Do We Still Need Pit Bull “Awareness”?
The answer to that question is very simple: Yes. In my biased opinion, we do. For those immersed in all things pit bull, this likely seems obvious. For others, who may not be actively involved, whether personally or professionally, in their day-to-day lives, with pit bulls, it may seem that we’ve come so far we can rest on our laurels, think it will never touch us (as I naively did) or think that we are doing more damage than good. And it’s easy to see how someone might come to those conclusions- pit bulls HAVE become more mainstream, many of us are safe from discrimination and quite honestly, not all advocacy is equal.
First, we have to address the fact that visual identification is still pretty much the standard for determining which dogs fall under the pit bull umbrella and which don’t.
I live in Pennsylvania, where Breed Specific Legislation does not exist, but insurance discrimination does and homeowners associations and landlords have the right to deny someone housing based on their dog’s breed or type.
My bias says there’s much more work to do and though we have come very, very far and many have done great work well before I joined the party, we are by no means done. And unless you’ve got a viable alternative to the words “pit bull”, and can make it stick, there’s not much point in saying that we need to get rid of the label. I’m not a big fan of the word “mutt”, which technically describes pit bulls and millions of other dogs, but has long also been used as a derogatory term used to describe a person of mixed racial descent. I prefer the term “mixed breed” and would love to see that used as a primary label for shelter dogs, but that doesn’t change the fact visual identification may still be used by homeowners associations, landlords , insurance companies, animal control agencies, law enforcement and, indeed, entire municipalities and not everyone can just pick up and go or has the resources or knowledge to be able to fight it.
So, back to my original question: Do we still need pit bull awareness? Yes, we do. We need people to know that our dogs are, in fact, dogs. That they learn the same way as other breeds and that the media sensationalism we see is just that- sensationalism. At YPBY, we focus on learning, on training and on behavior. We don’t talk much about BSL, prejudice, bias, hate, misunderstanding and all of the other stuff that can come with pit bull territory. And that’s not because we don’t think it doesn’t exist or that it’s not important, it’s just not our field of expertise. But, some anti-pit bull sentiment existing in one’s own quiet community can cause one’s eyes to be forced wide open. You learn fast how to best protect your dog. You learn what the laws are, you learn what people think of your dog that they haven’t even met. You learn that the fight isn’t over when someone says “I believe all pit bulls are born killers” standing at a microphone in front of a crowded room. You learn that the pit you feel in your stomach is pure fear.
We’ve not made a big deal out of Pit Bull Awareness Month or Pit Bull Awareness Day for a couple of years. In part because there are organizations that focus on issues like BSL that do it better. In part because it feels a bit like a Hallmark holiday, another made up thing to get people to Buy Stuff. And I don’t say that to dismiss the efforts of my colleagues, I say it because it’s my bias, my opinion and my feeling. None of that makes it true.