Like any family dog, Bowser is a loving, loyal companion. He’s one of those large dogs that thinks he’s a small one. He enjoys sprawling on the couch, regardless of whether it’s currently occupied. He loves toys that squeak, and will frolic like a puppy to the high pitched sounds. He’s also rather lazy. He’ll sunbathe for hours, looking up at you with an irresistible puppy dog stare when you insist he moves from his resting spot. He loves meeting new people, and will bowl you over in his enthusiasm to say “hello.” He loves other pets, and is great with children. In short – Bowser is a good, sweet dog.
So when we received notice that due to a change in management at our apartment complex we will either have to move or get rid of Bowser, we were devastated. No history of complaints, no signs of aggression, just the plain and simple fact that there’s one thing on paper working against him.
Bowser is a pit bull.
Bowser came to us a little over two years ago. My wife and I were browsing the Craigslist pet section. With myself now working a full time job and freelance, and my partner disabled, our current companion, Mohawk, needed a playmate. We were neither drawn to nor opposed to any specific breed or size of dog. But when we saw Bowser’s (then Boyd’s) photo, we were smitten.
When Bowser and Mohawk first met, they ran around the apartment like old friends meeting for the first time in years. To this day they’re inseparable.
For many other pit bull owners, this and other similar stories are unsurprising. Once upon a time, pit bulls were known as “nanny dogs.” Families would choose them as pets for their children, due to the breed’s loyal and gentle reputation. In a 2010 study by the American Temperament Test Society, pit bulls were scored 86.8%, as opposed to the 77% from the general dog population, making them the second most tolerant breed. According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, “controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.” Think back to the Little Rascals. Petey was a pit bull. Stubby, famous for his actions in World War I, was a pit bull, too.
So why the fear? Why are pit bulls considered so dangerous today that they are euthanized instead of given the chance for adoption? The origin of the war against pit bulls comes down to one thing. Dog fighting.
The view of pit bulls as an aggressive breed perfect for dog fighting began in the 1980s. There’s no clear reason for this phenomenon, but because of this attitude, pit bulls quickly became the fighting breed of choice.
Things got worse in 2001, with a man named Michael Vick. A quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL, Vick’s rise to stardom became infamy when in 2007, he was found guilty of running an interstate dog fighting ring, with pit bulls at the center.
The reaction from PETA and even the Humane Society of the U.S. was to want to euthanize the 51 dogs involved. Having never met a caring soul, the dogs were declared vicious and unsaveable.
Once rescued, the pit bulls were sent to six animal-control facilities in Virginia. The outcome for the dogs seemed bleak. That is, until the story broke and they became canine celebrities overnight. When Vick was found guilty, the ASPCA and a team from BAD RAP were tasked with evaluating the temperament of the dogs. Despite the odds stacked against them, 47 of the dogs tortured in Vick’s fighting rings were actually saved.
This brings to mind two more characteristics of pit bulls. Resilience… and forgiveness.
But while most of the dogs had happy endings, the breed as a whole suffered. This only contributed to the bad reputation of the breed and cemented them as fighting animals in the eyes of the general public.
Because of the mistakes of some pit bull owners, the breed is under attack.
Policies specific to certain dogs, commonly known as an Aggressive Breeds Policies, are the norm in many cities. There are few apartment complexes that do not abide by some form of policy denying any breed publicly thought to be aggressive. This can include pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, German Shepherds, chow chows, and boxers among others. These policies mean the complex will refuse you admittance if you have pets of any of these breeds, including mixed breeds. Your pet need not have even shown any signs of aggression at all to be denied access.
The reason behind this comes down to an oversimplification of a larger issue. The first is a lack of public education – irresponsible and often abusive ownership has now been conflated with aggressive behaviour in specific breeds of dogs.
The second factor is greed. Apartment complexes simply do not want to shell out higher insurance premiums to allow “aggressive” breeds of dogs. And this doesn’t just end with renters, it also affects homeowners. Owning a dog of a breed that’s considered aggressive can affect your homeowners insurance. Some insurance companies will deny you or drop your coverage based on the breed of your dog, under the belief that by not insuring “at risk” pets they can avoid hefty dog bite lawsuits.
In many cities, there are policies that refute the right of citizens to own a pit bull. Shelters are forced to euthanize pit bulls upon seizure. My own city considered this policy, though thankfully they lacked support for the legislation.
So when you have a pit bull, where do you go? One option is buying a home and researching insurance companies that will give you coverage despite your pet’s breed, or renting from a non-affiliated homeowner. Apartments that aren’t run by management companies tend to be more flexible, usually with the addendum that they need to meet the dog first. Check your local legislation on owning a pit bull when moving.
We are fortunate. Because of the high volume of pit bulls in our complex, we’re being given one more lease before we have to move. But when there are now only two complexes that allow pit bulls, there are few options.
But to look at Bowser and watch him play with his “brother” and best friend, you wouldn’t know that thousands would wish him dead. That there are people in power that would have him euthanized. That people will cross the street in fear of him. Our family will be moving in a year – because no matter his breed, he is family.
In the meantime, Bowser will be enjoying the couch.