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How My Pit Bulls Taught Me the Importance of Diversity

National Pit Bull Awareness Day is a good time to demonstrate that members of this breed are a lot like humans -- each one is different.

Kelly Pulley  |  Oct 24th 2014


Editor’s note: Tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 25) is National Pit Bull Awareness Day, a great time to publish this reflection from a writer who has lived with four Pit Bulls and learned a lot from the experience, not only about the dogs but from humans’ reactions to them.

It’s June 2012, and I’m driving my Subaru through the insane streets of downtown Manhattan. Falstaff and Hudson, my two Pit Bulls, are giving me nauseated and disapproving looks in the rearview mirror. My female Pit Bull, Amber, died unexpectedly a year before, otherwise her loving look would have joined them.

Just look into Amber's intense, loving eyes

Just look into Amber’s intense, loving eyes

 

My boys are not on my new lease in New York City, but I have a great confidence in the common sense of New Yorkers and feel certain that if we stay out of folks’ way, no one will complain. Live and let live, especially in the uber-tolerant area of the Lower East Side of New York City where we were moving. (The Tenement Museum, which explores the slums of bygone New York, is about as politically correct as can be.)

I am also certain of my ability to convince neighbors in our walk-up building with an unreliable elevator that my Pit Bulls are not to be feared.

Fast forward two months and I’m stuck in the unreliable elevator with one of my neighbors, who is Chinese and is culturally afraid of big, scary-looking dogs. I try to explain that Falstaff is really very sweet, until I realize that language barriers and my own vigor are not helping. Meanwhile, Falstaff stands there calmly, aware that any excess of energy in the situation is just stupid. By the time the elevator starts up again, my neighbor is patting Falstaff’s head.

Pit Bulls are — everything. Calm. Excited. Dog friendly. Cat friendly. Not so cat friendly. As Amy Stevens of the NYC Pit Bull Meetup Group says: “Pit Bulls are some of the most diverse dogs. They’re a type instead of a breed, but also share some characteristics as opposed to a random mixed breed.”

Illustration by Nigel Sussman

But, most of all, I have found, after owning four of them, that Pit Bulls are intrinsically attached to humans. They’re on the same wavelength and seem to almost understand our fickle human ways. And, because of this, they have a lot to teach us about human fallibility and credulity.

I was pondering this as I sipped a lethal cocktail at the Taiwanese place around the corner. Where are we with the whole Pit Bull issue? Have we advanced at all as far as fighting Breed-Specific Legislation or saving these dogs from extinction? (Yes, some groups such as PETA want to eradicate Pit Bulls.) How can we improve our mission? What has worked, what hasn’t? “Yes, I’ll have another mai tai.” And, at that point, my common sense flew out the window.

Hudson was a Grumpy Gus even as a puppy. (Photo courtesy Kelly Pulley)

Fast forward (again) to April 2013 (hang on, it’s a wild ride) and my love Falstaff died unexpectedly of bone marrow cancer. So, I had a really grumpy, 13-year-old Hudson who was super tough and needed a bit of softening. Along comes Bunch, my fourth Pit Bull.

And this is where the notion of listening to the Pit Bulls came to fruition. This was not only because Bunch is one of the most friendly and compassionate creatures I’ve known. It was largely because Bunch just — exists. Bunch is Bunch. Bunch is joyous and so all the world revolves around her.

Falstaff remained calm even dressed in a corset for Halloween. (Photo courtesy Kelly Pulley)

In other words, we are overanalyzing our fight against those opposed to Pit Bulls. There is, understandably, as much anger on the pro side as as the con. We haven’t gotten that far; pick any country in Europe and I’ll bet Pit Bulls are not allowed to come in. You can’t even drive through some American states if you have a Pit Bull in your car. Denver still bans them despite the fact that Colorado has passed a bill that makes BSL in the state illegal — go figure.

We’ve tried renaming Pit Bulls with the thought that we could fool the Pit Bull antagonists (honestly, a flat head and muscular body almost always means it’s a Pit Bull). We’ve used celebs like the wonderful Rachael Ray to promote Pits and, here in NYC, there’s even a hunks and Pit Bull calendar which I’m sure many buy even if they’re not pro-Pit Bull. (Hey, it gets lonely here.)

Bunch is charming even with her tongue hanging out. (Photo by Kelly Pulley)

For me, Bunch is the closest Pit Bull I’ve had even though we’re not always simpatico. She is curious but cautious; I am curious and rash. Every person Bunch meets is a potential friend (and petter). I swear she knows how to manipulate men and women differently, but just in a friendly way. She loves cats but knows they usually have claws. She adjusts to the size of the dog, even a four-pound Chihuahua. She also adjusts to the type of person/cat/dog pulling back if they’re aggressive and being engaged if they’re affectionate.

According to New York City vet Dr. Jonathan Leshanski, Pit Bulls are becoming more popular because of their flexible natures: “If you take the time to get to know a Pit Bull before you adopt” — fostering is a great way to do this — “you’ll probably find a great match.”

In New York City, there are many places dogs can’t go. Pitbulls face even more limitations everywhere. (Photo by Kelly Pulley)

Your Pit Bull might be like Bunch, who is joyous and carefree and openly affectionate; like Amber, with big-time ADD; like Falstaff, the Buddha dog; or like Hudson, a Grumpy Gus. Whatever your Pit Bull is like, the main thing is that he or she connects in some ways with humans.

Not everyone will love every Pit Bull. But if we can define their connection to humans in general, we have a chance to change negative opinions one Pit Bull at a time.

Read more on Dogster about Pit Bulls and breed-specific legislation:

About Kelly Pulley: Longtime dog owner and Pit Bull guru, Kelly has been a writer for Dogster for many years. She now tackles everything from controversial topics such as Pit Bulls to loving itty-bitty dogs despite their size. Catch her at www.petwriter.com and www.pitbullguru.com.