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Being Your Dog's Advocate

I was asked to speak about pitbull type dogs at Petcon this year in NYC and thought it might be helpful to share some of my answers. The first question we were asked was how we have experienced negative stigmas. Here is my experience:

After volunteering at Stamford Animal Control for about a month, I met a super fearful pitbull in need of a foster home. Her name was June. I took her in as my foster in my apartment in an Avalon building. No sooner than 3 days later I was notified by the manager’s that I was not allowed to have a pitbull in the building. I was shocked- it wasn’t a size issue, she was only 45 pounds and my neighbors had huge dogs. The apartment was “dog friendly”- I just didn’t understand that it wasn’t friendly to MY dog. She didn’t bark, hadn’t bothered anyone except to go up and wag and say hi.

I was told in no unsimple terms the pitbull had to go. Lucky for June, I don’t go down easy. Lucky for me, I had the financial ability to move into a place of my own. Just for my own research sake, I called around every SINGLE high rise apartment in Stamford and found that not a single one would let me live there with said pitbull.

I am really thankful there are a lot of groups working to change this. My Pitbull is family is a great one.

I’ve had people grab their kids when they see me walking down the street. I’ve actually heard a person scream. I once had a guy petting my first foster for an ENTIRE 10 minutes before he asked her breed. When I told him she’d be considered a pit mix, he asked me why she hadn’t bit him yet. I continue to experience this when I try to travel with my dog, as my dog is not allowed on a plane simply because she’s considered a pitbull type dog.

On a larger scale, I see this negative stigma on a daily basis through my rescue. People want a large dog that is kid and dog friendly but can’t fathom the idea of said dog being a pitbull. Anything but a pitbull, I’ve heard. I’ve seen dogs returned to rescue when DNA tests prove a small percentage of pitbull in the dog. I’ve pretty much seen it all.

But what this has taught me is to advocate for these beautiful dogs. There is no reason to be afraid of them. Here's what we can do to counter negative stigmas: First of all, can I just say PITBULLS DO NOT HAVE LOCKING JAWS. There’s nothing anatomically unique about the jaw of a pitbull. So we can start there. The other thing I think we need to keep in mind is that everyone wants to live in safe communities. The media has literally tricked people into thinking these dogs are irredeemably, magically vicious, so I try to meet people where they’re at. They may simply not know any better. I try not to get angry and defensive, although I have to admit, this can be tough.

You can’t force someone to change their opinion BUT you can show the inaccuracies of their line of thinking.

I really think the public needs to meet these little land hippos. They need to be able to see them and see that their actual experience with a pitbull doesn’t line up with the political narrative.

It’s been helpful for me to show people examples of these pitbull type dogs benefiting our community as therapy dogs, service dogs, hero dogs, and working dogs. I use Michael Vick’s dogs as examples a lot.

I also make sure to always combat disparaging remarks with FACT not feelings. You can site the American Temperament Test Society that shows the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as well as the dogs labeled “pit bull breed” consistently score above the average for all breeds tested on tempermant, year in and year out. You can also site Dr. Brady Barr who measured the bite pressure of pitbulls. In his study, the bite pressure of a German Shepherd, an American Pit Bull Terrier, and a Rottweiler were tested. The American Pitbull Terrier had the least amount of bite pressure of the dogs tested.


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