Here at the Humane Society of Broward County, we love pit bulls. But we’ll be the first acknowledge that this lovable and tenacious breed has an image problem.
They often have an unfair reputation as being inherently dangerous and aggressive dogs. Some municipalities (including Miami) and landlords even ban the breed from towns and apartment complexes. They are the subject of sensational and untrue stories that claim pit bulls have “locking jaws” that make them more fearsome than other breeds. But dedicated owners and advocates of pit bulls have been working tirelessly to dispel these myths about these dogs. National Pit Bull Awareness Day – which falls on Saturday October 28 this year – is one such effort.
And also in honor of Pit Bull Awareness Day, we’re answering some your biggest questions about the breed.
What is a “pit bull” exactly?
“Pit Bull” can be used as a catch-all term for a number of different pure-bred and mixed-breed dogs. They share characteristics like a square-shaped head, a compact muscular build and a short coat.
Typically, pit bull is the informal name for the American Pit Bull Terrier. The a breed has a long history of a being a popular pet in the United States. However, other similar breeds such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are sometimes referred to as pit bulls. Even bulldogs and boxers are often mislabeled as pit bulls.
Many shelters and animal advocates now use the umbrella term “bully breeds” to more accurately describe these dogs.
Pit bulls were originally bred from terriers – smaller dogs used to hunt vermin like rodents – and more muscular and powerful bulldogs. Energetic and athletic, these dogs were sometimes used as working dogs on farms, but were often misused as fighting dogs. Their history as fighting dogs has contributed to the myths surrounding them today.
Why are pit bulls sometime seen as aggressive and dangerous?
Millions of devoted pit bull owners will accurately describe their dog as a gentle and loving family dog. So how does that square with the scary attack dog sometimes seen in the media?
In the 19th Century, people used pit bulls as fighting dogs. The practice sadly continues today illegally – though on a much smaller scale. However, for almost 100 years now, these dogs are primary kept as family pets. So for most pit bulls, their fighting past is an historical footnote.
It’s true that some irresponsible owners seek out this breed to use them as fighting and attack dogs. Pit bulls are often the victims of horrible abuse at the hands of these unsavory owners.
But animal experts stress there isn’t anything inherently aggressive about the breed. Temperament tests have shown that pit bulls are among the most tolerant of all breeds. They boast a 86.8 percent passing rate, higher than popular dog breeds such as beagles and collies.
Like all dogs, if properly trained, cared for and socialized, pit bulls make great pets.
Why are owners so passionate about pit bulls?
With millions of devoted fans, pit bulls have a lot going for them.
Because pit bulls are so loyal and people-oriented, they excel at obedience training. For this reason, pit bulls can often serve as therapy dogs or as or highly skilled working dogs. Generally easy-going and playful, they make great family dogs and do well around children.
Like all larger breeds, pit bulls need regular exercise. So they are can be a great motivator to get you off the couch. And speaking of the couch, after that long walk, pit bulls love to relax and snuggle with their owners.
So if you’re thinking: “They sound exactly like ‘good’ dog breeds like golden retrievers.” You’re right. Despite the hype, pit bulls aren’t much different from other large breed dogs.
What can you do to help pit bulls?
The negative stigma that surrounds pit bulls has a real-world impact. Partly because of these myths, these dogs are often surrendered to animal shelters. Each year about 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in the United States and roughly 40 percent of those dogs are bully breeds. Many groups across the country have stepped up to help these deserving dogs.
The Dolly’s Dream Project works with our shelter and several others to promote the adoption of bully breeds. The project regularly selects two bully breed dogs at our shelter and underwrites their adoption fees. These Dolly’s Dream dogs also go home with supplies that will help them settle into their new lives. One of our current Dolly’s Dream dogs is Bubba (A534376).
Humane Society of Broward County with help of Dolly’s Dream also started The Pit Stop. From Halloween parties to dog friendly happy hours, the Pit Stop hosts a number of low-cost events through the year that promote bully breeds in the area. The Pit Stop will host a special event on Saturday at our shelter on 2070 Griffin Road in Fort Lauderdale to celebrate National Pit Bull Awareness Day. That day, the shelter will lower its adoption fees on adult bully breed dogs by 50 percent. So come stop by the shelter, you just might make a new friend for life.