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Pit Bull at Four

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Here's Chet at the pawpaw festival, thoroughly and incessantly dominating poor Phoenix, who is petrified of him. He kept it up for two hours, making sure huge but timid Phoenix knew who was Tiny Boss. I am not bragging here. It is the Other Side of Chet Baker. I have the feeling that people like him a whole lot more than most other dogs do.
Top Dog is where I like to be.

The paw paw festival at Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio was ... rough sledding this year. Please refer to the link in the last sentence if you would like to know how nice it can be. I did see some absolutely lovely things, like this pair of Percherons pulling the hayride wagonand this paw paw madonna with her glorious lucky babies. Look. Even baby hair was blowing back flat. And her little girl is acting like mine were. Mooooom. I wanna go hooooooome. No, most of my rough time was no fault of the festival, but due to a SW wind gusting to 50 mph, the remnants of that rascal Ike, that basically blew most of the vendors and tents away. Here's the bouncy inflatable castle going down. Eeek! Liam? Are you in there? Can you breathe, honey? A southwest wind always puts me on edge, but this was a doozy, a hurricane, in fact. I was fighting with cranky kids and trying much too hard to have a good time despite being buffeted about the head by a hurricane when I sensed something going down inches from my back where Chet had been quietly sitting at the end of his lead. I slowly turned my head to find a huge white pit bull quietly straddling Chet Baker, staring down into his eyes. She looked exactly like this dog. (image lifted from, only she wasn't smiling.

Chet’s ears, characteristically, were up; he was answering stare for stare. No rolling over and peeing in submission for this American Gentleman. In interactions with other dogs, he’s likely to say something rude and have a quick snarlout, hoping to assert his Napoleonic streak right from the getgo. He’s great with people, but with dogs he’s a bit of a schmuck. And this would be a very bad time to act like a schmuck. Did he sense that? I wasn't going to wait to find out.

Ohhhhhhh…What to do? Avoiding eye contact with the pit bull, I very slowly and quietly threaded my arms under her barrel chest, grasped Chet and in one smooth nonconfrontational movement removed him from the deadlock, hoisting him up to my shoulder. It was a terrible risk to take, but I didn't feel I had much choice, and I needed to act quickly before it got ugly. With Chet Baker, dog-to-dog interactions can get ugly in an eyeblink.

The pit bull immediately and rudely leapt up on me to what? Play with him? Remove the obstructing human? Shake him like a chipmunk and leave me to pick up his pieces? I'll never know. I looked frantically around the festival grounds to see who might own this animal and get its paws off my chest, its huge gaping jaws away from my arms. I saw a twentyish male loping by, sporting a shaved head and one of those undershirts with the huge armholes. (What is it they call those shirts?)

I wondered, not idly, if that person could be this dog’s owner. Call it profiling, call it whatever you want, but he did in fact turn out to be associated with the dog. Cooly noting but ignoring my predicament, he whistled to the white bull and she went romping on ahead of him, stopping the hearts of every dog walker along the way, all of whom had leashes on their pets.

Precisely the point, I'd imagine. Power. Fun. A little dominance, a little mayhem on a Sunday afternoon. Just what a family festival needs, a little stir-up.

I managed to call, "Might consider leashing your dog..." before my knees buckled. Chet kissed me, then whined and strained to run after the pit bull. Sorry, Chet Baker. I'm running your social calendar, and I don't see a date with Destiny on it today.

Another woman over in the paw paw beer tent, where I repaired for a little medication, had a huge brindle pit bull on a stout leash. As it strained toward Chet and he toward it, she asked, "Is your dog nice?" I looked at the scarred muzzle and bulging shoulders of the pit bull, wondered whether it mattered, and answered, "Actually, he tends to pick fights, and this looks like one he'd lose." We went our separate ways, both of us leaning against the strength of our dogs, hoping that our leashes held. Leashes are good; leashes have a function.

I saw a woman walking a tiny Chihuahua on a pencil-thin leash when a big tan pit bull ran over, dragging its owner at the end of its stout lead, to meet and greet this little morsel. The Chi's owner knew the drill, and scooped the frail dog up under her chin before the dogs' noses touched. Oh. That’s how you do it. You don't even let them meet. It’s a bit more of a task to scoop your pet up when he weighs 24 pounds.

