Remember back in the 80’s when we’d settle around the TV to watch Miami Vice on a Saturday night and every time there was a drug dealer on there’d also be ferociously barking Rottweilers and German Shepherds? And everyone was like, omg, Rotweilers and German Shepherds are so scary, only drug dealers have them! Well that’s what the pitbull type dogs are perceived as now. And guess what, every movie and TV show featuring criminals also feature square headed barking dogs.
Here’s a little history for ya. At the turn of the century in America it became a status symbol to buy living breathing status symbols called pure breed dogs. These dogs had to have a certain look that rich people decided were most valuable, like smushed faces in pugs or short legs and weird down turned mouths in bull dogs. Mixed breed dogs were for the working class and the poor. Pitbull type dogs were associated with cruel bull baiting and dog fights of the lower class.
Little has changed in the modern day where pitbull types are now deeply associated with crime, the ghetto, poor people, drugs and violence. But just as it is unfair to the Standard Poodle, a smart and incredibly athletic water dog, to be considered a dog of the hoity toity that wants to be dressed up in bows and have silly haircuts, it is just as unfair to associate the pitbull type, a loyal and loving family dog, with criminals and a “lower class”.
This is why, what grosses me out most about dog biases is that they are based on prejudices people hold against the people that own the different types of dogs, not the actual dogs themselves. Let’s imagine for a moment a young black kid in the ghetto walking a standard poodle with bows in his hair. It seems ridiculous right? But why? What if that kid grew up learning about dogs and just loved poodles and saved up and got one for himself and the poodle became his beloved family pet? Isn’t that possible? And quickly, picture an upper middle class white couple going on a sunset walk on the beach with their pitbull type of dogs that just want to run and play with no interest in being blood thirsty maniacs. Isn’t that possible? The answer to both is yes but the subconscious bias exists deep in peoples’ brains that have been reinforced by TV, movies, cultural biases and news reports.
So, the other evening, when a guy walked up to our big square headed babies, who were wrestling on the beach, oblivious to everyone, and began questioning us about why they weren’t leashed (they actually were-burn!) and stating that we’re endangering his son by having them on the beach because, “they’re pitbulls, aren’t they?” he said smugly.
I know exactly what he was really saying because I’ve experienced this quite a few times with my dogs. What I always find striking is the venom and disgust people like him display to us, the dogs’ owners, as if we’re monsters for owning these dogs and we should be spoken to with disgust and be dismissed because we are worthless just like our dogs. In my experience, no discussion or display of love from our dogs will change these peoples’ minds. Like most prejudiced people, their minds are made up.
Britt and I were shocked and went to answer that they actually were both leashed but he was too busy pulling out his phone to film our criminal behavior of having two pitbulls on leashes wrestling on the beach I guess. As a joke, we started smiling and a waving at the man filming us, showing their leashes. We were making a joke about it but anyone that has had a camera weaponized against you will know the rage it triggers for the following reasons: 1. Person filming thinks it’s his fucking right to film people without our permission 2. Is suggesting we’re doing something wrong that he needs to record to have proof of our crime 3. It is totally dehumanizing and a power play.
So when he demanded our names and said he was calling the police because of our vicious dogs, my head almost exploded. I picked up Ree Ree, tennis ball still in her mouth, and carried her like a baby straight at his camera saying over and over, “Is this vicious? Is she being vicious? Look how vicious she is!”
He held his camera out further, filming ReeRee enjoying her extra attention. She relaxed into my arms, her droopy eyes half closing as she chewed her ball rhythmically. But he was righteous in his beliefs. “What is your first and last name.” he demanded again. “That’s none of your business.” I answered.
The fact is, if he were truly concerned about dogs being off leash on the beach in general, he would have accosted the owner of the leash free, pure breed Huskie that we all had passed about 100 feet ago. If he were worried about how dangerous my dogs were he could have asked, before approaching with his camera, if our dogs were friendly and we could have had a more open dialogue. If he really wanted to know if our dogs were safe we could have told him all about them.
We would have told him that Jasmine always has a 30 foot leash on because she grew up in the pound and the outside world terrifies her. At any minute she could decide she’s in danger and bolt towards the highway. It took me two years to even get her to leave the car when we got to the beach and so it’s a wonderful accomplishment for her just to be joyfully running and playing like any other dog. We could have introduced her to his little son and he would have seen that she would do anything for little kids. That even though she’s scared of water she will round up any kid she sees at the beach that she perceives has gone too far into the ocean.
We could have told him that Ree Ree is on a leash because she injured her knee playing fetch and that she’s gripping her ball right now because it’s her security blanket. When she’s scared or nervous she searches for one of her balls and grips it until she’s calm again. Would he want to know why? Would he care to know that she was kept in a drug dealer’s bathtub in a small apartment awaiting her fate of being bred over and over again until her body gave out? He wouldn’t care that at about 2 months she was stolen by a drug addict prostitute and her arm was immediately and mysteriously broken. She was full of worms. She was starved so she’d “stay small like a bonsai tree”. When she did eat it was things like Spicy Cheetos and pancakes which gave her explosive diarrhea that she’d be beaten for. She was left alone on a roof in the hot sun, day after day, her paws getting burned by her urine she was forced to stand in. At night we could hear her panicked barking as man after man entered and left the studio apartment where she was tied up in the bathroom. When we got her, a friend described her perfectly by saying, “It’s like she’s feral”.
Knowing my girls’ stories, knowing how hard it’s been for them to recover so they are able to play peacefully on the beach like normal dogs, makes these situations even more hurtful and enraging. To have your dog be victimized since birth and then, at any time, they can be re-victimized by thoughtless, prejudiced people is a constant burden of pitbull owners.
“Sunde, let’s go!” Britt shouted. He knows when I’m winding up. I waved at Britt and then turned back to the guy still filming me. “You’re prejudice. You’re a dog racist!” I shouted before walking away still carrying ReeRee in my arms.