When my beloved orange tabby, Steven, passed away last July, I decided to adopt a dog; not just any dog – a pit bull or a pit bull mix. “Pitties” have always been my favorite breed for numerous reasons, all of which will appear in this column in the coming months. We had a pit/collie mix when I was a kid – he was the sweetest dog I have ever known. The neighbor kids would hang all over him and pull his ears and tail, and he would smile – that big ear to ear grin that pitties are famous for. Our Jack Russell terrier/poodle mix, on the other hand, bit nearly every kid on the block and nearly garnered my father two lawsuits.
People who have pitties know all the great things about them, but people who haven’t spent time around them tend only to believe the many myths. My friends all know that I have a soft spot for this much-maligned breed, so I was surprised, when I told them that I was finally ready to adopt one, by their collective reaction: “Why do you want a pit bull?”
In each case, I answered their question with a question: “If I was adopting a Yorkshire terrier or a golden retriever, would you ask why?”
Inevitably, I would get an earful, mostly myths, about pit bulls. I am sure many readers are thinking the very same thing, and so I have decided, with help from the Web site badrap.org, a pit bull advocacy group, to dispel a few of the biggest myths:
Pit bulls have locking jaws.
FALSE. Their jaws are like the jaws of any other dog. What they do have is strength and determination, and when they grasp something they want to hold onto, it is this tenacity that prevails.
Pit bulls are inherently vicious.
FALSE. In a study of 122 dog breeds by the American Temperament Testing Society (www.atts.org), pit bulls achieved a passing rate of 83.9% – better than golden retrievers (83.2%) or Yorkshire terriers (81.1%). As with any breed, a properly raised, well-trained pit bull will remain a loving companion, and as with any breed, bad pit bulls are the result of bad pit bull owners.
Pit bulls were bred to fight other dogs, so they will also attack humans.
FALSE. The first Staffordshire terriers in England were indeed bred to be fighting dogs, as were Akitas, Chow Chows, Boston terriers, Bedlington terriers, and the Old English bulldog. Because they have fighting in their blood, it is important to keep pit bulls socialized with other dogs through playgroups and to watch them around “alpha dogs.” But for the early bloodlines in England, dogs that showed human aggression were destroyed, because it was very important that a dog be loyal to its master and willing to do anything for him – even lose his life.
Pit bulls killed Diane Whipple.
FALSE. The dogs involved in the horrible mauling death of Diane Whipple on January 26, 2001, at her apartment building in Pacific Heights, were Perro de Presa Canarios, a Molosser type dog from the Canary Islands originally bred as a multi-purpose farm dog and later for fighting. As Mac Harris, a New York breeder of Presa Canarios, said during the trial, “They want a pit bull on steroids, and these dogs can be just that if they’re raised the wrong way.” One of the dogs’ owners, Marjorie Knoller, admitted to being present during the mauling – a first in a death-by-mauling case – leading to accusations that she encouraged the attack on Whipple, a neighbor with whom she had an ongoing disagreement. Knoller was later convicted of second-degree murder.
This new “Pet Page” column will hopefully be an entertaining and sometimes educational series about owning a dog in San Francisco. While my 1-year-old puppy, Jasmine Blue, is indeed a pit bull mix, I’m sure that anyone who owns or has owned a dog will be able to relate to it. For pit bull owners, I know there will be many things – such as breedism and pittie poots – that they will relate to as only a pit bull parent can. I think even non-dog owners will relate to the many quirks and traits that humans share, and the way dogs often bring out the best – and sometimes the worst – in all of us.