I have Pit Bulls. That means that I have limitations on where I can live, where I can walk my dogs without muzzles, even where I can drive with my Pits, Hudson and Falstaff. (I was stopped in Colorado once and told I could not pass through the state with my dogs. How insane is that?) But not only am I discriminated against because of my choice to own this type of dog, the dogs themselves are discriminated against, and it makes me mad!
All dogs have been discriminated against since the beginning of time. In the Bible (just to have a starting point), the term “dog” was used to describe unsavory and worthless people. Dogs were compared with swine (not that I have anything against pigs) and were considered unclean and to be avoided. I remember being skeptical of the Bible in my Evangelical youth because dogs were considered pariahs. Dogs are important to me. More important than religion or living in Colorado.
The Constitution covered human equality, but unfortunately America’s forefathers forgot to add, “Dogs are created equal, too.” But maybe none of them were dog people. If dog people had their way today, I’d guess that most would want to elevate dogs from the current position of “property” to something along the lines of “family members.”
The discrimination against my Pit Bulls started with an attempt to enroll Hudson in a doggie daycare class. There was no mention of breed (or “type,” which is really what a Pit Bull is). But when we got there and they asked what Hudson’s make-up was and I said “Pit Bull,” we were promptly shown the door: no explanations, no concerns about our wasted time or the fact that Hudson used up about six months’ worth of energy on the way there. We have been banned from doggie playgroups, doggie cocktail hours, stores that allow no dogs and those that allow other types and breeds of dogs, therapy events, dog parks, and dog walks. I’ve been turned away by groomers and even a veterinarian who said Pit Bulls weren‘t “trustworthy.” I doubt he was trustworthy either.
If you really want to see discrimination at work, try to rent an apartment or house with Pit Bulls — or any type of dog. Several realtors in New York City turned me down flat when I mentioned pitties, so I switched that to simply “dogs” — and was turned down by several more. It’s no wonder I’ve resorted to making up a non-bully breed for Falstaff and a non-bully mix for Hudson. I’ve also learned that, if you’re going to tell the landlord you have Pit Bulls, do it late in the game when so they won’t want to go through the trouble of finding another tenant. Is that fair? Ask the Pit Bulls.
One Strike, You’re Out
Owning a Pit Bull means being scared half the time — and not of the Pit Bull. I started clamming up about my dogs’ origins when Falstaff was attacked by a feisty Fox Terrier. My instinct then was to run away because, though any Terrier is a fighter, I feared Falstaff would be solely to blame. I’ve made up outrageous stories to cover my dogs’ asses, like when Hudson and Falstaff got into a scuffle and Falstaff’s paw was hurt (he really is a lover, not a fighter). I told my vet that a dog came out of nowhere when we were walking and attacked Falstaff (yeah, right!). This was to avoid a possible report that Hudson had really done the damage. Some states have the three-strikes rule for human criminals; a Pit Bull doesn’t even have to do something wrong to get one strike, which often means “you’re out — for good.”
You’d think, then, that Pit Bull advocates would come to the rescue, but my foray into this arena proved that that is not always so. I realize there is a lot of good done by Pit Bull groups, but there’s also a lot of damage done. From the ever-extreme PETA (which advocates that Pit Bulls be killed as a solution) to the more sane groups such as Best Friends, Pit Bulls are being touted as “average” dogs (as if any dog is average). Their less desirable traits of gameness and assertiveness and their high-energy personalities are being downplayed, even though those traits also give them the engaged and loyal qualities that Pit Bull lovers admire.
At a small all-dog rescue I volunteered with a few years ago, Pit Bulls were being adopted out with such promises as “He’s great with all dogs,” “He’s as easy to train as a Golden,” and, “She’s only nine months old, she’ll calm down,” all implying that Pit Bulls are easy to own and the stories about them were untrue. I tried pointing out that potential owners need to know all the facts. Pit Bulls can be tough to own, and you have to be aware of things like their propensity to be aggressive toward other dogs.
Spread the Word
I’ve found that not only do people need to be educated about Pit Bulls, their owners do, too, to stop this pushing down of the breed. I’ve complained to friends about this discrimination, I’ve spoken up when my dog Amber wasn’t allowed on the subway, I’ve supported political candidates who were dog-friendly, and I’ve even put a sign on Falstaff protesting the treatment of Pit Bulls and joined other owners in a demonstration. But it’s not easy to know what to do to really make this a more dog-friendly world.
What have you done to help ensure our dogs’ “equal” places in society? Are there some places you think dogs should never be allowed, such as restaurants or public bathrooms? Can you envision a world where you could take your dog anywhere regardless of its size or breed? Let us know in the comments!
All art by the wonderful Nigel Sussman.