I saw the white bull for the next hour, sometimes on lead, more often off, racing from dog to dog. Nice. For all I know she was a lamb, and may have posed little real threat to other dogs. I know that pit bulls can be wonderful dogs when well-managed. They can also be deadlly. I recently read in USA Today (Tuesday, Sept. 30, "A Fight to Save Urban Youth" by Sharon L. Peters, that at least 100,000 young kids are fighting their dogs under the radar in America, according to Chicago-based anti-violence advocate Tio Hardiman, who has traveled to 35 states to assess the problem. Perhaps 40,000 more adults are engaged in organized dogfighting, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

I've got nothing against pit bulls, but whether they ever get to use their tremendous jaws or not, they are amply equipped to maim and destroy. We have created them thus. My problem is the people who own them for the wrong reasons, or fail to manage them responsibly. I won't waste a lot of verbiage on my thoughts on organized fighting; I think the Michael Vick hullaballoo--thank you, you soulless slimeball, for getting caught--admirably brought that under the public scrutiny it deserves. The average life expectancy of an urban pit bull is 18 months. Such an obscenity, this bloody tango, this twisting of a good dog's love and loyalty to its owner into death, destruction, moneylust.

This owner wasn't managing his dog; he was letting her do whatever she pleased, and I couldn’t get past the huge masseter muscles and crushing power of her jaws, and the knowledge that, had Chet chosen to snarl at her, she could have annihilated him with a single bite and shake. How was letting her run free worth that risk for all the other dog owners present? I was angry that this person apparently enjoyed asserting his freedom, perhaps what he feels to be his privilege, by letting her run free in a dog-heavy crowd, when the other two pitbulls, Chet, the cattle dog, the Belgian shepherd, the border collie mix, the redbone hound, the beagle, the three mongrels and even the delicate little Chihuahua were properly restrained. I like the pawpaw festival because it’s mellow and laid-back, but in this instance, a little uptightness would have been an asset. There are always those who think the rules are made for everyone else. Too bad they sometimes own pit bulls.


I think that everyone, dog lover or not, has been irritated, terrorized, infuriated by irresponsible dog owners. Ergh!

But, I have to say that the picture of the Percherons stopped my heart. Ooh, ahh!

I must say, Julie, you tell a terrifying story with such elan that it almost seems like a calm day at the festival.

I agree with KGMom. I couldn't tell that story the way you did, with humor and genuine emotion. And I'm so glad you hoisted Chet up and away from a potential squabble!

BTs don't know they are small next to Pits, Labs, Rotties. That's the problem with them, other than giving an over-abundance of kisses!

Hard-headed Chloe is calm and aloof around all dogs. Sweet Bella is haughty around other dogs when she feels threatened, which confirms why I challenge her IQ. The unsocialized pit bulls who moved next door to us in DE were not nice and she knew it. It was alarming to watch her piss off a pit bull so I took great care in keeping her away from the fence. I wrote about here:

Not long after we moved to NC, those two dogs chewed through the fence, ran into the street, and attacked a dog being walked on lead...

I can't blame the dogs or the breed. Irresponsible breeders and owners are the criminals...

Have you seen "Dog Town" where Michael Vick's dogs are being rehabilitated? Awesome story.

I apologize on behalf of all responsible pit bull owners and am sorry that your pit bull experiences were negative. There is a lot of homework to do before a pit bull qualifies for a public outing and leash free roaming is not only a remedial remedial not learned and irresponsible, it's flat out illegal in the state of Ohio.

Pit bulls are powerful, their public image is poor, but at the same time their capacity for canine social skills and connectivity to humans are the same as any other breed.

Wow. Kathi hasn't been here yet? I'm sure she will have something to say about it.
My thoughts:
I know you aren't anti-pit bull. Yes, they are scary-powerful. BUT. A Lab, a Rott, a Standard poodle...they can also maim. Any dog that isn't properly socialized (spending lots of time around other dogs so they can be reminded of the dog-rules) can be a terror. Our Sheltie was all of 15 pounds and he hurt Isabelle. (May he rest in peace) And a puppy mill (and our ignorance) created him.

