"...that chestnut-coated pit bull popped back into my mind. I decided to drive over and check up on her, but when I got to the shelter she was gone. In her cage was an old hound dog. I asked the woman at the front desk if someone had adopted her. Her face fell, just a little, but I knew. The dog had been euthanized, put down because of our personal fetishes, the shelter's lack of space, and a whole series of reasons that no longer made much sense to me. 'No one adopts a pit bull', she said, as if that cleared everything up."- Steven Kotler, A Small Furry Prayer
This past weekend was the one year anniversary of me driving from Utah across several states and many hours to pick up a dog whom I had grown to care about greatly but had never met up until that point: Oliver. I usually celebrate my dogs' adoption days as their birthdays, so I'm calling him three years old now.
It's been a tremendously rewarding year with Oliver - he is SUCH a great dog and is beloved by all who know him in my neighborhood in the Bronx. He's beginning to settle a little with age - he still loves to tear around the apartment and bounce off of things, but he also really enjoys his lazy naps, stretching out on the couch, a good belly rub. He's also a great wrestler, a total bed-hog, and an enthusiastic passer of gas. I love him, and I'm glad he's here.
I thought, when I sat down to think about what I wanted to say about him, that I would tell you all about what a wonderful dog he is. His playfulness, his dorkiness, his unparalleled love for people, his resiliency and the love and gratitude he shows daily for the opportunity to recover for the abuse he has suffered in his past. All good points, but I realized tonight that that isn't what I want to say.
One of the most educational aspects of Oliver's companionship over the past year has little to do with who he is, but how people react to him because of what he is. Finding a rental in New York City with three dogs, him included, was very difficult - this is a city of renters, and most housing here bans pit bulls outright. People cross the street when they see him coming on the sidewalk, or afford him a large berth rarely granted to my spaniels. I have the paranoia of the pit bull owner, always scanning all around me when we're out and about - I know if any incident at all, however minor, were to happen with another dog or a person, he is likely to be blamed for everything regardless of facts. There's no need for this. He's a great dog.
Meanwhile, in the city shelter a mere mile and a half from my apartment, pit bull type dogs constitute the majority of dogs killed every single day. Good dogs, great dogs. Dogs that ace their behavioral evaluations. Dogs that are smart, social, love other dogs, know tons of commands, love people. Dogs that would be snapped up in a heartbeat if they were born into the body of a Shih Tzu or a Collie or a Retriever - and it is like this all over the country, in every shelter. The scourge of shelter killing in America is the plight of the pit bull.
And so my simple request and my reflection on Ollie's anniversary: if you're thinking about adopting a dog, I ask you to consider a pit bull type dog. The exact and much debated definition of "pit bull type" doesn't matter, in the end it's a largely academic question; the important part is perception, what people think of as a pit bull - these days, any blocky-headed, short coated mutt. Whatever you want in a dog, you can find among these dogs at your local shelter - active or quiet, loner or social, great with cats and children, pre-trained with a dozen commands, at any age you might prefer. These are some of the dogs dying most often American shelters for no reason other than their appearance and there is quite simply no reason for it. My birthday wish for Oliver and his brethren is that people who care about ending shelter killing lead by example and show the world that these dogs do not have to die by showing the world what fantastic dogs they are and stepping up to take one home. It is sometimes not easy, but rescuers are used to that. It starts with us.
My name is John, and my dog Oliver is an American Pit Bull Terrier.