Last year, when my daughter told me that she was pregnant I was ecstatic. Then, it occurred to me that she then owned an American Pit Bull Terrier, or APBT, or just plain pit bull, as they are commonly called. My first response to her, or perhaps request would be more accurate, was, “So, now you’re going to get rid of your pit bull, right?!”
My request, which seemed totally logical to me, did not draw the response that I had hoped for. Evidently, suggesting to my daughter that she decide between her pit bull and new baby was an untenable choice. In effect, I was asking her to choose between children, and although the human child is important, so also is the "animal child."
I had never met her pit bull named Patches, but she assured me that Patches was a sweet tempered dog that would never hurt anyone. Naturally, being an expectant grandpa, I was not convinced. I was miffed that she would even consider keeping such an animal with such a violent reputation with a small baby in the house.
I had heard all the horror stories where infants and small children had been left alone with a large dog, the beloved family pet, only to find the child horribly mangled and even killed, perhaps with the face completely bitten off. Physically and physiologically, that is completely possible. The human face, particularly a small one, is not installed all that tightly to its moorings. A large dog with its big jaws can easily strip the face off a small child.
One of my Air Force mates, a fellow master sergeant, had a young son whose face was in the multiyear process of surgical reconstruction. Her boy, at the time I knew him he was about 12, had wandered into a neighbor’s yard when he had been 5 or 6. Waiting in ambush for the little fellow was a ferocious canine “man-eater,” I believe it was a German shepherd or a Doberman.
Before someone could get in there and pull the crazed animal off the lad, half the boy's face had been mangled and one ear destroyed. A face so young with so much developing and growth ahead of it cannot simply be stitched back together to a normal appearance. Plastic surgeons have to bide their time and let the facial features mature close to adult size before the really important final touches can be made.
Of course that’s unfortunate because children can be cruel. They will go after one of their own deemed “different,” and with the boy’s obvious facial deformity he was quite “different.” I think it was my father that told me how a flock of chickens will become mean and destructive to one of their own, exactly like kids. If one develops a bald spot where feathers have fallen out for some reason, perhaps because of some benign skin disease, the other chickens will become compelled to pick at that spot, and do so until their victim has no feathers left. Bet you never thought chickens could be as cruel as kids, did you? Ed Abbey, you’re a chicken expert; can you corroborate, or is all that just a “modern chicken legend?”
So here’s the capper: not only did my daughter NOT get rid of Patches the pit bull, she got ANOTHER pit bull puppy, named Riddick, after the boxer. Now I was REALLY upset. I couldn’t imagine how she could be so irresponsible. And to make matters worse, a few months after my grandson was born they brought home a Great Dane puppy. WHAT! And what really drove me bonkers is when I asked her if they mostly kept all the animals in the yard and her nonchalant answer was, “No Dad, all three are house dogs.” Again, from me: “WHAT! Are you kidding?”
Well, since I had already vociferously made my reservations known, I decided to keep my mouth shut and hope that she and her husband knew best. Still, it didn’t stop me from worrying. I just kept imagining that tiny defenseless little bundle of pink humanity and all the horror stories and it gave me fits.
I was quite expectant last month, (and not in the pregnant way) when my daughter picked me up from the Killeen airport terminal. I was anxious to meet my new grandson and see how it was with him and all the big dogs in the house.
My daughter went in ahead of me through the garage and into the kitchen. Inside, she sternly ordered her furry crew to calm down. Hesitantly, I entered behind her, hearing the telltale sounds of 12 huge doggy-paws excitedly ticking on linoleum along with the energized panting dogs make when they are “happy to see you.” My first impression: Dang! These are three HUGE dogs!
They were indeed big animals. The Great Dane is technically still a puppy but already he towers over the two Pit Bulls and they aren’t exactly midgets. All three were curious about me. They inspected me in a friendly non-threatening way, doing lots of snuffling and bumping against my legs and reassuringly for me, with lots of heavy tail wagging. Once I realized they weren’t going to eat me, I just stood there and rubbed the tops of their constantly bobbing heads as they drew in my scent and memorized it. They seemed more like small affable jumpy ponies than dogs.