That pit's owner was a moron. And what's worse, a moron who could have caused plenty of chaos. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH A LEASH?????

Oh, agreed!

I'm tired of those who don't respect the breed, who utilize an animal to intimidate, and who acquire them not as a pet or an individual in their own right but as an accessory. It's not fair, both to the dog and to those who have to put up with the pathetic machoism of their owners.

I have a (likely) pit mix that someone spent money on a spiked leather collar for, but didn't care to tag or keep safe. He wandered into our yard with severe heartworm a year ago. He is loving with humans, but untrustworthy with other dogs. He never goes out without a prong collar AND a leash on his flat collar.

I can stop him because I train horses. A weaker person could not. And it's a good thing for this idiots in this neighborhood with dogs your beautiful Chet's size, since they see no need to keep their dogs in or leashed or safe.

Thanks for emphasizing that it's the OWNERS, not the breed, at fault here. A dog capable of killing a grown man means an owner carries greater responsibility - much like owning my big Thoroughbred cross means he MUST be taught to stand quietly for the farrier and never kick or bite.

I love your blog, and am so glad Chet Baker came away unscathed.

The shirts with the big arm holes as well as the little tufty (why bother) goatee are called "birth-control."

LOL Pam Croom...

They call those t-shirts 'wife-beaters'. A terrible descriptor, but common slang around here.

Julie, this story is terrifying and sobering. I'm sorry for a world that flaunts irresponsibility and tempts fate with such ignorance.

Glad that Chet is safe, thanks to his faithful - and smart - human.

I think many forget, in their normal daily dealings with dogs, that as much as we'd like to include them in our families, they are still animals.
The nice, friendly dog can turn on a dime--ripping off a child's face (years ago in our neighborhood!) with what no one can explain as the provocation.
And training is only as good as half of the dog-man combo makes it.

We can't even walk our street, with our dog, Franklin, on a leash, because everyone else's dogs are unleashed in their yards. Our approach draws them all out, barking and snarling as we attempt to walk past.
The owner invariably comes running out of the house saying, "oh, I'm so sorry, I don't know why he always does that!"

I do.
Because he's a dog.

Rural areas are still so different then urban areas where the population is denser, thus the need for strict rules about dogs on leashes. My community has so many open air festivals and it seems that everyone brings their dogs. But, I can't imagine a dog running loose, let alone a pit bull! We also usually have a couple of off-duty police hanging out with everyone that would quickly nip that in the bud.

I'm with you though Julie, I wouldn't even think of the danger for myself if one of my animals was in danger of being attacked.

Oh, but that first photo--a gray ghost. I so SO love weimaraners and have wanted one since grade school. But, know that these are definitely working dogs and would not be content just hanging around all day.

Oh, I’m so glad you brought this up. I live in a small town where too many people think its okay to let their dogs loose. I walk my very large Akbash Dog on a leash and about half the time he is ‘accosted’ by loose dogs or dogs walking-off leash with owners who cannot control them. These dogs sometimes ‘pack-up’ and come on to him stiff-legged, tails out straight, and in pairs. My dog is not aggressive, but is able to hold his own in a fight. I have seen him pick up miniature Dachshunds (yes two instances, two different dogs) who insist on getting in his face and give them a shake. I envisioned punctured lungs, broken backs or an owner loosing an arm reaching, in panic for the antagonistic dog. Instead my dog dropped the little bugger, completely unhurt but with a changed attitude. :D

When aggressive dogs meet and are good-sized, mine weighs over 100 pounds; it is rather scary to be on the other end of the leash. Sometimes I just want to turn him loose…but of course I do not. Instead I end up drenched in sweat and shaking in fear as the shouting owner finally catches up with their dogs and pull them away. It is not worth taking my dog for a walk, sometimes.

Of course, these are the same dogs that ‘pack-up’ and chase the deer that live here…not to mention tip garbage and spread it all over. But the bears generally get blamed for those messes.

When I call out to people, as you did, that there is a reason we have leash-laws, if the people even answer at all it is to say, as I’ve heard over and over; “This is why we moved to the country. If my dog can’t be free here…what is the point of having a dog?” I just shake my head, usually too angry to even speak.

