Is there a dog breed alive that faces more prejudice, discrimination, and unbridled bigotry than the lowly pit bull?
It’s sad to me that they are so hated, because I’ve never seen a breed of animal that loves so fiercely.
I’d never even heard of pit bulls until the mid-80s, when my mind was poisoned with news of some super-vicious killer breed of half-dog/half-shark that had suddenly emerged from Hades to eat babies’ faces. (The mid-80s also taught us that HIV and crack cocaine would end civilization as we knew it in a matter of weeks.)
The term “pit bull” is inexact and loosely refers to an array of scrappy, steroidal “bully breeds” such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and the American Bulldog. I’d seen such dogs all my life on the Little Rascals and in Buster Brown cartoons, but I tended to lump them all together in my mind as generic junkyard mutts. I’d never heard them referred to as “pit bulls” until the mid-80s, and then only with the understanding that they were Satan made flesh in the form of absurdly muscular and fearsome-looking canine killing machines.
Fueled on all that Reagan Era hype about HIV-positive pit bulls hopped up on crack cocaine, I was surprised that my first encounter with a pit bull involved me nearly getting knocked over—not because the dog was attacking me, but because it was saying “hi” so enthusiastically. It was when I crouched down to pet a white and unreasonably happy female pit bull on the streets of Hoboken that she nearly flattened me by smothering me in kisses.
I’d never met this dog before, but she acted like we were lifelong friends and had missed me sorely. Who would have ever suspected that these cold-blooded carnivores were such goofy, love-filled clowns? Certainly not the more than 500 jurisdictions worldwide that have severely regulated or outright criminalized even owning one of these unfairly maligned Love Monsters.
Ever since that face-off—in which the dog nearly licked my face off—every pit bull I’ve run across has been the same: aggressive only in the sense that they are comically friendly. If you happen to get hurt, it is only in the way that a pro wrestler may accidentally bruise your ribs by overenthusiastically hugging you.
I decided that pit bulls were like Bamm-Bamm Rubble from The Flintstones, the club-wielding, superhumanly strong infant whose main problem was that he didn’t know his own strength.
For 11 years ending in late 2012 I’d owned a female pug I’d named Cookie. I got her when she was nine weeks old, wound up hand-delivering all nine of her puppies, and took her with me everywhere until she was half-blind and senile and falling down stairs and it became clear that the merciful thing to do would be to put her to sleep.
I then went without a pet until near dusk one blistering Atlanta evening late last July. A friend told me that some of her tenants’ dogs just had a litter of eight puppies, but only two of them had survived a stressful pregnancy. She said they were a mix of English Bulldog, American Bulldog, and American Pit Bull Terrier.
For seemingly shady reasons, the couple who bred the dogs would not allow me in their house, so I waited outside on the cement steps as the male owner—imagine Pete Townshend from The Who, but covered in motor oil and quite probably tripping balls on crystal meth—came out to launch into an impossibly complicated explanation of how he crossbred pit bulls with American Bulldogs and English Bulldogs to produce a dog that had the passion but none of the negative temperamental traits of a pit bull.
Dude, you’re giving me a headache—can I just see the puppy?
And out came a little four-pound limp, shy, brown-and-white male puppy with missing fur patches who seemed half-asleep. I cuddled him up to me, paid greasy Pete Townshend $140, and drove home. I took the puppy into bed with me, whereupon he peed all over the sheets.
The next day I named him Bam-Bam.
It is now mid-spring, and since that midsummer night when I bought him he has grown from four pounds to nearly ninety, every pound packed as tightly as cement. He is not so much a dog as an absurdist caricature of a dog. If there’s a mud puddle he will roll in it. If there’s a pile of horse shit, he grabs some in his mouth and runs around with it. And if there’s a horse to taunt…
…you can bet your ass he will taunt it and nearly get crushed to death in the process.
He not only lives life, he lives the hell out of it. He reminds me of the following lines from Dostoyevsky:
…in my life I have only taken to the extreme that which you haven’t even dared to take halfway; what’s more, you’ve mistaken your cowardice for good sense….So, in fact, I may even be “more alive” than you are.
So, in fact, I believe this reputedly dead-souled killing machine be even be “more alive” than any of us.
I believe this not only because of his physical strength, but because of the way he kisses me. He puts his entire body into those long sandpapery licks across my cheeks. It’s almost as if he’d be in physical pain if he couldn’t kiss me 100 times a day. The best fighters and lovers are always the most passionate ones.
It’s always a treat when the so-called “bad guys” turn out to be the good guys. Pit bulls make better kissers not in spite of being the best fighters, but because of it.