Pit Bulls – the Good, the Good, and the also Good

We had friends over for dinner and drinks on Saturday. Food was fabulous, wine was flowing, kids were enjoying themselves (always iffy when we’re talking about teenagers thrown together for the sake of their parents’ social life). Gingersnap greeted them in her you-are-the-most-exciting-guests-we’ve-ever-had way. She eventually settled down and observed us from her perch on my favorite lounge chair, but I let it slide because GS barely sheds (a VERY nice change after a run of hairy black labs at this house).

It was all going swimmingly until someone commented on the fact that GS was a pit bull. I don’t think it was meant as a slight, but I took it as one. I said, “She’s listed as lab mix” on the website.

“I’d bet that dog is 90% pit bull,” my guest replied.

I didn’t think too much of it, but then I did. So what if she’s a pit bull? Is that a really bad thing?

All the next day while I gardened, I thought about my own feelings about pit bulls. Not Gingersnap, but pit bulls. I don’t know anything about pit bulls. Not really. When I hear the term, I think ‘fighting dog’. I suppose my feelings about them are influenced by the bad associations. I know when we toured a few shelters before we decided to foster, I was astounded at the number of pit bulls. I didn’t want one, but it wasn’t because of some personal experience, it was simply their bad rap.

Gingersnap is the first pit bull I’ve come to know and love. And I mean love. She reminds me of my most beloved dog, Lucy, who was a foxhound and not the least bit pit. But she adored me as Ginger does. She was nothing but love, like Ginger is. And she always had a big smile for me, just like Ginger.

(This is where the picture of Ginger’s dog smile is supposed to be, but every time I try to capture it, it comes out blurry because she is in motion racing towards me. No Mona Lisa is this pup. The one below is the sort of forced smile that kids give just so they can get it over with – in this one, Ginger is much too preoccupied with a cat crossing the hillside.)

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I decided I should learn more about pit bulls and stop wandering around blindly ignorant. So I looked them up. Here’s a few things, I learned –

Pit Bulls are not a breed. Pit bull is an umbrella term used for variations of American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

There are more pit bulls in shelters all across the United States, than any other ‘breed.’ 1.2 million (yes million) dogs are euthanized each year, and of that number approximately 40% are pit bills. This breaks my heart. It should break all of our hearts. I am certain this is a canine form of racism. Dogs unwanted, euthanized, feared, and misunderstood simply because of the way they look.

I wondered why there are so many pit bulls in shelters in the first place and site after site said – overpopulation. Pit bulls tend to have large litters (6-12). But the bigger reason is because Pit Bulls are so popular. Huh? This didn’t make sense, but as I read on, I learned that in 1993, Pit Bulls made up only 1% of the dog population in the US, but ten years later that percentage had increased five-fold and the 13 years since, it’s continued to grow. So, if there are more pit bulls in the general population, it stands to reason there will be more in the shelters. The Labrador Retriever, arguably the most popular breed, is the number 3 dog for shelter intakes.

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Today’s SPCA add in the newspaper – for those of your without your handy magnifying glass – that’s 5 pit bulls, 3 seniors, and 1 hound dog that isn’t domesticated

There is such a thing as Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) – laws that make it a crime to own a pit bull. What? This is a real thing?

As I read, I realized I’ve lived up here in la-la land much too long imagining a rainbow world of dog-loving people. Not so. I was shocked to learn that nearly every state has BSLs, including Maryland!

Prince Georges County’s law says this:

“No person shall own, keep, or harbor a Pit Bull Terrier within the County.”

There are exceptions – you can have one if you register it and tag it declaring it a registered Pit Bull Terrier and pay an annual $50 fee. And then there are restrictions about where it can be and how it is secured.

(I couldn’t help but wonder if a good lawyer could fight this law since there isn’t such a thing as a registered “Pit Bull Terrier,” but I’m guessing that somewhere in all the gobbledy gook there’s an explanation for that term.)

I was relieved to know that Gingersnap and I aren’t breaking any laws in York County, and the only three areas in PA that have BSLs are places I’ve never heard of. Still, 42 of the 50 states have BSLs. I was quite happy to see that my future home state of Virginia doesn’t have any BSLs. More reason to move there.

These laws contribute to the number of pit bulls in shelters – as families have no choice but to give up a pet or don’t adopt a pit bull because their government, landlord, or insurance won’t allow them to have one – read  on…..

