Josh, a Pit Bull and Shelter Reform Advocate, first met Sway when the young, skittish puppy emerged from a corn field by his father’s property in Troy, Ohio. Since there were no other homes nearby, Josh knew the sweet dog needed to be rescued. Always an animal lover, Josh gained Sway’s trust, took her in and instantly bonded with her. Deciding to keep her, he took her to obtain a dog license. Walking into the shelter for the very first time, Josh was asked, “You know that is a Pit Bull? You can’t keep the dog”. This was Josh’s first experience with Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Josh says, “They tried to get me to surrender her. There was no way I was going to.” Instead he got her licensed, paid the extra home insurance needed to have a Pit Bull and the two built a solid, unbreakable bond. Sway became Josh’s shadow, never letting him venture far from her sight. Of those inseparable days, Josh recalls how fantastic it was to watch Sway interact with friends and other members of the community in such a positive way. They moved to California and despite not liking the water, her loyalty to Josh would take her into the Pacific Ocean, if it meant staying close to him. “Heart dog. Sway was that for me. She was my world,” Josh recalls of Sway. A “heart dog” is a term often referred to as the once in a life time dog. The dog which gets you and you understand them right back.
Josh had just over eight years with Sway. In an online tribute video1, he said, “My dog lived a full life, an amazing life. She taught me about love and courage, about loyalty and living in the face of adversity. First against ignorance and stereotypical opinions, second against physical and dangerous conditions like AIHA and liver shunting. Her medical conditions did not and would not define her. Amazing would work, so would adorable and special, unique and goofy. Innocent would work, so would interesting and perfect, inquisitive and unconditional. I would define her as the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Six months after Sway passed, Josh found a brindle Pit Bull in a San Diego rescue. While knowing he wasn’t trying to replace Sway, Josh was ready to give another Pit Bull a forever home and adopted Neola. Learning more about rescue, Josh began befriending people online who were tagging dogs in pounds who needed saving. The photos tugged at his heart strings and he was horrified to learn many of the dogs in the “shelter” system were euthanized, especially Pit Bulls. Josh, a photographer, knew he could do his part by photographing dogs at his local pound and networking them online. SwayLove was born. Shortly after, Josh adopted a second Pit Bull named Odi who was a dog he had photographed and bonded with at a Los Angeles public pound.
According to Webster’s Dictionary2, the definition of a Pit Bull is: “a dog of any of several breeds or a real or apparent hybrid with one or more of these breeds that was developed and is now often trained for fighting and is noted for strength and stamina”. What are these breeds3? The American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Stafford Bull Terrier or the English Bull Terrier. Also, it could be similar looking breeds mistaken as Pit Bulls such as the Boxer, the American bulldog, the English bulldog, the Boerboel, the Dogo Argentino, the Bullmastiff, the Cane Corso, the Presca Canario or the Dogue de Bordeaux. Further, it can be mixes of the Black Mouth Cur, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Basenji, Boston Terrier, Redbone Coonhound, Dalmatian, German Shorthaired Pointer, Great Dane, Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, (English) Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Plott Hound, (English) Pointer, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Smooth Fox Terrier, Tosa Inu, Vizsla, Weimaraner or Whippet. A “Shelter Pit Bull” can be a “Mixed breed, short haired dog that lacks distinct physical traits that would identify them as something other than a Pit Bull” or the media’s version which is, “Any dog that someone thinks is a Pit Bull.” Pit Bull is a general term for any dog who may be muscular with small eyes. They may have a big head or short muzzle. They may have cropped ears or a docked tail.
Yet, even with this loose definition, several laws have been passed or have been attempted to be passed to discriminate against the Pit Bull Dog. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) affects how families with a Pit Bull can live. A lot of BSL stems from fear after there has been a dog attack. One such incident occurred in California after the fatal dog attack on a 63 year old woman in 2013. Afterward, several cities, including Pasadena in Los Angeles Co.4 and Riverside Co.5, wanted to ban Pit Bull type dogs. Since CA state law disallows this (California Food and Agriculture Code § 31683), their second choice was to make it mandatory for owners to spay/neuter any Pit Bull they owned. While spaying/neutering your pet is always the best policy, Riverside Co. already had a law in place which states all dogs, except for special situations, must be spayed or neutered. Therefore, this law specifically for Pit Bulls, is a secondary law to one which is not being enforced6. Pasadena did not have this law and wanted it just for Pit Bulls. It failed, so they went for one for all breeds, which has passed.
