by Beth Clifton
There is a strong argument to be made that pit bulls are the most abused and exploited dogs ever, the only breed used extensively in dogfighting and baiting bulls and wildlife, far more likely than any other breed to be neglected and––even if not used in fighting or baiting––five times more likely to suffer from violent abuse.
Certainly pit bulls are the most overbred dogs filling shelters across the country.
These sad facts should have any animal lover up in arms, fighting to end this tragic state of affairs.
Strong s/n requirement needed
In my few years as a pit bull advocate, and now as an advocate for victims of dog attacks, it has become very clear to me that breed-specific legislation, including a mandatory spay/neuter component, is necessary not only to end the dogs’ suffering, but also to end the frequent and deadly attacks on humans that have made pit bulls notorious.
Thirty-nine humans were killed in 2017 by pit bull-type dogs within the U.S. alone, plus 32 more in 2018 and another 10 through May 2019. Just since Trooper was born in 2011, 262 family members have been stolen from their loved ones, torn apart by the jaws of the fighting dog in the U.S. alone, with many more pit bull attack deaths occurring in other nations.
The simplest way to address this crisis is to greatly reduce the births of pit bulls through strong regulation and enforcement of swift and consistent penalties for those who break the law.
To date the majority of humane organizations and pit bull advocates are strongly fighting against all regulation that singles out these dogs, even though the facts clearly point to pit bulls committing the greatest damage to humans, pets and livestock. This approach implies the view that the number of casualties and fatalities inflicted by pit bulls is to be accepted as “normal”; that pit bulls should get a free pass, no matter what they do, because pit bulls are just dogs.
My pit bull Trooper
My pit bull Trooper filled three years of my life with worry and stress over keeping him and others safe from harm. Trooper was a victim from conception of the systematic lies being told about pit bulls to promote them, and in a sense I was a victim of these lies as well, because I believed them enough to adopt Trooper and spend three years looking after him.
I no longer believe the systematic lies about pit bulls, and am saddened that the very people who most vehemently advocate for pit bulls, and most claim to love and care about pit bulls, are the people doing the most damage to these dogs by ignoring the truth and refusing to do what needs to be done to protect them and the public.
Never should have been born
I am a veterinary technician, humane volunteer, and former animal control officer, long actively involved in animal rescue. Trooper entered my life in May 2011, when I received a call from a friend who told me that a pair of three-week-old pit bull puppies needed bottle feeding, and that it would be necessary to remove them from their mother or they would not survive the weekend. I was there in twenty minutes to pick them up and foster them to health if possible. I named them Trooper and Sarah. They weighed less than a pound.
I arrived to find a female adult pit bull surrounded by approximately twelve puppies, mostly in good weight, but Trooper and Sarah were clearly failing. I purchased the supplies I would need, brought them home and spent the next two months trying to save their lives. Ironically, while Trooper and Sarah appeared to be the pups most in danger, their mother later died from parvovirus, as did several of the other pups.
While Trooper and Sarah escaped parvovirus, I was obliged to euthanize Sarah at eight weeks old, as it was believed by our veterinarian that she had a congenital intestinal disorder and as a young puppy would not likely survive the grueling surgery that would be necessary if we were to attempt to correct it. Sarah had two months filled with love, attention and care before she passed in my arms at the vet clinic. Her ashes were placed in a small urn where they remained in my bedroom for two and a half years as I continued to raise Trooper.
Trooper’s health was also challenged, but I never gave up on him and he began to grow into a 90-pound adult. He came to work with me every day and became a mascot of sorts at my job. A rambunctious and unruly dog, he was loved by all and most of all cherished and loved by me.
Maintaining his health and well being had become my mission. He slept in my bed. I would take him to pet stores as a young puppy to choose a toy. We went through the nationally recognized Star puppy class, and he and I worked on his training together for two years. He received the best vet care, the best food, and was treated, as I called him, a “prince.”
At about eight weeks of age, after Trooper’s health improved, he was transferred back to the rescue organization for whom I had fostered him, and was neutered. He was supposed to have been adopted, but somehow never reached the adopter’s home, and ended up in the garage of yet another foster home. When this was brought to my attention, I directed the rescue organization to bring Trooper home to me.
At six months old Trooper broke a growth plate in his right front leg while running through the house. My veterinarian advised me to wait until Trooper reached fifteen months old, when his bones were fully grown, to make a decision about whether he could keep the leg. At fifteen months of age, when Trooper continued to require pain medication for the injury, I agreed that Trooper’s leg should be amputated.
Twelve hours after the surgery, Trooper was running through the house, apparently not even realizing that he now had only one front leg. We were invited to a meeting of a human amputee support group where Trooper was given a standing ovation as he performed our favorite trick, in which he cheerfully growled “I love you.”
Despite Trooper’s successful performance for his fellow amputees, Trooper was most of all acutely mistrusting. I attributed this to the need to treat him with all sorts of medications during his first few months of life. From the time he began to feel well enough to play and interact with humans and other animals, he clearly was not a calm or well-balanced dog.
The socialization, love, care and patience he received could not trump his genetics. Trying, I suppose, to validate my reasons for keeping such an unstable dog, I fondly called Trooper a “spaz,” meaning he was a very large, strong dog with behavior problems that were seemingly impossible to train out of him.
I spent a great deal of time attempting to correct some of these behaviors with little to no results. Eventually I found it necessary to prevent my family, including my grandchildren, from coming to my home. This was not only to protect my family, but also to protect Trooper from any problems that could arise from a negative dog/child encounter, or even a bite or attack.
For as long as I had Trooper, he coexisted with my other dogs and cats, but he always chased the cats if they ran. I knew that at some point his need to chase could result in an injured or dead cat. And Trooper proved on one occasion that he could fight with a family dog (also a pit bull) and do serious damage. The two dogs required almost $1,000 in emergency clinic veterinary bills.
By two and a half years old, Trooper showed signs of escalating aggression toward my smaller dog. Twice Trooper pursued the smaller dog in an aggressive manner, placing his mouth over my smaller dog’s back, but fortunately leaving no injuries.
We had gopher tortoises on our property, federally protected as a threatened species. Trooper demonstrated that if he had been able to get to one of those tortoises, he would have done the tortoise grave injury. I never gave him the chance.
That Trooper would even try to attack a tortoise, along with all of the other aspects necessary to managing Trooper safely, prompted me to begin considering euthanasia, though the thought of it broke my heart. I had always said that my home was Trooper’s first and last stop, and that if it was necessary, I would take him myself to the vet’s office to end his life, rather than pass along a potentially deadly problem for a human, another animal, or Trooper himself.
Both grief & relief
In January 2014, at age three, about twice the age of the average pit bull killed for dangerous behavior at animal shelters, Trooper was euthanized in our home in my loving arms. Sarah’s ashes were placed with Trooper.
It is possible to experience both grief and a sense of relief simultaneously. That is how I felt when I said goodbye to Trooper. I miss him, but I don’t miss what my life had become to keep such a dangerous dog.
In retrospect, I too once believed that pit bulls were no different from any other type of dog. I too believed that if you raise any dog correctly, the dog will be well-behaved, stable and safe. I no longer believe these myths.
I have many friends who have lost children, loved ones, and pets to pit bulls. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication to raising awareness about the dangers of pit bulls.
I was paying attention, as a pit bull caretaker and advocate, to their messages. I saw first-hand the dangers that pit bulls present. I took responsible action in order to keep my family, my pets, my neighbors, my community, and all other animals safe.
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