Overcoming the Fear of Pit Bulls: Where Do We Go from Here?

PetMD Editorial
Published: January 11, 2017
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My pet family was complete, we had two dogs and a cat. When my boyfriend, James, thought we should get another dog, I disagreed. Remy, our Akita was attached to me. He loves everyone in the family, but when I leave he waits by the door for me. Wynne, our Boston Terrier, rules the house. She picked our cat, who was a previous foster. She loved this cat, so we had to keep her. Wynne is independent, but she snuggles up to the warmest body when she is ready. James felt he had no dog of his own. Years ago he owned a Pit Bull and he wanted another. I was shocked he would even suggest that breed in our established house. Remy was a male and he allowed Wynne (a female) to push him around because she is older. If a Pit Bull came in the mix, there would be constant fighting for that lead position.

Meeting Pits at Work

Working as a registered veterinary technician in an emergency clinic, I encountered many Pit Bulls. The Pit Bulls I saw where brought in by animal wardens and police officers. These dogs were attacked, wounded and even shot. Of course those dogs were aggressive, they had been through a lot and were in pain. The Pit Bull that changed my mind was the one a police offer brought in that was shot in the head. I heard the report, ran up front with the gurney, and there he was standing and wagging his tail at me. His x-ray showed a bullet lodged in his skull. I was with that dog all night while he was being given oxygen, taking his vitals, and he never showed an aggressive sign. That's when I realized how strong this breed is, but how nice it could be.

So, I was willing to take a look at this potential new addition to our home, as long as Remy was there to approve.

Bringing Home Indy

James answered an ad on Craigslist. As we pulled down the street, there were many dogs running all over the neighborhood. As I got out of the car, I was immediately approached by a dog who sat in front of me. The owners were sitting on the step.

"You here for the Pit? There she is,” they said. “We don't have time for her, she lives in a cage." As we approached the owners, she followed me the whole way there. When we stopped to talk to the owners about her past life and history, she was running free in the street. They would just yell at her to get out of the road when cars passed. I clapped my hands and she ran over. I sat on the ground and she jumped in my lap and covered me with kisses. It was time to see what Remy thought.

I insisted James hold the leash and warned the owners that if they fight, I know where the closest veterinary clinic is. That Pit Bull ran up to Remy and they were nose to nose. I turned my head in terror. I couldn't see this. Two dogs known for fighting, I thought, it's going to be a blood bath. I heard James yell and I had to look. Remy was pulling him around trying to run and play with the Pit. James insisted we keep her. I was out of excuses.

Life with a Pit Bull

We named her Indy and she is now 4 years old. She is the most affectionate dog I've ever owned. Indy and Remy are best friends (Wynne, meanwhile, didn't care what we brought home as long as she had her spot on the couch). Indy follows Remy around and looks for his direction. I never left them alone for fear of fighting, but Indy just wants to fit in. I see why the breed is used to fight, they only want to make their owners happy. She is constantly looking for our approval. We brought Indy home, and with rules and obedience (just like every other dog, regardless of its breed), she’s become a wonderful dog.

Re-Thinking the Pit Bull Bias

So, what can we do to change the image surrounding Pit Bulls? According to DogsBite.org, over 1,052 cities across the nation have Breed-Specific Laws (BSL). When we create bans and laws it draws public attention. Criminals are drawn to breaking the law. Individualists are drawn to making a statement and law-abiding citizens make a scene when the law is not abided by. When prohibition ended in 1933, the government was the first to reap the benefits. The government received tax benefits, jobs and a decrease in police force.

I asked James Kaplan, a volunteer at Parma Animal Shelter in Ohio, how we should work towards changing the perception of Pit Bulls.

“I have watched people take a pause when seeing [Pit Bulls at the shelter] They don't always see the personality of the dog or are not really astute to dog communication,” he says. “It should be the citizen’s decision to enact a BSL, not the politicians who will cave to pressure because they don't want to appear weak to the people pushing the BSL. I think the biggest thing is to work to get rid of the slang name and start calling them by their AKC name."

Abolishing BSLs nationwide will change everyone’s view of the breed. Owning a Pit Bull wouldn't make you a cool "bad ass" anymore. Back-yard breeders would decrease because the popularity would go down, while law-abiding families would be able to adopt one. According to the ASPCA, 2,800 Pit Bulls and Pit-mixes are euthanized every day. If we stopped paying attention to what these dogs look like, and instead care only about their personalities, more dogs like Indy would have families to come home to.

Image: Courtesy Naomi Strollo

Naomi has been in the veterinary profession for 24 years. She became a Registered Veterinary Technician in 2000 and has over 10 years of experience working with trauma and critical care. She equally enjoys client education and prevention training techniques and has a special interest in behavioral training. She has personally trained therapy dogs, as well as show dogs, and has passed the 10-step test to earn her Canine Good Citizen Certification.