In honor of National Pit Bull Awareness Day I’m making a confession: a little over four years ago I was scared of the very breed of dog that I now adore and plan to adopt.
At the start of 2008 I knew three facts about Pit Bulls: guardianship of a Pit Bull carried stiff legal penalties in many jurisdictions, including my home state of Ohio, Pit Bulls were strong and they were used in dog fights. That was it. It’s not surprising then that I was a bit scared of them.
When I attended volunteer orientation at my local shelter I was informed that they had recently begun adopting out Pit Bulls. One of the other volunteers was passionate in his defense of the breed, saying that they were great dogs, super loyal and had been known as nanny dogs. For my part, I planned to walk other dogs at the shelter until I figured out quite where I stood on things. To soothe my conscience I reminded myself that I wasn’t confident about my dog-handling and didn’t want to be responsible for a dog getting loose and possibly injured.
A few weeks later, I was more confident in my abilities. I was still nervous about Pit Bulls though. One night there were only a few dogs available to walk, and one was a Pit Bull. I was so proud of earning the staff’s respect that I didn’t want to admit my fear. I decided to walk the other dogs first, and hope that the other volunteer took out the Pit Bull. I got back from my second walk and saw that the Pit Bull was the only dog left and the other volunteer had already gone home.
The dog’s name was Missy and she was rather cute with her black and white coat. And she didn’t seem to jump much higher than the other dogs. And my favorite staff member had called Missy a sweetie… I took a deep breath, grabbed a leash and decided to walk Missy.
I was on my butt within seconds. Missy was so excited when I opened her kennel door that she jumped up and licked me repeatedly, throwing me off balance. She didn’t attack or do anything crazy when I was on the floor, she actually just stood to the side, tail wagging like mad, and kept licking me. I started to laugh. I was still a little nervous about her pulling and misbehaving on leash, but at least I knew she wasn’t mean! I finished leashing her up and headed out.
Missy did pull, a lot. The people who said Pit Bulls were strong and full of energy were not wrong about this girl! I jogged for a few blocks whenever Missy stopped pulling for even a nanosecond and walked if she pulled, stopped if she kept pulling. We ran until I was completely winded and still she wanted cuddles and pets. I began jogging with Missy at the start and end of every volunteer shift. She became the first dog I ever transported in my car. I took her to an offsite adoption event one day and she loved it. After trying and failing to fit on the tiny ledge behind the back seat of my Corolla, she cleaned my car by finding a week old PBJ sandwich and wolfing it down in pleasure.
The day that Missy was adopted, I was beyond thrilled. She was the first dog where I felt I had really made a difference and could say that I had truly helped her calm down to the point where a family chose her. For her part, Missy helped me get in better shape through all that running, but more importantly showed me how wonderful Pit Bulls really are.
Since then, my love for Pit Bulls has only grown. I began to post about Pit Bulls on social media and even argued (pleasantly of course, since I knew where the fear came from) with a relative who claimed they were vicious. I became giddy when my brother said that, when he’s ready to adopt, he’ll likely adopt a Pit Bull. Missy is the dog responsible for all that joy and advocacy.
The next time you meet someone who is scared of Pit Bulls, don’t get angry with them. Explain how great Pit Bulls are. Send them our Ten Reasons Why Pit Bulls Rule article. Introduce them to a wonderful Pit Bull. Share our playlist of Pit Bull Adoption Stories (note, you might want some tissues for a few of those videos). You never know when the next person who’s afraid might become a passionate advocate.