and do those things whenever I asked. He would try so hard to please me that these actions would become second nature to him.

Unfortunately, that is why a lot of groups euthanize dogs that have been rescued from a fighting background. There are a lot of groups who focus on the rehabilitation of these dogs but the time and expense involved is a lot more than you can ask the average county SPCA that is already strapped for funding. Often these dogs can never be rehabilitated but there are hundreds of success stories. I have read several happy endings about the Michael Vick dogs. Yes, some of the dogs will have to live the rest of their days in sanctuary but the majority of them are normal family pets, living in homes with other animals and kids.

I hope that other people read these articles too and changed their thinking about pit bulls. I hope that the good that comes out of Vick's horrible crimes is that a lot of people have been educated about what great dogs pit bulls are and what great efforts people are making to rehabilitate fighting dogs. I know that some people will never change their minds. For example, my mother saw a pit bull on the cover of a magazine last month and immediately said "I don't like them, people shouldn't be allowed to own them". I must have given her a dirty look because before I could say anything she said "I know its the owner's but...".

As far as I know, she has only met one pit bull. It is owned by someone in her neighborhood that doesn't leash the dog so he runs free. He likes to run up to my mom and her small dogs to say hello when they are out walking. He doesn't show any aggression but he is very excited to say hi and much larger than her dogs. There haven't been any incidents where this dog has attacked my mom's dogs or any other dogs in the neighborhood. I would categorize his behavior as consistent with a dog who hadn't received any discipline or training but his breed has nothing to do with this behavior.

Year's ago, Chale was attacked by a yellow lab mix. I knew the dog was going to attack based on his body language. I didn't think to myself "Oh he's a lab, I'm sure he's a sweetheart". I observed the dog and made a decision 100% based on his behavior. Chale only suffered one minor bite on his rear end. If I would have been more lax about it and not been prepared for the attack, it could have been much worse.

When I walk dog the street with my German shepherd and my pit bull, I know some people will cross the street to get away from us. But I also know that some people will want to pet them and ask questions about them. During this time I will let them see what great temperaments they both have and tell them they are both rescue dogs and absolutely amazing. I don't blame the rescue group for not mentioning that Rebel was part pit bull on Petfinder.com (I told my mom he was a hound mix too); I just wish they didn't have to do it.

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