Pit Bull Awareness Month. It was originally organized to shine a spotlight on dogs described as Pit Bulls and their mixes as a way to help newcomers learn why they're valued members of our families. But what ARE pit bulls?
What we know . . . Hella Dogs!
No one has exact numbers, but according to the Banfield Pet Hospital chain's yearly pet registration round up, dogs labeled by their owners as 'Pit Bulls' still rank among the top five most popular 'groups' of dogs in the US. Your guess at an exact number is as good as ours, but with an estimated 90 million dogs in the US, Top Five = a LOT of Pit Bulls.
But Those Labels!
Which label to apply to individual pit bull type dogs of unknown origin is a hotly debated Internet topic and can include terms like: 'Bully Breeds' 'Pit Mixes' - or, our favorite, 'Blocky Dogs' - referring to whatzit dogs with big noggin heads. Many prefer to call them 'Mutts or 'Mixed Breeds' if they don't have a pedigree or DNA results. But are we really a country of Blocky Headed Mutts?
Embark: More Science, More Pieces to the Puzzle...
Recent advances in DNA testing are shifting the conversation about the dogs we see in our cities yet again. A surprising number of adopted dogs labeled as 'Mixed Breed' or 'Pit Mix' by their shelters then later tested through Embark are coming back as purebred American Pit Bull Terriers... aka Pit Bulls for short. Just as surprising, we're starting to see dogs with neatly divided American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier markers in their breed make-up (see slide show). How is that possible? Embark explains:
'We distinguish these two closely related breeds by collecting diverse purebred reference samples for both of them and seeing which of the two is a closer genetic match to and sometimes, in the case of mixes, the answer is both." - Embark
What does it all mean? We're not sure yet, but the breed type mysteries being solved by Embark are worth watching. Check back here often as we download more data from Embarked Blocky Dogs who've been adopted from animal shelters.
No Cookie Cutter Dogs Here
Still Individuals. In spite of looks, labels and genetic mysteries solved, Blocky Dogs, pure APBTs, ASTs, SBTs, American Bullies and their mixes still follow the rules of modern science, as do other dogs. That is, we know that appearance alone cannot determine a dog's personality or predict future behaviors. And even though there are indeed traits and tendencies that run common in breeds, a dog's behavior cannot be predicted by his breed or mix of breeds. (Link: How does that work?) As always, a dog's behaviors are typically a reflection of human-driven factors including and especially their person's style of management: Conscientious and responsible? Casual, unrealistic - maybe even lazy? Criminally neglectful and reckless?
Despite the popularity of the dogs and progress made in repealing Breed Specific Laws around the country, families who own Blocky Dogs - Pit Bulls or other - are still likely to face challenges including discrimination, housing shortages, lack of affordable training and vet care along with other obstacles. Many but not all of their challenges are fueled by stubborn breed biases and stereotypes. This climate pushes a large number of Blocky Dogs into our animal shelters when their families hit a wall and surrender their dogs or give them away to people who may not be ready to provide a permanent home.
Read here for just a few examples of real people facing real struggles and the ways a small amount of support can lift them up. Keep'Em Home Stories
The Time is Right for a New and More Focused Awareness & Activism
The holistic advocate knows that the key ingredient to Blocky Dogs' joy and success is a community that values and supports the human-canine bond. We can start by celebrating the many ways we've evolved to see dogs - especially the Blocky Dogs! - as the individuals that they are.
Pit Bull Awareness includes waking up to community-based challenges, and addressing those needs with solution-based strategies. The ultimate goal being a little more balance and fewer dogs in crisis.
One town's BSL nightmare may be another town's oppressive housing shortage may be another town's overcrowded animal shelters may be another town's cruelty trends may be another town's lack of affordable training or spay/neuter resources ... And in some towns, it may be all of the above.
Becoming aware - "Pit Bull Aware" - starts with recognizing the trends in your town that threaten the bond between the Blocky dogs, full breeds and mixes and their people and taking steps to right those wrongs. We're working on it. Thousands of our friends including you are working on it. Progress comes in baby steps and it starts with a promise, so let's all promise to STAY WOKE to move the dogs we love and their families into a more enlightened era.
We thank you for your awareness!