It Does Matter

I haven’t had a very good day. My PH is sick with a bad cold and I’ve been worried about him. Shiva and I struggled in this morning’s agility class over a simple exercise that left me incredibly frustrated. She got really vocal and upset as well and it left me really uncertain. I didn’t get nearly as much accomplished as I planned and my living room is still a mess. Then, just a half hour ago, Shiva had a bad reaction with a stranger that upset me deeply.

We had been walking along a residential sidewalk, after dark, minding our own business. When a woman came down her driveway, yelling at me for allowing Shiva to pee on her hostas. Shocked at her tone, I struggled to apologize. I didn’t really know what to say. I never allow Shiva to walk on other people’s property. The plant in question was located along the city-owned boulevard by the side of the road. If she urinated on it, it was no doubt because many dogs had before her. While I appreciated the woman’s concern for her flowers, I didn’t appreciate being spoken to in such a way. It bugged me but I just wanted to get out of there.

So did Shiva. Undoubtedly she sensed my worry and irritation. As the woman walked closer to us in the very dim light of a street lamp, I felt Shiva tense. I told her I would make sure to remember her plants in the future and turned to hightail it. The woman took another step and Shiva lost it. Barking, lunging, the whole nightmare scenario. All I could do was walk away, murmuring apologies. The woman remained unimpressed.

I could tell myself it doesn’t matter what other people think. I’ve been told I worry to much about such things a million times over. But the truth is, in this context, it does matter. It matters a lot. The thoughts of other people affect laws, change lives. The opinions of  others decide whether or not certain dogs get to live in apartment buildings, play at parks, or exist at all. When your dog looks like she could be a pit bull, her public actions are not just representative of my skills as a trainer, but they are emblematic of an entire subset of breeds. When Shiva freaks out at a toddler, she isn’t always just a dog who is reactive to children. She is one more vicious pit bull in a long line of many. Depending on who is watching, she is proof of why BSL is necessary.

Today is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. I wasn’t originally going to write anything because I didn’t think I could say anything that hasn’t been said before. Lately I have felt like I am better off banging my head against my desk over and over again. Everyone reading this already knows the story. You know that pit bulls aren’t naturally vicious. Many of you share your homes with dogs like Shiva, who “look like they could be…” You are the ones who get it.

This evening, instead of vacuuming the living room rug, I read some really awesome posts, like the one at Something Wagging This Way Comes . I decided to head out for a walk with my dog to see if any inspiration would come to me. It was while mulling over a few different ideas the incident occured. After shaking off the nerves, I knew I couldn’t let the day pass without saying at least something in the name of thousands of misunderstood dogs.

When I was a kid, my childhood dog was attacked by a pit bull while I was walking her. Thankfully we were both okay and my dog escaped without serious injury. The episode was upsetting, I won’t lie. Oddly, it didn’t give me a fear of pit bull type dogs. Not even with all the rhetoric spewed by the media and my own parents. However, it did leave me terrified of dogs tied up on chains. To this day it makes me nervous and I won’t approach any dog left unattended in a yard. Not even a golden retriever with a wagging tail.

As you all know, dogs are just dogs. Any dog has the potential to be “vicious”, just as any person does. Not every dog in the world is going to want to be my new best friend, just as I am not going to love every human I meet. Expecting otherwise is unfair at best and deadly at worst. Sometimes, some dogs are aggressive. Sometimes, some people are psychotic killers. Just because I’ve had a few altercations with passionate gardners, doesn’t mean they should be banned.

Regardless, as I said above, you all know this already. You are on the same team. How do we get others to switch sides?

I guess all we can do is keep at it. Keep writing blog posts, keep engaging people in conversation, keep showing the world what amazing pets pit bull type dogs can be. It’s not easy work and it’s often thankless. I will do my best to take inspiration from blogs like Love and a Leash and Two Pitties in the City. The writers of these spaces have already changed the minds of many people who were formerly afraid of the bully breeds. No matter how exhausting it is, I can’t give up now. The fight is too important. The dogs are too important.

