Dogs have been members of my family for almost my entire life.
I grew up with mutts and my daughters are growing up alongside probably-mutts; I say “probably” because I’m not 100 percent positive of their lineage.
Both of our dogs are rescues. Our eight-year-old chocolate lab, Kiss Balto Huff, was removed from a situation of neglect and placed into our care when she was two. A couple of years later, another dog was welcomed into our home after being dumped on our country road like a piece of garbage. She was only four months old, by the vet’s estimate.
Four years later, Magnolia Mountain Huff is a thriving, 65-pound lap dog whose only crime in life is one of genetics.
In passing conversation not long ago, my younger daughter spoke to me about one of the reasons why she was no longer close friends with another girl at school. I had assumed it was in large part due to the natural ebb and flow of such fickle relationships during those formative years of elementary school when classroom assignments dictate to whom our children will have the closest proximity. As it turns out, however, this particular child’s mother would never allow her to come over to our house because a pit bull lives here.
I was surprised by that news, and a little saddened—at first. For a moment it made me wonder if I did a disservice to my children by taking in a puppy who had been literally tossed away like roadside trash. Did I hinder their social lives when I made the decision to care for and raise an innocent creature who had been abandoned? I never considered those ramifications at the time. All I could see before me was a sweet and frightened puppy who desperately needed a home.
I do not regret the decision to give her a good one.
I haven’t purchased a Doggie DNA Testing Kit so we have no real way of knowing for sure whether Maggie Moo is a full-blooded pit bull or a mixed breed, although to look at her she certainly appears to be a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier. Regardless of what that slip of paper might declare, the stigma of being a pit bull will follow her for the rest of her life.
It doesn’t matter that she tries to squeeze her furry wiggle-butt into spaces it surely won’t fit but does it anyway because she needs to be right next to you—constantly. It doesn’t matter that she has a fondness for vocal interruptions, playfully yodeling while you’re immersed in a conversation she’s not a part of, to get your attention and perhaps some butt-scratches or a treat. It doesn’t matter that she’ll keep you toasty warm in the wintertime, a nuclear bundle of fur snuggled up against your body as the snowstorms rage beyond your front door.
All that seems to matter to the rest of the world is the singular detail that she is a pit bull, and pit bulls can bite.
That’s a fact I cannot deny, however, given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances, any dog who owns a set of teeth can bite. It should be duly noted that the same is true of people. I’m looking at you, Mike Tyson. In fact, after dogs and cats respectively, the third leading cause of bites treated in emergency rooms are from humans.
For shits and giggles and to satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to do a little research on the subject of dog bites. In 2013, the vital statistics surrounding 250+ incidences of dog bites over a ten-year period were presented in a study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA).
87.1% of cases showed that no one was present to intervene in the attack; 84.4% of the biters were not spayed/neutered; 76.2% of them were not kept as family pets; 37.5% had been mismanaged by their owners and 21.1% were abused or neglected.
Breed was not a factor.
The study also states that it is extremely rare for dogs to bite when they are family pets; dogs who are not afforded the luxury of positive interactions with people are far more likely to become aggressive toward them.
My dogs are both spayed. They are loved, cared for, and respected as members of our family.
As I continued reading the report, I discovered what is probably the single most important piece of information contained in it: “the breed(s) of the dog or dogs could not be reliably identified in more than 80% of cases.”
Breed-Specific Legislation against pit bulls is increasingly common in many cities and municipalities due to the gross misreporting of dog bites. To see how easy it is to point the finger at the wrong breed, can you pick out the pit bull in this group of mugshots?
If you did: congratulations. Most people, aside from pit bull owners themselves, are unable to do so on the first try. It takes an average of eight attempts to correctly choose the American Pit Bull Terrier.
As with any other dog breed, the way you raise a pit bull is what ultimately determines their level of aggression. To give you an idea of my own pit bull’s propensity towards violence, one afternoon a van pulled into our driveway. Assuming that no one was home, the passenger got out and immediately headed up the stairs toward the second-story porch and the doors to our master bedroom, where I was getting dressed following a post-workout shower. When my husband opened the front door to confront the intruder downstairs, Maggie slipped out. She ran like hell toward one of the guys, who threw up his hands in fear the moment he saw her, and she proceeded to dash right past him in favour of running gleeful laps in the side yard.
Clearly, she did not read the “How To Be A Vicious Dog” manual that all pit bulls supposedly get. We were in actual danger, too—it turns out these guys were wanted for a string of daytime robberies in our area; we found out later they had loaded guns in the van—but my “mean and aggressive” dog went for a gallop instead of tearing their faces off.
The perpetrators were soon caught by the police, no thanks to my “killer” dog. She was busy chasing butterflies and rolling in shit.
I realize that no matter how many wonderful things I tell the world about my beloved pit bull, or how many factual studies I cite when presenting my case to it, I won’t be able to transform the negative opinion surrounding her breed overnight.
It’s probably worth mentioning that for centuries, people thought the world was flat and that tomatoes were poisonous. Even those beliefs were eventually revised, the truth relentlessly hammered into the rocky heads of the ignorant until it found a way inside.
To the parents who refuse playdates with my children because of our pit bull, I want you to know that I do see things from your perspective and I completely understand the reasons for keeping your kid away. Really, I do. Every day, I protect my own kids from eating beets because beets are the devil; I refuse to let beets into my house for that reason.
It is every parent’s responsibility to keep their children safe to the best of their ability, and you would not be doing your job otherwise.
Honestly, it’s just as well; I love my dog more than I like your kid, anyway.
(Today, October 24, is National Pit Bull Awareness Day in the US.)