BSL or no BSL, there are still landlords who refuse to rent to families who own pit bulls, and insurance companies who deny or cancel home owners’ coverage for pit bull owners. This is crazy. What they should refuse to rent or cover are stupid people who are cruel to dogs. (I looked up State Farm and was very happy to discover that they don’t have any such looney policy. )

As I was doing all this research, Gingersnap was sitting beside me adoring me with her eyes and occasionally licking my leg when she couldn’t resist any longer.

I took her for a hike and thought about all I had learned, and then I went back to the computer and typed in “what’s good about pit bulls?”

Plenty. Most of these things I’ve learned in the two weeks we’ve had Gingersnap.

Pit bulls are eager to please people. This is so crazy true about our little girl. I’m amazed at how easy it is to teach her anything. We’re working on our socialization when out in public. I’ve been taking her to baseball games and she gets better each time. She no longer barks excitedly every time someone runs, but she watches them carefully, glued to my side. I don’t know if she barks because she’s so excited and she wants to play with them, of if she barks because she is protecting me. It doesn’t matter though, because strangers hear her loud bark and notice she is clearly a pit bull and they are frightened. So we’re working on reducing the barking.

Pit bulls are great with children. This is also incredibly clear – Ginger loves, loves, loves kids. Her biggest problem is curbing her enthusiasm when they come near. She simply wants to lick them all over so that they understand the depth of her love, but that’s not always a good idea with smallish kids. The college age kids who visit my house can handle her energetic greeting, but we’re working on this too, since she can overwhelm smaller or less dog-friendly people.

Pit bulls are super loyal. I read again and again, ‘you adopt a pit bull and you’ve got a friend for life.’ Ginger’s abiding devotion to me is almost embarrassing. I can’t wait for her forever family to find her – they will hit the jack pot with this golden girl.

Pit bulls are hilarious. This is also so true! She has a funny personality and her expressions make me laugh on a daily basis. She’s smart and creative and communicates her needs/emotions so well it’s spooky. I love her funny ears that never seem to both go in the same direction at once. I’m thinking I should do a photo montage of just her ears.

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Here’s Gingersnap ‘hiding’ from Gracie

I could probably list another dozen things that are great about pit bulls based on my experience with Gingersnap, but I still don’t know how she’ll ever beat the rap of being a pit bull.

Gingersnap is quite definitely a true mutt, but the primary breed is pit bull. I think we need to stop apologizing for that.

The only reason I won’t adopt Gingersnap is because her devotion to me would get in the way of continuing to foster other dogs. She would be jealous and when she is jealous she works OVERTIME for my attention. We realized this after Maria Reynolds and Fannie left. As soon as Fannie went down the driveway with her new family, Gingersnap lay down on the kitchen floor and napped away the rest of the day.

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And since then she’s been a different dog. She follows me around happily but doesn’t jump on furniture or get into everything. She no longer exhibits the manic energy she had when the other dogs were around. The only times she reverts to that behavior is when 1) new people arrive at the house or 2) I go outside and she can see me interacting with the cats or 3) when Gracie starts barking (When this happens Ginger always has her back – racing behind Gracie and adding her own frantic barks. But more times than not, there’s no obvious reason for Gracie’s barking, or if there is, it’s deep inside Gracie’s head.)

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Cat Spotting – one of Gingersnap’s favorite pasttimes

As long as she has no competition for my attention, Gingersnap is easy going and fun. Sure, she’ll still bark at the cats (out the window, but face-to-face she gives them wide berth) and yank my arm when she spots a squirrel on our run, but other than that she’s a little lady – loyal, affectionate, generous, friendly, and funny – the perfect picture of a pit bull.

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Published by

Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

5 thoughts on “Pit Bulls – the Good, the Good, and the also Good”

  1. They are great big strong doggies perfect for the active family. They have the energy to play all day. They do need lots of exercise.

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  2. We ask people “not to judge a book by it’s cover” the same goes for dogs. There are wonderful stories on “Best Friends” website about the rehabilitation of Vic’s pit bulls now called “Victory” dogs . Gingersnap is obviously a very wonderful dog that will be a forever great companion!

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    1. So true – and so hard for everyone, myself included, but these dogs are teaching me. One of my adopters just got DNA analysis done on their puppy and the results included pitbull (American Staffordshire Terrier) and worried about telling the other adopters – don’t want them to be biased. Crazy.

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