See that up there? That’s a photo of an adorable pit bull puppy named Ace. This little guy isn’t mine. Daniel, our Director of Production here at New York Natives, recently adopted Ace from a local shelter called In Our Hands, and will be bringing him to work until he’s old enough to be left alone during the workday. Everyone here at our Midtown Manhattan headquarters is thrilled to have a puppy in the office, myself included. I, too, own a dog — a hound/terrier mix – and describe myself as a lover of all canines. Well, at least now I do. This is awkward to admit, but I used to be a “breedist.”
What’s a breedist? One who dislikes a dog based on its pedigree. Pooch prejudice, if you will. Rover racism. Doggie discrimination (You get the idea). Yes, there was a time when I, to butcher one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quotes, judged a dog not by the content of its character but by the genetic makeup of its kin. This is strange, seeing as I would never judge a human being by the same measure. I’ve always been tolerant of people of other races, though I do enjoy the occasional off-color (pun intended) joke aimed at some of my thicker-skinned ethnic friends, because, come on, sometimes stereotypes are funny. But whereas I don’t actually buy into these stereotypes when it comes to humans, I used to buy into them hook, line, and sinker when it came to dogs. And like most bigots, I had a favorite group to hate on: pit bulls.
I don’t really know why, or when, my disdain for “pits” began festering. Up until recently, I hadn’t even encountered one up close. All I “knew” about them was gleaned from sensationalist headlines that vilified the breed as ferocious hell beasts that would seize on the first opportunity to kill or horribly maim a child, adult, or another dog, all while ignoring the role that upbringing plays in conditioning such behavior (much like those who marginalize, say, African-Americans as purveyors of violent crime before considering the socioeconomic factors at play, as a Salon article pointed out in 2013).
When it came to pit bulls, I was certain they were a menace that needed to be contained, and no arguments made to the contrary could sway my cold, bigoted heart. I was like Sean Hannity if he hosted a conservative hate speech show on Animal Planet instead of Fox News: “I’ve got to side with the animal control officers who are just doing their jobs. The pit bull community needs to start taking some responsibility for their own violent lifestyles.”
Looking back, it wasn’t a good look for me.
Thankfully, my attitude toward pits began to soften after I adopted my dog. I began meeting more and more pit bulls on our walks through Central Park. They weren’t snarling and aggressive; they were, well, beautiful and sweet — some of them even more well behaved than my rambunctious pup. People I knew and respected were adopting pits and singing their praises. I started giving less heed to warped public perception and rumor, and placing more value on facts — like how up until they were made the target of witch hunts, the pit bull terrier was one of America’s most beloved breeds. And now I can proudly say that it’s one of my most beloved breeds, too.
This doesn’t absolve me of my past transgressions. I still cringe at the thought of the misinformed opinions to which I used to subscribe, and how it led me to shun an entire breed of animal. Now I find myself doing the polar opposite, going out of my way to be nice to every pit bull I see in order to prove that I’m part of the solution and no longer part of the problem. I pet them, I talk to them in baby voices, and I take photos with them when my co-worker brings one into the office. This clear overcompensation is just the next logical step in my rehabilitation as I try to foster a post-breedism society. Said more simply, it’s the dog-lover equivalent of white guilt, and I’m OK with that.