Please note: “Pit Bull” does not refer to a particular breed of dog, but instead several breeds of dogs, including the Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier, and all mixes thereof. For the ease in writing this essay, however, I choose to refer to what would properly be called “Pit Bull-type dogs” as simply “Pit Bulls.”
I grew up with dogs; my dad, a hunter, always had a Brittany or two around the house. As a toddler, I tried to have races with my dad’s patient, elderly Brittany named Ribs–winner got to eat the contents of Rib’s bowl. Our next Brittany, Silky, turned out to be a crap hunter but birthed plenty of good ones, like my dad’s favorite hunting dog, Bow. Growing up in a mecca of pheasant hunting, I was surrounded by neighbors with Labs and Springer Spaniels and the odd German Shorthair Pointer.
The only thing I ever heard about Pit Bulls was that they were dangerous. I never knew anyone who had one. That’s pretty much how it went until a few years ago. A new friend had one, and she swore the dog was the sweetest thing in the world. “She hates strangers and other dogs, though,” she said. “She gets really aggressive to people coming in the house.”
“Figures,” I thought.
At one time, I even seriously considered opening an indoor dog park. As I tried to plan it, I thought that I may have to ban certain breeds. Akitas, maybe. Pit Bulls, for SURE. Why? Because they were dangerous to both other dogs and humans. The irony in all this is that my inspiration for the indoor dog park–besides the frigid South Dakota winters–was my beloved Rottweiler, Penny. So of course, Rottweilers would be welcome. I have no idea how the stupidity of this was lost on me.
How could you not love a dog good-natured enough to wear a rainbow-colored feather boa to Pride?
Because of my love for dogs and my overall bleeding heart, I did some fostering for a local shelter. I hadn’t fostered for a while, though, when my friend Tate‘ posted the sweetest face I had ever seen on facebook. “This dog urgently needs a foster home,” the shared post read. “Please! He is at the pound in a town with a Pit Bull ban and he only has days to live!”
Just enjoying the spring sunshine and his tennis ball.
By that time I had gotten over my “All Pit Bulls are vicious!” phase and was now in my “Pit Bulls are just the same as any other dog” phase. Cisco–the dog in question–was so cute that I couldn’t bear to see him be put down. I e-mailed the Pit Bull rescue that had first posted his picture and applied to be a foster. Two days later–and after a near brush with euthanasia for Cisco–I had a Pit Bull in my house.
Things were absolutely great. Cisco was fun and sweet and so, so snuggly. He seemed to get along well with Penny and adored my (human) roommate. Although the paperwork I had received upon becoming a foster warned of dog-on-dog aggression and recommended something called a “two week shutdown,” I chalked it up to overreacting. Because Pit Bulls are just like every other dog, right?
After a few months of blissfully living with Cisco and Penny, the head of the rescue I was working with sent out an urgent plea. Another foster in the rescue had to leave his foster family immediately–the dad in the home didn’t like him and was threatening to shoot him. Remember, bleeding heart, and Cisco had been so easy so far–so I said, “I’ll take another!” And that’s how I got Marble.
Named for his one icy blue eye.
Again, I cheated on the two week shutdown. And things were fine–at first. Cisco continued to be energetic and sweet and snuggly while Marble was quiet and sweet and snuggly (see a pattern here?). I would even take all three dogs–all 210 lbs of them–walking all at once.
I don’t know what triggered it–food maybe, or a toy–but one day, Marble and Cisco got into a fight. It was awful. Neither dog would let go or back down. The snarling and yelping was horrible. Penny, while not directly involved in the fight, jumped in to break it up, which didn’t help. At some point I finally got the dogs apart and in separate rooms–doors closed–and called the head of the rescue, crying. Both Cisco and Marble were bleeding and I was shaking. I felt like a failure. I felt like everything I thought about Pit Bulls might be wrong and all the horrible things that other people said might be right.
Luckily, the head of the rescue talked me down. However, Cisco and Marble were never the same together after that. There were a few more fights, despite my efforts to prevent them, and eventually I had to go to “crate and rotate”–not allowing them out in the same place at the same time.
Through all this, though, Cisco and Marble continued to show me just how amazing Pit Bulls are. They were loving. Kind. Affectionate. Silly. I was falling in love–despite the fights. The fights, though, were my tip off that maybe Pit Bulls weren’t “just like other dogs.” I couldn’t remember our Brittanies–or any other dog I had been exposed to–fighting like that. When I took the time to read and research, like I should have at the beginning, I learned that Pit Bulls–at least in modern history–have often been selected and bred to be fearless, relentless fighters–first to bulls, and then to each other. At the same time, they were bred to be docile and loving toward humans–so docile that a man could pull a fighting dog out of a ring without himself getting bitten. It was that love for humans that made me fall in love with the Pit Bull. That, and seeing how much love they had to give even after being in terrible circumstances–which happens all too often, unfortunately, due to the attractiveness of the breed for certain segments of society.
All dogs can be prone to dog aggression, true. And all dogs have varying degrees of tolerance to other dogs. However, Pit Bulls–due to their background–can be more prone to dog aggression. That doesn’t mean all Pit Bulls will be dog aggressive (which can be worked on, by the way), or that they will be fighters–just like not all Spaniels will be good hunters. However, to deny their heritage is to do a disservice to the breed. Love the dog, but love them with the full knowledge of what they are–that’s my current philosophy on Pit Bulls.
After Cisco and Marble were adopted, I got Bean. Bean was goofy and jumped like he had springs in his legs. He was generally congenial with other dogs, but if approached by a strange dog in the street he would be ready to go. Like the boys before him, though, he loved me with all of his big bully heart.
Bean also loved the bathtub with all of his big bully heart. Go figure.
After Bean came Dutch. Dutch was the easiest foster ever. He loved every other person and dog he met–except for the one canine guest who tried to steal his bone.
“My name is Dutch and I’m a snuggleaholic.”
Currently, my foster is Turke. Turke is probably the most intimidating-looking Pittie I’ve had, with his big head and butchered down ears–a “kitchen crop” if there ever was one. Despite his looks, though, Turke is a gentle giant, and is every bit as easy as Dutch was before him.
“Fewer pictures, moar snugglez, mom!!”
Despite the bumps–the near ban in our city on “dangerous” breeds, the fact that my neighbor threatened me because of the “dangerous” dogs in my backyard, despite Cisco and Marble showing me how truly terrifying a dog fight is–well, maybe because of the bumps, I LOVE these darn blockheads. And I’m not going to stop fighting for them, because the love they give is so worth it.
I guess I’ve always liked to root for the underdog.