Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pit Bull Stereotyping

There is great confusion over the term pit bull. The American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Bull Terrier are dogs generally classified as pit bulls, but according to a 2000 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report, there are 20-plus breeds that are mistaken as pit bulls. The breeds commonly called pit bulls make loyal, fun-loving, companionable pets, and these traits remain with many of these dogs even while they are being abused. Yet it appears they are unwelcome in my city and automatically classified as “dangerous dogs.”

The term pit bull has a bloody history. This is not due to the nature of the dog, but due to the horrid ways men have used and abused these dogs. They were once used as bait dogs to control bulls, or as entertainment to bait bears, boars and other animals. A true pit bull in today’s society is one trained to be an animal aggressive killer so the owner can make a monetary killing by putting him in the pit to fight another pit bull for “entertainment.” But those who train fighting dogs do not want them to be people aggressive because owners often have to separate their fighting dogs in the pit. This type of dog is generally kept locked away and would rarely, if ever, be found loose in the city.

As with any animal (or human being), dogs have varied personalities and traits, but they are not born attack dogs. They learn to attack or bite for a variety of reasons, including abuse. Some owners – and I’m not speaking of fighting dog owners here – are deliberately responsible for their dogs’ aggressive nature, and if denied one breed, will merely choose another dog to sic on helpless animals and let loose on unsuspecting people.

Biting or aggression is not truly breed specific. Any dog can bite or attack, if provoked, startled, frightened, abused, taunted, in pain or protecting their territory. Dogs that live on chains or are denied social interaction – remember dogs are pack animals and fare better living inside or socializing with a family than being isolated – might bite, no matter what the breed. My county’s shelter manager believes every dog can be rehabilitated, but it takes an investment of time, training and patience.

If you see a dog running loose in the city, it does not necessarily mean the owner has been irresponsible. There are occasions when a dog can get loose, such as when someone accidentally leaves a gate open. And if you see a dog running loose in the city, it is not necessarily a pit bull, and if it is a pit bull, it is not automatically a dangerous dog.

A few years ago, while walking my dog, she was set upon and bitten by 3 animal-aggressive dogs who escaped their yard through an open gate – and not one of them was a pit bull. The meanest dogs I have encountered on my local walks were an itty-bitty ankle-biter and a huge German Shepherd (not at the same time). So, let’s not spread prejudice, seeing a blood-thirsty “pit bull” where a frightened, playful or lost pet exists. (Personally, I'm afraid of all dogs running loose, until I am sure they aren't aggressive toward me or my animals. There is nothing breed specific about my fear.)

In order to be judged a potentially dangerous or a dangerous dog, the dog is supposed to have bitten someone without provocation! As I write this a small purebred “pit bull” sits in a cage at the shelter. The crime - running loose, reason unknown. As I understand it, this small dog neither attacked nor bit anyone, but it has been labeled a “dangerous dog” and has been condemned to death tomorrow by the city. If I were the dog’s owner, I would probably not claim it either because I would be unable to afford the strict and expensive requirements attached to owning a dog titled “dangerous.” Why does the city not have a dangerous dog board, as does the county? Surely, even a dog deserves better than this.

The above is a slightly revised version of a recent newspaper column. I thought it appropriate to post on mercyandpercy.com in order to bring up the subject of stereotyping.

We have all heard blonde jokes. Everyone knows blondes are dumb. (What a crock of bleach!)

And we all know all men are – beer drinking sports zombies, deaf when their mate speaks, couch potatoes, and garbage detail avoider who can’t tell a safety pin from a cement nail when it’s time to change the baby’s diaper. Okay, some of them are deaf beer drinking sports zombies who avoid garbage detail, but in today’s society there are not only many who are proficient at taking care of the baby while mama mows the lawn, but a growing number of men who are are electing to emulate Michael Keaton in the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom.

And, of course, we all know that after a certain age, we begin to forget where we are going, why we were going there and what we were doing. (Excuse me for a moment. I can’t find my glasses. Oh, there they are, right where I left them – in the refrigerator.) In reality, there are many older folks who are clear-headed and can tell you what they had for breakfast this morning and also on this date twenty years ago.

We really shouldn’t stereotype people of whatever age, hair color, gender, ethnic background or religion. People have different personalities and character traits, and just as a neer-do-well can come from a highly educated, hard-working family, a gentle, loving person can come out of a background of abuse.

People laugh at stereotypical jokes, but it isn’t funny when we auto-stereotype a person unfairly and someone is hurt or a reputation is ruined.


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