My brown dog
“What kind of dog is he?”
“A brown one.”
This is the answer I started to give people when they asked me about my dog, Niles.
I got tired of them recoiling in horror when I told them he’s a pit bull, mere moments after they’ve pet him and told me how cute and well mannered he is. It’s what I told the nanny that works down the street who wrinkled her nose, sniffed, and pursed her lips when she commented in her exotic Slavic accent, “Heez ed. Eet iss soh beeg. Vy eez heez ed soh beeg? Vuht kindoff dohg eez e?” (When I really wanted to tell her, “Your mouth. It is so big. Why is your mouth so big? What kind of person are you?”).
Most people don’t even know what a pit bull is. That is because a “pit bull” is not a breed, but a term used to describe three different breeds with similar characteristics: American PitBull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
Don’t believe me that most people don’t know what a “pit bull” looks like? Try playing “Find the Pit Bull.”
People have asked, “Why would you get a dog like that!?” Implying that I must be stupid for putting my children at risk for being mauled and eaten alive by this brutal, savage monster that the media portrays him and “his kind” to be.
“Pit bulls are good family dogs,” I tell people. “Did you know Petey from the Little Rascals was an American Pit Bull Terrier?” or “The Pit Bull was so respected in the early 1900’s that the US Military chose an image of a Pit Bull to represent our country on war posters.” or “The Pit Bull is the only dog to have ever graced the cover of Life Magazine three times.” or “Pit Bulls were also used in advertising campaigns for Buster Brown shoes. Remember those?”
People did not know that. Most people only know what they’ve heard about dog fighting. Before the pit bull, it was Rottweilers that were the bad guys. Before that, Doberman Pincers or German Shepherds. But people, you’re looking at the wrong end of the leash. Dogs are the way they are because of the way they are socialized (or not). How many parents would expect their children to know how to behave appropriately without guidance? It is the same for dogs. They are a responsibility and they need to be educated.
I wouldn’t have picked a dog like this if I hadn’t done my homework. When you agree to adopt a pit bull (and there are just so many of them that need homes), you are educated first. You sleep on the decision. You know you will be facing discrimination. You commit to training the dog. You commit to treating it as one of the family. The only history I had about Niles is the blog his foster mother kept. After several conversations and an introduction, I knew he was good with cats and I knew he was good with kids.
When we first brought him home, he did not know how to use the stairs. He still won’t go into the basement. Even though he looks like a he-man type dog (yes, he does have that big head as well as broad shoulders and a big chest), he has a voice like a squeak-toy, when he chooses to use it, which is not often — usually when he is protesting being alone or inviting the cat to play with him, but rarely when someone comes to the door.
When my veterinarian asked me why I chose a dog like this, I knew she was genuinely curious and not scornful.
“To tell you the truth,” I said, “and you can call me shallow…but it was his picture. Oh, and after I read his story…”
“You got a good one,” she told me.