Editorial: Is the pit bull stigma justified?
By Joe McGehee
First of all, I would like to thank Annette McLean for not only her guest column in the July 28 issue of The Rock River Times, but also for volunteering her time at the Winnebago County Animal Services Shelter. Many love animals, but few put themselves in the position of volunteer at a county-run animal facility. Kudos to you, Mrs. McLean; you truly deserve more credit than I could laud over you here.
If you have not yet read the guest column by Mrs. McLean, I suggest doing so.
The Question of the Week on our website is: “Would you consider adopting a pit bull?” At last check, 73 percent of voters said no, while only 27 percent said yes. This underscores the impact of the stigma placed on a breed of dog that has done nothing on its own to warrant a reputation of such preposterous proportions.
As any animal owner can attest, dogs are what we, as owners, make of them. Despite rumors to the contrary, no dogs are born aggressive, nor are they capable of making the decision to suddenly become vicious creatures that lust for human or canine blood.
We, as humans, have done the dirty work leading to the pit bull’s undeserved reputation as a breed of killers with jaws so strong they lock. Again, dogs are what we make of them.
A little more than a year ago, I became a pit bull owner. In the weeks and months leading up to this event, I did my homework to ensure I was selecting a breed that would fit my personality and lifestyle. I decided to seek out a pit bull puppy with the parents on site, so I would be able to gage the temperament and demeanor of the puppy’s parents.
As a part of my pre-pit bull ownership, I also delved deeply into the history of the breed, and quickly realized the pit bull breed, in particular, fit my personality and lifestyle very well. So, long story short, I found a litter of pit bulls ready for adoption, with both parents on site, and came home with a little brown male whose head seemed far too big for his tiny brown body. He was christened Kenneth UpgrayDD Powers (“Kenny”) May 5, 2009.
Kenny and I endured all the horrors of puppy training, and I soon noticed he was quite the quick learner. Even though his bladder was the size of an English pea in the early days, he took to house training quickly, and soon relished the chance to show off what he had learned. Soon after, he found out that sitting, giving a high-five and laying down would earn him a treat, and he was hooked on learning for good.
He grew—as quickly as he consumed his twice-daily meals—into his male pit bull frame…big, boxy head with wide, strong chest and shoulders. Yet, Kenny still had the same demeanor and calm temperament he did as a puppy. He remains a valuable, loyal companion.
The stigma placed on pit bulls not only impacts their lives, but also impacts the lives of their owners. While out walking my pit bull, I have personally seen women cross the street with their children. One ultra-concerned parent went so far as to lift her child over her head and almost sprint to the other side of the street as we approached.
Each time this happens, I find myself wondering why people react in this manner without ever meeting the dog they are running from. Kenny has yet to bite anything outside of his food bowl, but he still instills fear in people who have never been within 50 yards of him.
What many people fail to realize is that I, like the vast majority of pit bull owners, have taken the time to instill the proper training techniques that ensure my dog is no threat to them, their children or other pets. My pit bull understands I am in control as we take our walks, and he appreciates that.
Adopting a dog comes with certain inherent risks. We cannot know the scars—both emotional and physical—adopted dogs carry, as they lack the communication skills to clearly articulate their past experiences.
I once adopted a dog that carried emotional scars so deep I never wanted to know what it had been through. But, through providing this dog with a structured, loving environment, it became a loving animal that never considered the possibility of lashing out physically.
As Mrs. McLean pointed out in her guest column, shelters will not place dogs that exhibit aggressive behavior for adoption. Plus, the built-in safety net of multiple visits with your family can help you get to know the dog you are adopting and ensure it will be a good fit for your home.
To the voters on our website unwilling to consider adopting a pit bull, I issue this challenge: Go to an animal shelter and look deeply into the eyes of these dogs. Look past the stigma created by us as humans and all the ridiculous rumors circulating around the breed. Have an employee remove the dog from its cage, and touch one of them before making this decision.
Above all, pit bulls—like all other dogs housed in our nation’s shelters—deserve a chance at a better life before they face euthanasia. Just like any other dog, a pit bull will reward you for your efforts with loyalty, companionship and an undying, unwavering love like no other.
I encourage our readers to comment about this story, regardless of their stance. I also encourage other pit bull owners to share their stories here as well.
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