BY JENNIFER PETERSON
Animal Tracks is a series of articles from Noah’s Ark Animal Foundation exploring the human/animal connection. For information about dog or cat adoptions, visit www.noahsark.org.
• MYTH: Pitbulls are naturally vicious, uncontrollable dogs that will kill animals and small children if they are not muzzled and restrained.
• FACT: A dog’s behavior is the result of a combination of genes and environment (living conditions and training). Responsible pitbull owners work hard to raise loving, social, friendly pitbulls. Irresponsible, antisocial owners and greedy breeders are the real danger.
My first dog was a total accident—and a two-year-old pitbull. She was left behind when her owner, fleeing the law, moved out of the house we moved into in 1999. I was terrified, and so was she. My husband Byrd was more familiar with dogs and, combined with our love of animals, “Felony” (as her previous owner had called her) stayed with us, though I was frightened of her. I did not understand dogs, but I recognized the universal animal body language that said, “I don’t like you and I don’t want you near me.” I avoided her, and the feeling was mutual. When my mom found out about Fel, she freaked out, and told me I would be slaughtered in my sleep by this dog. That really didn’t help me feel better.
What I learned a little while later changed my attitude. Fel had not been socialized and her owner subjected her to physical teasing for his own amusement. To his disgust, she still did not become mean. She became timid and frightened of strangers. Of me. Of Byrd. I realized this scary, growling, slinking, hiding animal was not a true dog. Rather, she was a creature filled with fear and pain. Her real dog soul was buried, hidden away after two years of mental abuse.
The rest of the story follows naturally. I read about pitbulls, researched dog behavior, took her (and myself) to obedience classes, talked to behaviorists, and went about grabbing every bit of information I could.
Working with her, I learned how to mend a broken heart and spirit. A true dog shines within her now, and I am ashamed to think that I was once scared of this wonderful, loving, gentle companion. Though she is still shy, she loves to be with people, loves to be petted and hugged, gives kisses, wags her stumpy tail and butt passionately, and exudes a confidence and joy that she was cheated out of for the first two years of her life. Were she still with her previous owner, I have no doubt that she would have lived a life of misery, hopelessness, and fear.
That was my first encounter with a pitbull, and it changed my life and challenged my beliefs.
We went on to adopt a little white Pit/Lab puppy and named him Dozer. He is a huge dog now, upwards of 80 pounds, but still as awkward and goofy (and frustrating!) as a puppy. His two true loves are his red rubber ball, and me. I find it hard to believe that any dog could be more faithful, devoted, and adoring as he.
The experts—whoever they are—say that first-time dog owners are not supposed to have pitbulls. I disagree. Lazy, irresponsible, or uneducated owners, first time or not, should not have a pitbull. But a dedicated, responsible first-time owner who truly wants to raise a loving, wonderful canine companion will take the steps necessary to 1) make sure a pitbull is right for her lifestyle, 2) understand the breed-type and its characteristics and needs, and 3) raise and train the dog in the manner necessary to create a well-adjusted, social canine. It’s not hard to do, but it requires effort and commitment, as with any dog.
Education is the key to restoring the “pitbull’s reputation.” People who really know and understand pitbulls must step forward and educate the rest. If you are one of those who are concerned, frightened, or interested in learning about the TRUE pitbull, please take a moment to check out pitbulls.jentown.com.
Jennifer and her husband, Byrd, live in Round Rock, Texas.