“What about an AmStaff?”
My husband and I had been discussing one of our favorite topics: What would our next dog be? Typically, these conversations consisted of the usual suspects — Beagles, Brittany Spaniels, Australian Cattle Dogs … and always a rescue dog. An American Staffordshire Terrier was completely out of left field. I looked at him as if he had grown a second head.
“A Pit Bull? Are you crazy? No way.”
My husband looked a little surprised. “Why not?”
“Oh, come on,” I said, realizing that he might actually be serious. “You’ve heard the stories. They’re unpredictable. I don’t want to have to constantly worry that my dog’s going to snap and eat me.”
“Do you really believe that? Lisa and Jim’s dog is part Pit and he’s awesome.”
He had me there. Mickey was, indeed, awesome. Smart, happy, funny, loving. But maybe they had just gotten lucky that Mickey hadn’t mauled them … yet. Nope. We were never going to get a Pit Bull.
The very next day, we met Mayzie.
Even though we had discussed a second dog, we weren’t planning on getting one for a while. But then on a trip to a local pet supply store for dog food, I decided to stop at the adoption fair being held there. I sat down on the floor and a scrawny brindle pooch immediately plopped herself in my lap. I knew as soon as I looked into those big brown eyes she was mine and I was hers.
Tentatively, I asked the volunteer what kind of dog she was. “She’s a Boxer mix.”
Oh, thank God. I breathed a sigh of relief. As much as I hate to admit it now, if she had said that Mayzie was part Pit, I probably would’ve walked away from my heart dog forever. But a Boxer … I could work with that.
So like any proud new parent, I began introducing her to friends and family, sending out pictures and emails to those far away. Inevitably, someone would ask, “You adopted a Pit Bull?”
“No,” I’d say defensively. “She’s a Boxer mix.”
However, the more people who suggested it, the more I began to entertain the possibility that I had, against my better judgment, adopted a Pit Bull. And that scared the crap out of me.
But at this point, I wasn’t about to give her back. I was completely and totally in love with this sweet, darling little girl who had never shown an ounce of aggression toward us. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry, and I decided I should probably research Pit Bulls just in case the day ever came when she decided to, you know, eat my face off.
I visited Pit Bull message boards and forums. I pored over websites like the National Canine Research Council. I devoured information from organizations like BAD RAP and Pit Bull Rescue Central. I educated myself about breed specific legislation, how it impacts good owners and good dogs, and does nothing to make communities safer. I learned about the noble history of the Pit Bull and how they were considered “America’s Dog” until very recently. Little by little, all these resources chipped away at the myths that had had such a strong hold on me.
And then there were the blogs. Through these firsthand accounts, I began to realize how many normal, everyday people counted a Pit Bull as a family member. They weren’t demon dogs. They were just dogs. Wonderful dogs who loved and were loved. The real stories of Pit Bulls — attending festivals dressed in costume, playing with other dogs, acting as therapy dogs and assistance dogs, lazing on the couch on a Sunday — made me question everything I had previously believed.
But what finally convinced me once and for all was, of course, Mayzie herself. Despite suffering extreme neglect tied to a rope in someone’s backyard for the first two years of her life, she is one of the most loving, sweet dogs I have ever known.
When we adopted her, she had never lived in a house and was utterly terrified of pretty much everything. We wouldn’t have blamed her if she had lashed out at us in fear. But she never so much as growled. She has shown remarkable resilience and an enormous capacity for forgiveness and trust. She’s incredibly gentle with our other dog, Ranger, despite being almost twice his size. She is as smart as a whip and eager to please. She loves life and she shows it by wagging her stub of a tail so hard it vibrates through her entire body. She is funny and goofy and makes us laugh every single day.
When I finally had sense enough to look at Mayzie — not the stereotype — I realized I had nothing to be afraid of.
This wasn’t an easy or fast transition. My beliefs and fears about Pit Bulls were deeply rooted. Letting go and feeling comfortable with the idea of having a Pit Bull in my house took a good six months. But when that happened, I was finally able to open up my heart to my beautiful dog fully and completely, with no reservations or hesitations. And she, in turn, has given me so much more than I have ever given her.
So after all this soul searching and angst, we decided to have a DNA test done on Mayzie. I had always been curious but held off until I was absolutely sure that it wouldn’t matter to me what the test said. And guess what? It turns out that Mayzie really is part Boxer after all. In fact, none of her direct ancestors are any of the breeds that are typically considered a Pit Bull.
And the irony? I was actually a teensy bit disappointed about that. Because somewhere along the way, I had gone from fearing Pit Bulls to loving them.
These days, despite knowing her actual breeds, I no longer bother to correct people who assume Mayzie is a Pit Bull. There is no doubt that she is a Pit Bull-type dog, having so many of the physical characteristics that people associate with them: blocky head, broad chest, brindle coat. I figure if her sweet personality and happy smile win over a few people to Pit Bulls, that’s just fine with me. After all, it’s just a label and she, like every other dog, is so much more than that. Still, when hubby and I play the “what will our next dog be” game now, a Pit Bull is always at the top of the list.
About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She and her husband (the crazy pet man) live in colorful Colorado where they enjoy hiking, biking and camping. Amber owns Comma Hound Copywriting and also acts as typist and assistant for Mayzie’s Dog Blog. She encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.
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