People are watching as the gang approaches from down the street. There are about 10 of them, each tethered to a Pit Bull, all in uniform and on a mission.
The location is downtown San Diego. The “gang” is a group of young Southern California women who call themselves “Pretties with Pitties.” And their uniform is a hot pink T-shirt. The dogs are shelter pets sporting vests that say “Adopt me, I love to cuddle.”
“A lot of people have the perception that Pit Bulls are really for masculine guys and tough guys,” said Kerri Ewing, co-founder of Pretties with Pitties. “We wanted to show people that that’s not the case. They are great dogs for anybody.”
Pit Bulls are warm, friendly, family dogs and not at all like the caricatures that have been portrayed as in recent years. Ewing, a graphic designer and social media consultant, is about as far from the stereotype of a Pit Bull person as you can get.
Ewing, a foster mom to rescued Pit Bulls, has just placed Harry Potter in a great new home. Harry was found abandoned and starving near the Mexico border.
“He refused to believe he was anything but a lap dog,” she said.
In fact, Pit Bulls are as much an “everyone dog” today as they were 50 years ago when they were known as “America’s family pet” and, in the UK, as nanny dogs. And while Labradors and Goldens have been claiming that particular title more in recent years, Pit Bull people span the social spectrum, too. Here are some examples of that.
Won over by Pit Bull puppy
At her Hudson Valley estate outside of New York City, Marilyn Cohen is checking on lunch. That would be lunch for China, her 11-year-old Pit Bull who has cancer and is on a special diet prepared by the chef. Cohen, after all, is in the business of good food – she owns two top-rated restaurants in Manhattan. So only the best is good enough for China.
China is Cohen’s second Pit Bull.
“My twin sons were teenagers on vacation in Florida 11 years ago when they saw this Pit Bull puppy on the beach,” she said. “One of them decided they had to bring the pup home, and he paid his brother to drive her back to New York. That way, he could come home a day later and wouldn’t have to have me yelling at him. Of course, I fell in love with the puppy on the spot. We called him Morgan.”
When Morgan came down with lymphoma some years later, Cohen became obsessed with finding a cure – anything that would save Morgan or even just give him a little more time. “I almost gave up my businesses taking him from one vet to another. My dentist told me ‘You’re crazy; you could have bought a condo for the amount you’ve spent on that dog.’ But not long after that he got a dog himself and admitted that ‘I would have spent any amount on that dog. They’re family.’ ”
Cohen’s husband, Dan, is an Israeli film director, who’s worked mainly in Germany and is best known in the United States for his 1978 movie Madman, starring Sigourney Weaver. Today, he’s at work on a novel that tells a fictionalized version of the family’s Pit Bulls, which he’s also planning on making into a movie.
Does your State Senator have a Pit Bull? Connecticut’s does.
Equally passionate, and a staunch member of the unofficial community of Pit Bull people all across the country is State Senator Bob Duff of Connecticut. “My family and I have adopted two abandoned Pit Bulls, welcoming them into a home with two small children without fear. We’re proud and lucky to have them in our lives,” he said.
Don’t judge a book by its cover!
Christine Craig grew up in Miami where her parents had emigrated from Haiti in the 1960s. She recently received her MBA, and has been in marketing for several years.
“I couldn’t have told you what a Pit Bull was,” she said. But she adopted one of the puppies after her ex-boyfriend’s Pit Bull had gotten together with the Rottweiler across the street.
“I’ve had Diva nine years. I don’t think of her as being a big dog like a Rottie or a German Shepherd,” Craig said. “But people still seem surprised that I have a Pit Bull. I think they see me as a rather demure person who should have a dog who fits in my purse!”
Craig thinks that most people assume that Pit Bulls are a man’s dog. “Their perception of the dog doesn’t match their perception of my personality. But that just means they don’t know Pits!” she said.
In the city of sin
Across the country in Las Vegas, Tino Sanchez believes that most people in his part of the country really do understand Pit Bulls. He says they know that most of the fear of Pit Bulls is fostered almost entirely by the media’s negative portrayals.
