Two years ago, October was officially dubbed as “Pit Bull Awareness Month” in an effort to spread awareness and education about this misunderstood breed. The “Pit Bull” (“pit bull” is a generic name for three breeds of dogs – the Staffordshire Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and any mix thereof) has deservedly received positive attention in the past few years, with many celebrities adopting members of the breed and bringing beneficial media attention. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Rachel Bilson, Jessica Alba, Rachel Ray, and Kaley Cuoco all proudly walk their pits for the paparazzi. TV shows such as “Pit Bulls and Parolees” and “Pit Boss” have also helped spread a positive image for these dogs, and put a spotlight on the abuse that these innocent dogs go through (and more importantly, the rehabilitation). An emphasis on campaigns such as “blame the deed, not the breed” and “adopt, don’t shop” has put these dogs back into a much better situation than even 5 years ago, but the work is nowhere near over. The abuse and mistreatment of these dogs sadly continues, and pit bull mixes still make up the majority of dogs in shelters.
As a pit bull owner, I try to live my life as an educator on a daily basis, but I find that sometimes this is quite a challenge based on my urban environment. I currently live in a neighborhood where people cross the street when they see me coming with me dog, children scream, and I’ve even had mothers shelter their children while we pass, as if at any second my dog will viciously attack them.
It takes so much strength not to yell at these people or even laugh loudly at their foolishness, as I sometimes really really want to do. I have to take deep breaths and remind myself that they are not to be blamed for their misconception and fear, that the media portrays dogs like mine as dangerous and deadly everyday, and to remember that they do not know my dog.
They do not know my dog that hides in the bathroom and refuses to come out for hours during a thunder storm. They do not know my dog that runs at the site of cats or small dogs yapping at her on the street. They do not know my dog that thinks she is human, that curls up on my pillow next to me with a lick and a cuddle. They do not know my dog that thinks she is small, and tries to climb her entire 60 pound body into my lap while we are in the waiting room at the vet. They do not know my dog that allows my three small nieces, one with special needs who doesn’t easily understand “no”, to climb all over her and manhandle her, rubbing on her face and pulling on her tail, without even the slightest of protest. They do not know my dog who knows when I am sick or sad, and refuses to leave my side for any reason when she can sense I’m not well. They do not know my dog, or any of the others of the “pit bull” breed, that everyday are gentle, kind, and loyal to their families. They do not know the pit bulls that act as service dogs to those living with disabilities, or that serve in combat alongside our soldiers.
Although having an entire month nationally dedicated to awareness is a great place to start, a pit bull owner’s job is never done. I don’t know that I fully appreciated the responsibility when we decided to adopt Dimona as a puppy four years ago. Society has made me very much aware of the breed of dog I own, although owning her has made me more aware than ever of the false stereotypes that exist. Every day is an exercise in tolerance of ignorance, and being a responsible pit owner is so important as each and every pit on the street becomes an ambassador for its breed. Owning a pit is knowing a pit, and I’d like to think that just by owning Dimona, we have brought awareness of the breed to family members and friends who otherwise would have harbored only the image the media portrays, of monsters with locking jaws and vicious temperaments. And maybe, if I keep walking my dog down the same block day after day, they will begin to see the sweet girl with the blue eyes just out for her afternoon walk, who isn’t looking to cause bloodshed and mayhem.
They do not know my dog, but hopefully someday through education and deeper understanding, they will want to.