PAWS Magazine

Issue 57, Spring 2004

Loving, Loyal and Misunderstood

His big brown eyes closely followed every visitor that passed by his kennel. He waited patiently with a trace of excitement, hoping that someone would notice his handsome face, beautiful short black and white fur, and sleek, muscular frame. Each person offered the possibility of a walk, a treat and maybe some lap time. With his charming puppy personality and rugged good looks, it seemed certain that someone would fall in love with this young boy.

Yet Carbon did not realize the challenges he would face while sitting in the PAWS kennels watching potential adopters go by, shaking their heads and moving on to the next dog. Even though PAWS staff and volunteers pointed out that he was only nine months old, already showed good manners, and was very people-friendly, the fact remained that Carbon had one major strike against him. Carbon was a pit bull mix. This was enough to make some people pass by without a glance in his direction and others openly question his existence.

The Good Old Days

This wasn’t always the way people felt about pit bulls. In the early part of the 20th Century, American Pit Bull Terriers (now commonly referred to as pit bulls) were the dog to own. Helen Keller, President Theodore Roosevelt, and actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, each had one of these wonderful dogs. Immigrants, who considered the dogs as prized possessions and important members of their families, loved them enough to bring them over the long passage from the United Kingdom to the United States.

During these years, pit bulls had the all-American image. One was a long-time mascot for RCA, an American television and audio manufacturer and another, called Petie, was the faithful and gentle companion to Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla and Buckwheat in the Little Rascals. These dogs were friendly to people, hardworking, and trustworthy.

Bad Rap

Since then, many factors have contributed to the decline of the acceptance of pit bulls as family dogs. Some unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the breed’s strength, determination, and tenacity and used the dogs in organized dog fighting and other criminal activity. Other people have failed to fully understand the needs of the breed and their genetic make-up, resulting in poorly trained and poorly socialized dogs—bad news for all dogs, not just pit bulls. In addition, an increase in human population and pit bulls in urban areas have made it more likely for people to have encounters with some of the unsocialized, untrained, over-bred dogs. Thirty years ago, there simply weren’t a lot of dogs in cities. Unfortunately, these factors combined with sensationalized stories in the media have led to breed-specific legislation and discrimination that target pit bulls. Some insurance companies have gone so far as to deny coverage, even to responsible people who have pit bulls (among other breeds), forcing them to choose between protecting their homes and keeping their best friends.

Good Dog

Conversely, both the National Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association oppose canine profiling. They recognize that responsible dog guardianship is more relevant in determining bite risk than breed type. PAWS, and many other animal welfare organizations, agree and strive to educate and support each adopter on how to be a responsible guardian.

The professionals at PAWS are experienced in dealing with breed-related issues and behaviors and believe in treating every dog as an individual. In addition to the general temperament and attitude assessment of each dog, volunteers who spend time in the kennels or walk the dogs provide additional insight into personality traits. All of this information is available to potential adopters, as well as a history lesson about a dog’s possible genetic background and how this can play a part in the dog’s behavior and needs. PAWS helps adopters see each dog’s positive attributes and understand the challenges that may come with adding a dog of a specific breed type to their family. Potential adopters learn that pit bulls can make great companions. They are intelligent, fun loving, and dependable and are great additions to families who understand the breed’s traits and have the time to spend with them.

Happy Homes

So what happened to Carbon? Fortunately for him, Andrea and her family grew up with Bull Terriers, so she knew something about the terrier breeds and the public’s misconceptions.

"I saw Carbon’s story on the Internet and came to PAWS because we wanted a companion for Grace, our Bull Terrier." Andrea was looking for a dog who could work with Grace’s play style. "Carbon is the peacemaker, and they’ve made a great pair, always playing. He’s the perfect match for our family," she explained.

Carbon isn’t the only pit bull PAWS has successfully placed into happy homes. Surrounded by her seemingly boundless enthusiasm and desire to be around people, adopters Robin and Ron found themselves in for some extra work when they brought China into their lives last November. "She was a compulsive chewer, getting into shoes and purses, and managed to get through the baby gates we had put up to confine her during the day," explained Robin. So they used the adoption material provided by PAWS, as well as advice from their veterinarian, and began crate training to successfully harness her exuberant behavior when they were away from home. When asked what was special about China, Robin replied, "She is special to us because of her intelligence and friendliness in public. People love her. She knows lots of commands, enjoys pleasing us, is great with the cat, and loves to cuddle."

In January, when Jason adopted Handsome, a gorgeous brown and white pit bull mix who lives up to his name, he already had a plan for keeping his new companion happy and content. "Handsome is my family. We need each other. I work downtown and can take him to my office, where he sleeps under my desk. I take him to obedience classes, where he has shown no aggression to other dogs. I’ve taken him running, too, which is really fun. I want to work him up to 6 miles. He hasn’t quite gotten there yet, but I know he’s willing because he has so much love to give."

Hope for Every Dog

So how can the number of pit bulls in shelters (many of whom are routinely humanely euthanized for behavior problems) be decreased? PAWS and other pit bull breed advocates are focusing on preventing problems before they occur by educating people on how to provide dogs with secure and enriched environments and integrate them into the home and family. PAWS and dog lovers like Shannon are hoping to change the public’s attitude toward pit bulls. "Since I adopted Kasey in November, I’ve been hesitant to tell people what breed she is because then they will label her. Once they fall for her funny, loving nature, I tell them she’s a pit bull mix. She is a much loved member of my family." And being a member of a family is the hope for every dog…pit bull or not.

 

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