Is Pitbull Awareness Month still necessary?



Pitbull Awareness Month

I’m torn on October’s pitbull awareness month.

When you set a group of dogs aside and label them differently, people view them differently.

Pitbulls are just dogs. That’s the message, right?

I think we could do a little better conveying that message.

For example, let’s stop with the memes floating around that compare pitbulls to dangerous and violent things. Let’s stop telling people what is “more dangerous than a pitbull.” How is that helping the dogs? It’s just making them sound scary to people who truly don’t understand dogs.

It’s time to re-consider the overall message, and what we’re really saying.

Is pitbull awareness still necessary?

You told me through That Mutt’s Facebook page that pitbull awareness is still necessary, and you’re right.

  • As long as dog daycares still ban them, we need awareness, you said.
  • As long as training classes, apartment complexes, “dog friendly” hotels, cities, counties and even countries ban them, we need awareness.
  • As long as shelters and pounds are killing them, we need awareness.

This is all true. I can’t argue these sad realities.

But here’s a hard question:

Are you ready to view pitbulls as just dogs?

As a pitbull lover, are you ready to stop viewing pitbulls as “more needy” than other dogs? Are you ready to stop viewing them as “more likely to be abused” or “more likely to be misunderstood” or “more likely to be killed in a shelter”?

Could we even consider dropping the term “pitties”?

If we truly want to help get more pitbulls adopted, I think it’s important that we begin viewing them as just dogs. We want everyone else to start viewing them as “just dogs,” so it’s time for us to do the same.

If I honestly look at myself, I know with certainty one of the reasons I love pitbulls is because for years I saw them as “needing someone.” Needing me. Isn’t that what draws a lot of us to dogs in general? Isn’t that why some of us adopt and foster dogs?

The thought of rescuing a pitbull makes me feel good because I would be taking in a dog “no one” wants.

But do you see where that thought process is wrong? Those of us who love them the most are often the ones spreading pitbull myths.

Pitbulls are among the most popular dogs in America! They’re far from “unwanted.” Yes, of course there are still people who need plenty of awareness. But in general, people love pitbulls. We’re holding the dogs back if we pretend otherwise.

Phasing out pitbull-specific programs

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa has recently made the decision to phase out its “pitbull” specific programs in order to include pitbulls within the larger group of “dogs,” according to a blog post featured on Animal Farm Foundation’s web site, a group with the mission to secure equal treatment for pitbulls.

There is a time for pitbull awareness programs, and Des Moines needed it very badly three years ago, according to the post. That’s why Animal Rescue League created its “Pit Crew” breed ambassador program at the time. Since then, the group has made a huge difference as far as showing people that pitbulls are normal dogs.

But now Animal Rescue League says it’s time to move forward and stop separating the pitbulls from other dogs.

“Do we continue down the path of ‘Team Pit Bull’ where we focus so heavily on ‘pit bull’ dogs that people see them as different?” wrote Animal Rescue League. “Or do we re-integrate back into the path of ‘Team Dog’ where we show people that ‘pit bull’ dogs are just dogs?”

The group is choosing the latter – to include its “pitbull programs” within its overall “dog programs.” Nothing is changing except how the pitbulls are branded.

Is pitbull awareness still necessary?

Of course, this doesn’t mean every city is ready to stop its pitbull ambassador programs. Some areas are currently in desperate need of starting pitbull awareness, just as Des Moines needed to do three years ago.

Phasing these programs out should be the ultimate goal, and each city will reach that point at different times. Eventually, a shelter’s “pitbull training classes” should be included in its “dog training classes.” Its “pitbull spay and neuter clinics” should be moved into its “dog spay and neuter clinics.” And so on.

“Ambassador programs are a tool to help start adopting out dogs,” according to Animal Farm Foundation. “But beyond that, the programs can have unintended consequences that make ‘pit bull’ dogs seem different and undesirable or scary, which means the window for having such programs needs to be temporary.”

I couldn’t agree more, but I’d also like to know what you think.

We can’t get stuck in separating out the pitbulls, right? At some point, we need to move forward.

Could we realistically transition “Pitbull Awareness Month” to “Dog Awareness Month”? I think we’re getting pretty darn close to that.

We want politicians to stop viewing pitbulls as different than other dogs.

We want landlords and dog daycare owners to stop viewing them as different than other dogs.

We want the general public to stop viewing them as different than other dogs.

Are we willing to do the same?

What do you think? Is pitbull awareness still necessary? What should the message be?

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  1. jan on October 4, 2013

    I do like the idea of Dog Awareness Month . Educating the public on responsible dog ownership can’t be overdone.

  2. weliveinaflat on October 4, 2013

    People in the pet industry need to start seeing them as dogs first… I don’t have a pit bull but I recently tried to get my dog to get a temperament assessment at a daycare. The first question asked was what breed is she? followed by lots of negativity and disclaimers from the daycare (which came highly recommended to me by a former pet-sitter/walker)… my mongrel doesn’t have a breed, doesn’t stop her from being typecasted.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 6, 2013

      Such a good point. That’s one of the first questions I ask my new pet sitting clients when we talk over the phone – “What kind of dogs do you have?” Really, it doesn’t matter what breeds they are. Most are mutts anyway. The question helps me start to get an idea about the dog’s size and strength and possibly energy. So perhaps I should just skip the breed question and ask “How big is your dog?” or “How much energy do your dogs have?” etc.

      • Renchan Li on October 8, 2013

        I read Lindsay’s summary of this discussion with an interest to learn. I still think dog breed questions should still be included because those answers could be helpful even for the non-discriminating eyes; each dog breed has its own general characteristics and issues from my very limited dog ownership experience angle. For example, a pit bull will most likely have a stronger bite than the other breeds of smilier size; and a bull dog breed tends to have breathing problems more than the other dog breeds.

