PASSIONATE RATIONS

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Pitty-Full

Filed under: Uncategorized — July 26, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

I smiled. “Hi, “ I said.

The elder gentleman raised an eyebrow and eyed me suspiciously, almost angrily, glancing at me, then at my dog. He did not respond, instead stepping off the sidewalk and backing into a doorway, all while keeping his eye on us.

That’s odd, I thought. And rude.

At first, I couldn’t figure it out. In New England, people on the street often don’t say a word as they pass each other, but, if one actually says something, it’s generally considered good form to respond. I was going to chalk the behavior up to sheer lack of manners. Then I looked down at my dog.

To me, she’s a gorgeous thing. Black and white in a harlequin pattern. She’s lithe, with a glossy coat that ripples slightly with the movement of the musculature underneath.

I know her. She shivers at thunder and was afraid of my cat when they first met. When she’s happy, she smiles with a broad toothy canine grin; the wagging of her tail transfers to her whole body so that she positively wiggles with joy. She gives kisses at the slightest provocation. She’s never once shown aggression to a person or other dog.

But the gentleman we’d passed didn’t know any of this. All he saw was one thing: pit bull.

And this is the real shame: that such a beautiful creature goes so misunderstood today.

I say “today” because the pit bull was once an American icon: think Petey of “The Little Rascals,” the RCA dog, Buster Brown. These were dogs loved and respected for their loyalty and intelligence. Today, they are feared and reviled for their reputation of aggressiveness.

In actuality, the term “pit bull” is a general term that encompasses several so-called “bully” breeds. My companion is an American pit-bull mix, but the term “pit bull” has been applied variously to the American Bulldog, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Miniature Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Rottweiler. As one might guess, given the variety, “pit bulls” are not reliably identifiable. Nonetheless, across the nation, various laws and regulations ban pit bulls outright; insurance companies often will not insure households who keep them; foster-care agencies (who desperately need foster families) won’t place foster children in homes with them. This, despite the fact that the American Veterinary Medical Association, has noted that, in controlled studies, pit-bull type dogs have NOT been identified as dirporportionately dangerous. See http://www.avma.org/reference/backgrounders/dog_bite_risk_and_prevention_bgnd.asp>this report.

So, what happened?

I have a theory: these dogs are extremely loyal and eager to please; they are also powerfully built. Both traits made them popular with certain criminal elements for dog fighting–where they are subjected to cruel punishments to condition them for the ring but will still perform their utmost for their people. Many of those people happen to be minorities. As the breed’s popularity grew in this circle, so did the bias against them–both as spillover from entrenched racism and because now these dogs were being particularly conditioned and selected for aggressiveness. Train a dog to bite and it will; mismanage or mistreat a dog, and it’s very likely to misbehave. Thus, the breed’s popularity in the general public waned. But who’s really at fault? People or the dog?

Whatever built the stigma around my little pitty, I’m just glad she doesn’t notice when people cross the street so they won’t have to pass nearby her, that I don’t have to explain it to her like I would have to to a teenage son whose skin happens to be darker than the “majority” population (I’m sorry, but I just can’t help to liken this to racism; the same faulty reasoning seems behind it).

I’m not saying pit bulls are never aggressive. I know people who have been threatened by one. It’s just that I’ve seen aggressive behavior in many, many dog breeds over my lifetime. Indeed, as a child I was attacked and bitten by a small-breed dog. I hate to see one breed so stigmatized above the rest, especially without any real data to support such bias and with all of the variables that can skew the picture.

I wholeheartedly agree with the slogan: “punish the deed, not the breed.” I know that, if that were everyone’s motto, my little pitty would never face punishment or revulsion. She’s simply too full of wiggles and licks.


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