When my family adopted Pit Bull mixes I guess I was a little naïve. I expected to feed, train, and care for two great dogs. I expected to be happy, frustrated, hurt, cuddled, kissed, splashed, stepped on, and so many other wonderful things. I expected to love and be loved so unconditionally that little else could ever compare. I was and still am right, of course. Owning a dog is an extra-ordinary experience that is full of ups and downs, leaving little to the imagination. Seriously, having to sort through dog doo-doo and not hyperventilating does wonders to your self-confidence. However, as great as having dogs has been, I have to admit having Pit Bulls has been an eye-opening experience; one that my naivety (lessened over the years by mean girls and meaner teachers) could not have adequately prepared me for.
You see, owning a dog is one thing, but owning a Pit Bull lives in a whole other dog park. You get stares and scared faces and even nasty comments. Veterinarians refuse to do exams and regular people cower as you walk by, on the other side of the street.
One incident, many months ago, was one of the nastiest I have ever encountered. While out at a local park one morning Theresa and I had stepped into a small grove of trees because Simon wanted to poop there. As Theresa made Rosee sit and wait, and I had Simon and his leash wrapped around my legs while I attempted to pick up his waste we were suddenly bombarded by a woman. Without warning this woman walked through the small grove we were in, loudly exclaiming that she just loved to walk in the shade! Um. . . except that the little shade was currently occupied by two people and two dogs that took up said space, leaving no room for her. To make matters worse this woman just pushed herself in between Theresa and myself, waving her elbows around. To say she scared not only the dogs, but us humans is to put it lightly. Rosee immediately jumped up in hopes of jumping back to put space between herself and this woman, but in such a small space to begin with there was nothing Theresa (who was holding her) could do other than to lean into the bushes with Rosee. Simon, thankfully, had wrapped his entire leash around my legs and so was forced to stand right next to me, as I with a bag full of poop in my hands scrambled to step back and out of this woman’s way. The entire episode lasted maybe twenty seconds, but is something that I will always remember with the utmost clarity, and unfortunately it did not end there.
Theresa was pretty traumatized by this woman’s actions and having to quickly shield Rosee from getting upset, so we switched dogs (I was now walking Rosee with Theresa leading Simon) and headed towards our car. However, I needed a minute to go through the many stages of anger, so we decided to sit on the grass next to our car. Next thing you know this woman starts walking towards us yelling at us that we needed to put a muzzle on our dog, spewing nothing but hatred and misconceptions at us. Rosee for her part sat on the grass with me and simply barked at the crazy woman yelling at us. Theresa, over her trauma, took Simon and walked after the woman telling her that she should be more considerate and not just ambush strangers’ dogs. This woman quickly proceeded to walk away. Needless to say, we have not been back to this particular park, not because our dogs did anything wrong, but because neither of us knows how to just let go of the bad taste this experience left in our mouths.
But parks are not the only places full of intolerance and misguided fear. A veterinarian we took Rosee to last year took one look at her, became frightened and refused to perform her physical exam, even after I put a muzzle on her. I called their bluff when they tried to make me pay for the exam, they protested that without it they couldn’t prescribe her any heartworm medication. I reminded them that it was the veterinarian that refused to touch Rosee, not Rosee’s own refusal to be touched. I got the heartworm medication.
Certainly, I make no excuses for my dogs’ behavior. I have explanations. I can tell you why Rosee gets nervous around people and dogs, and that we are diligently working on it and she is getting better. I can explain that Simon loves people, but hasn’t learned all his manners yet (he still jumps) and again, we work on it as much as possible. I can tell people that my sister Theresa and I always make sure to have complete control of our dogs when we take them out into the world, and our evidence is the fact that they have never hurt anyone or anything. They are good dogs, just like the million other good dogs (Pit Bulls or not) that exist in the world. They are not perfect. They are not terrible. They are good. Simon and Rosee don’t deserve for misguided people to heap upon their shoulders stereotypes and singular stories about dog attacks and dog fights. Simon and Rosee and all the other good Pit Bulls in the world don’t deserve to be labeled for offenses they did not commit.
I was naïve in thinking that my dogs were just dogs. They are Pit Bulls. Rosee’s face gives her away quite easily, and most people look at Simon and call him a Staffordshire Terrier, which is just a more eloquent name for Pit Bull. They get treated like Pit Bulls, sometimes for the better, most times for the worse. You know something’s wrong with the world when your dog (Pit Bull) gets attacked by another dog, yet that dog’s owners are afraid of you and yours.
In fact just two mornings ago the four of us were out on our daily walk. We stopped at a crosswalk, looked both ways, crossed the street, and were promptly greeted with a mean, snarling, barking little black dog that had just escaped from its backyard’s broken fence. This dog went for the face, biting and lunging. I pulled Rosee (who had frozen in shock) back, grabbed her collar, and pulled her through the opening between two parked cars to the other side of the street. Theresa, who had Simon, pulled him back, but with the attacking dog still pushing forward into Simon’s face space she too had to drag him across the street. Finally, did the owner come out and grab his dog. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Simon and Rosee did not get bit and a car didn’t hit us on our haste to get away. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get a sorry. No admission that his dog did something wrong. Nope. Nada. Zilch. Goose egg. Nothing. All we were left with was upheaval, fear, and anger.
Now, as you may know (whether from personal experience or other stories from me) these experiences and their following feelings are nothing new. I didn’t scream at the world. I didn’t cry at the injustice. I didn’t stomp my foot. I gathered my wits, my dogs, my sister, and moved on. But I have to tell you, I’m tired. I’m tired of dealing with other people’s stereotypical beliefs, of not being told “sorry” after attacks, of simply not having my dogs treated like dogs. Let’s face it, I’m tired of writing stories headlined “Guess who attacked us this month?”! The world can be a wonderful place, full of happy people and nice dogs. I’d rather write stories about that, but I have Pit Bulls. I bring my Pit Bulls out into the world. I walk them, I take them to parks, and I bring them around people. Doing such activities brings the stereotypes, misconceptions, scared stares, and nasty words.
Bright side? When the dog attacked us that morning Rosee and Simon did nothing. They just stood there. They let Theresa and I pull them away. They continued with their walk. In that one moment of time they were perfect. That moment, whether anyone else saw it or not, is enough to let me know that every mean word, every bad rap about Pit Bulls simply isn’t true.