        I think the pit bulls awareness programs are still needed in areas that discriminate these dog breeds. The pit bulls owners could also learn from the awareness programs so that they could become better informed from the experienced in developing their dogs; I tend to think that we pay more attention to the public media reminder than doing research for learning on our own. I wouldn’t have paid attention to the pit bulls breed awareness issues until Lindsay brings out this topic. Thanks.

        • weliveinaflat on October 8, 2013

          I agree with Renchan that there is no need to skip the breed question. Breed is still a common point of reference for all. I don’t mind being asked about the breed, rather it was the intent of the question and her assumptions after that made me uncomfortable.

          She had already made up her mind that mongrels are unsocialised, do not do well in a pack and are most likely to bite the other dogs in her care, before she had seen my dog or run the temperament assessment. Even though the temperament assessment eventually showed otherwise and she welcomed my dog into her establishment, I now have a worry of whether she will be biased against my dog should an incident occur and my dog reacts to another dog that bullied her for example.

          • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 9, 2013

            I see what you mean. Yes, that would make me uncomfortable as well.

  3. Kimberly Gauthier on October 6, 2013

    I never thought of it this way before and it’s true. I feel this way about images of puppy mills and abused dogs – the images are just too much and I worry they are hurting dog rescue by turning people away, glorifying (in their head) jerks, and desensitizing the public. But then to take them away completely would leave the Mission Accomplished message.

    A couple months ago and company asked me to review a product; in their pitch, they painted a pit bull in the role of the bad guy (it was dog deterrent spray). I declined the opportunity and explained why. They reached out to me and said that they didn’t consider the impact of how they were promoting their product and would no longer specify a breed.

    I think this is something that we all need to do from the ground up; just speak up against ignorant advertising and/or statements about specific breeds.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 6, 2013

      Wow, the dog deterrent spray with the pitbull image is such a good example. I think you’re right. We definitely need to work from the ground up. Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re judging a dog by its looks or its breed, and if we approach them in the right way they will willingly make a change.

  4. Dawn on October 7, 2013

    I met a guy at the Responsible Pet Owner’s Day event held here in Lawrence, KS and he introduced his dog as a Staffie mix. I loved that! He pointed out to me that pitbull is not a breed, it is a label that covers a variety of dog breeds used for pit fighting. How about we call the dogs Staffordshire Terrier mixes or Staffie mixes instead?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 7, 2013

      I can’t speak for others, but for me it’s important to teach people that “pitbull” is not a bad word. So I like to continue using the pitbull label.

      On the other hand, I know lots of shelters will label mixed breed dogs as boxer mixes or Staffie mixes or terrier mixes just to avoid the “pitbull” label because unfortunately dogs labeled as “pitbulls” might not get adopted as quickly if the adopters could face discrimination from a landlord or insurance provider, etc.

      It’s a tough topic.

  5. Ty Brown on October 8, 2013

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more.

  6. vanessa on October 17, 2013

    As much as I would love to not have to have pit bull awareness month because of the great reasons mentioned above, I feel it is still necessary.
    As I have stated in the other post I have owned at least one pit bull for over a decade. From the time I got my wonderful girl Parker I had to defend my dog from all sorts of stereotypes. I had her before my children and she did fantastic with them. She slept with my daughter chloe every night until we ultimatly lost her to brain cancer. She went camping with us, lived with several other dogs and cats, and never once did I ever feel she would hurt a person.
    Currently I foster another pbt. Our rescue pulled him from a humane society in Kentucky. He was around three months at the time, he’s now nine months. I’ve fostered 2 dogs at a time and have 3 dogs and 3 cats of my own. I’ve had many a foster come and go but not him yet. He has had adopters but ones landlord told them they’d need “hazardous dog insurance” UGH!
    Pts are one of the top “breeds” euthanized in shelters. Maybe focusing on some of the great things these dogs are and have done is the best way to have pit bull awareness month. For example start showing more of their rescue work. Sgt stubby (to my knowledge) is the most highly decorated war dog and he was a stray pbt. Helen Keller owned a pbt. These dogs used to be known as nanny dogs because of how great they can be with children.
    Until the media starts showing these dogs in a better light I feel we still need awareness month.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 17, 2013

      Yes, I think you make a lot of great points. Showing them in a positive way is always a great idea. It’s so unfortunate that so many insurance companies and landlords still have issues with certain types of dogs.

      And I didn’t know Helen Keller had a pitbull! :)

  7. Chanda Siewert on October 17, 2013

    I think we definitely still need pit bull awareness and dog awareness in general. I have 2 children and we adopted two pit bulls over a year ago. I researched all breeds before coming to the conclusion the family loyalty was exactly what we were looking for.

    There has been obstacles along the way some are/were a neighbor who tells his kids to stay away because “pit bulls BITE”. (i just think to myself..really…if that were the case i wouldnt have them…) At obedience training we had them singled out because they are pit bulls and had to muzzle them for no reason, I get the look of “Oh My” when asked the breed of them, etc… However I think the biggest obstacle as a dog owner(any breed) has been toys, carpeting, even the walls getting chewed up..lol..not the breed :)

    Also to many pet owners their dog is a “regular dog” we love them for their uniqueness and brag to others about how wonderful they are and why. All dogs are different even ones of the same breed, just like people are all different.
    I often refer to my dogs as pitties, but not for the fact they are “needy” because they are not. I see them as strong and courageous. They have been therapeutic for both my kids, but especially my son, who is a special needs child. I am thankful for the dogs I have and that there was no specific ban on them in my neighborhood :)

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 17, 2013

      Aww, thanks so much for joining the discussion on this. I don’t have a pitbull, so I appreciate hearing from people who do live with them. How sad that people make so many assumptions based on appearance.

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