Today I was walking to my mother’s apartment from my place with my two dogs. My younger dog Tala is a wiry and energetic brindle we rescued two years ago. She displays the hallmark breed characteristics of a Plott Hound (the state dog of North Carolina), both in look and temperament, but here in New York, few people have heard of a Plott Hound and she’s usually assumed to be a pit bull and subject to all the prejudices associated with the breed.
Now, Tala is a big bundle of energy and, being a hunting breed, has a strong instinct to chase fast-moving objects. She has a rather annoying habit of lunging and barking at people on wheels—skateboards, razor scooters, rollerblades. It’s a behavior without malice (if she managed to catch up to one she’d probably jump on the person and cover them with kisses) but it’s still a behavior that is less than desirable and we’re working to train it away.
Ideally, if I see a scooter/skateboard/rollerblader approaching, I make Tala sit, correct her if she starts to bark, and, once she’s stayed calm and let the person pass, she gets lots of praise and a cookie. Today however, a woman on rollerblades turned the corner unexpectedly and Tala seized the opportunity to lunge and bark at her. Being on a short leash she didn’t get too far, I quickly pulled her back, gave her a stern “No!” and made her sit. Once she’d calmed down we turned around to find the rollerblader still there, fists raised. Now, I certainly don’t want to get in a fistfight with anyone, so I offered apologies and explained she’s not viscous, just overexcited. The woman tells me “I’ve been bitten by a dog before, and I don’t back down anymore, I’m ready to fight ‘em.” I realize this woman doesn’t want to fight me: she wants to fist fight my dog.
So, clearly we’d run into your run-of-the-mill NYC crazy person, ready to assign killer-dog status to your average pet and fight it out bare-handed in some sort of dog-on-crazy-lady death match. We hightail it out of there, across the street to my mother’s building where we cram into the elevator with a woman and her infant grandchild and their large stroller. I wave hello at the smiling baby and hope the grandmother doesn’t think I have killer dogs too. But quite the opposite: this trusting grandma thrusts the baby right at my two dogs and says, “Look at the doggies! Woof woof!” Where Tala eagerly lunges again, this time to cover the baby in her slobberiest kisses.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a great idea to shove your baby at unknown dogs (checking with the owner first is undoubtedly wise), but it was nice to see someone who didn’t have the pit bull prejudice and, in fact, took it to the opposite extreme. I am hopeful that one day, when dog fighting is a thing of the past and owners are more schooled in training and socializing strong breeds, pit bull attacks will be exceedingly rare and thesedogs will be appreciated as the friendly, trainable, and non-aggressive beings they are by nature.
For the record, Oliver, who is larger than Tala but more cuddly looking, rarely elicits a comment from anyone.
For some information on the myths and facts about pit bulls check out these web pages: