“My knight in shining FUR?!” This may have been what a woman in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was thinking last month when a pit bull came to her rescue thwarting an attempted robbery in which she was held at knifepoint.
The 52-year-old woman said in a Myrtle Beach police report that she was taking her boyfriend’s pit bull for a beachside stroll near 76th Avenue North on the evening of December 18 around 6:00 pm when an unknown assailant approached her. It was reported in both “The Charlotte Observer” and www.examiner.com that the knife-wielding man, who wore dark clothing and a ski mask, held the knife to her throat and demanded her cell phone and anything else that she had with her.
The suspect, who WBTV News 13 described as a white male 5’7–5’8 with a stocky build, could have easily gotten away with her phone, purse, and even HER LIFE! Well, not if her four-legged friend had anything to say about it!
As soon as the man put the knife to her throat, her canine pal intervened by showing aggression and biting the would-be robber who escaped with nothing but a hand covered in bloody teeth marks.
This is by no means the first story in which a pit bull has played the hero.
In fact, while doing research for this article I was surprised at just how many pit bulls have saved the day. If you google “pit bull saves” or “pit bull helps” you will be encounter a plethora of media headlines: PIT BULL SAVES NEIGHBOR FROM FIRE; PIT BULL PULLS CHILDREN FROM BURNING CAR WRECK; PIT BULL STOPS HOME INVASION; PIT BULL SAVES OWNER FROM SEIZURES; PIT BULL SAVES CHILD FROM KIDNAPPING; PIT BULL LEADS GOOD SAMARITAN TO UNCONSCIOUS OWNER; PIT BULL TAKES BULLET INSTEAD OF OWNER AND RUNS OFF BURGLAR; or my personal favorite, PIT BULL SAVES TWO WOMEN FROM COBRA, DIES WITH TAIL WAGGING. The stories of bravery and loyalty displayed by pit bulls are endless, and to those of us who are fortunate enough to know, love, or own a pit bull these descriptions of the breed as selfless, valiant guardians come as no surprise.
However, the breed continues to be misunderstood and stereotyped as ferocious in the media. Pit bull attacks, like any other dog attack are inarguably tragic, but in comparison to the tens of thousands of happy, loving, loyal family dogs who sit on the other side of the spectrum, those violent occurrences remain isolated incidents. How did these creatures become so misrepresented? After all Petey, the dog on the The Little Rascals, was a pit bull, and so were his numerous stand-ins and other dog actors who took his place when he was not available. The cast and crew of the series have always said that the dogs all worked graciously with the lot of child actors who grew very attached to Petey throughout the filming of the series. In fact, when Petey died unexpectedly because he was poisoned by an enemy of Petey’s trainer Harry Lucenay, Petey’s child co-stars were inconsolable. How did we get from Petey to the pit bull that we see so often in Hip Hop videos? The tough, intimidating gangsta dog with the spike collar. Also, is there any accuracy in the belief that this breed is actually more dangerous than any other breed? I decided to ask a local expert in Los Angeles where I live.
Steve Brooks, a world renowned, certified, professional dog trainer was kind enough to sit down and have a chat with me. I went to visit him in his Silverlake office, which is adorned with signed photos of the many movie stars and rock stars whose dogs Steve has trained over the years. The veteran dog trainer has trained over 5,000 dogs, a large percentage of which are pit bulls. “When I get a call for a pit bull I get excited because I love the breed. They’re fun, they’re smart, and they’re one of the easiest dogs to train,” Steve told me. According to my research, Steve was correct about the dogs being bright and intuitive; they are considered to be HIGHLY intelligent and the breed boasts scores on temperament tests that are off the charts.
I first asked Steve about his thoughts on the image of pit bulls that we so often see portrayed in the media. He likens this type of prejudice to the way we tend to generalize about humans, whether it be race, religion, or class. “There is a stereotype of a pit bull and about 1% of the time the dog will fit that stereotype, 99% of the time the dog will not fit that stereotype.” If this is true, how has Breed Specific Legislation come about? Breed Specific Legislation refers to laws that attempt to regulate certain breeds. Steve explained that there are numerous factors, an important one being that when dogs end up in the system, they are frequently mislabeled as a “pit mix.” “You’ve got volunteers and minimum wage workers whose job entails labeling these unknown breeds or mutts if you will. I could show you a list of pictures of twenty dogs and ask you which one of them was a pit bull, and I’d bet you’d get it wrong. It’s so hard to tell. A pit bull really is a group of dogs, not a dog. It encompasses several breeds.” So according to Steve when you really take a closer look at the offenders of dog attacks there is a large margin of error. “These people that are making the decisions about this stuff in politics are not educated about dogs. They are passionate, but they are not dog behaviorists, they are not scientists, they are not vets.” Curious if the longtime dog trainer’s information was accurate, I later scoured the Internet in search of the truth about Breed Specific Legislation. The available studies all lead to the same conclusion. Dog bites and attacks do not decrease in communities where breed ban/regulations are in effect.
The more you swim around in the murky waters of the pit bull debate the more it seems important to shed a light on what can be done to improve the breed’s image. Steve thinks it would help if the media focused more on the fact that in the last few years pit bulls have played an active role in areas of service. They are being used more and more in search and rescue, the military, law enforcement, and even in children’s hospitals. I was glad Steve brought up children. I had heard so many conflicting statements about pit bulls and kids. Although, I’d witnessed toddlers grab tennis balls out of my own “pit mix’s” mouth numerous times without my Lucy batting an eye, we’ve all heard the horror stories. I asked Steve if he thought a pit bull had a greater likelihood of biting a child than any other kind of dog. His answer was a definitive “no.”
He went on to explain some of the history of the breed. “When you look at the bloodline, yes, unfortunately in the past, they have been bred for fighting, bull baiting, and bloodsport, but what a lot of people don’t know is that they were also bred as nanny dogs, for taking care of the children, guarding the property, and being farm dogs.” When I inquired as to whether or not he recommended pit bulls to families with children, he replied, “Yes, they make great family dogs but there are exceptions to every rule, which is why anytime you are mixing small children with ANY kind of dogs both the children and the dog should receive training.”
At K9U in Los Angeles, Steve’s dog training headquarters, pit bulls are trained just like any other dog. His training is rooted in reward based positive reinforcement. He doesn’t believe in force, threats, or intimidation. “I’ve trained thousands of quote unquote ‘Bully Breeds,’ and I don’t like that term. You don’t need a pinch collar, choke collar, or a shock collar to train a pit bull. You can train them just like any other dog.”
While one lucky woman in Myrtle Beach clearly has a hero on her hands, I ended my conversation by asking Steve his opinion about the notion of “a bad dog.” Did he subscribe to the bad seed theory? The idea that sometimes a dog is just plain bad. “There’s ignorance or lack of education, there can also be a lack of early socialization and training, but there is no such thing as a bad dog.” He looked out at his giant tree-filled yard. It was recess at the dog training facility and there seemed to be every breed under the sun, frolicking happily in the yard. “There are no bad dogs.”
Written by Chloe Taylor