25 thoughts on “It Does Matter

  1. Sorry you and Shiva had a rough day. To turn this experience on its ear, I guess you could look at it in the light of that you had gone out for a walk seeking inspiration, and you found it. Not in the way you expected, or would have wanted, but inspiration nonetheless. And the post you wrote as a result was well-written, and it was, indeed, important. Hope PH feels better!

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  2. Shiva reacted to this twit of a woman because she felt YOU were being attacked. Next time someone comes out verbally swinging, I would warn him/her that you own the dog for protection. We don’t have city boulevards for our dogs to do their business on, so of course they’re going to pee (and worse) on people’s lawns. That’s why I try to walk the dog in the dark.

    I just had a whole “argument” with a lunch guest about whether pit bulls are inherently vicious. I don’t think I convinced him. It doesn’t help that a pit bull with issue lives on our street. I found myself in the extremely odd position of defending a dog that once attacked Our Best Friend.

    Shiva doesn’t look anything like a pit bull to me. What am I missing?

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    • I don’t know, but I have had many people tell me (friends and strangers) that they think she is part pit bull. I have also heard from several people that “a dog who looked just like that attacked me”. Personally, I do believe she is part Am Staff mix. It’s a breed that is very common out here, especially in the neighbourhood Shiva was found wandering in. It fits. Not everyone sees it, but enough people do that it could cause problems if we were to move to a county or province that has BSL.

      I’ve had those arguments too so I sympathise. For the last few months I kind of just stopped because I didn’t feel like I was doing anything useful, just getting upset and angry without accomplishing anything. But I do think it’s important to say something. Maybe you didn’t change his mind right away but perhaps you made him question his beliefs just a little.

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      • Sorry Lori. I just realized that you said Our Best Friend was attacked by the dog. WOw. I admire you for defending the dog. I wonder if it changed the guy’s mind? Maybe it didn’t look like it, but I am sure it left him thinking.

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  3. One of the things I have always believed is – if my dog doesn’t like someone – I don’t trust that person. Shiva maybe sensed something about this women that was threatening. Trust your dogs instincts – they are not often wrong. I have learned to trust my dogs reaction to people. There instincts are usually sound. Maybe she was not reacting to you – but what she sensed was off with the woman.
    Hope the PH is feeling better soon – lots of team with lemon, honey and maybe a little rum – used to always work when he lived at home.

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    • The reason I think she reacted is mostly due to the dim lighting and the stance the woman was taking. She doesn’t like people who walk directly towards her while staring. This woman did both. Typically Shiva reacts to strange men because they almost always approach this way. I think my agitation ramped it up a little. The woman also clearly does not like dogs.

      I have managed to convince him to take some medicine and he has been taking it easy. Hopefully he will be back to normal before work tomorrow!

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  4. I can appreciate your frustration! For us, Morgan is a challenge, and part of it is because Miss Bossy Pants thinks she knows better than we do about a lot of things, and strangers is one of them. Most of the people we meet are fine by her, but some are highly suspect for whatever reason she deems.

    I might meet one in a hundred people who are afraid of Bunny when we’re out walking, and those are usually people who deeply fear all big dogs. But being out with Morgan has opened my eyes. We actually had to down stay Morgan almost off the edge of a dangerous trail while we were out hiking today because a woman was so afraid of her. People cross the street all the time to avoid her, and that’s without her barking or showing any sort of aggression. The best I can do is to train her well and expect exemplary behavior of her when she goes out in public, so that people can see from her example that Shepherds aren’t a bad breed.

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    • German Shepherds do have a bit of a reputation as well, don’t they? There are several in my neighbourhood and while their owners work very hard to train them – I have watched them myself – the dogs are still just a little too territorial. Shepherds are a tough breed, but a wonderful one if they are with the right people. I have been fortunate to know several and they were all sweethearts. I have no doubt Morgan is too.

