Monday, 29 May 2023
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Pit bulls and the court of public opinion

New Pet Pal LogoRecently I asked readers of our Pet Pal Connection newsletter to tell me their opinions about pit bulls. Here is what they had to say.

The first letter comes from Phyllis Hobson:

My grandparents had a pit bull they raised from a puppy. After my grandfather died, and when my grandmother went into an assisted living, we took over the care of Lady.

Lady was a large, somewhat overweight, nearly 90-pound pit bull. She was the sweetest dog. She didn’t bark much, and even when meeting someone for the first time would try to lick them and have them pet her.

She never bit anyone, she never showed her teeth. Her ears had to be cleaned out by the vet — probably, he said, from burrowing into the ground after small critters when she lived on the farm with my grandparents. The vet commented that Lady was so docile and stood quietly while they had to run water into her ears and check for any polyps.

Lady was with us for many years until she crossed the rainbow bridge to reunite with my grandparents. Through her demeanor and actions, I wholeheartedly believe that a dog is as good as they are raised or retrained, as we’ve heard with the Michael Vick dogs.

— Phyllis Hobson, Bay Area

I learned the truth about pit bulls back in the late 1980s. This is when there were many gang-related issues with the breed, and cities were beginning to outlaw them. At the time, I was breeding AKC registered, OFA certified, German import bloodline German shepherds. My bloodlines came from working stock and many puppies went to law enforcement and search/rescue working lives. I knew a lot about aggressive and protective dogs.

My sister-in-law had a female pit bull and I was a little concerned about my two little nieces. Her dog was the sweetest and most patient dog ever. She also kept the girls safe, not a small thing because they lived in a bad part of a city. Just three females and a dog.

Years later, my new stepson moved off with his girlfriend and we inherited his pit bull-ridgeback-lab mix. This guy was 6 years old and had been abused as a puppy. He had his crazy triggers, not good when you weigh 125 pounds.

He decided to adopt me. He was so sweet and loving. I also know that he would kill or be killed to protect me. With all others, he would pull at the leash and not mind very well. With me, he was gentle and gentlemanly.

Currently, we have a 6-year-old pit bull that we adopted from the local shelter three years ago. She was a stray and showed all of the signs of being on the streets for a long time but, she has beautiful house manners. Someone, somewhere had loved this girl.

She loves me, but adores my husband. She is his emotional support dog. He has PTSD from being a combat Marine. He can finally sleep at night knowing that she “has his six.” When he begins to get hyper-vigilant, she snuggles up to him and lets him feel that she is on guard duty. He is certain that no one could get past our front door.

She is also the most playful and kid-safe girl. She is never rough with children, even when playing tug-of-war. She has never even knocked over a toddler.

I think pit bulls are perfectly fine dogs, with a few basic rules. These are the same guidelines used for any large breed and protective dog. Secure fencing, good quality leash and collar are basic requirements. Proper obedience training combined with appropriate exercise. Always supervise the dog with children, new people and in new situations.

Often, they don’t like other dogs, especially of the same gender. Often, they have a strong prey drive and don’t like smaller animals including dogs and cats. They need chew toys to expend their inner dog needs. In return, they are loving, loyal, great snugglers and great watchdogs. Aside from a tendency towards cancer, they should give you 15 years of “the best dog ever.”

Janet Graham, Colorado

Ahhh, pit bulls. I think they get a bum rap. It used to be German shepherds or Doberman pincers or Rottweilers. Now it’s pits.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s the dog. I believe it’s the owners that train them to be “devil dogs.” I’ve known some wonderfully sweet pits, dobies, and rotties, and some little dogs I would not let my granddaughter around for even a minute.

Gloria Nevius, Bay Area

I am sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve met a few very nice, lovable pit bulls. One belonged to a friend of mine and he was a doll.

He had been hit by a car, and as a result, needed to have one of his legs removed. I used to tell people he was so mean he had chewed his own leg off. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as Chance would not have hurt a fly.

But pits are a powerful breed and they have been bred to be aggressive, fighting dogs. Just like horses are bred for racing or dressage or trail riding, dogs can be bred with certain traits that will help get the desired behaviors.  When you couple these natural tendencies with an amoral, ignorant and brutal master, you get a very dangerous result.

I give pits a wide berth and do not allow my Labrador to socialize with any. She is now 13 years old, and we quit going to dog parks before she was 2 years old for this reason. Any dog is unpredictable, no matter what the breed. There is no way to say for sure what a dog will do.

I seriously doubt that you could get a basset hound to do what a pit bull is capable of, and there are other breeds I could say that about as well. Irish setter maybe? Golden retriever? For these dogs it just is not in their temperament. I don’t think it could be done, no matter how ruthless and cruel you were with your training.

If you pair a pit bull with the wrong owner, horrible things can happen and we see evidence of that in the news on nearly a daily basis. People insist it’s all nurture and no nature. I say baloney. Some of who we are is who we are when we are born, not who we become by how we are treated. We aren’t just moldable blobs of clay when we’re born, and neither are dogs.

I am not sure this is what you wanted to hear. I want to love all animals, too — I just can’t warm up to snakes — but it’s my truth and I hope it helps you, too.

— Lois Grace, San Jose

Breed discrimination and public misconception of pit bulls exist because people think that they are different from other types of dogs. Well, they’re not.

The only thing unique about pit bulls right now is the disproportionate numbers in which they are abused, neglected, discriminated against and killed.

Every time someone utters a phrase like “pit bulls are the most loyal dogs” or “pit bulls used to be nanny dogs because they’re so great with kids” or “pit bulls are the best working and sporting dogs because they’re built for it” and so on, you are telling anti-pit bull people that they are correct, and that pit bulls are in fact different from other dogs.

It doesn’t matter how positive what you’re saying is, and it doesn’t matter what your intention was. You’re doing a disservice to advocacy efforts and just further perpetuating breed stereotypes every time you play that game. Here is the phrase I like to use: “Dogs are individuals, just like people.”

Individual dogs can be special, but the minute you generalize that to an entire breed or type of dog, you’re unraveling the argument you’re trying to make.

—  Deb Codiroli, Bay Area

Want to share your thoughts about pit bulls? Email me at


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