The Pittie Problem

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.

Bowser and Mohawk, two very friendly-looking dogs

By Bipolar Gurl

Bipolar Gurl is an artist and... well, that's about it really. Multi-talented she is not.

28 replies on “The Pittie Problem”

I’m extremely fond of pit bulls and really want one, but I’m kind of despairing of ever finding an apartment in Boston that’ll allow them. My current landlady is generally wonderful but only allows dogs under 20lbs. If I ever adopted it’d definitely be a pit, but I’m really missing having dogs around so I might see if she’s alright with me fostering (shelters’ll be fine with a landlady-imposed under 20lbs rule, right?). It just kinda sucks because my current apartment is great – big but cheap as fuck in a really quiet neighborhood. Though I do want to live in JP eventually when I can afford it, so maybe then.

Cecily, that is too bad. Boston has breed-specific legislation, which makes it really tough.

Our rescue had people who could only foster small dogs. Also, it’s my experience that it’s hard to guess a dog’s weight by looking at it (you probably wouldn’t believe how much basset hounds weigh), so you probably have some wiggle room.

Actually the state of Massachusetts struck that down recently, but landlords themselves are still given the final word on pets, and that’s the issue. My landlady’s already struck down pits, though I might try a miniature pit terrier since I also like those.

My grandfather had a dog that was half German Shepard, half coyote when I was a small child, there are pictures of me riding him like a horse. He also apparently let me hold on to his fur to stand up when I was first learning to walk. Breed is really not a good indication of temperament. I do understand the reasoning that an aggressive large dog is more of a problem than a small one, but from my own experience I have been bitten by small dogs, but never by a large one.

You make a good point, that large aggressive dogs are more dangerous than small aggressive dogs. It’s one of those unfair issues where the chihuahua next door to us would be taken much more seriously as a threat if he was larger, whereas Bowser is considered a threat without showing any aggression at all.

Wow- half coyote? That’s very, very cool =)

<<——– This is Melvin. I adore him. He has a lot of the tendencies that Moretta describes with being a bit overaggressive with play and not being able to take him to a dog park. He also takes house guarding duties seriously and makes his presence known when there's a knock at the door. Oh and he also barks at thunder so I like to joke that he's protecting us from Thor.

All that being said, he is the sweetest, most loyal dog I think my family has ever had. Also scarily intelligent. We haven't run into problems since my parents own the house, but I get side eye every time I take him for a walk. We have him pretty well trained for the leash and I try to walk him at times where there aren't a lot of people or other dogs. They are a great breed though and not deserving of the reputation they have.

Melvin is adorable. He remind me soooo much of Bowser, he even has that white patch on his chest.

Bowser is a bit more chillaxed, but him and Mohawk do play a little rough, which has scared kids before. They do it with a grin though, so we know it’s not actually aggressive.

But I agree with you and Moretta- dog parks = bad idea!

Look at that doggie grin! What a snugglebiscuitfuzzybooface!

I’m an established cat lady, but I grew up with big dogs, and several of my best friends have been big “tough” dogs, including a handful of very lovable pitbulls. (Those faces! How can you not love them?) I also once worked with a pitbull who was a therapy dog, and he was awesome at it, matched only by an elderly basset hound who’s ears had magical healing properties.

I think the only way to effectively counter the unearned backlash the breed is getting is with education, and sharing stories like Bowser’s is a great contribution.


I am not a fan of “aggressive” breed labeling. Individual dogs have distinct personalities, and MOST are inherently sweet and want their person to be happy and safe. Aggressive behavior is nearly always the result of human neglect or mistreatment.

There was an SPCA fundraising event in my city last month, and I was downtown at the tail end of it. All of the pitties — ALL of them — wanted to be best friends with every person and dog they met. I was sad when one was trying to convince its human to let it be friends with me — in the middle of a crosswalk. If we were on the sidewalk, I would have stopped.

Lol, I think Bowser would enjoy that!

And it’s true- most dogs really are people-pleasers. It’s just a matter of how they’ve been raised/trained with fewer exceptions than you might think.

The SPCA fundraiser sounds like it was awesome. Anytime there are many pitties in one place sounds like a blast =)

I co-founded and ran an animal rescue for a decade. We got our dogs from a rural area, so most of them were hounds. The hounds that were failed hunters had often been treated in a manner that was so cruel that they had neuroses for the rest of their lives. We also encountered a lot of pit bulls, some of whom had been abused by people I can only think of as psychopaths. What amazed me about the pit bulls is that even when first rescued and were in immense pain and often near-skeletal, they WERE HAPPY TO SEE HUMANS. They also all recovered psychologically, unlike the hunting dogs. They have superb, loyal, dare I say optimistic, temperaments.

