The Pit Bull Life cover

In The Pit Bull Life: A Dog Lover’s Companion, authors Linda Lombardi and Deirdre Franklin tell readers everything they need to know about owning a dog that is lovable — but faces an undeservedly bad reputation.

Owners of dogs categorized as pit bulls* often endure criticism and discriminatory laws, so Franklin, a long-time pit bull advocate, wanted to help empower them to do more to keep their dogs safe and to educate people in their local communities about the dogs.

Lombardi, a Vetstreet contributor and author of two additional books, said she was inspired by Franklin’s work and frustrated by all the misinformation about pit bulls that is “so easily refuted by the facts.”

We talked with the authors about their new book, which is filled with beautiful pictures of pit bull-type dogs, as well as inspiration and optimism about the dogs’ future.

Coping With Negative Stereotypes

Q. What should someone know if they’re thinking of adopting a pit bull?

Franklin: They should know that all dogs are individuals but, more than likely, they’re going to have a 45+ pound dog that wants to sit on their lap, look them in the eyes and kiss them incessantly. They’re going to have a dog that is sometimes stubborn and that will require training like any other dog.

They should know that they might be perceived differently by strangers and even family, but that their dog will challenge negative stereotypes on a daily basis just by being the awesome dog that pit bulls tend to be. They should also know that there is an incredible community of pit bull-loving people out there that they should find and connect with as soon as they can. I have hundreds of friends and acquaintances worldwide who live for their dogs like I do.

Q. What do you feel is most often misunderstood about pit bulls?

Lombardi: We could write a whole book about this… oh right, we kind of did! But here’s maybe the biggest thing: Many, probably most, of the dogs we call “pit bulls” are mixes, often with no “pit bull” in them at all. Studies have shown that even experts are terrible at looking at a dog and telling whether it any of its ancestors were one of the recognized pit bull type breeds. Where our grandparents were content to use the words “mutt” or “mongrel,” we’ve come to use “pit bull” for any short-coated dog with a slightly big head. This makes it simultaneously ridiculous and tragic that these dogs are targeted because of some notion about what their breed history predicts about their behavior, never mind the fact that those notions are mistaken in the first place.

Redeeming a Reputation

Q. As you write, there was once a lot of fear of German Shepherds, but the fame of Rin Tin Tin and stories about the breed’s heroic deeds, in part, helped to turn the public’s perception of the breed around. Are you optimistic that the tide is turning in favor of pit bulls?

Franklin: Yes! I’m very optimistic. It has been wonderful seeing the difference in attitudes about pit bulls in the ‘90s versus how people perceive them today. People will chime into a conversation about pit bulls in a positive way that they wouldn’t have just a few years ago. We have an unbelievable amount of celebrities, books and calendars, advocates, rescue groups and television programs that are highlighting what wonderful dogs they are.

Q. You write that, “Your dog needs to be twice as good as other dogs for many people to think it’s half as okay.” Should potential owners take that into consideration before getting a pit bull?

Franklin: Any pit bull owner will tell you about their experiences encountering someone who is dramatically pulling their child away from their path or who is yelling something cruel in passing. You will need a thick skin and the ability to bite your tongue. How do you educate people in these moments? Most of the time, the only thing you can do is have a well-behaved dog representing his kind in the best way possible.

And you will have many positive encounters as well. When I travel, people stop me to discuss my pit bull tattoos or pit bull-themed clothing and it’s usually to share their pit bull adoption or positive pit bull experiences with me. Even my local TSA agent had me peeping at pictures of his newly adopted pit bull mix on his phone this morning!

Changing Minds

Q. Have you owned pit bulls yourselves? What have their personalities been like, and what was your experience like as an owner?

Franklin: Yes! My first dog that I adopted on my own was a pit bull mix named Carla Lou. She is the reason that Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc. (Franklin’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about pit bull-type dogs and rallying against breed bans) exists. She was often described as a “Little Buddha” because she had very loving eyes and a way of looking at you that melted your worries away. She lived to be 18 years old after beating cancer and Lyme disease. She was tenacious in her desire to live fully and she taught me that I can be like her or at the very least, I should try!

Baxter Bean is my 11-year-old foster failure. He is an incredibly snuggly 65-pound pit bull mix from Trenton, NJ. His back is covered in scars from abuse he suffered when he was less than 5 months old. I fostered him and he stole my heart. Baxter Bean lives with his sister, Zoe (16), who is a Harrier mix. I’ve had plenty of people make assumptions about Baxter Bean but his scars usually elicit kindness from people and a need to understand how and why anyone could have hurt him.

Lombardi: No, although you’d be surprised how often little kids have asked me if my Pugs were miniature pit bulls or pit bull puppies. You might also be surprised that they always say this like it’s a good thing. Like any other prejudice, breed prejudice needs to be taught, and it’s our hope that fewer and fewer people are teaching it to their children every day.

*While dog breed names are typically capitalized on Vetstreet, in this case, the term “pit bull” is not being used as a breed name, but rather a generic term used to describe a type of dog and is therefore not capitalized.

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