In honor of Pitbull Awareness Day, I finally decided to publish an article I published on my personal blog in March, 2011:
An interesting thing happened last week:
I exited the grocery store and found myself facing a soft, handsome, 8-month-old tan and white pit bull. A young man was proudly holding his leash. I waited my turn as the lady in front of me dropped her groceries to give pats and praise, and then I asked if I might say hello to the furry man of the hour. Permission granted, I proceeded to pat and compliment and gush. The dog’s name is “Z”. I complimented the young man on how nice and well-socialized his puppy was. Of course, I also took the opportunity to ask if he had attended the rally at the state capital in support of reversing Denver’s breed ban. No? He didn’t even know about it. I gave him the information to join one of the local groups, and scrawled out StubbyDog and BAD RAP’s info for him, which he was glad to have. (BAD RAP and StubbyDog are both excellent online pit bull resources. Although they are not in Denver, I wanted him to see both)
Then, I can only think he misunderstood me, because then he boasted, “We breed Pits too! We have Daisy and Meathead, Desi and ZanyMan… They all have huge heads, man. It’s sick, Yo.”
I didn’t know what to say. I picked up my bag, told him his dog was a sweetie, and started to walk away. I was stunned. As I processed what I had just heard, I began muttering “Idiot!” under my breath. Suddenly in my head the young man was no longer a nice guy out with his dog. He was an idiotic, baggy pants, sideways-hat-wearing, irresponsible, stupid, lowlife punk.
How quickly we change. The things I regarded minutes before merely as unfortunate, yet harmless, fashion choices on his part now became evidence of this punk-ass lowlife monster and propagator of misery for the breed I love so dearly. I hate it that I did this, but I did. I gathered peripheral details and stacked them up against him, almost justifying walking away instead of trying to talk to him.
Let me just say here that I know talking to people who “don’t get” it is not going to change things in a day, and I don’t hold any crazy ideas that some people will suddenly stop regarding pit bulls as badges and things. But I think that when it is safe to do so, we need to speak up for those who can’t. I am not proud to admit I almost walked away and complained without saying something, but I think it is a choice we all have to face and I need you to know that yes, it was hard. It was scary, and even though I am outspoken about animal well-being in general, I still almost walked away.
I knew I had to say something, and I also knew I had to collect myself. I put my groceries in my Jeep. Hopped in, and pulled around to catch him as he walked around to the back of the store. I felt safer up in my Jeep. I had already decided he would not want to hear what I had to say. I waved, smiled, and said just that:
“Hi again! Look, I know you probably aren’t going to want to hear this, but my life is dedicated to working with animals, and I spend a huge amount of time working on behalf of pit bulls. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try. Can we talk for a minute about why I want you to reconsider breeding them?”
“Okay” (Wow! He said okay. Neat!)
“You see, it is clear that you really love Z, and this is not meant to be an attack on you personally… but I wonder if you are aware of the number of pit bulls at the county shelter right now?”
“I know, Man. That’s messed up.”
“So you do know how many are in the shelter right now, and that most of them will be euthanized? Did you also know that all across the US shelters are overflowing with wonderful pitties who will end up in garbage bags today and every day?”
(He stares at me)
“I am talking to you about this because I thought you might want to know. It makes me sad to hear that you’re breeding them, when for every dog you produce, another in the shelter loses his or her chance at life. I wanted to let you know this, so that maybe you will reconsider.”
“Yeah, well it’s my grandpa who’s the breeder. He has a license to breed them and everything, He is real careful about selling them and shit. We don’t fight ‘em, we sell them for protection.”
Here is the place where I had to count three breaths before I responded, “And I can see that your grandpa has taught you well about respecting the breed and cultivating a friendship with Z. That’s great! Can I buy you lunch so we can talk some more?”
Long story, but after sitting on the curb outside as he nursed his milkshake and just talking for 30 minutes, he was asking questions and really doing some thinking. People came and patted Z, who was loving the extra attention. We talked in detail about euthanasia, something about which he had very little information. We talked about why it is especially hard to swallow the fact that anyone would think of breeding pit bulls when just 10 blocks away – where Denver borders our neighborhood – countless innocent dogs have been lost because of Denver’s insane breed ban. We talked about the opportunities available for him to work with pit bulls and the other ways he can gain respect and feel pride – like training, speaking out against breed bans, and educating people about the breed. We agreed that it is likely Grandpa may not change his mind, and will probably tell him the crazy lady at the grocery store was off her rocker, but he promised to talk to him.
It was a better outcome than I had expected, and I guess the reason I’m sharing this is because I’d like to encourage others to try for a minute move beyond the anger, and try to talk to people like this young man. While we might want to flip out and scream, it sometimes pays to try to channel a much calmer, less horrified person for a few minutes… and try to talk to them like we really believe they might change. The result may not always be like this, so be safe, but please do consider speaking up. I am glad I did.
And what did I learn?
I found that had more in common with this this kid than I thought, Yo.
Pit Bulls are currently banned in our nearby city of Denver. More on breed ban here: http://stubbydog.org/2011/03/the-psychology-of-breed-bans/