Of course, I also hear that with regard to paint-ball guns and kids who shoot them at squirrels; paint-bullets coming through the trees, across the river and into my yard! Talk about a scare when you can hear the pump action, the crashing through the trees and the ker-plunking around you as you garden. I had no idea it was ‘just a paint-gun’; like they don’t do damage.

I also hear it from parents who allow young kids to ride 4x4 ATVs up and down, up and down, up and down the unpaved streets of this little town, spinning circles in grassy areas, digging up dirt and filling the air with pollution and dust; not to mention noise. It is illegal, they are not licensed for the road…but “we moved to the country so our kids could do this kind of stuff; what is your problem?”

I dunno…I hope I am not turning into some angry ol’ broad. I moved to the country to enjoy the wildlife, the peace and quiet and the slower pace of life. [sigh]

I also loved the beautiful shot you got of the draft horses; awesome! But, while I'm not as enthuastic over babies as you are, I have to say the photo of the 'madonna & children' was spectacular. The older one looked to be tickling and kissing the baby as the engaged mother watched. How sweet; a colorful, happy snapshot full of tenderness and fun.

The pit bull breed should be allowed to lapse into oblivion.
Their genetics make them ticking time bombs.
And they don't stop when they go off.

I lived, for 30 years in an environment where pits were not only kept for fighting, but for protection, and as penis extensions for young, insecure men. They made walking down the street exciting, i.e., "is Maldita going to go over the fence and get me this time."

But most of them were just allowed to run fences. It made walking to the store to get food a hazard. They killed all the alley cats, at the behest of their owners. And did it gleefully, I watched it happen a few times, there was nothing I could do.

Pits have been bred for thousands of generations to kill things. They were bred for bull and bear baiting.

My local no-kill shelter is full of the poor can see their scars, and know these poor critters are going to spend the rest of their lives there, in a cement dog one wants them, no one dare take them. They are dangerous.

Any breed of dog can be dangerous, of course. Some breeds are herders, some breeds are fetchers, some breeds are lap dogs, and some breeds are protectors/killers.

Pits need to be kept on leashes at all times, these are animals that can just snap.

Pam, thanks for the belly laugh. Yep, both of those can stop me cold, although I generally approve of artful facial hair.

Meg, I got another really cool shot of the Percherons in which it looks like they're nuzzling teeny little people in the distance--a parallax trick achieved by lying down in the road close to the horses and and shooting across at distant people. I'll try to dig it out of the 16,000 plus photos that are currently gagging my 'pooter.

KatDoc, it'll be a cold day Down Under when one of your comments gets edited out. Thanks for your copious and well-formed thoughts on the "bully breed" controversy. Breed-specific legislation seems extreme, although I could see needing to apply for a permit (and taking a class) in order to own a pit bull... Thing is, I find pit bulls greatly appealing animals, and my anger springs from their abuse and exploitation. When I see a child throwing a tantrum in a store, as I did yesterday, my last thought is what is wrong with the child. My first thought is what is wrong with the parent.

Anybody read "Marley and Me," the "heartwarming" book about "Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog" and throw it across the room in utter disgust a few times? I did. The subtitle ought to have been: "Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog Owners." Baaaah. I would like to write, "Chet Baker and Mether: Life and Love with the World's Best Doggeh." Think anybody would buy that?

LOL@ Pam, and totally agree!

Julie - I'm glad Chet had you to rescue him! I thought of you when I saw the news story about the guy who punched out a shark to resuce his rat terrier. I could picture you doing the same.

A few years ago I was walking Jim Dandy (age 14 and a whopping 6 pounds) on leash in our neighborhood. He was minding his own business, walking along and sniffing the sidewalk when he was attacked by...

... a Golden Retriever. Yep. Those big teddy bears that appear in all the warm n fuzzy family ads. The dog bolted across the yard silently, no bark or growl, just a lunge and a bite. Jim hadn't made eye contact, nor barked at the dog - he was busy walking and sniffing. I yanked him up into my arms (he had a harness, not a collar) and held him up over my head. Fortunately another woman was walking her own (big) dog behind me and the Golden bailed out.