That said, ANY dog that is high-energy and very strong needs to be trained and managed. For example, they can play too rough if they get excited, so we tell owners not to take them to dog parks. I used to compare them to Bam-Bam Rubble: super-sweet, super-strong, and need to be given good direction. (I have since stopped doing that since the Flintstones were in reruns when I watched them and I’m not sure of the show’s continued cultural relevance.) It’s up to the humans.

They can be neurotic in the best of cases. They are a combination of profound emotional sensitivity and complete cluelessness. In the case of traumatized hounds, routine and keeping them a teensy bit overweight is what works for most of them. A teensy bit overweight helps because they don’t deal well with hunger. My hound was tied to a tree and abandoned. She has been with us for a decade, and she still bears the emotional scars.

Yeah, as a teenager dog, this hound ate All The Food plus small trees and pieces of bricks and etc. They had to switch her to metal bowls because she broke a ceramic one and then chewed/ate it. And she was soooo clever/sneaky at finding new bad stuff to chow on. She’s past that stage, but I don’t know how she survived it.

Now that she’s a little older and chunkier, things do seem to be better.

I absolutely agree! They often bounce back- they’re just such resilient dogs, that for the most part just really want to please.

That said… we don’t take Bowser to even the regular park, unless he’s on a short leash and it’s a really big park, or a trail. Even if he doesn’t cause a fight, if another dog causes one you can bet he’d be to blame. We had an issue when we were at our last complex where a dog attacked Bowser, and even though he did nothing in response (he seemed more confused than anything!) the other owner tried to get us in trouble.

But definitely, with all pets you have to know how to take care of them, which includes how to train them. They can be high energy dogs, which scares some people.

Totally agree that banning dogs based on specific breeds doesn’t make sense. Most animal charities that I’m aware of agree.

The “nanny dog” thing, though, seems to be a myth. I’ve seen a few articles debunking it and none able to substantiate it at the time period you refer to.

Thanks for reading! And definitely breed specific legislation doesn’t seem to address the real issue of how dogs become aggressive and how dog bites occur.

I appreciate you bringing the ‘nanny dog’ issue to my attention. I’ll have to look into it more. From what I’ve seen there are plenty of adorable old photos of children with their family pit bulls though as you’ve mentioned I have yet to see anything substantiating the actual claim beyond some cute pictures. I will delve deeper =)

Look at that face!! Who’s a good boy?! I just wanna drop down on the floor and play with those happy faces!

My grandparents had a pit bull when I was in high school and he was one of many candidates for Best Dog Ever. And my granddaughter’s dad is having a housing issue because of a pittie too. He and his fiancee are trying to find a place but there aren’t many that will rent to people with a pit bull. I think one of the towns around here banned them.

It breaks my heart when dogs are put down because of the owner’s behavior, teaching them to be aggressive. It’s completely unfair and the punishment is misplaced.

There are a few counties in my state that euthanize pit bulls. It just breaks my heart. I feel like we jumped into getting a pit bull without fully realizing the consequences- we were lucky they are allowed in our city, we didn’t even think to check! I hope things work out with your granddaughter’s dad and his fiancee. It’s definitely an uphill battle.

I wish I could bring Bowser to the internets. He would have too much fun saying ‘hello’ to everyone! =)

My gut reaction to hearing bad talk about pit bulls is usually anger, but I try to remind myself that education is such a huge part of the issue, and is usually what’s at fault. There are so many bad messages about them our there, it’s no wonder people are afraid of them. I think the more the word is out there the better the atmosphere will become.

Oh man, I’m so sorry to hear about your complex. Pit bulls have been getting the bums rush recently. It’s sad that people keep blaming dog breeds for aggressive behavior that (if present) can be curbed by good owners and a loving home. I had neighbors recently hit by a similar rental issue here, and that pit was an absolute sweetheart. I used to play fetch with him on my way home from school whenever he was out. Yes he would accidentally scratch the crap out of me if I didn’t throw the toy fast enough (he got super excited for fetch) but he never did any more damage than my golden retriever for the same reason. It’s ridiculous.

We’re very fortunate to have some options right now- and very lucky that the legislation didn’t go through! I think most people who have been acquainted with well-adjusted and happy pit bulls are more understanding (like yourself.) And yes, though Bowser is a wonderful dog, he also gets quite excited at times and scratching does happen with him as well, lol. =)

Leave a Reply