Before I started volunteering at Pet Project, I’m not sure I’d ever met a pit bull. But I had an opinion on them. And it wasn’t a good one.

I can remember an instance when a friend of a friend adopted a pittie mix. I remember all of us passing judgment on this new family member, questioning their decision to get “that” dog, when they had a new baby. What were they thinking?

In 2009, my youngest nephew was bitten by a pit bull while visiting a new friend’s house for the first time. At the time, it reinforced my prejudice. Now, I realize it wasn’t fair to blame the incident on the fact that it was a “pit bull”. What I see now is that he was bitten by a dog…an unsupervised, poorly-trained dog…who just happened to be a pit bull.

Last year, I became involved with PPI. And I finally met a pit bull face to face. In fact, I’ve met lots of pit bulls. And guess what? They’re dogs. Just…dogs.

ALL dogs regardless of breed have the potential to hurt someone. ALL dogs must be properly supervised by their guardians. Some can do more damage than others and that is where the problems arise – but it is not the dog’s fault. My friend adopted a mixed-breed puppy when her two daughters were very little. She carefully supervised the girls when they played with Molly and taught them how (and how not) to treat her. She was especially vigilant when other kids came over to play. It never mattered that Molly is a big, lovable sweetheart of a mutt. She’s still a dog, still an animal, still unpredictable.

When I was a kid, I remember Dobermans were the ones with the bad rap. Later, it was Rottweilers. Now, it’s pit bulls. In each case, I’d hear people saying terrible things about the breeds…and generally none of these people were speaking from personal experience. They were merely spreading the hype. We humans have a tendency to stereotype. And it’s the dogs paying the price.

It’s amusing to me now when I remember hearing those terrible things about Dobermans and the fear that existed. You know who the toughest dog in my neighborhood was when I was growing up? The dachshund that lived in the house behind ours. My best friend (Molly’s mom) lived kitty corner behind us, and we would cut through the yards to get to each other’s homes. That dog was like the gatekeeper. One time, my little animal-loving self tried to approach him, only to be warned off by the old man who owned him. Why were we so scared of Dobermans when true 12 pound menaces were lurking about?

I don’t expect writing this to automatically change anyone’s mind. I do hope though that it opens a few. Please, if you are looking to adopt, don’t turn away from a dog just because of its breed. Don’t assume that pit bulls are violent. Don’t assume that a Jack Russell will be hyper. Don’t assume that a Chihuahua will yip incessantly. Please, meet the dog. Then make up your mind.

Or the cold…or the grass apparently, right now I have 2 of the 3 dogs having allergy issues directly related to the dry weather. Did you know that pit bulls are very sensitive, physically. Any dog can have these problems but I can honestly say I’ve not had one that wasn’t bothered by something or other. Always manageable yes, but certainly dispels the myth that they can withstand anything and don’t need special care – which so many people who want them for the wrong reasons automatically assume. That’s why you see so much in the way of damaged dogs both physically and mentally. Stop it already. Keep all your pets safe and comfortable during the hot weather.

After much thought, I’ve decided to do this – to help these dogs. 

Pit bulls, pit bulls…roly-poly pit bulls…have there ever been any other breeds with so much negativity surrounding them? Hmmm…oh yes…dobermans…rottweilers…german shepherds…hmmm…chihuahuas (hey they get a bad rap too, because they are not for everyone, no breed is good for someone not fully committed to dog ownership) Did you know that the top two breeds most found in dog pounds? Pit bulls and chihuahuas. Why? Because they are popular. Popular with people for all the wrong reasons – hey they look cool, so let’s get one. What? You mean I have to take care of it now, even though the cute puppy is now grown up and I really didn’t want it to begin with? Ah heck I am just gonna let it run the neighborhood and cause trouble – or put it outside in the backyard for 12 hours at a time unsupervised – because I don’t have time for it anymore blah blah blah.

We’ve heard it all, here at PPI, for almost the past 20 years. One thread in common – it’s the owners who do not consider all facets of pet ownership who cause the problems. It’s the owners who think they are going to make money breeding (who wants that MESS in their house?) who cause the problems by putting more pups on the ground than they have homes for resulting in an overabundance of animals needing homes regardless of breed.

In the case of the bully breeds, this casual uncaring attitude is deadly. There are not enough responsible owners available for all the unwanted dogs. Those that are lucky enough to find their way to PPI at least have avoided a death sentence – but they wait…and waitand WAIT for a new leash on life. So what do we do? Turn them away? Refuse to take them in – even though they have great personalities, great temperaments – but are not for casual dog owners?

I will not tell you how old I am…but I will say this. I’ve had a pit bull in my life in one way or another since I was 12 years old. My parents bought me my first dog and it was a pit bull. When she died, we replaced her…with 5 dogs. All pit bulls. I still have all my fingers and toes. I currently have 3. I will own no other breed, as long as I am strong enough to handle a bigger dog I will own one. I am not crazy. I love these dogs. I am college educated and run my own business. I pay my taxes. I am a good person. I am a pit bull owner.

And I have a chip on my shoulder. I live in a non-pitbull friendly community. I have to explain myself all the time – but I am happy to do it, for these dogs. None of the hatred and fear sent their way is their fault.

Susan Tonielli, PPI volunteer, radio voice of “Who’s On Your Leash” on WCMY, Mondays @ 10:30