Then, my son-in-law brought out my grandson. Wow! I was even more impressed. My son-in-law is a 6-foot tall handsome devil and my grandson is a smiley good-looking chip off the old block, both from his daddy’s and mine. I couldn’t have been happier. 'Now, to see how it goes with those three canine monsters.' I had a hard time imagining how such a small human could possibly coexist safely in the same home with three such gigantic furred creatures.
At first, my fears were half-realized when the little guy—not quite a year, and still just pulling himself along by the furniture—was felled by the excited movements of Riddick, the teenage pit bull. The clumsy thing had backed up without looking and bumped the little guy into a full on header. I was immediately angry, with a “see, I told you so!” aimed at my daughter; but truthfully, during my five day stay, that was the only time I ever saw my grandson in anything that looked remotely threatening, except when he would get an occasional hard slap from an unmindful tail wag. I took a couple of those myself from the Dane, and it HURT.
I soon learned one thing—my grandson will never be bitten or mauled by any of the three dogs. And amazingly, he lacks all fear for any of them. He doesn't try to hurt them as babies sometimes do, and they look at him as a tiny version of one of the other larger human "masters." Actually, I was pleasantly shocked at the sweetness of them. They are so big and yet so starved for human contact and affection. If one of them comes over for a tummy rub, which is constantly if you let them, the other two look over in complete jealousy, and have to be told to stay away. Otherwise, you'll be mobbed by about 240 pounds of doggy love.
My daughter and her husband have done an excellent job of establishing who is in charge and the order of exactly "who is boss." Its a bit like the military chain of command. Its crucial, as dogs MUST know who is number 1, who is Alpha, and all the humans in the home MUST be that. Even the baby has "rank" over the biggest dog and EVERYONE knows it. Patches is the doggy matriarch and she understands that she is prime among the dogs, followed by Riddick, and at the end of the hierarchy is the big Dane puppy. With animals that large, its important that they know and understand this. I’ve got to give her credit, my girl is on top of the psychology required to handle these animals. Without these “rules,” you end up with anarchy and probably with dogs that have to be put to sleep at the shelter.
I did a little reading on pit bulls and I learned a few things that put my mind at ease concerning my grandson. First, these animals have been bred to NOT be aggressive toward humans. And although they have been bred to fight other dogs they will not necessarily be aggressive against other dogs if they are not trained for it. In fact, my daughter tells me that Riddick, despite his huge size is a bit of a coward when it comes to conflict with other dogs. Once, during a walk, when a much smaller dog made a charge, Riddick whined and hid behind his mistress. Imagining it, I had to laugh at the big softy.
Remember, pit bulls are the breed that Michael Vick made infamous with his cruelty toward his own dozens of fighting pit bulls. Also, the gangster rap community uses these animals as status symbols and representative of their aggressive “culture.” I read that many cities in the US and in other parts of the world, such as the UK, have actually made illegal the ownership and breeding of these misunderstood animals. I find this to be very unfortunate and unfair, especially since learning more about these loving animals and after actually experiencing how sweet-natured they truly are.
Again, remember I wrote earlier of my friend’s boy who had been mauled? Well, it wasn't by a pit bull. If any animal is likely NOT to maul a human it’s the pit bull; its just not in their genetics. Other animals like German shepherds are much more likely to attack people, yet these dogs are not generally banned. Sometimes legislators make laws based more on gut reaction than on reality.
I’m certainly a believer now. My mind has been changed. Every time I sat down one of the pits would immediately come to me for some affection and then would lie down on the floor and purposely act like a canine ottoman. These animals, with their huge heads, broad chests, and giant jaws, are more interested in being close to people out of apparent love than to bite and fight.
If you want an aggressive guard dog get a German shepherd. You’re wasting your money going for the pit bull, which is more likely to lick than bite you. Seeing the four of them together, I'm absolutely certain that my grandson will be just fine with his three buddies.