Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Pit Bull Awareness Day

I love my pit bull! I love my little Czara too, but being half black lab and half boxer, she has a much higher level of social acceptance. And since today has been deemed Pit Bull Awareness Day by Pinups for Pit Bulls, I thought today would be a good time to discuss the breed discrimination in our region.

I live about 4 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado. Denver has one of the harshest breed ban laws on the books. The rule is you get caught with a pit bull once, you pay a fine upwards of $500 and promise that you will move your dog out of the city. If the dog is found in the city a second time, you pay another fine and the dog is destroyed. The ban has been in place off and on since the eighties, but about five years ago the city started cracking down something fierce. Dogs were being sent to the shelters left and right. Networks were created dedicated to getting dogs to more pit bull friendly cities, and many families moved out of Denver so that they could keep their family pets. That was about the time that Rob and I decided to rescue a pit bull.

Benny, after he and Czara decided to play tug of war with a pillow. Who could hate this face?

At the time, we lived outside the Denver city limits in the suburb of Wheat Ridge, had no children, and had a landlord who completely okay with pit bulls, making us perfect candidates for a pit bull adoption. We brought home Benny in March of 2006 and we have not once regretted the decision (Okay, so we had a moment of doubt the first day we brought him home, when he decided he wanted to chase a rabbit in my in-laws neighborhood and broke the chain that was CEMENTED into their front porch).

Benny has been a great dog. He was 1 and 1/2 when we adopted him and obviously had been trained by his previous owner (he had been dropped off with another pit bull named Joon...doesn't sound like he came from a fighting family). He was affectionate, mild mannered, and mostly content just hanging out with us. We couldn't have asked for a better dog. When we decided it was time to bring home a puppy, he was awesome with her. He played with very gently and was completely aware that she was just a baby. I remember he biting his ears and rather than snapping at her in retaliation, he would just look at us as though to say "What have you got us into."

To this day they are best friends and sleep next to each other every night. Benny usually retreats to his kennel when he is tired. Rather than go into her own, often Czara follows Benny right into his, and they sleep like that all night (we never latch the kennel when they are both in there).

And while I realize that not every pit bull is like Benny, most of these dogs are amazing family pets with bad reputations. Pit bulls have been used to fight for well over 100 years, but the recent lack of standards with breeding and training have really put these dogs over the edge. While dog fighting is absolutely abhorrent, it has yielded several qualities that work well in family pets. First of all, these dogs have a high pain tolerance. For this reason pit bulls are known for being great with toddlers, as they aren't bothered by little fingers pinching and pulling. Second, historically, owners of fighting dogs wanted to be sure that they could walk into the middle of a dog fight and pick up their dog without getting attacked. This is huge. Most dogs in a fight are worked into such a frenzy that they will bite anything, even their owner's hand. Yet it is in a pit bull's DNA to never hurt a person. Yes, pit bulls can be dog aggressive, and this is something that responsible owners should be aware of. But pit bulls that attack humans are evidence of abuse and bad training, and not of the dog's intrinsic nature. In fact, pit bulls are far ahead of chihuahuas when it comes to temperance testing.

I understand that a pit bull can do devastating damage and have a tenacious bite thanks to some really well developed jaw muscles. But simply kicking all these dogs out of a city won't help the real issue - poor breeding and abuse.

Even now that the bully breeds are banned, Denver still boasts the highest number of reported dog bites in the metro area. And the cities that have seen an increase in pit bull population, such as Arvada and Boulder, have not seen an increase in reported bites. That goes to show that this law is not doing anything but causing undue stress and harm to innocent dogs. Well over a thousand dogs have been put down in the past 5 years and for what?

In the whole front range region it is nearly impossible to rent with a pit bull. When Rob and I decided that we wanted to move to a house with a yard for the dogs, the lack of available rentals that allowed pit bulls left us with only one option - to buy our own house. So at 23, that is exactly what we did. And we are happy and proud to be homeowners but we do still resent that we can't live in Denver and that we have to be careful even driving through Denver with Benny in the car!

It breaks my heart that these dogs have been abused for years and instead of being looked at like victims, they are considered criminals solely based on their appearance (did I mention that the test to determine whether a dog in question is a pit bull is visual? So that even Czara, with her boxy jaw and forehead wrinkles could potentially be at risk of being labeled a bully breed? Yeah, nice).

I understand that there does need to be laws to protect the public, but a breed specific ban is not the way to accomplish that. There needs to be a vicious dog law that does not discriminate based on appearance and rumored attributes, but rather focuses on proven aggression. Hopefully reform is coming soon. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way.

End rant.

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