As a Pit Bull owner, I am good at spotting other dog owners at the park who are uncomfortable with my breed of dog. When confronted with a snide remark or judgmental stare, I have found that the best response is no response at all. Most of the time, these people have already made up their minds. They don’t really want the opportunity to meet my dog and see that she is just like any other dog in the park.
I adopted Kess (named by her previous owner after Vancouver Canucks hockey player Ryan Kesler) at 10 months of age from a family who did not have the means to care for her. They posted an advertisement online, afraid to bring her to the shelter for fear that she would not be adopted. She was undersocialized and out of control, but very eager to learn about the world. I thought that she was bright and beautiful.
I was not prepared to face such enormous breed discrimination in my community. I thought that because I didn’t look like a “gangster” or someone just trying to look tough, I wouldn’t have to deal with all that.
One morning, I was taking Kess on her routine stroll through an off-leash dog park up the street from our home. A woman who was playing fetch with her black Lab saw us coming and quickly ushered her dog into her vehicle. She then leaned against her car, arms crossed, waiting for me to walk by.
As I came closer to the woman, Kess bounced over to her, tail wagging, hoping to say hello. The woman ignored my dog, and told me that she was really scared of Kess. I responded politely, “There’s no reason to be scared. She’s very friendly!” The woman replied that everyone claims his or her Pit Bull is friendly, “until the dog turns around and rips your arm off.” I knew where this was going. I called Kess and began to walk away. Unfortunately, this type of situation isn’t a shock to me anymore.
The woman continued to berate me. She told me that I had no right to be there because of a law that mandates Pit Bulls are not allowed off-leash and must be muzzled at all times. Completely untrue. I had to stop and inform her that our city has no breed-specific legislation. I had to tell her that I had been bringing my dog to this dog park nearly every day for almost a year. But no matter what I said, she ignored me, interrupted me, and kept insisting that my dog was dangerous.
Fed up and unable to take the high road, I started yelling at the woman. I asked her why — why do you feel the need to insult my dog? To insult me? You don’t know me. I would never allow my dog off-leash if I thought that there was a chance she would hurt someone. The conversation escalated until I was screaming and using expletives. I thanked her for ruining my morning, and she told me that I “deserved” this for owning a Pit Bull. It wasn’t even 8 a.m.! Meanwhile, Kess stood by, tail wagging, still determined to make a new friend.
We finally left, and I thought about the conversation the whole way home. I knew that this woman would tell her friends and family about our interaction and about how quickly I became emotional and angry. She would think of me as just another crazy Pit Bull owner, in denial about my dog’s “inherently dangerous” nature. Others who watched the situation escalate would likely avoid me in the future. I immediately regretted my behavior.
I’ve tried every explanation in the book to reassure skeptics: Kess was raised with young children, she was first in her puppy class, she loves small dogs! Most of the time, it doesn’t matter. I think that the best and least frustrating scenario results from respecting others’ opinions and letting them observe on their own how playful and friendly my dog is. But sometimes, I just can’t hold my tongue. Sometimes, I feel the need to stand up for myself and my dog. She doesn’t deserve this and neither do I.
So, let me ask: What do you do when someone insults your dog?
About the author: Cassandra is a bully breed fanatic. When she’s not exploring beautiful British Columbia with her two-year-old Pit Bull by her side, she can be found at the local watering hole enjoying an old fashioned burger and a pint of craft beer.
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