In the Company of the Misunderstood

This was written July 1, 2010 and represents my first step on the path of tearing down my personal illusions of my character and small-mindedness. It’s ironic, really, there I was thinking I was being so magnanimous rescuing this little, abused Pitbull when in truth, he was saving me.

I grew up thinking Pitbulls and their owners were the lowest of the low. They were street thugs and trailer trash who fought these monstrous dogs in some phallic rite to prove their manhood. A Maryland resident, I cheered when Prince Georges County enacted its breed ban and hoped that more districts followed suit. I progressed into adulthood secure in my self-righteousness. I would later realize that I was a breed bigot.

I continued along, blissfully ignorant, until the age of 35 when my family decided to get a dog. My daughter kept showing me pictures of puppies – Golden Retrievers, Laborador Retrievers, etc. All I saw was hair that I’d have to clean up. I made it clear I wanted a short-haired dog. After much searching both off and online, my daughter found a picture of an eight-week old puppy named Pink Floyd at the local shelter. He fit all of the criteria we had laid out: male, short-haired and between two and six months old. The catch though … he was a Pitbull. My heart sank.

Daddy the Pitbull

Daddy

I’d seen some episodes of The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan by this time and was beginning to question my Pitbull stereotypes after seeing Daddy with his huge, anvil head and unswerving calmness, but I remained intimidated. In my mind, those dogs were special. They were Cesar’s dogs and it took him to make a Pitbull right. Long story short, I didn’t want Floyd, but was outnumbered.

We went to the shelter to see him and when we got to his run, he was a tiny little ball of black and white fur with huge paws, big ears and a pink nose. He was the cast off of a fighting ring and was dehydrated and bony, only 8lbs when he should have been at least twice that. He was laying calmly on a blanket with a chew toy nearby. He didn’t jump up or bark as we approached, he just lay there looking up at us with huge coffee-colored eyes. As we locked gazes, I wondered if I was looking at a ticking time-bomb.

The shelter tech brought Floyd to us in the visiting room and he, of course, went straight to my daughter. After claiming her, he turned and looked at me where I sat cross-legged against one wall. He pondered me very solemnly for a few moments and then walked straight to me, stepped into my lap and burrowed down to rest. He gave a big puppy sigh and closed his eyes. I knew then that we were taking him home, but I wasn’t happy about it. In my mind, we were about to be lumped in with the criminals and the trash and we were going to have to keep a tight leash on this dog to keep him from becoming a monster. Looking back, I am amazed at my stupidity.

While owning Floyd and, a year and a half later, his companion Bella has truly opened my eyes to the majesty and profundity of the Pitbull breed, I wasn’t completely wrong about everything. We have been lumped in with criminals and trash in the minds of many people. The problem is Pitbull owners, by and large, are neither criminals nor trash.

Pitbull owners are a diverse group of all shapes, sizes, genders, colors, professions and lifestyles. Since owning a Pitbull, I’ve met more people whom I probably would not have if not for Floyd. There was the young man with tattoos on his arms, piercings, and chains on his jeans who came over and asked my family about Floyd. Come to find out, he’d owned Pitbulls all his life and couldn’t say enough about the breed. Another time, it was a middle-aged white woman jogging down the street with her Pit. She saw me out walking Floyd and Bella and asked to come over to meet them. The dogs did the standard meet and greet and we spent time talking about the incredible nature of the breed.

Let me not forget the tall, black man with braids, cap, baggy jeans and a gold tooth at the 7-11. His Pitbull puppy was tied up out front while he ran into the store. We waited so we could greet the puppy, we didn’t want to approach without the owner’s permission. He came out and we met his puppy, a beautiful Champagne colored female. Again, a nice conversation about the breed and how misunderstood they are.

In two years of owning these dogs, I’ve become very acquainted with the breed and the variety of people who own these dogs. There are middle class professionals as well as bikers, goths, urbanites and just about any and everyone you can think of. Pitbull owners are a diverse and eclectic group.

At first, I was surprised over and over again, not just at the diversity of Pitbull owners, but at the unity that we as owners have for each other. I can’t walk by a Pitbull without stopping to greet it and vice versa with other Pit owners when they see my dogs. There are universal topics in each conversation though, the beauty and heart of the breed as well as the general disapproval that you receive when out with your dogs.

I’ve had people cross the street when they see me coming. Other times, I’ve had parents drag their children close as if my dogs are going to rip their throats out for no reason. I’ve had neighbors complain about my dogs because they are “dangerous” even though one neighbor’s little Yorkie viciously attacked my Floyd (who just stood there, by the way, while I pulled the Yorkie off. With no help from the owner, I might add). I’ve had people abruptly stop petting Floyd and rush off once they find out he’s a Pitbull despite having just remarked on how beautiful and well-behaved he is.

I’ve also had people tell me how meeting Floyd has changed their perspective on Pitbulls and how, if they’d met Floyd first, they’d never have been afraid of Pits. Most of all though, I’ve met a diverse group of people who’ve opened up my eyes and helped me see how easy it is to be misunderstood. Being a Pitbull owner has crumbled my stereotypes and humbled me in the face of my own bigotry.

After two years of Pitbull ownership, I am proud to be in the company of the misunderstood.

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