The baddest breed

I read today that PetSmart does not allow any pitbull-type dog to participate in its PetsHotel Doggie Day Camps.

petsmart-daycamp-requirements

The Huffington Post article by Arin Greenwood makes the case better than I can as to why this policy is absurd in theory and in practice, but it boils down to two things:

  1. Nobody can say for sure whether a mixed breed dog is a “bully breed” without a genetic test.
  2. Even if it is a bully breed, a dog is a dog is a dog.

Greenwood also points out that this discriminatory policy, which PetSmart only vaguely justifies, helps add to the stigma against bully breeds, which die by the millions in this country every year because they cannot be rehomed.

Ironically, PetSmart’s nonprofit division—PetSmart Charities, which describes itself as having the mission of finding “a lifelong, loving home for every pet”—recently released a report cheering the increase in pet adoptions but lamenting the barriers that stand in the way to reducing euthanasia.

This is a rather chilling excerpt from the report’s intro:

“The public continues to vastly underestimate the number of pets who are euthanized annually in the United States. An estimated 8 million pets enter U.S. shelters every year and only 4 million ever find homes. Cats, kittens, Chihuahuas and bully breeds are particularly at risk for euthanasia.”

The fear and loathing of pit bulls runs deep. Looking for statistics on dog bites in the U.S., I came across DogsBite.org, a site so rabidly (ahem) biased against pit bulls that it might almost be funny. Unfortunately, from what I can find online, it appears their central premise is correct: pitbull-type breeds are most often involved in dog bite injuries and fatalities. The second most-guilty breed in that category is Rottweilers. As many of you know, my first dog was a Rottweiler who never hurt a soul, but she frightened a lot of people just by being the breed she was. I had a client once who literally shook with fear just seeing her sitting in the back seat of my car when I stopped by his office to say hello. He wouldn’t come within 20 feet of the car and contorted himself to avoid turning his back on her. I was embarrassed for him; she was just sitting there, not doing anything but looking at him.

But I digress.

What I want to say is, I personally don’t like pit bulls as a breed (although I have liked individual ones when I got to know them). I think they have, with few exceptions, an exceedingly unattractive body type, from their blocky heads to their weirdly attenuated toenails and whip-like tails. Generally speaking, I don’t trust them, I’m afraid of them, I doubt I would ever own one myself, and I’d be nervous living next door to one (more for my dogs’ sake than for my own, because my two little terriers, believe it or not, can act exceedingly aggressively when they’re on their own side of the fence).

All that said, I grieve for the plight of all pit bulls in this nation and this world, where their innate characteristics—courage, physical size and strength, protectiveness, “gameness”—have been perverted into dangerous aggression by too many careless owners for personal gain, to the horrible detriment of the breed. A Facebook friend of mine who reposts stories of shelter dogs in need of rescue from being euthanized includes dozens of pit bulls every week. Most of them are puppies or very young, and most of them have no chance of getting out of the shelter alive no matter how sweet their temperament or how highly the shelter staff recommends them. Their breed alone dooms them. And I have to acknowledge that this is, in part, because people like me who own and love dogs won’t even go near them.

baby-pitbull

I have to admit, the blue-grey ones with the blue eyes and white socks are awfully cute. And there’s almost nothing cuter than a pit bull puppy.

A pit bull is just a dog, the same as any other dog, despite the myths surrounding it. I know that in my head, but can’t stop the convulsive clutch of fear I feel when I am out walking my dogs and we encounter a loose pit bull. “This dog could kill both my dogs. It could kill me.” I can’t help thinking this. I would think the same if we encountered a loose German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Chow-Chow, Akita, American Bulldog, English Mastiff, Cane Corso, or St. Bernard. All these dogs would scare me spitless in uncontrolled circumstances. Then again, so would any nondescript cur that comes running and snarling at us. Breed and aggression are not inherently linked.

But my personal feelings are simply that, and I don’t have the right to impose my own fears on other people or other dogs just to make myself feel safer. Therefore, I don’t support breed-specific legislation that prevents people from owning certain breeds of dogs, nor do I support rules or regulations that say that only certain breeds of dogs are acceptable or welcome. I’ve been denied rental housing and told by prospective landlords that my well-mannered, well-trained dog posed an unacceptable risk solely because of her breed. Ha.

Ruby_kiss_2003

What a beast.

I do enthusiastically support education on how to be a good dog owner and I would support laws that punish people for allowing their dogs to run loose, or to menace other people or animals. People who mistreat, mishandle or misdirect a dog should not be allowed to own one. Preventing dog bites and dog-bite-related fatalities is a job for people, both those who own dogs and everyone who interacts with dogs.

Just to be clear: I am in favor of education. I am in favor of rescue. I am in favor of dogs. All dogs. I am not in favor of discrimination against animals that have done nothing wrong.

raise-them-right

As for PetSmart , I get my dogs’ food there because they’re the only chain that carries that particular brand, so I’ll probably keep shopping with them. But I will never patronize their day camp. I take my dogs to Camp Bow Wow, which has a more enlightened policy about what kind of dogs they welcome: “Every dog must first complete an interview process so we can see how they interact with other dogs. They must be over four months old, must be spayed or neutered if they are over 6 months old, and must be current on their Rabies, Bordetella (for canine cough), and Distemper vaccinations. Additional vaccinations may be required based upon regional location. They must be in good health, flea/tick free, friendly to all dogs, and generally love to play.”

Fair enough.

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4 thoughts on “The baddest breed

  1. It’s a shame that Pit Bulls, or any bully breed, are tainted just because of breed and nothing else. I admit to not particularly liking bully breeds, but it’s more to do with size. I’ve almost always had smaller dogs, except for one large black dog whose mother was a Golden Retriever. As I age, I don’t want to have to pay to feed a large dog, or have to put one in the car if she is ill and I have to pick her up. Personal choices.

    • Personal choices are exactly that: personal. And to each her own! My friends who own and love pit bulls, more power to them — they’re great people and their dogs are awesome, too. I am very troubled by people who want to make laws that affect everyone based on their own personal choices, preferences, likes and dislikes, whether it involves dogs or marriage or voting or what have you. I am kind of on a kick about that stuff this week, have you noticed? 😉

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