Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bad Reputation

My girlfriend owns a female pit bull terrier, Ruby, that turned five on Christmas Day. She tested positive for Lyme disease antibodies last summer, so she has been under observation by her veterinarian. Last week we took her in to get her blood drawn to make sure the treatment cleared her system.

Sitting in the waiting room was a woman with her own dog, a tiny, shaggy thing I can't identify, but am sure is an upright doggy citizen. She asked us what kind of dog we had. When I told her I got the raised eyebrows and uncomfortable shift in posture I've come to expect. The woman was polite, commenting that Ruby looked small for a pit bull. I explained that at 52 pounds, she was actually big for a female (30-35 pounds is common). She seemed surprised and a bit incredulous at this but she let it go.

Pit bulls have an image problem. They have been almost mythologized in the public eye as oversized killing machines that like to feast on children. The truth is any dog will be aggressive with people if they are not trained properly. To illustrate: the number of people bitten by Ruby: zero. The number of people bitten by the daschunds next door: everyone they've gotten close enough to (according to their owners). I'm not suggesting pit bulls are harmless or that dascunds are inherently dangerous. I'm saying any dog can be harmless or dangerous. It's up to the owner, not the dog.

Ruby can look terrifying to a stranger when her hackles come up and she growls with teeth bared; the epitome of the pit bull as killing machine. What the stranger doesn't realize is that Ruby is terrified of the dumbest things on the planet. Shake your keys at her; slide a dinner plate across the floor; make noises at her though an empty paper towel roll. All these things send her running to the hills with her tail beteen her legs. Don't even get me started on skateboards.

When my daughter first began having contact with Ruby we had to keep an eye on the dog, as she thought of my daughter as a puppy rather than a little person. She was very possessive of her toys. We could see her get that look in her eye that said, "stay away from my stuff". We worked with the dog to teach it that this was not acceptable. Now we have to instruct Ruby not to lick my daughter's face off when they're sitting on the couch together. The point is, all dogs need training.

This bad reputation existed before the Michael Vick saga, but that incident added another layer to an undeserved aspect of the pit bulls' mystique. You think pit bulls are merciless automatons? Read this article from Sports Illustrated about the post-Moonlight Road lives of these dogs and you won't look at them the same way again.


  1. Great post!

    Common breed standard for female APBTs puts them between 30 - 50 lbs (males between 40-60) so don't you go giving sweet Ruby a complex!

    Pit bull owners everywhere are used to the sideways glances, people who cross the street to avoid our dogs, and, as happens frequently with me, people who try to convince us that our sweet, extremely friendly dogs can't possibly be pit bulls (often because they're too small, since pit bulls are all over 100lb with baby's blood dripping from their fangs, right?)

    Keep getting the word out. It's an uphill climb, but these dogs deserve it!

    B-More Dog Secretary

  2. Ruby has several complexes, but none of them stem from her weight. ;)

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I'm more scared of your girlfriend than her dog.

    P.S. This is not Cole.

  4. And to think that just today I changed the settings to allow anonymous comments.