The missing woman would not have survived another night if Dakota hadn’t found her when she did. The elderly woman suffering from dementia had been missing for several days when the pit bull—trained to assist law enforcement agencies in search and rescue—located her at the bottom of a steep ravine, her motionless body partially submerged in a small stream.
But when Kristine Crawford, Dakota’s guardian, was approached by newspaper and TV news reporters after the successful rescue, she was confronted with an unusual question.
“The first thing they all asked was ‘Did your dog bite the woman when she found her?’,” Crawford said. “That’s something no search and rescue dog handler with another breed is ever asked.”
They’ve been called killers and monsters in the media, yet thousands of beloved pit bulls live peacefully with families across the country. So where’s the disconnect?
Pit bull guardians and animal welfare groups say that it is irresponsible owners and poor breeding—not an inherently vicious breed—that are to blame when pit bulls exhibit aggressive behavior towards humans.
“The media’s image of the pit bull as a natural human aggressor is attention grabbing, but false,” said Crawford. “In spite of their propensity to challenge other dogs, the typical pit bull is stable, reliable and adores people. Any display of human aggression, whether due to genetic mischance or bad environment, is an aberration. Pit bulls that bite humans are not typical of the breed.”
Yet, across the country, communities reeling from shocking press reports involving dog attacks and pressure from nervous residents are increasingly turning to breed bans in an attempt to control the pit bull population in their area.
Breed bans—or breed specific legislation (BSL)—make it illegal to own a certain breed of dog. They are considered by animal welfare groups and pit bull guardians to be discriminatory quick fixes that punish responsible guardians by banishing all pit bulls—regardless of history or temperament—while doing nothing to address the real problem of irresponsible owners. Pit bull bans also fail to consider the problems presented by dogs of other breeds, no matter how dangerous they may be.
“Focusing on one particular breed is unfair to the community as a whole because it gives people a false sense of security and leaves them at risk of injury by dogs that truly are dangerous,” said Crawford. “Lawmakers need to realize that any dog, regardless of breed, can be a danger in the hands of an irresponsible owner.”
Crawford is doing everything in her power to reverse the negative label that plagues pit bulls. She is the founder of For Pit’s Sake—a nonprofit organization that, with the help of pit bulls, educates children and adults about dog and wilderness safety, works with physically and mentally challenged children and adults and performs search and rescue work. All of Crawford’s three pit bulls—Dakota, Cheyenne and Tahoe—are trained therapy dogs, and Dakota and Tahoe are trained as search and rescue dogs.
“The key to reversing negative stereotypes is to contradict them in direct interactions with individual people, in the media and through education…and that’s exactly what For Pits’ Sake strives to do through all the different activities we are involved in,” said Crawford
Though Dakota, Cheyenne and Tahoe can’t single-handedly change opinions overnight, they are working hard to fight the stereotype—by winning hearts and minds one person at a time.
“When the people who have seen my dogs at work hear the word pit bull, instead of thinking of a vicious monster, they remember the image of pit bulls searching tirelessly for someone’s missing loved one, interacting with children in our Safety Around Dogs class or comforting an abused child,” said Crawford. “They think of pit bulls making a difference in the community.”