PITiful Stereotypes: Part One

Walking with a Pit Bull

Out for our walk yesterday, my sister and I (and Simon and Rosee if it wasn’t already implied) encountered a man riding his bicycle the opposite way we were walking. As we passed by each other the bicycle rider called out to my group saying, “Those are some nice looking dogs.” Feeling appreciative, I smiled and nodded as my sister and I continued on our way.

Now, I’m sure there are lots of people out in the world who get compliments about their dogs, their looks and behavior. And in any case it’s flattering, and makes owners feel good about their pets and their skills as owners. I know for me personally, when passersby comment on my dogs being pretty or beautiful, or even well-behaved, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that after my many years of hard work and dealing with dogs that hate bath-time (but love water) all of my blood, sweat and tears have started paying off. Training dogs, and therefore training one’s self as any good disciple of Cesar Milan believes, is not always easy or done quickly. Rather, training takes time and effort and a willingness to change, to adapt to your dog’s needs so that everyone involved, dog and human alike, can learn to coexist happily and safely. However, there is a deeper issue at play when it comes to being proud and accomplished of my dogs.

You see, Rosee is a Pit Bull.

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Her breed is pretty clearly seen in her face, her stature, her gait, and her personality. Her face is wide, her smile wider when she’s really happy, and girl’s got muscles, which she puts to good use rolling around in the grass or picking oranges from the tree.

Picking oranges.
Picking oranges.

She’s a little taller than most Pit Bulls and I like to think she gets that from her Boxer half, as well as her over the top energy spurts. However, when people pass by her on the street or see her at parks most see a Pit Bull and, unfortunately, act according to their stereotypical perception, which means they are afraid of her. People will yell at their children to get away from us, they will pull their obnoxious-acting dog close to them as if Rosee simply looking their way is threatening enough, and they will talk in not so hushed tones, making comments about “that Pit Bull.” It’s quite true that for many people they will never actually experience the ugliness of racism until they own a Pit Bull.

Now, the truth is I try really hard not to care what others think or say about my dogs. Both Simon and Rosee have their behavioral issues that my family and I have worked tirelessly to correct and deal with over the years, but even so neither dog is perfect and always learning. If during a walk or while out at a park I need to take the time to correct or calm down my dogs I’ll do it, regardless of other people’s reactions. However, it is still frustrating and hurtful when people look at my girl as if she’s a demon, despite the fact that the worse thing she’s doing in barking. (And I really hate the double standard between her and little dogs who are viciously trying to get to us, while my girl barks and then moves on.) I hate how people judge Rosee because of what she looks like, and not based on her behavior. Instead of seeing a fearful and anxious dog who is working on getting used to being around other dogs and people, all they see is an aggressive Pit Bull acting like its breed dictates it should.

Rosee at Christmas. She's just so vicious with a bow around her neck.
Rosee at Christmas. She’s just so vicious with a bow around her neck.

Sometimes I wish I could put a sign on Rosee’s back that lets others know all of her issues. She grew up in shelter for the majority of her life. My family and I adopted her when she was about nine months old. Before being adopted she lived with a foster family for three weeks under the care of a rescue organization, who had previously rescued her from a shelter where she had lived since she was about two months old. Due to this Rosee did not get proper socialization with other dogs and people, meaning she barks at everything and is acutely afraid of men. It’s nobody’s fault that she ended up this way, just the product of over-breeding in a world not big enough to accommodate.

So, despite being a sweet and lovable little girl who just wants to cuddle on the couch, she is territorial of our house and yard, and she is fearful when faced with seeing other dogs. However, knowing her issues, going to training, reading every book we could get our hands on, and being committed to making life as happy and comfortable for her as we could, my sister and I have brought Rosee a long way from when we first got her. She can go on walks and not care about other dogs. She’s okay with people making sustained eye contact with her. Most importantly, she’s confident that her humans will keep her safe. Unfortunately, people we pass on our walks don’t know all of this history. They only see a Pit Bull. I find it so funny that when people we pass us their actions indicate fear of Rosee, which in turn is what alerts her that there is something to be afraid of and so makes her afraid and act out. These people don’t realize that their human actions are what are signaling to my dog to be afraid in the first place! We are nothing if not caught in a web of continuity.

As much as I don’t like it when outsiders judge my dogs, I don’t want to judge outsiders too harshly either. I don’t know what’s happened in their lives to make them feel the need to make nasty comments about dogs they know nothing about. At the end of the day the situation just isn’t fair and it’s hard work trying to turn my dogs into model citizens only to have people hate them anyway. But in the immortal words of my high school Spanish teacher, “Life is work and then you die.” He was so optimistic.

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Simon’s too focused on the treat being used to make him pose.

I can only try to live up to his wisdom and rise above those who use stereotypes to dictate how they treat other humans and animals. Nobody is perfect and I can only hope that teaching my dogs to act like good dogs, not just good Pit Bulls, will help change the world’s stereotypical perceptions of them.

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