In looking at fatal dog bites across America, you will see there are three common factors. In 2013 alone, there were 31 fatal dog attacks7. 26 of those attacks were alleged to be Pit Bull type dogs. Looking more closely, of those 31 fatal attacks, there are other common denominators:
- The dogs were roaming loose and unsupervised
- The dogs were tethered in a yard, and not an indoor house pet
- A child was unaccompanied by an adult and came into contact with a dog in the above mentioned situations
According to The Real Pit Bull website8, you are more likely to die in your bathtub, from a falling coconut or by aspirin than you are by a dog attack. Moreover, “it is at least a half million times more likely that a Pit Bull will be killed by a human (in the shelter) than the other way around.” With millions of Pit Bulls in our society as loving family members, their humans must contend with the prejudice caused by a small amount of Pit Bulls with neglectful owners. According to Robin Rock, founder and director of Measle’s Animal Haven Pit Bull Rescue 9, “This is a stereotype that is biased toward generalizing and condemning an entire breed based on the actions of a few bad people. The truth is that each dog should be evaluated by his own merits and not by his breed.”
If you have a Pit Bull as a member of your family in America, you may face discrimination while trying to rent or getting home owners insurance. Many Pit Bulls end up in pounds because their families are told they cannot have them where they live.
*Katie first met *Lily at an adoption event and it was love at first sight. Katie spent a lot of time bonding with her that day and quickly decided to adopt her. Although she has another dog she describes as her “soulmate”, when talking about Lily, Katie lights up. She describes Lily by saying “(Lily) is my child. I would do anything for her, anything to protect her. She would do anything for me, anything to protect me. I can do no wrong in her eyes. It's my job to help her learn and grow in this world. Every decision I make, big or small, is made thinking of her. All she wants is my approval and all I want is for her to be healthy and happy. She relies on me for everything. She fulfills my motherly instinct just like a human child would.”
When asked if she has ever experienced prejudice in regards to Lily, Katie’s demeanor changes and she gets a serious look on her face. “Once a man rolled down his window and screamed out at me that my dog will kill children. I had to get the police involved.” Another incident she describes was when traveling. “At the hotel, I was in the elevator with Lily and when the door opened a man standing there said, ‘Hell no I’m getting in the elevator with that dog.” According to Katie, these are not isolated incidents, but are actually more common than not. In describing her everyday life, Katie has to keep Lily muzzled when in public. She takes the back stairs in her apartment complex when she is with Lily. Driven by fear of an incident, she runs Lily to her car and takes her to a park to walk her where she can get into her car and quickly drive away if someone approaches her negatively. Pit Bulls are not allowed in her apartment complex, or any apartment complex in the city. She is only allowed to keep Lily because she is a registered service dog. Despite all of this, Katie says people constantly step away from Lily when they see her. Katie says, “People look at me as if my baby should die. No dog deserves to not have a home. No dog deserves to not feel welcome.” Katie feels this negative stereotype can further turn normal Pit Bulls into potential problems. When a dog is not allowed at doggie day care, not petted often enough, senses fear from people and not socialized, it is hard for them to become as well rounded as other dogs. Katie hopes Pit Bull type dogs, instead of being shunned by society, are able to get the training and socialization they need to live up to their potential.
This fear of Pit Bulls may stem from myths surrounding the Pit Bull breed which are not true. For example, it is widely believed Pit Bulls have locking jaws. This is not true. According to Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, a Ph.D. at the University of Georgia10, “The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of Pit Bulls show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any other breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of 'locking mechanism' unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier."
Another myth about Pit Bulls is they bite or attack more than any other breed of dog. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association10, “no single breed is more dangerous than another. Rather, studies show the most popular breeds at any given time tend to top the list because there are more of those dogs in the general population.”
Often, people may feel it is dangerous to adopt a Pit Bull because of their unknown history. Robin Rock, in her pet finder article,9 wants adopters to “remember each dog is an individual and should be judged by his current personality and behavior. Certainly he may be influenced by his genetics and history, but after working with thousands of Pit Bulls, I can assert unequivocally that many (if not most) Pit Bulls of unknown parentage that have been horribly abused, neglected, and/or forced to fight still love people more than anything, and still will be loving family pets.” Josh Liddy adds a final note, “Prejudice is a learned behavior. In my opinion, the best teacher is the dogs themselves.”
Note: ISF’s Medical Emergency Grant Program has helped 74 Pit Bull type dogs in the USA and Canada heal from injuries due to abuse and neglect in order to be placed in loving forever homes between Feb. 2014 and May 2016. Once these amazing dogs have found their happily ever after, our wish is they do not continue to fight the odds through Breed Specific Legislation and Prejudice. Check back often as ISF’s Grant Division continues our series: It's a Pit Bull's Life, stories of life as a rescued Pit Bull.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Josh and Sway. Credit: SwayLove
- Gerard, taken at the Carson Shelter, CA. Credit: SwayLove
- Vincent, an ISF Grant Recipient. Credit: Zoe's Animal Rescue Society
- Cambria, an ISF Grant Recipient. Credit: It's a Pitty Rescue
Written by: Veronica Hampton
Edited by: Bob Stone