I volunteer at a county animal shelter where my official title is “dog walker”. Initially, I focused solely on walking the little dogs because, the big dog section — filled mostly with Pit Bulls — intimidated me. The idea of getting in a kennel with any Pit with their substantial mass, “locking jaws” and general vicious reputation terrified me.
Then, one day the shelter’s kennel manager asked if I would join a new, small committee who’s charter is to drive up adoption rates. In less pretty terms, for the sake of the affected animals and the sanity of shelter staff, we needed to brainstorm ideas on driving down the euthanasia rate — an unfortunate reality in a county shelter when funds are limited and capacity is full.
Without hesitation, I agreed to join the committee and hoped to add value. During the first meeting, the objective became more specific. Our charter was to drive up the adoption rate for Pit Bulls. We discussed the cause of the over abundance of Pits in shelters and I disclosed I wasn’t a fan of “the breed”. I still wonder why they didn’t excuse me that day based on my stance at the time.
One of my first committee tasks was to write bios for the Pit Bulls’ kennels so they’d stand a better chance of attracting a potential adopter. I worked with the kennel staff who know them well to collect personality information. Regardless of the sweet individual facts I’d learn about each Pit, I’d still pass them up during my dog walking sessions, but it didn’t take long before I called BS on myself & thought “How can I write those nice things about the dogs if I didn’t believe them?” So, I forced myself to walk at least one Pit during each of my dog walking visits.
I started with a Pit named Jersey. She was in the room during one of our committee meetings & she didn’t eat me, so I figured we had a small foundation of trust that we could build on. Before long, I worked my way up to walking mostly Pits — after all, they often have lived in the shelter the longest & probably need/deserve a walk the most.
In addition to my hands-on learning, I began researching Pits. Here are a few facts I discovered:
- There is no physiological evidence that Pit Bulls have a locking jaw, nor do Pit Bulls have a higher bite pressure than any other breed.
- Pit Bulls are the victims of one of the harshest, often media driven breed specific smear campaigns ever.
- It is estimated that 3-4 million shelter cats and dogs are euthanized each year in the US. One million of those are Pit Bulls.
- It is reported on temperament tests conducted by the American Temperament Test Society that Pit Bulls have a passing rate of 82% or better — compared to only 77% of the general dog population.
- Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is as dumb and unfair as any other form of prejudicial discrimination. It’s ineffective, costly, doesn’t solve the root of dog bite problems (neglectful pet owners) and ultimately costs many dogs their lives.
- It’s ridiculously easy to mistakenly identify a dog as a Pit Bull, and the instant that label is slapped on them at a shelter, their chances of adoption plummets because of BSL and the Pit Bull smear campaign.
- For Over 150 Years Americans Knew What Pit Bulls Were Famous For. BABYSITTING!
While the above knowledge helped me put a swift end to my prejudicial opinion on Pit Bulls, it was two pits from the shelter who lovingly taught me a new chapter in the age old lesson that “You can’t judge a book by its cover”:
Suzie: While taking her for a walk at the shelter, my husband tripped & fell. Suzie immediately laid down next to him and placed her head on his chest. I saw it with my own two eyes. This was the first time they had met, but she treated him like he was her life long companion who needed her comfort. It was one of the kindest swift reactions that I’d ever seen in a situation where a human needed help. She got adopted that day — not by us (we have a house full of rescues), but where ever she is I hope she’s with a family who deserves her love.
Jersey: The first Pit at the shelter who showed me that despite human ignorance and her less than happy history with owners who let her down, she still loves people unconditionally and can see and bring out the kindness in them.
This post is dedicated to Jersey — who after spending the majority of her life in the shelter, found her forever home this weekend. I wish her a lifetime of the happiness she deserves. Thanks for opening my eyes, sweet girl!