‘Vicious’ Pit Bulls Label Is Just a StigmaNational Pit Bull Awareness Month
Chris Capp, 62, of Cedar Bonnet Island, grew up loving dogs. Over the course of his lifetime, he has owned nine different varieties, including a Labrador retriever, poodle and mixed breeds. But when he started volunteering at the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter three years ago, he did not think he would wind up falling in love with and adopting an American pit bull terrier.
In honor of National Pit Bull Awareness Month, dedicated to changing perceptions and stereotypes about pit bulls and their owners, Capp did not have any trouble coming up with enough good things to say about the misjudged breed.
“Many people think they are killers, that they’re brutal monsters. But that’s what I find so ironic and so crazy, because of the nine dogs I’ve cohabitated with, the two pit bulls have been the most docile, the most friendly (and) the most loving out of all of them,” said Capp, playfully kissing his most recent adoptee, Sarah, a year-old pit bull he rescued from the shelter just a month ago, after his first pit bull passed away from an accident.
Originally looking for a way to spend time with cats and dogs without the responsibility of taking care of a pet after traveling and moving to Florida part-time, Capp turned to the local shelter in Stafford Township to get his “animal fix.” Before he knew it, he had adopted a 1½-year-old pit bull named Daisy. She was contrary to everything pit bulls are assumed to be: violent, temperamental, disobedient and unpredictable.
According to Capp, many people who met Daisy believed she had been trained as a service dog because she was so intelligent and well behaved. Or they presumed he was a dog whisperer.
“I don’t think that’s it at all,” Capp admitted. “You literally tell these dogs something once and they get it through their head. Training is a misnomer. You just simply talk to them like people,” he said.
Dorothy Reynolds, president of the Friends of Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter, attested to the aptitude of the breed. They were once the breed of choice, after TV shows such as “The Little Rascals” gave them a good reputation. Unfortunately, the public is now fearful of them because they have become so widely used in dog fighting, primarily for their acute trainability and ownership loyalty.
“Now as soon as people hear ‘pit bull’ they think, ‘dog fighting, Michael Vick,’ etcetera,” said Reynolds. “People who do come in, however, and give the pit bulls a chance, come back to us later with pictures and stories, saying they never thought they would adopt a pit bull, but it’s turned out to be the most wonderful, loving dog. And they’re so glad that they did.”
Pit bulls were once known as the “nanny dog” and were often used as babysitters for young children. In Capp’s case, Daisy and Sarah have been wonderful caretakers of his mother, Irene Leonetti-Capp. When his mother fell in the house, Daisy’s incessant bark helped make him aware of the situation.
Sarah, in the one month she has known his mother, even keeps a watchful eye on her whereabouts, making sure she is safe at all times.
“These dogs are wonderful,” said Leonetti-Capp. “(Sarah) comes up on the bed, and she wants to be sure that I know she’s there. She’ll pick up my arm and put it on her body. The first time she did that, I almost cried.”
Before adopting Sarah, Capp said he thought Daisy must have been trained as a service animal to become as compliant as she was. Now he is convinced pit bulls are subservient creatures, truly dedicated to their owners and families.
“I never disliked pit bulls, or was against any specific breed. But you always see these young, punk kids, usually insecure males, walking down the beach, usually in Florida, with their pit bull and smoking their cigarettes, acting tough. That whole image and that whole stereotype, I really detested. Based on that alone, I thought I’d never own a pit bull,” Capp confessed. “But now I’ll never adopt anything other than a female pit bill. They’re so gentle and docile. They’re fearless,” he added.
“People tend to be automatically afraid of them, and I think it’s because of their appearance. They look like they would be powerful, evil monsters. But it seems the bigger and stronger the dog is, the more they realize they don’t have to be bad-asses. When an animal is large and strong and capable, it doesn’t have to be like that,” said Capp.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma against pit bulls, and they are often the most prevalent breed found in animal shelters, a trend that began in the ’90s. Some of them are surrendered when families move, couples divorce, or their owners get sick or die, or simply do not have the time to take care of them anymore. A large number of them are abandoned by people who thought they could get rich by breeding them.
“We almost always have pit bulls at the shelter,” said Reynolds. “It would be an unusual day if there were none there. It’s really been very sad what’s been done to that breed.”
Although many people seem to be frightened by even the mention of the name “pit bull,” Reynolds said the dogs are usually “just big loves.” Of course, some of the pit bulls brought to the shelter have been bred for fighting – and cannot be put up for adoption.
“There’s no such thing as a bad person, or a bad dog. It doesn’t matter what breed, what nationality, or what race. We’re all products of our environment,” said Capp. “These dogs are like a mirror: if you show them love and give them love, they show and give you love.”
To learn more about National Pit Bull Awareness Month, visit http://www.nationalpitbullawarenessday.org/October-is-National-Pit-Bull-Awareness-Month.html.
For more information about the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter, visit www.fosocas.org/.
— Kelley Anne Essinger