When I notified the owner of the attack her first response was "well, if you didn't have a small dog that wouldn't have happened. She was traumatized by a small dog as a puppy". I was livid at her total disregard for Jim. She repeated that statement to the Animal Control officer who took my complaint. He blinked, then said "ma'am, your dog's psychological issues aren't a factor here; you are required to keep your dog under your control at all times. The next time there's a complaint from anyone, your dog will be taken from you and put down."

She paid all of Jim's bills but never once apologized, acknowledged that she was at fault, nor asked how Jim was doing. She was snotty and whined to me that I didn't *have* to file a bite report (oh YES I did so it wouldn't happen to another dog!) To this day, I still feel that if I saw a truck speeding toward her and she was looking the other way, I'd remain silent and not shout a warning.

That incident, coupled with repeated trespassing by strays (who's to say that even on lead Jim was safe in his own yard if one was hostile?) we fenced our entire back yard so he'd have a safe haven to take a walk in. Jack and Robin now have the joy of running "free" without being tied down by their poky human (Jack is insanely speedy) and no fears of being attacked by a nutball dog. They enjoy outings to the wild bird store and the pet food store, and Jack sometimes goes to outdoor fairs with me (he enjoys outings more than Robin, who is overwhelmed by too much noise). I mostly have to carry him since he's only 4 pounds - he's smaller than most people's shoes.

This comment section was better than last night's debate.

Thanks, Katdoc - I knew you'd offer good sense.


"Chet Baker and Mether: Life and Love with the World's Best Doggeh." YES I WOULD BUY IT.

Holy cow Julie. I was tensed up the entire time I was reading your post waiting for you to then write about how that dog eventually did find a victim. Shivering here. It is sad that the dog is so many times the extension of the owner. His swagger and nonchalance told you everything you needed to know about how that dog would have responded had you not intervened. Glad it turned out the way it did and that Chet is OK.

Thanks for the story Julie.

I myself am pretty terrified of pit bulls, even though I've met a very nice one. I've read too many awful accounts in the newspaper of maimings and killings of pets and children alike. I believe in Ontario they either have or plan to ban the breed.

Something I've been told is animals can smell or somehow sense fear in other creatures. Whenever I cross paths with a big, angry-looking dog, I have to concentrate very hard on not being scared, but I don't know if it works! Having been attacked by a german shepherd as a small child, fear is usually at the front of my mind when I meet a big dog. Can dogs actually sense fear, and does it cause a violent dog to attack?

Good story. Chet is one lucky pup to have such a brave momma.

PS not to say that I support a breed-based ban (don't mean to open up that debate), just to show that in some communities people there have been enough incidents/there is enough fear that such a ban is considered.

i agree, much better debate than the other night! i work with animals on a daily basis and realize that pitties get a bad rap, BUT the owner is responsible, as with any breed! i have never been "attacked" by a dog at work, but have been to the ER twice for cat bites....


It is true that animals, including dogs, can sense fear. Whether this is via smell, or body language, or some "6th sense," I don't know. I do know that if I am on edge when I go into an interaction with an animal, that situation is likely to escalate into trouble, where if I am calm, assertive, and in control, it is more likely to be easier to handle that pet.

