A Word About Pits

If you read The Dogs of Beaumont Heights, you might get the impression I’m afraid of pit bulls. In reality, I tried to underscore how sometimes these dogs are abused. Pit bulls, which are actually four breeds of terriers grouped together, are strong animals with powerful bites. Hence, they’re used for dog-fighting rings and often used as attack animals by various unsavory types. Naturally, this has soured the breed’s (or breeds’?) reputation.

And every pit bull I’ve dealt with I wanted to take home. We actually had one for a week, but we had to take him back because, well, the cat was there first, and she did not respond well. To put this in perspective, said cat will demand I get up at 4 AM to feed her. Jim does not exist before 5 AM on a good day. The cat does not believe this. As for our poor little pit bull mix, he got snapped up by another family before he could go back onto the SPCA’s website.

My first encounter with pits came at a time when Cleveland newscasts made ratings hay out of pit bull attacks. My parents had just moved to a temporary home for the summer after the house we’d rented was sold. My mother asked me to go next door to say hello to the neighbors and invite them over for dinner. They weren’t home. But two very territorial, snarling pit bulls came tearing around the corner. I was used to our dimwitted shepherd mix Seamus (Yes, we named him for the Pink Floyd song.), to my friends’ labs, labradoodles, German shepherds, and the odd pug. These dogs figured prominently in news stories featuring the word “tragedy.” I screamed.

One dog skidded to a stop and started yipping like she’d been kicked. She disappeared around the corner of the house. The other hunkered down in a gesture dog owners know well as submissive, paws out with head on the ground. She whimpered.

From that point on, I learned to love pit bulls. One memorable encounter happened in Burlington, Vermont, where my family and I stopped in our New England trip. We went out to watch the sunset over Lake Champlain. In the park along the marina, I passed a gentleman walking his dog. It had this goofy smile on its face. I stopped and pet the animal. The goofy smile got wider.

“Is this a pit bull?” I asked.

Here’s where we’ve fallen down as a society. Pit bull owners feel they have to get defensive or apologize. Given the dog enjoyed the attention from this strange man from Ohio, he had nothing to worry about.

“Yes,” the owner said hesitantly.

“Love pits,” I said.

The pits I’ve encountered, like the two that scared the hell out of me back when I just graduated high school, have been a bit high strung. They have to be trained to be mean, which is what happens in The Dogs of Beaumont Heights. When they’re not, they can be aggressive – What dog can’t? – but they tend to be skittish. When socialized and trained well, they’re very friendly, like the grinning dog I met in Vermont. After all, Petey the Dog of Little Rascals fame was a pit bull. Actually, he was several, given how long the Rascals ran.

The ones running the fighting ring in the story are doing very bad things, as is Linc, who thinks mean dogs make great guard dogs. (Spoiler alert: They don’t.) At the same time, one attacks Heather Leary, the former stripper trying to rebuild her life. Once the dog, named Phyllis, is at the vet, she calms down and realizes Heather is not a threat. And that’s all she wants. Heather wants to adopt Phyllis, but ends up taking one of her puppies instead.

Now some may be outraged. Why am I advocating for a breed banned in places, especially when I’ve also portrayed them in a negative light? Any dog can be dangerous. Okay, dachshunds and chihuahuas are easy to defend against, but Pomeranians are the spawn of Satan. At least my grandmother’s was. But consider that most dangerous of canines, the dog’s ancestor the wolf. My wife had a wolf as a teenager. The only person who ever had anything to fear from that wolf was the water truck driver who, shall we say, was not a very nice person (and ended up fired and in jail. Not to mention pissed himself when my later father-in-law, all 6’2″ of former Green Beret, chatted with him under Wolf’s loving gaze.) Many of the same people who swear pits should be hunted to extinction also find it charming that my late father-in-law domesticated a wolf, an animal designed to rip your throat out.

But if you need to see a pit bull in her ideal situation, I present to you my stepson’s dog, Ginger. This little sweetie may not like strangers (making her a good watchdog), but she obeys her family and is everyone’s fur baby.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ginger.

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