In the mid 1800’s, Fredrick Douglass’s North Star reported a string of vicious dog attacks; the name of the breed struck fear into the hearts of his readers. Who in their right mind would own such a dangerous animal? Terriers and shepherd dogs were perfect companions, but everyone knew that these animals were bred only for violence and to own one was to invite bloodshed. What breed was so feared and abhorred? The bloodhound.
Today the bloodhound is practically synonymous with idleness and drool. Even as recently as the 1990s, English Bulldogs had a reputation for irritability and a mean temper, but their public image is now as affable as the bloodhound’s. German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers have taken the place of bloodhounds and English Bulldogs in the public imagination and are targeted by breed restrictions.
However, no dog faces more prejudice and misunderstanding than the pit bull. Once well-known for their patience with children, these valuable family members now face misguided pit bull legislation in several jurisdictions. What steps can you take as an owner to protect your pet and educate the public?
Stick to the facts – it is easy to get emotional about issues like this. Unfortunately, your opponents are acting on emotion as well. Confront irrational fear with facts, not heartfelt pleas. Let the public know that pit bull legislation targets an ill-defined range of breeds, not just one specific breed, and that “pit bull-type dogs” are identified using a checklist of physical characteristics that tries to judge a dog’s behavior by the shape of his head. Boxers and other breeds are at risk as well when these laws are enforced.
Ask for statistics – when your opponents set out to prove that pit bulls are dangerous, ask for the numbers. Point out when, as is often the case, the numbers are based on the amount of media coverage of attacks and not the number of actual attacks. Ask your opponents if they trust the media to report on things like violence objectively, without sensationalizing.
Be involved in local politics – it is much easier to get caught up in issues facing larger cities, the country as a whole, or more restrictive countries overseas. However, your local government has more of an impact on your life and your pet’s life, and it is much easier to gain influence there.
Show your pit bull pride – while some people have already made up their mind on the issue, most of the public is open to new information. In fact, most do not even know a pit bull when they see one. Take your pit in public whenever you can. When you are walking your best friend or taking him to the park, admirers will inevitably ask, “What kind of dog is he?” There is never a better opportunity to correct common misunderstandings.
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