~Kathi, interfering again

I knew I wouldn't read a "bully breed" blog entry without someone bagging on a chow.
As the proud mom of a 13-year-old chow chow who's never so much as attempted to bite anyone, lemme say, Julie, I completely agree with you... PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH. I don't care if it's a cocker spaniel (which I also own) or a chow.
My Harley (reg. 1995 Fat Boy Harley) has seen me through 13 years of moves, relationships, job changes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.
He's been the most loyal of friend. Stuck with me through thick and thin. Like dogs do.
His groomers have all told me the most difficult part of grooming him has been to get him to stand up. He'd rather lay down and rest than fight. He gets on the grooming table and adopts this attitude like "the sooner I cooperate, the sooner I can go back to my life."
Harley and I have lived in three states (job-related moves) in the 13 years I've been blessed to have had him. No groomer, nor vet, has ever needed to muzzle him.
Does he look intimidating? Certainly. Do I think if he thought MY life were in danger, he'd protect me? Without a doubt. Have I taken him with me, anywhere dogs are allowed, to serve as an ambassador for his breed? You'd better believe it!
His best friend, when I lived in Florida, was a miniature pinscher. They'd play, Harley on his leash, the min pin running loose in the yard I shared with the adjacent townhouse, for hours on end. Harley never got rough with the dog. Eventually, Harley would tire, the min pin would keep pestering him and finally give up and they'd snooze away, completely tuckered out, seemingly oblivious that one weighed 60 pounds and the other 6.
Children have used Harley as a pillow at outdoor concerts and festivals when I take him with me while I work at booths for my job. My neighbor's daughter snuggled with Harley on the couch when she came to my house last year trick-or-treating, too tired to continue on to do anything but join the big fur ball on the couch for a nap. I've watched my mom's bichon crawl UNDER Harley and stand eating from Harley's food bowl while Harley just lifts his head and lets her eat. He knows if the bowl gets empty, Mom will refill. He has no worries!
A girl at Petsmart last weekend told her mom she wanted to "dopt (adopt) the bear dog." She came up to Harley and looked him in the eyes. Her mother gasped. Then Harley laid down on the floor and she laid down next to him, petting him, telling him how pretty he is. I explained he was just there buying treats, he wasn't for "doption." Her mother told me she was scared to death when she saw her kid approaching a dog (I explained that probably wasn't a good idea) "especially a chow," she added.
"I get that all the time," I told her.
Then she told me how pretty he was, how well behaved and how surprised she was that he was so loving and so gentle.
To which I replied, "I get that all the time, too."
Certainly, there are dogs that can do more damage IF they bite than other dogs. Obviously, the wrong dog in the wrong hands spells disaster for everyone involved, including, most sadly, the innocent dog who was trying to do nothing but obey its master. Of course, there are dogs more easily trained than others. A chow falls under ALL these categories: They can be easily trained, they can do damage IF they bite and they will stop at nothing to please their master.
Harley, simply put, was raised right, as has been Chet.
If only people were.

Gosh... sorry to take up that much space, Julie. And I'm not here to fight or squabble or argue one breed vs. another. ... I just wanted to give a different perspective on the chow.

Our Boston, Fiona, picks fights with other dogs too. Loves all humans, schmuck with other dogs. And I agree, it's that Napoleon thing: "I'm small, so I'm going to attack first." When someone brings a dog to our house and lets it out of the car before I get a chance to say anything about it, after an initial snap and growl they seem to, usually, work it out for the most part. But often it does end up with the other dog begging its person to save it from this overbearing little creature.

I seriously love your blog, your writing and your art. But as the owner of 3 "pit bulls", I just wanted to add a couple of points to those others have made

1) any small dog is at risk from any large dog, regardless of breed, it's true, and the owner of any large dog that doesn't keep it properly or uses it to threaten people or other animals is beyond cretinous.
2) "pit bull" is kind of meaningless, as it refers to any blockheaded shorthaired dog. Denver kills many boxers and Labs for the "crime" of being "pit bulls". Virtually no one these days knows what a real American Pit Bull Terrier looks like. The dog that scared you could have been anything. And that's why breed bans or restrictions are so illogical, and unfair.
3) pit bulls are NOT physically different from any other dog; I was particularly surprised to see you, so dedicated to science and knowledge, imply otherwise
4) surely you know that Chet's breed (the Boston BULL terrier) was, at its beginning, just a local version of the American Pit Bull Terrier, subsequently decreased in size. But, as you yourself describe, a similar sometimes contentious attitude towards other dogs. Small dogs with attitude are at risk from larger dogs that don't like dogs with attitude. But of course NO dog owner should feel she or her dog is in danger.

When good dogs have bad owners... Your encounter would have gone much differently had that dog been dog aggressive, but geez, that owner!

I have a Chihuahua that likes to bully the big dogs, so I know EXACTLY where you are coming from.

The owner doesn't realize that while HIS dog might not start something, OTHER leashed dogs might.

And that is scary.

Guys like him give the pibbles a bad rep, sheer dumb luck his sweetie hasn't had a bad encounter.

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