National Pit Bull Awareness Day is the last Saturday in October and with ongoing breed bans, the awareness campaign seems more important than ever. Healthy Paws wanted to share some support for these dynamic dogs and dispel some of the myths that exist about the breed. We reached out to Alyssa Severn, an advocate, foster-mom, and rescuer of pit bull terriers. Her family has rescued three pit bulls—Mavis (14 years old), Hitch (7 years old), and Riggins (3 years old)—and she’s been active in the animal rescue community since she was a teenager.
“I fell in love with pit bulls after I adopted my dog, Mavis, in 2004,” Severn says. “Though I’ll help any breed or species, I’ve been focused on pit bull rescue ever since. Fostering has been an incredible way to show people how adaptable and wonderful the breed can be.”
Healthy Paws (HP): What are some myths you’d like to dispel about owning a pit bull?
Alyssa Severn (AS): The biggest one for me is the myth that an entire breed can be deemed “bad.” Pit bulls, like any other breed, might share similarities in terms of demeanor and looks, but they are all individuals and should be judged as such. Along the same lines, don’t assume that all pit bulls like and dislike the same things; some love children while others might be afraid of them. Some love to swim and others hate the water. Just as you wouldn’t assume that because I’m female I love pink, consider each pit bull individually.
Another misconception is that people assume all rescue pit bulls have been abused or have come from fighting situations. It’s important to change our way of thinking, and always assume that a stray dog is lost and that someone might be looking for them. (Can’t help but add here that if you see a wandering dog, please stop to offer help or call for an animal control officer.) So many dogs end up in shelters or lost simply because of unfortunate circumstances—especially in light of all of the restrictions and laws that make it tough for people who follow the rules. There are incredible, healthy pit bulls with friendly, happy, and fun personalities sitting in shelters everywhere waiting to be adopted, but passed up because of how they look. Not every dog needs a hard-luck story to be worth considering.
HP: What are your thoughts on the pending legislation in Montreal to “ban” pit bulls?
AS: Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is ineffective and born out of poor judgement, and Montreal’s law is no exception. To single out one breed as though each individual dog has the exact same temperament is a waste of time and money, and does nothing other than tarnish the reputation of the breed, and kill innocent dogs. Not to mention family pets being torn out of loving homes.
The scariest part, to me, about the Montreal legislation is how vaguely worded it is in regard to what they define as a pit bull; it essentially encompasses any dog with a square-ish head, short fur, and a muscular stature. So for those who feel that this is a pit bull problem, make sure that your Lab, Boxer mix, or even hunting dog doesn’t fit this description.
The definition of pit bull has become very nebulous. With so many mixes, and fad breeds that are variations of the American Pit Bull Terrier, to many it’s more of a look than it is an actual breed. In most cities where bans exist, the way they determine if your dog is a pit bull is by having an animal control officer look at the dog and offer their opinion on whether or not the dog is a pit bull. Many of the dog attacks that have prompted legislation, like that in Montreal, often involve dogs who are misidentified as pit bulls.
In the last 10 years there has been so much forward momentum for the breed’s reputation, especially in cases where the dogs are victims of cruelty. In just the last year we’ve seen so many communities and cities deciding to repeal their breed bans. It was uplifting to see so many people take action, speak up, and rally for the dogs in Montreal. You likely wouldn’t have seen that type of large-scale support 25+ years ago when so many of the bans in the US were put in place.
HP: What are some words of wisdom for rescuing/adopting a pit bull?
- Do your research. If you’re interested in adopting a pit bull-type dog, don’t go after the color or face that you like best. Spend time meeting dogs and finding a personality, temperament, and energy level that best suits your lifestyle.
- Follow the rules. So many dogs end up in shelters because people don’t first educate themselves on potential restrictions or laws that can make it a challenge to have a pit bull. Make sure to check for any restrictions or breed specific laws not only within your city, but also for your housing whether you rent (weight and breed restrictions) or own (homeowner’s insurance policies, homeowner’s association bylaws). If you’re unhappy about the policies, speak up and see if you can make a case for change.
- Be kind, be rational, and have a well-trained dog. You might not always run into people who have nice things to say about the breed, and it can be hard to not take it personally (especially when they ask you if your dog bites). In the end, I’ve found that the best way to show people that pit bulls are dogs, just like all the others, is to be mature and handle any negativity with a smile. You won’t prove that pit bulls are a wonderful breed by shouting at people. You will prove it by having them walk politely on a leash next to you while you smile about how great your dog is.
- Train your dog (in a positive way). Training is a way to bond with your dog, but how you do it makes a difference. Whether you want to try a group training class, work one-on-one with an instructor, or do it on your own. Pit bulls can be incredibly sensitive dogs and, like most breeds, do best with positive reinforcement, praise, and plenty of structure. I love dog training classes, and watching my dogs learn and figure things out. Agility has been a really fun activity with our youngest dog who tends to have some extra energy to burn!
For further reading on pit bull myths, check out BadRap.Org. To get involved with Pit bull advocacy in your area, check out the Pit Bull Awareness Day homepage for events and information.
At Healthy Paws, we love all dogs! Share a pic of your Pittie by tagging #gohealthypaws. And if you aren’t already a pet parent with us, look into getting a free quote to help safeguard not just your special pup, but your wallet too.