Why Shelters can sometimes be tough on Pitbulls

Pitties are some of the most sensitive dogs I’ve met.

Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash

Pitbulls really get a bad rap.

From the national headlines about dog fighting to the random stories about attacks on people, pitbulls don’t always come out on the cute and cuddly side of the dog world.

I had a volunteer years ago at the shelter who wouldn’t have anything to do with pitbulls. Seriously. No matter the personality of the dog, she wanted nothing to do with them. She held a steadfast belief that all pitbulls were mean.

On another occasion I took a pitbull puppy to a local business for an offsite event. One of the workers got on the floor to play and cuddle and kiss the little guy.

Eventually she looked up at me and asked, “What kind of dog do you think he is?”

When I told her he was a pitbull she jumped off the floor and backed away from the dog as though he was riddled with mange. The same dog she had just been hugging two seconds ago.

The only thing that had changed was that the puppy now had a label: pitbull.

On the other side of the coin are the stories from families who tell me they wouldn’t have any other breed of dog with their children than a pitbull. One mother told me her pittie would actually break up fights between her kids. He’d push his way between them and shove them apart.

One couple who adopted a pitbull from us took her with them on their honeymoon! Seeing the photos of the pittie on the beach while the husband and wife celebrated their marriage did our hearts good.

It’s so upsetting that a breed as loving and dedicated as the pitbull can get a bad reputation because of irresponsible human beings.

Yes, pitbulls are strong. Yes, you can make any dog mean if you try. Yes, if a human or, god forbid, a child gets hurt we should do absolutely everything we can to keep it from happening again.

But instead of blaming every member of the dog breed, maybe we should look at the people creating the situations where pitbulls can be dangerous. Because pitbulls, like all animals, aren’t born mean. They are much more often made that way by humans.

I’ve known a whole lot of pitbulls who were four-legged teddy bears. Heck we had a 90-pound pittie at the shelter who thought he was a Chihuahua— he’d crawl into anyone’s lap, despite his size.

We’d be gasping for air, saying, “Baby, you are way too big to sit on my stomach like that.”

But not one of us had the heart to push him away. How important is breathing when you’ve got a chance at some doggie snuggles? Seriously?

The vast majority of the pitties I’ve known were also incredibly sensitive and intuitive.

One stand-out story that highlights this is a volunteer with the shelter who adopted a pittie named Gracie. She’d found Gracie running as a stray and brought her into the shelter. After a few days, we realized Gracie wasn’t doing well in a kennel. Living in a cage was just too much for her.

Our volunteer took her home and worked with her and adopted her and just utterly adores her.

One day a friend stopped over to visit and see the volunteer’s husband. During the course of their quick conversation in the yard, the man said something that made the volunteer bristle inside a little.

He said something stupid about animals and the woman remembers being upset and basically shoo-ing him into the house to visit with her husband.

But during this verbal exchange, something rather fascinating had happened.

Gracie, sensing her mom’s distress, walked to the front door and took a stance that said in no uncertain terms: no entry. She wasn’t sure what was happening in the human world, but she knew from what she read off her mom, the man was NOT coming inside their house.

When our volunteer told me this story, she said she was completely amazed because she hadn’t said a word. Gracie had just understood on an instinctive level that she had to protect her mom because of what she was perceiving, even though no words were actually said.

She eventually had to go over to the door and physically remove Gracie from the entrance so the man could see her husband.

I think this really speaks to the connections pitbulls can make with people.

It also makes me realize why pitbulls can break up fights between children. When you are able to sense strife and division on an instinctive level, you’d want to work especially hard to find peace — even if it means putting yourself physically between a human brother and sister to get it.

That’s why living in an animal shelter can be so difficult for pitbulls.

Their innate ability to sense feelings and reactions can make the overstimulation of an animal shelter way too much for them to handle.

After all, if a pittie can perceive feelings from a human, can you imagine what he can get from his fellow canines?

For as much as we try to make animal shelters as comfortable and loving as we can for our four-legged charges, it’s still not a home and many of the animals know this.

Dogs, in particular, are pack animals and often need the security of the hierarchy of a pack. The presence of an alpha and a beta and the rest of the pack rank provides assurance that the dog is not alone.

Dogs can create that hierarchy with other canines or even humans.

Heck, we adopted out a Rottie that lived with seven cats — and he fit right in. The photo we received of the Rott in a bed surrounded by those seven felines was utterly adorable.

Pitbulls really require the cohesion of a pack. At the shelter I’ve seen pitties quickly attach to one or two staff members and kind of “claim” them as their own.

We had one pitbull, named Prince, who had been at the shelter for more than a year looking for his forever home. He finally got adopted by a physical therapist at a local nursing home and he actually became a therapy dog. He helped her residents with their exercises and was a major hit.

It’s that sensitivity, that awareness, that makes the pitbull an incredibly special dog.

The truth of the matter is if you have a pitbull as a companion, I can almost guarantee you’ll have a remarkably loyal friend for life.

Animal-lover, mind wanderer, extroverted introvert. Director of Communications at Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, Pa. www.jennyvwrites.com

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