Sanchez, a disc jockey, is a regular volunteer at the city animal shelter, and helps get the dogs ready for new homes. Right now he has five Pit Bulls at home, two of whom are certified therapy dogs.
“Yes, I get weird looks sometimes when I take them all out for a walk,” he said, “but nothing like as much as I get positive reactions. People are always coming up to me asking ‘Why do these dogs have such a bad rap when they’re such good dogs?’”
Rags and Riches
At either end of the economic spectrum you’ll find Gary Michelson, a California, Forbes 400 billionaire and the spinal surgeon who invented spinal implants, and David Love, a homeless man in Brookings, a small town on the Oregon coast.
As a dog lover and, especially, a Pit Bull lover, Michelson is using much of his wealth to help animals, offering $25 million to the first inventor of a safe and effective injectable sterilant for cats and dogs, and another $50 million to support the research and development of the product. His goal is to replace spay/neuter surgery, which is comparatively expensive and time-consuming, and so to reduce the numbers of unwanted, homeless dogs and cats coming into shelters.
In a different way, Love also strives to do the right thing for the world around him. On any given day, he can be found checking on his friend, Buddy, another homeless man, who, like him, gets around in a wheelchair.
Buddy lives more than two miles away. But it’s an easy ride for Love.
“Kitty is my motor,” he said with a grin, referring to the Pit Bull he adopted and who has become not only his best friend but also his official chauffeur and unofficial service and therapy dog. “I’d always been told they were bad dogs, but it’s all in how you teach them. She’s a very gentle dog and she’s great with kids.”
Love has several medical problems, and Kitty has become his lifeline, who enjoys her daily exercise pulling the wheelchair around town.
“She seems to know I’m going to have a seizure before I do,” Love said. When that happens, Kitty takes over, putting her head on his legs and looking at him. “She blocks me from going anywhere!”
Obama’s classmate at Harvard
During the week, David Isaacs is a media entrepreneur, but he often takes time out over the weekend to help find homes for homeless pets. One Saturday morning, he was volunteering for a local rescue group at a table outside a pet supply store on the Upper West Side of New York City. One of the dogs the group was hoping to find a home for was a sad-looking Pit Bull.
“Molly was cowering under a table, so I offered to take her for a walk,” Isaacs said. “I took her for a stroll in NYC’s Central Park. She had a long scar along her back, and she was just terrified, grazing against the wall next to the footpath. I sat down with her, hoping to calm her down a bit. Moments later, she crawled into my lap, curled up and went to sleep.” Isaacs took her home and she’s been part of the family ever since.
Isaacs studied law at Harvard and then at the Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as Barack Obama. Today he lives with his wife and young daughter in Santa Monica, Calif.
“When we had our baby, a number of people in my wife’s family were concerned,” Isaacs said. “I told them about how in England Pit Bulls used to be known as nanny dogs. But it was soon clear that my daughter could poke Molly, pull her, even ride on her, and Molly just loved her.”
Isaacs said Molly is also the single greatest lover of cats. “The only risk to the cat is that Molly will suck her in through her nostrils when she gets up close to sniff them!”
So who’s a Pit Bull person?
From presidents (Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) to pop stars (Pink, Madonna and Usher); TV personalities (Jon Stewart, Cesar Millan, Rachel Ray and Dr. Phil) to athletes (Shaquille O’Neal, Serena Williams, Anthony Kim and Amare Stoudemir); and actors (Jessica Biel, Michael J. Fox, Jamie Foxx and Brad Pitt) to legends (Helen Keller, Thomas Edison and Humphrey Bogart), Pit Bulls are the beloved pets of people of every kind.
So, you think you know a Pit Bull person? It’s easy; they’re really no different from anyone else!
Michael Mountain is one of the founders of Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest animal sanctuary and one of the pioneers of the no-kill movement for homeless pets. As president of Best Friends and editor of Best Friends magazine, he helped to build grassroots adoption and spay/neuter programs all over the country before stepping down in 2008. He currently is the editor and co-founder of Zoe — a new online magazine for people who care about animals, nature and the environment — and the co-founder of StubbyDog, which is working to change public perceptions of Pit Bulls.