Thursday, April 23, 2009

A confession

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I never wanted a pit bull.

At least, not at first. Heck, I never wanted a dog. This all changed when Felanie was somewhat forced on me by circumstances. After she opened new avenues for me, broke down the walls in my mind and heart, and basically changed my entire life for the better, we got Dozer.

We got Dozer because he was a pit bull (even though, it turns out, he wasn't really) and I hoped to have the same experiences with him that I did with Fel. It is certainly the case that Dozer taught me even more about patience, understanding, and individuality, even if he didn't offer any new insights--he just reinforced the things Fel had already shown me.

But that wasn't the confession.

This is: For years, off and on, I've actually looked forward to the day when I would be pit bull-less again. I've repeatedly thought, "When my pit bulls die, I will replace them with something other than pit bulls." I have often wished secretly that my dogs were not pit bulls.

When I get tired of the struggles of pit bull ownership--the stigma, the stereotypes, the nasty comments from total strangers, the innocent-yet-hurtful comments from friends and family, the constant fight against legalized discrimination (BSL), the nonstop educational efforts (when you're a responsible pit bull owner, you know that every public excursion is an educational effort)--sometimes I just wish I had "easier" dogs. Dogs that people would look at and smile at and just accept, like a Lab or a Collie. Dogs that wouldn't make people think I'm a drug dealer, a thug, trailer trash, a mortgage-defaulting liar (no joke), or a gang member.

So when Fel got cancer a little over a year ago, I thought, "When I'm ready for a new dog, it won't be a pit bull. I'll get something else. A dog I don't have to fight for all the time. A dog that I don't have to justify owning. Something easy."

Then Fel died. Nine months later, I finally started looking for a new dog.

I wasn't looking for a pit bull. Not at first, anyway.

Yet, after I had carefully thought about and listed my criteria for my next dog and I knew what I was looking for in my next companion, I found myself drawn to the pit bulls at the shelter. While other people were cooing at the yappy Dachshund puppies or the jumping Jack Russell Terrier or the big goofy Lab, I was baby-talking to the butt-wiggling, grunting, grinning pit bulls.

My attempts to choose a dog other than a pit bull became increasingly feeble. This pit bull had a sweet smile, that pit bull was a good candidate for agility, and that one over there had obviously had a rough time and just wanted a quiet home of its own.

To be fair, I perused all the other types of dogs at the shelter. I did not want another pit bull! But that Dalmatian mix was deaf, the Lab mix shedded like crazy, that terrier was waaaay too hyper, and that really cute whatever-it-was pulled so hard on the leash, I couldn't walk it.

And so we got Star. A "pit bull." (I guess.) Even though I really didn't want another one.

Why? Maybe it's because, subconsciously, I know that the pleasures and positives of pit bull ownership ultimately outweigh the hardships. Or perhaps it's because I don't want to betray Felanie's memory by taking the easy way out, by giving up the fight even when I no longer have a stake in the outcome, by letting the bigots and the haters win. Or maybe it was selfish; Star looks a bit like Felanie, after all. Or maybe I just enjoy the stress and pain of discrimination. I don't know.

But it's clear I'm going to own pit bulls from now on. Even when I don't really want to.


Kembree said...

Wow, I have about the same story, but I have to say I think I will always have a pit bull, bc now I am a Pit Bull person! We got Lane bc we thought he was a PIt Bull, but now as he gets older and a little furrier, we are not sure! Thanks for sharing your story..

PoochesForPeace said...

It takes special people to own pit bulls knowing how hard you have to fight for them. It is this same dilemma, however, that increases my passion for helping this breed everyday. In the long run it will be harder to deal with than not owning one if the haters win. :-)

Princess said...
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Princess said...

Wow, I wasn't expecting to tear up at work today...thanks! Seriously, thank you for a truthful message. I often too have the same thoughts.

Princess can be hard to take on walks, but I continue to try to show new people she can be good when she wants to be, just really anxious to meet dogs. I often think I can't wait until I have a 'normal' dog who I can take to a dog park, or doggy day care and not worry about what others think.

But it's the what others think that drives me to be the best mom I can for her and you're too right that their love is one of a kind and i think I would miss it if I never had one again.

This quote really hit home 'the innocent-yet-hurtful comments from friends and family' you're not in it alone, thanks from a stranger to continue to own and's worth it to see their smiling faces and receive the love we get from them!

Thanks ~Princess's Mom

inaradog said...

I'll never own anything but a pit. I always tell people that I'm not really a "dog person," I'm a "pit bull person." I don't get all googly-eyed over other dogs, but show me a pit bull and I turn into a pile of mush. The rude comments get old, but it's their loss to not get to know my dog.

PBOforlife said...

Thank you for a great site! Reading this one brought me to tears, because as a "pitbull mom" you described exactly how it feels. My family will never own any other breed even though it would be much easier. The hardest path is the most fulfilling. Thanks again for a great site, great blog, and we must not forget Dozer and Star's blog. :-) They make my day.

forsythia said...

My daughter did not know what she was getting when someone brought a stray puppy into the office and asked if anyone wanted to take him home. This beautiful black-and-white PB or PB mix was running loose in the Fells Point section of Baltimore. Well, he's now about 10 and one of our family's all-time favorite dogs. (We have joint custody, since my daughter and husband have a tiny house, a baby, and the husband's huge dog, but the PB is going to start spending weekends with them.) He's just silly. Goofy, really. Adorable and very affectionate.

Honey the Great Dane said...