      Actually, my PH’s favourite breed is GSD and I am sure we will have one ourselves eventually. I’d love to try him or her out in agility!

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  5. You are being far to hard on yourself and Shiva.

    Shiva was protecting you.
    That woman should have spoken to you in a more civilised way.
    As to the dog training, well we all have an off day. Well Shiva isn’t a robot.

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    • Thanks, Sue. No, Shiva isn’t a robot. I am not beating myself up about what happened. She is who she is. Reactivity is never fully cured and I think I handled it very well all things considered. As soon as we were walking away, Shiva was completely fine. Two years ago that would not have been the case.

      But I am still a little over sensitive I guess about these things. I probably just need to grow some tougher skin.

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  6. I am so sorry you had such a rotten day Kristine. That makes me sad.

    I know it matters that Shiva is a good citizen, but I think in this case she had reason to be protective. The combination of the woman’s tone, your tone in response, the dim lighting and the fact that the woman kept approaching you, probably led Shiva to believe you were in danger. There was no wrong behavior here. Shiva was taking in all sorts of stimuli that led her to believe she needed to act the way she did. It doesn’t mean I don’t understand your worry, I do. I often try to imagine what it is like for those who own a pitbull. There’s so much disinformation, hype and irrational fear out there when it comes to pitbulls. It’s not right and it’s not fair. But, in this case, I think you and Shiva should give yourselves a break. Jasper would have reacted the exact same way given the circumstances.

    I felt bad for not doing something on Pitbull Awareness Day. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was Pitbull Awareness Day until I read Pamela’s post. Since then, I have been reading some great posts on this topic. I hope you don’t mind if I share a few links to 4 posts done by Mary Haight over at DancingDog blog. She did a series on an organization (funded by HSUS of all things) that takes guys fighting dogs and helps them to learn how to train and do agility with their dogs. I thought you might find them interesting. I know I did.
    Program for Pit Bulls and the Back Story – http://www.dancingdogblog.com/2010/11/program-for-pit-bulls-and-the-back-story/
    Antidote To Dog Fighting, Chicago’s Fledgling Program Goes National – http://www.dancingdogblog.com/2009/05/antidote-to-dog-fighting-chicago-fledgling-program-goes-national/
    Part II End Dog Fighting: 13-Year Dog Fighter’s Story of Change Through Training – http://www.dancingdogblog.com/2009/05/part-ii-end-dog-fighting-13-year-dog-fighters-story-of-change-through-training/
    Part III The Pit Bull’s Redemption Begins at Home – http://www.dancingdogblog.com/2009/05/part-iii-the-pit-bulls-redemption-begins-at-home/

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    • Thanks for the terrific links, Mel! I don’t always get over to Mary’s blog as often as I should and I am definitely interested in any program that combines dog rehabilitation with agility. The sport certainly did wonders for us!

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  7. You are being so hard on yourself! You are a responsible dog owner! It sounds like this woman was making a big deal out of nothing. Shiva is a good dog – you just had a rough day! You are a good representative of the breed and you are giving an honest representation of what life with your dog is like. Don’t fret! We all love you!

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  8. I’m sorry you had such a rough day! First, I wouldn’t have ever labeled Shiva as a pitbull mix. But if she does have some in her, she is in GREAT company.

    I agree with previous commenters that Shiva was just defending you. That woman had no right to confront you – if she plants her precious flowers on the public sidewalk strip, then she cannot say one single thing about it. Absolutely no right. The thought of that whole situation just gets me riled up! But I would likely have done the same as you – our concern in these situations is protecting and reinforcing training with our dogs. Not telling idiot women where to go shove it.

    And lastly, I hate how dogs are maligned for peeing and pooping. I have never once heard or seen anyone tell a squirrel or chipmunk where to shove it and they most certainly relieve themselves all over our precious lawns, landscaping and gardens. Can we, as a society, just chill out????

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    • LOL. Word. It’s just poop. Sheesh.

