Happy National Pitbull Awareness Month, Her Campus! As the owner of an adorable American Pitbull Terrier, I always love seeing appreciation posts for this awesome breed in October. However, this month is also super important for raising awareness of some of the dangerous myths surrounding the breed. If you’re sitting there thinking, “Well yeah, pit bulls are dangerous dogs!,” I get it— with the recent increase in activism against dogfighting in the U.S., there’s been a lot of media characterization of pit bulls as dangerous and aggressive. Rather than blaming irresponsible dog owners for training their pit bulls to be aggressive, many people attribute aggression in pit bulls to the breed itself, and as a result, the mistreatment of pit bulls is compounded by the legislators and shelters who should be protecting them. For this reason, Pitbull Awareness Month is just as much about protecting the breed and diffusing the negative stereotypes attributed to it as it is about sharing cute photos of your puppy.
My little brother with our Pitbull Trixie.
Photo Credit: Jules Bulafka
The most common myth about Pitbulls is in the name itself— “Pitbull” isn’t even a breed! It’s actually a blanket term used to describe a number of breeds, including the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Cane Corso, and American Pitbull Terrier. In some cases, any dog with a wide head and muscular body will be characterized as a pit bull by shelters. This seriously skews data when talking about things like “pitbull attacks” or “pitbull temperament.” This is a super extensive group of dogs, so the fact that they have been narrowed down into one perceived idea of “dangerous dog breed” is absurd. There are even more wild myths about pitbulls out there, such as the myth that their jaw locks when they bite, they can’t feel pain, and they have the strongest bite of any breed. All of these are completely false, but they have been perpetuated by images of the pitbull as representative of all dogs used in dogfighting. The myth that pitbulls can’t feel pain actually originated because pitbulls are fiercely loyal dogs, and they are more likely to tolerate discomfort in order to obey or protect their owner; this heartbreaking aspect of their personality has been abused by people involved in dogfighting to promote aggression against other dogs.
Not only are these myths entirely unfounded, but pit bulls are also actually extremely friendly dogs, scoring an 86.4% on the American Temperament Test (which is WELL above average!). While they may be slightly more naturally aggressive to other dogs, this can easily be avoided with early socialization. Pit bulls are very cuddly dogs, and they are extremely intelligent. When given the chance, they will love their owners just as fiercely as any other breed, and they deserve so much more than the negative rep they’ve gotten.
Photo Credit: Jules Bulafka
Recently, I saw the way negative stereotypes affect pitbulls first-hand. In 2018, my mother rescued a stray dog from a park near my house. It took her a long time to gain his trust, but he eventually jumped into her car. She drove him to a local shelter, and he sat quietly behind her for the whole ride, gently licking her arm and cuddling against her. When she got to the shelter, a male volunteer came out to take the dog. He took one look at this sweet puppy, realized he was dealing with a pitbull, and made a snap judgment. He started taunting the dog through the window, raising his voice so the dog became afraid and started growling. He grabbed him, throwing a collar over his head and dragging him to the door. There was absolutely no reason to be so unkind to this poor animal, who was lost and scared and had finally begun to trust my mother when a different human decided to make him feel unsafe.
My mom left the shelter feeling very shaken but hoping that the dog was finally safe. She called back the next day and spoke to a volunteer, who told her that the dog she had “rescued” was set to be euthanized in a few days. Apparently, he had growled at a few of the volunteers, and because he was a pitbull, that was grounds to determine that he was too dangerous to be saved. My mom was devastated. As a pitbull owner herself, she was well-aware of the negative treatment of this breed, but she had never witnessed so clearly how cruel and unfair even shelters can be to these animals. As a last-ditch effort to save the dog, she reached out to Speranza Animal Rescue, a rescue center that takes in and rehabilitates animals who are considered “hopeless cases.” The shelter is almost always at max capacity with animals who have even sadder stories than his, but she needed to feel like she had done everything in her power to save this puppy before we lost him. Miraculously, Speranza responded, and before we knew it, we were picking the dog up to drive him to Mechanicsburg, PA.
Our rescued puppy today!
Source: Speranza Animal Rescue
I got to drive with my mother and the dog to the shelter, and I’m glad I got to experience this rescue. We arrived at the shelter a little wary; despite what we knew about the dog from the day we found him, the phone calls describing his aggression made us a little nervous to be picking him up. However, when we saw a young volunteer walk the dog out to us with no concern, and as the dog ran up to my mother to say hello, we were certain the shelter had almost made a devastatingly wrong call about him. We got him settled in a crate in the back of the car, still wary of any triggers that might cause him to lash out during the drive, and we set off. He was such a calm and sweet passenger, whining only for attention on the long ride. I sat backward in the passenger seat talking to him to keep him calm, and it broke my heart to know that someone else had looked at him and decided he didn’t deserve a chance. When we got to the shelter and finally let him out of the crate, he was SO excited. He ran back and forth between me, my mom, and the rescue volunteers, unable to decide who to cuddle. Everyone could immediately see that this dog had so much love to give, and we were all so grateful he had a second chance to do so. We walked him around the rescue property, which is a large farm, so he could get acquainted with his new home. During the walk, he would run ahead of us, turn back and run towards me, lick or cuddle against my leg, and then repeat. A small part of me wondered if he understood that we had rescued him, as if he kept turning back to say “Thank you for bringing me here. I trust you.”
Monty with Jeanine.
Photo Credit: Jules Bulafka
Jeanine, who founded Speranza Animal Shelter, gave him the name Monty because he was found in Montgomery County, PA. Leaving Monty that day was so difficult, but we knew that he was going to be okay this time. Today, Monty is living a very happy life with Speranza. He has been featured on their Facebook page many times and has a lot of fans, and these little updates have been so heartwarming.
Photo Credit: Speranza Animal Rescue
Monty still very much enjoys car rides with his caretakers.
What almost happened to Monty is unfortunately not the only one of its kind. 38% of dogs in shelters are pitbulls, and of those dogs, 87% will be euthanized by said shelter. 22% of shelters immediately euthanize any dog that they decide belongs to this breed. There is also a lot of breed-specific legislation (BSL) that negatively impacts pitbulls, such as higher insurance premiums for pitbull owners or banning the breed from some neighborhoods. BSL has been proven to do nothing to prevent dog attacks, which are already extremely rare, and are entirely based on shared biases of this breed. Former President Barack Obama was vocal about his opposition to these laws, and while 17 states have banned BSL, we still have a long way to go to protect these animals.