How I Became “The Pit Bull Gal”

I am an all breed sort of person. Growing up, we never knew a time where one breed was deemed better than another in my family. I do remember that the folks down the street had a Doberman on a chain in the garage and we weren’t supposed to approach him, but more because he was on a chain than that he was a specific breed. Other than that, dogs were dogs. We had a poodle and an all American mutt. We think she was German Shepherd, Beagle, Huskie, Collie, but who really knows for sure? You got them from the shelter and you tried to figure out what they were because it was fun but it didn’t really matter in the end.

As I grew up, I became fascinated by the differences between breeds. There were herding breeds and retrieving breeds and field breeds and terrier breeds. No traits seemed to be better or worse, just that if you wanted a dog who might be more likely to play fetch, then maybe you wanted a Labrador Retriever and if you wanted a dog that would go hiking with you then probably a Pekingese wasn’t a good first choice. Beagles bayed, Greyhounds could run like the wind but preferred sleeping on the couch, Schnauzers were pretty protective of the house, and Aussies nipped at kids heels if they didn’t walk fast enough.

The first experience I had with a Pit Bull Terrier was when I was a young adult. One day, my 10 year old female neighbor started pounding madly on our front door screaming, “Tony’s pit bull is loose! Tony’s pit bull is loose.” Tony was a young punk that lived down the street. I knew he had a dog but not much else. I opened the door and my little friend tumbled into my house, white as a ghost. I peeked out the door, expecting to see some snarling frothing monster. What I saw was a dog that couldn’t have been more than 8 months old, chasing a butterfly on my front lawn. I heard the little girl gasp as I grabbed a slip lead and stepped out the front door to get the puppy. She slammed the screen door shut behind me and I could feel her eyes in the back of my head. As soon as the pup heard the commotion he dropped his head and wagged his way over to me. I bent down to greet him. I swear his tail was a crazy rudder, wagging back and forth and throwing his body all over the place. No sense of body space, he crawled straight into my lap and proceeded to coat my face in slobbery kisses. After returning the dog to his home, I went home to a face that spoke of awe. In her mind, I had tamed some horrible beast. We talked about how dogs are just dogs and that no breed is inherently meaner than any other breed – that they just want love the same as people do. We did talk about basic dog safety and hopefully she left with a little less fear than she had arrived.

Years later, I started posting a small online newsletter called Kim’s Fuzzies showcasing dogs in local shelters and rescues. I had fostered a couple of dogs through a few small rescues and was starting to meet some of the people who worked in the shelters by me. One day I was introduced by a friend at the humane society to a woman who was working on starting a pit bull rescue. Knowing that I put out the newsletter and had some web skills, my friend thought that I could help out with promotion for this new rescue. It wasn’t long before my new pit bull friend asked both of us to be founding members on the board for her rescue. I didn’t really know that much about pit bulls but figured that lab or poodle rescues probably had more than their share of volunteers, and pit bulls really seemed to need someone on their side.

I have been with Pit Bull Rescue San Diego for 6 years now. I am the current Board President and involved in most aspects of the day-to-day activities of the rescue. We’ve grown from the initial 3 people with a vision to over 100 active volunteers who follow a passion guided by that vision. We have rescued and adopted out almost 400 dogs. I have personally fostered about 30. I have learned a lot about pit bulls since those initial days. I’ve learned more about what I love about them than what I don’t. I love that they wag with abandon, kiss as if their lives depend on it and have no idea that they are not 5 pound lap puppies. I love that ear to ear grin and the funny little nose wrinkle that goes with it. I love how smart they are, how easily trained and how very eager to please. What has not changed in my perception of them is that, to me, they are still just a dog, subject to the same quirks and varied personalities as any other breed of dog.

I’ve definitely met some pit bulls that are pretty unsavory, but I’ve also met unsavory dogs of pretty much all breeds. These days, my initial introduction to many dogs is in a shelter setting. I would think that might be the worst first impression situation, to meet a high energy terrier kept in a small kennel. However I have never been bitten by a dog I’ve met in a shelter. I’ve been bitten by dogs 6 times in my life – all family pets – once by a lab, once by a golden (my own), three times by Chihuahuas (go figure…) and once by a pit bull. Based on how many more pit bulls I’ve met in my life, one bite against the many really seems comparatively low.

I am fortunate that, in my position at the Petco Foundation, I have been able to bring my knowledge and passion for pit bulls to a national level. I am the National Pit Bull Advocacy Program Manager, in other words, the “pit bull gal” at the Foundation. One of the first opportunities I helped to approve in his role was the initiation of a series of educational workshops about pit bulls/bully breeds.

We’ve sponsored the first two of a series of day long seminars, primarily aimed at educating animal workers (shelter workers, rescuers, animal welfare organizations) about pit bulls. The first was held in Boulder, Colorado, in November, 2010 and the second was held on the first day of the Prairie States Conference in June 2011.  I’ve spoken at both (public speaking NOT being the forte of a self-confessed computer nerd).

At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I am pretty proud of the number of topics that these seminars cover. The seminar includes several highly knowledgeable speakers and provides thorough information on what a pit bull is, as well as what the public believes that a pit bull is. The workshop seeks to debunk some of the common and persistent myths about pit bulls, to separate their reputations from how they actually present in a shelter, discusses ways of keeping them engaged in healthy ways, and presents techniques on how to educate (not mislead) the public on the pit bull issue. The speakers discuss evaluation techniques, enrichment programs and behavior observation tips. The workshop is interactive and allows time for the attendees to offer their suggestions and tips as well. The attendees learn what discussions they should have with potential adopters before and after the dog goes home. There is also some time spent discussing the newest updates on breed specific legislation and how it is affecting surrounding shelters and rescues. As you can see, it is a packed and exciting day aimed at re-energizing those who are on the front lines trying to save these magnificent animals. At the Prairie States Conference workshop, we even gave away a few on-the-spot grants to lucky participants. It’s an incredibly dynamic workshop.  We will be doing about 6 more in the coming year and, as a testament to how much I believe in the advocacy of this breed, I will likely be speaking at all 6 workshops.  If you’ve ever had a desire to hear me public speak, this is likely the only opportunities that you will have as I don’t anticipate enjoying it enough to branch out into other topics.

I would encourage anyone, however, who is passionate about anything, to explore all the avenues that that passion offers as I think that the fact that I am willing to do things I am terrified about in support of a cause I believe in speaks louder than any speech I’d give.

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