      Thanks for your support. Your comment cracked me up. I appreciate all of your encouragement.

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  9. Sorry about your altercation 😦 It’s unfortunate that this woman chose to take out her frustration on you and Shiva. I agree with everyone else – you are being much too hard on yourself and Shiva!

    I hope you, Shiva, and your PH are feeling better soon!

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  10. We expect so much from our dogs. And people who don’t think much of dogs expect even more from them.

    It sounds like Shiva behaved appropriately, and like a dog. But I can relate to how you feel. I can even summon up the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at the confrontation.

    I hope you and Shiva cuddled up with the PH (after donning a germ mask, of course) and put mean hosta woman out of your mind. She might have just been having a bad too.

    Thanks for the shout out!

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  11. The thing is, there are always going to be people who don’t like, or are afraid of, this breed or that mix of dog. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control is your dog’s behavior. We own Chessies. They are considered the bullies of the retriever family. Our dogs have to be better behaved then say a lab or a golden. Just the way it is. We don’t stress over that, but rather make sure to keep our dogs’ obedience up to snuff. This includes our dogs understanding that it is not their job to protect us, (you see a breed trait among Chessies is that they can be too protective and with bad results). We work to make them understand that we are in control and if we tell them not to bark or lunge at a stranger, well that is just the way it has got to be. Fair or unfair.

    It sounds like you handled the situation very well and Shiva’s obedience training worked. You moved her away and she went. She did as you asked. Hooray all of that work paid off! You really should be proud of that. Giving Shiva the gift of obedience training and showing others that she is a good canine citizen, (not perfect but still an obedient dog), is really the best thing any dog owner can do to change hearts and minds. It is a series of baby steps.

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    • How interesting. I had not heard that about Chessies before. The first dog I fell in love with at our shelter was Sailor, A Chessie. I’ve loved the breed ever since.

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  12. People who are mean to animals and people who judge animals based on their physical traits will always exist. But I really think that there are fewer and fewer of them, and we’re working toward a future when they are the minority. When somebody says something boneheaded about pit bull type dogs being inherently aggressive, everybody will turn and scowl like we do when people say that women or people of african descent are less intelligent than white men. I really think progress is being made. It’s just slower than we’d like.
    I wear my feelings about pit bull type dogs right on my sleeve, but I don’t try to change people’s minds about the very broad and diverse group of medium-sized dogs with blocky heads and short fur. It’s too hard, and I’d rather let people change their own minds. If I can help them with the assistance of a sweet, mild-mannered, honey-eyed foster, I am often more successful.
    Hope you got a good nights sleep, a big glass of wine, and a nice warm bath.

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  13. oh man, that’s absolutely terrible. i’m always very self-conscious about where my dog is doing his business, and i keep him off of people’s “real” lawns. we have grassy areas along the curb in my neighborhood, too, and i feel like these should be fair game. i mean, where else are you supposed to go? the sidewalk? the street? should you pick up your dog and carry him/her until you get to a spot that’s OK to use as a potty? i’m not suggesting that dogs should be allowed to go anywhere they want, but people need to understand that dogs need to go somewhere. i realize homeowners are responsible for taking care of those curbside grassy areas, but it’s pretty well-known that dogs use those and some kids walk in them, so why would you even bother planting flowers there?

    now that i’m thinking about this, there’s a house with flowers planted around the base of a tree in this grassy curbside area–and they have a little sign (in the shape of a schnauzer, actually) that uses ALL CAPS and an exclamation point to inform you to keep your dog off their flowers. i’m sure this is a terrible thing to say, but that sign makes me want to have desmond go there all the more. like, give dog owners some credit. we’re not morons.

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    • Those signs tick me off as well and if I could get Shiva to pee on cue you better believe I’d get her to do it right on top of those signs. It’s one thing when it is on someone’s actual property but on a public boulevard? Please. Keep your passive aggressive signage to yourself. It’s offensive to my senses.

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