October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month, and October 27 is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. Whether you love Pit Bulls, hate them, or are indifferent, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on what they mean and why they matter.
The Pit Bull is more than a dog — he’s a symbol. One hundred years ago, he was a symbol of American pride and patriotism, appearing in World War I propaganda posters as the embodiment of fearless canine courage. He was a well-cared-for family dog and a trusted friend of children.
What a difference a century makes. Today, the Pit Bull is the most abused, exploited, and misunderstood dog in the world. Because he is misunderstood, he is also feared and loathed. Many people’s first reaction when they see a Pit Bull is to give him a wide berth. The Pit’s reversal of fortune could befall any dog (and, if you look at the history of the German Shepherd and Doberman, it already did).
In a tragic twist of irony, it’s the dog’s extreme loyalty that got him in trouble. A Pit Bull will do anything for his owner. So, if a Pit has the good luck to belong to a kind, compassionate person, he will enjoy a happy life as a sweet family dog. But if a Pit has the misfortune to belong to a criminal, he will suffer any number of terrible fates in the nightmare netherworld of dogfighting, as the world finally understood when the horrific evildoings at Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels were exposed for all to see.
But even severely mistreated Pit Bulls can be rehabbed with heavy doses of TLC. Several of the former Vick dogs got a new leash on life as beloved family pets, and some work as therapy animals, spreading love, smiles, and cheer wherever they go. Spreading smiles happens to be a Pit Bull specialty — it’s almost impossible to resist this dog’s happy, infectious grin.
Sadly, the media loves sensationalism, and stories about Pit Bulls who visit children in hospitals get little to no coverage — but stories about “dogs who attack” make headlines. Too many people automatically assume that if something goes wrong and a Pit Bull is in the vicinity, the dog is the one to blame. And that needs to change right now.
I first fell in love with the breed almost 20 years ago. In 1994, I adopted my first, a shelter dog named Daisy. In subsequent years, many Pits came to call my place home. In classic foster-fail fashion, several of those Pits’ status evolved from temporary to permanent. Each of those dogs changed my life for the better; one of them, a Pit named Sam, continues to inspire me to manage a difficult health situation, even though he’s crossed the Rainbow Bridge. For as long as I’m able to stand up and walk, I intend for there to be no fewer than two Pit Bulls at my side.
Today, I live with three friendly, adorable, shelter-adopted Pits, so every day is Pit Bull Awareness Day at my place. Happily, more people and places across the country are observing Pit Bull awareness every day. The Massachusetts SPCA, for instance, but makes a point of promoting this important campaign throughout October.
That kind of commitment is commendable and critical, because shelters are still full to bursting with Pit Bulls. At some shelters, as many as 90 percent of the residents are Pits. In urban areas like my hometown of New York City, municipal shelters like Animal Care and Control (my dogs’ alma mater) are so overcrowded that Pit Bulls often get no more than 24 to 48 hours to live. For the short time these dogs are available, potential adopters bypass their cages, afraid to give these sweet dogs a second chance because of the negative stereotypes they’ve seen and heard. It’s a tragedy and a disgrace, and it will end only when enlightened dog lovers take positive action by adopting and fostering without delay.
Happily, many high-profile people have made a point of showing PDA for Pits. One famous Pit advocate is star dog trainer and “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan. Thanks in large part to his efforts, more and more media positive stories are emerging about these dogs’ tremendous love and loyalty. Another very high-profile Pit lover is Rachael Ray, who is super-sweet on her Isaboo. And high-profile parents Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady, who have a pup named Lua, are showing the world that Pits and kids are very happy together.
Meanwhile, in other media outlets, BAD RAP (Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls), Peace Love and Pitbulls, and the Stubby Dog Project are tirelessly keeping the positive Pit profile out there, as are authors who spill ink over heroic Pits such as disc-dog champ Wallace, and documentary filmmakers who raise awareness of BSL. Now, the coolest, best-connected people proclaim pit love and talk about looking forward to becoming Pit parents — like The Huffington Post’s social-media specialist Kerstin Shamberg, whose Twitter bio proudly describes her as a “Pit Bull lover,” or Kaye Toal, community manager of the cool site Upworthy, whose Twitter bio reads, “Waiting for the day I can adopt a Pit Bull.” Even aficionados of very different breeds, spaniel-lover Carol Bryant among them, are raising their voices to encourage activism.
Not that long ago it was almost impossible to find a positive Pit image, but dog lovers can mark time with cool calendars produced by groups like the Unexpected Pit Bull and Pinups for Pit Bulls; they can commission custom works of art that put Pits on pedestals; and proclaim Pit Bull pride with any number of fashionable T-shirts and other garments, like those by fashion-pack leader John Bartlett.
But the battle against abusers who cruelly exploit, overbreed, and torture Pit Bulls for fun and profit is far from over. The fight to save Pits from dog-fighting has only just begun. Which is why I hope you’ll join me and the millions of Pit Bull advocates out there in helping to raise awareness on October 27 and beyond. Please consider adopting or fostering a Pit Bull from your local animal shelter. Believe me, the life you change will be your own.
Have you had a life-changing experience with a Pit Bull that’s made you loyal to this much-maligned dog? How will you be observing Pit Bull Awareness Month? Please share in the comments.