Hi Jennifer,

This is Hsin-Yi, Honey's owner - I came through here from Dozer's blog (my God, how do you find time to keep up with so many sites and blogs?? I can barely keep up with one! You're amazing!)

Anyway, I just wanted to say how wonderful this post was - it was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes...and it's obvious you're a writer coz you write so well.

I know I don't own a pit bull but I can so relate to the things you say. Great Danes may not have such a negative image (although "mastiff-type dogs do seem to, more than cute, fluffy spitz-type dogs...I think it's the big jaws, jowls and muscular builds) - but it is not comfortable dog ownership either. There are a lot of prejudices too about BIG dogs and a lot of double standards, even from other dog owners, which I find very frustrating to deal with. Honey has often had to suffer bad behaviour from small dogs but been expected to put up with it and not retaliate because of her bigger size - other owners can be so prejudiced. And that's not counting those stupid owners who see us coming down the street and snatch up their precious white fluffballs whilst cooing "It's alright! I won't let that big dog hurt you!" or making some derogatory comment about Honey trying to eat her dog for breakfast! (And meanwhile, their little fluffball is usually snarling aggressively!)

If people aren't scared of her, then they buy into the whole ScoobyDoo perfect soppy dog image - which can be very hard for the dog to live up to as well.

That is one reason why I have been to tough on training and socialising Honey - because I knew that there would be more demands made of her (and less slack given to her) than to other dogs. She gets more attention by virtue of her size - and people expect to be able to pat (and maul!) a "gentle giant" without any thought to their own behaviour...but if she ever puts a paw out of place, I know the blame would be totally on her and it would be merciless.

People have often asked me about the problems of owning a giant breed and like you said, I always tell them the problems are not with the dog (OK, so you need a bigger bed but once you get over those things...) - the problems are with people's attitudes towards your dog. Sometimes, like you, I just feel so tired of it all - so tired of fighting people. I'd just like to enjoy my dog and not have to stress over other people's reactions to her all the time.

Like you, I have often thought about getting an "easier" dog next time...A part of me just wants to be "normal and accepted" - but another part of me feels very resentful that I should have to give up my first-choice dog just because of other people's lack of understanding and Honey is my first dog, I guess we will have to see what happens.

Anyway, I think you're doing a wonderful, amazing job with Dozer and Star and they truly show people that all the myths about pitbulls are a load of rubbish!

Thank goodness there are people like you in the world! :-)


Luda's Mummy said...

Thank you for this heartfelt post. It brings tears to my eyes, partly because it makes me think of my beloved Zeus, our Golden Retriever that we lost suddenly to cancer on 1/24/09. I say that he died suddenly because we had just received his official diagnosis on 1/22/09 and hardly had time to come to terms with the fact that no matter which path we chose, Zeus was going to leave us before we were ready to lose him.

It also brings tears to my eyes because it causes me to reflect on how society views our Luda. Since Zeus left us, Luda has been my saving grace. Luda is pit bull type dog (our vet says he is a pit bull "plain and simple", but I suspect that he is mixed with something) that came to live with us by happenstance four years ago. At the time, we had a geriatric Norwegian Elkhound and Zeus, already a lot of doggie poundage. We needed another dog like we needed holes in our heads. Then my husband came home and told me that one of his coworkers was moving from her house to a condo and needed to rehome her daughter's "boxer/terrier mix". After a great deal of persuading, I conceded, not because I wanted another dog, but because I wanted my husband to stop bugging me about it.

When Luda first came to live with us, I did not like him at all. His first act upon entering our house was to lift his leg and pee on the chair in the living room. Fortunately, this was not a chair that I was fond of, and has, ironically, become Luda's chair. He was dominant, reactive and had a high prey drive. In one of my weaker moments, I considered giving him up, but as a firm believer that my dogs are members of my family and not property to be disgarded when it becomes too difficult or inconvenient to have them around, I was determined to find a way to make the situation work. Instead of giving up on Luda, I took him to obedience training. At first, he attended private training due to his unpredictable behavior around other dogs, but he was soon allowed to enroll in group classes.

To this day, Luda is reactive towards dogs that do not belong to his pack, but he and Zeus were best buddies. They used to play roughly, and in fact, the only time that blood was ever drawn, it was the Golden that drew blood on the Pit by biting his ear. I have accepted that it is my responsibility to keep Luda out of situations that would allow him to get into trouble. I have become a vigilant and responsible Pit Bull owner.

As my understanding of Luda has grown, so has my fondness for him. However, I soon realized that others were unwilling to give him a chance because of his breed. At first, I thought the opinions of others didn't matter. Recently, it has really hit me how pervasive hatred of pit bull type dogs is. The other day at my son's baseball game, I was chatting with the coach's wife about dogs, which she informed me that she doesn't like pit bulls. I knew that defending the virtues of my dog would do nothing to change her opinion. So I said, "I like to think that there are no good dogs or bad dogs. There are trained dogs and untrained dogs and responsible owners and irresponsible owners. When an untrained dog is paired with an irresponsible owner, that's when problems occur".

It would definitely be "easier" to own dog that was more socially acceptable, but never in my life have I opted to take the easy road. It takes special people to own and love pit bulls. Now that I own and have come to love a pit bull, I can't imagine my life without one. Pitties are intelligent, athletic and loyal, and it is no wonder that they were once the family dog of choice.

Since Zeus died, I have seen many positive changes in Luda's personality, such that while part of me has begun to contemplate adopting another dog, another part of me thinks that he might enjoy being the only dog child for awhile longer. One thing that is for certain: I am the proud owner of a pit bull and the qualities of the breed will make them my first choice regardless of the opinions of others.