Last winter, I learned firsthand that pit bulls, even the most tough-acting, can make excellent pets. I was living in Greektown, and each time I delivered my garbage to the rat-racing alley, encountered a defensive pit watchdog, with shining black eyes and enormous floppy ears, sequestered in his postage stamp of a concrete yard. He barked on fast-forward–he scared me. Once I realized the barking boy wasn’t being fed regularly, walked, or let inside on snowy nights, though, I made a point to talk to him through the fence, softly, woman to bull. We became friends easily. He went from barking to whining when he saw me. Soon my very cool acquaintance David offered to rescue/adopt the dog, and the rest is a Disney movie. Today that formerly raucous pup, Nico, rides gleefully in David’s Camry, cuddles with him for TV-viewing, and hogs his bed. Nico is now the most loving, and loved, elephant-eared canine you can imagine.
This story, not just reader-friendly but relevant, echoes many rescuers’ experiences. I’m not saying that an abused or neglected dog is always a dog we can safely save or that we shouldn’t approach unfamiliar animals with great caution. But pits have unfairly earned a nasty reputation of late, due to the Michael Vick’s scandal and other well publicized reports of abusive dog-fighting rings, and due to the fact that it’s typical style right now for tough, macho, pants-hanging males to walk taller with a growling pit on a short chain (the dog’s ears clipped, its collar studded). In honor of Neighborhood Pit Bull Day, a BARCS and Best Friends Animal Society event this Sunday (dog-friendly party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Carroll Park, area two), I want to help set the record straight, and emphasize that we human beings are the ones who have trained certain bulls, and other breeds as well, to bite and growl and bark like mad villains. Bad breath aside, these dogs deserve a PR-makeover.
“A lot of people train various breeds to be violent,” explains Lisa Morabito, shelter partners for pit bulls coordinator at BARCS, and herself an enthusiastic pit bull owner. “It was German Shepherds, then Rottweilers and Dobermans first; pit bulls are the current breed of choice for people who want to train dogs inappropriately to fight viciously.”
The weekend before David volunteered to take Nico in, it was frigid out. Nico’s owners were in the process of moving, and had no plans to bring their dog with them. I needed to find an emergency foster option. The nice dog activist woman who agreed by phone to help us short-term refused to house Nico as long as she sometimes held foster dogs, because she feared the pit personality, the press reports, and believed that pits have extra-large jaws and more aggressive DNA, two very common misconceptions.
“The pit bull’s jaw genetically is no stronger than another dog’s; it’s a huge myth about them,” Morabito says.
And Tami Gosheff, special events coordinator at the MD SPCA, backs Morabito up. (She, too, owns two pit-bull mixes.) “There are many myths about pit bulls,” Gosheff says. “Pit bulls do not have locking jaws. What they do have is strength, determination and drive. These things in turn make them great exercise partners and excellent candidates for canine competitions such as agility, fly ball, etc. Owners love that their pit bulls are ‘breed ambassadors’ and help to diffuse the myths and stereotypes that surround the breed. Often you’ll find pit bulls certified as therapy dogs, visiting children in schools, the elderly in senior centers, and more.”
Gosheff says that pit bulls pass the American Temperament Testing Society’s test at a rate similar to, if not higher than, many other medium-to-large, powerful breeds. “The American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier pass at rates of 84.3 percent, 83.4 percent, and 88.8 percent, respectively. Compare this to Golden Retrievers (84.2 percent), Great Danes (79.2 percent), Weimaraners (80.1 percent), and standard poodles (85.3 percent).”
“We’ve taken so many dogs from horrible situations into BARCS–many are pit bulls–and their resilience and their unconditional love for humans, even after being abused by a human, is amazing,” Morabito notes.
BARCS is an unlimited intake shelter, which means they have to take every dog and cat who arrives, roughly 35 animals a day. The shelter currently houses more than 100 pit bulls and pit mixes. Last month, 73 were adopted or went to rescue organizations. Like the SPCA, the city shelter provides low-cost spay and neuter options, crucial to solving the problem of animal overpopulation.
BARCS is open for animal visitation and adoption: M-F 2-6, Saturday and Sunday 12-4
Dog-walking volunteers are needed.
301 Stockholm Street
To meet adoptable pets at the Maryland SPCA, visit Monday & Tuesday— 2:30-6:30, Wednesday through Friday—noon to 5, Saturday & Sunday—11-4
3300 Falls Road
Neighborhood Pit Bull Day
When: Sunday, July 10th, from 10-2
Where: Carroll Park, area two
What goes down: People bring their dogs, receive free treats, leashes, collars, and micro-chipping, free spay and neuter vouchers, and get a chance to talk to professional dog trainers and vets, at no cost. A kids’ face-painting booth will be on hand, too.