Pit bulls are in great need because of people’s perception of them.—Dina
According to the United Kennel Club, the essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are confidence, strength, and enthusiasm for life. Due to extreme friendliness, even to strangers, UKC does not recommend the breed as a guard dog. In addition, UKC notes that American Pit Bull Terriers make excellent family companions and have been well-noted for their love of children.
On the flip side, UKC cautions that most American Pit Bull Terriers can exhibit aggression. Few can deny that the history of the breed includes blood sports such as bull-and-bait and, when that went out of style, dog vs. dog. Indeed, because of its powerful physique, the American Pit Bull Terrier requires an owner who will carefully socialize the dog and train it to be obedient.
Extremely friendly, but aggressive. And thus the controversy over the breed. Having limited familiarity myself with the breed, I spent hours in September researching and reporting on the debate over pit bulls. I also contacted local pet owners and animal welfare groups to ask them about their personal experiences with these dogs.
Dina Barta owns two pit bulls. Both were in danger of being euthanized. Her first, Nala, was taken off the adoption line because she scared a volunteer. “Nala is a talker with a growly bark. She barks to be fed, she barks to play, she barks when she wants you to follow her.” Dina explained to me that many pit bulls communicate like this but it takes time for those unacquainted with pit bulls to understand and become comfortable with it. “I’ve entered houses with pit bulls to do photographs, and the foster/owner will ask me if I speak pittie. I laugh and say I am fluent.”
Her second, Renny, was picked up in Salina, Kansas, which is a Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) town. One of Salina’s restrictions on pit bull ownership is it will not allow anyone in the state to adopt their pit bulls and so the dogs have to leave the state. “I was just supposed to foster, but it only took a couple of days to know she was not leaving. She is the comic of the house.”
I asked Dina about her most touching moment as a pit bull owner. Dina replied that with so many pit bulls she’s had many. One occurred at Capital Humane Society, before she had her own, and when she felt truly terrified of these dogs. “I had to photograph a pit bull named Hoss. I was so scared to get him out of his kennel, but I did it. We went into the yard and he leaned so hard on my legs. He laid down and ‘frog-legged’ (putting his rear legs straight back), and wagged his tail at me. My heart melted. I was never scared again. Hoss taught me.”
Obviously, Dina has had many touching moments with her own pit bulls too. “Nala hugged me so tight the first night I brought her home, I did not think she would let go. Renny slowly crawled into my lap her first night here. She tried to make herself into a tiny ball, like I would not notice her snuggling.”
Every breed is different with different traits. I am so happy I have taken two pit bulls into my home.—Dina
To have a basis for comparison between breeds, I inquired about Dina’s other pets. Dina shared that she’s always had dogs in her life, ones of mixed breeds and purebred hunting dogs. Currently, she has a black lab mix named Marco. She is a Labrador fan, stating that these dogs are usually happy and friendly.
As for pit bulls, Dina says this breed is very in tune to their owner’s emotions. “I’ve never seen anything like it before in a dog. I do believe it’s what gets pit bulls in trouble. If you’re stressed, they feel this and become stressed too. If you’re calm and happy, so are they.”
Using her own two as examples, Dina described Nala as wanting “nothing more in life but to take care of me. She guards the door of every room I enter. She needs to know that I’m safe. If I have a disagreement with my boyfriend, Nala begs us to stop. She goes back and forth between us making small grunts asking us to get along. If I’m sad, Nala recognizes this and covers my face with kisses. She is not happy unless I am happy.” As for Renny, she too wants to please. If she has done anything she thinks Dina will be upset about, she begs for forgiveness. “And then there is Marco the lab. He watches all of it in quiet amusement!”
My biggest initial challenge was getting over my own crazy uneducated fear of these dogs. My biggest challenge now is staying calm whenever anyone says something uneducated about the pit bull breed.—Dina
Because of the stigma connected to pit bulls, I wondered what challenges Dina faced as an owner of two of these dogs. None of her answers suggested that she has ever faced any behavioral issues. Instead, Dina stressed that her biggest challenge has come from other people, who often view her as crazy for owning pit bills. “People do cross the street as I approach with one of my dogs. I have come to accept it. It even makes me smile now, knowing that I get to have the experience of these great dogs in my life. I am happy to not be the person afraid of these dogs.”
We really need legislation on all dog breeding! If dog owners had to obtain a license before their dogs could breed, and if they paid taxes on the sale of those dogs, maybe we could slow down the backyard breeders.–Dina
Part of my interest in pit bulls came from the decision by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors to target them with their The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers for only $25 per dog. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. LAA chose these Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers because they are the most difficult breeds for shelters to place.
As an animal lover, I also became concerned about the pit bull welfare after learning about their poor outlook. A study by the organization Animal People Online reported that in both 2011 and 2012, pit bulls accounted for 30% of the dogs admitted to U.S. animal shelters and 60% of the dogs euthanized. Of eleven major shelter systems providing pit bull data, the average pit bull death toll among the 11 systems was 80%. The study also shared that there is only a 1 in 600 chance that a Pit Bull who even manages to find its way to a shelter will find a forever home.
When I asked Dina about why she thought the pit bulls were among the breeds most in need, Dina brought up the issue of irresponsible breeders, who are trying to make a quick buck and selling to people who do not have the time or energy for pit bulls. We also talked about how some people want to own these dogs because of their tough image stereotype. The reality, however, is that these dogs are huge lovers. “We need to continue to educate people on the breed. Pit bulls are high energy athletic dogs. They need exercise and mental stimulation. They can become destructive if they become frustrated without an outlet. We need responsible ownership.”
Many animal welfare groups believe that one solution is to spay and neuter. They contend that the biggest risk factors for dog aggression are malicious or neglectful dog owners, as well as dogs that have not been spayed or neutered.
Best Friends Animal Society believes so strongly in spay/neuter as a solution, it offered a grant for these purposes. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is one recipient. If you have an unaltered pit bull terrier, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.
Also, should the cute photos make you interested in owning your own American Pit Bull Terrier, please educate yourself first about whether the breed is right fit for you. Then contact your local shelter or one of Lincoln’s numerous rescues. A pit bull will be waiting there for its forever home!