"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Monday, April 23, 2012

Changing Hearts and Minds

By Laura Petrolino, VP of Operations (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

You are at the park playing fetch with your dog.

You are on a plane reading a magazine.

You are at the salon getting your nails done.

You are at the grocery store buying dinner.

Undoubtedly, throughout your daily activities, you encounter a moment where you are put in the position to be a pit bull advocate. You might overhear a conversation, be asked directly, or simply have it come up in a discussion.

So what do you do? This is a question that I get a lot, so I thought it worthwhile to put together a short “intro” course for those of you interested in helping to set the record straight, but not exactly sure where to start (or those of you who are already actively advocating, but need a few pointers to be more effective).

I divided the process up into the “5 A’s of Advocacy”:

Be Aware: So the first thing to do when faced with any situation in which you are serving as an impromptu pit bull ambassador is to stop, take a deep breath, and put yourself in check. This is an emotional issue on both sides of the line. It is very easy, especially if you have a pit bull as part of your family, to take things personally and let your emotions overwhelm your intellect. Please don’t. By letting raw emotion rule the roost you will not accomplish anything beneficial for yourself, the person you are talking with, other future advocates and, most importantly, the dogs.

Sure, the love you have for your dog is important, but not if it prevents you from talking logically and laying out important facts, figures and talking points that can help the other party also look past their immediate emotional response and open themselves to the new information that you are bringing to the table. Please know yourself and your limits when it comes to this; if you are unable to separate your immediate emotional response from your attempts to help change public perception about pit bulls, then know it is OK to just walk away. In fact, it is better to walk away.

Acknowledge: Acknowledge the other person’s point of view. Please don’t vilify them in any way just because their exposure to pit bulls has been limited, they’ve had a bad experience personally (or know/have heard of someone who has), or have a knowledge base which has been completely developed off of media sound bites and scare stories.

Please try to put yourself in their shoes. All of us have fears about something that might very well be unfounded, but that doesn’t make them any less real to us. Just because their fear is not your fear doesn’t make it any less scary.

If the person you are talking to has been a victim of an attack or has a dog or family member who has been, start out by expressing your sincere condolences for this fact. Again, put yourself in their shoes.

Arm Yourself: Know your facts and be prepared. Pretend that you are in debate club at school and this the debate topic for the national championship. Would you go in completely unprepared with facts, figures and talking points that were both defensible and emotionally and intellectually resonate? I hope not.

We have a whole site of information and resources that you can use to help you prepare yourself, as do BADRAP and Animal Farm Foundation.

I recommend you pick out three to five really key talking points and/or facts that you master, and use those consistently to make your points. For example, I normally start with bringing up the fact that dogs labeled “pit bulls” are not actually a breed, but instead a grouping of dogs with similar physical characteristics. So basically, a stereotype is being applied to a group of dogs simply because of how they look. This tends to automatically break people out of their fixed mindset because it cuts down on their ability to categorize and immediately alerts them to the fact that their entire foundation for thought about pit bulls was incorrect. I move forward from there.

Really, it is important to see what works for you. What do you feel comfortable talking about? What do you feel are the most important talking points based on discussions or issues that have come up in your community?

I feel the need to add another warning here about not letting emotion interfere with your ability to provide clear and useful facts. I often find that loving pit bull guardians *think* they know a lot about the dogs and the bias, but actually what they know is that they love their dog and like to snuggle on the couch with him/her or watch them do goofy things. Which is fantastic, but not quite the type of persuasive information needed to effectively be an advocate.

Arm them: Obviously you are not going to provide a full and complete re-education to the person you are talking to in one discussion, nor would you want to. This is why I encourage you to pick around three clear and persuasive points to share with them. It gives them enough to start to re-evaluate their stance, but not too much to overwhelm them.

However, you want to be able to provide them with the ability to find out more on their own, and guess what? That’s what StubbyDog is here for. Send them to our site. We will hopefully soon be selling postcard-sized “advocacy flash cards” that you can carry around with you, or simply write our URL down on a piece of paper or the back of your business card (so they can reach back out to you as well, if needed).

I know a lot of you use us as a referral source in this way already, and we definitely encourage you to do it as much as possible. I can’t tell you the number of e-mails I get on a weekly basis from people who have been referred to our site and are grateful and excited about the change in mindset and release of long-held false fears that our site helped them accomplish.

Guess what? As great as your argument might be, as passionate as your intention, as well balanced and knowledgeable as your talking points, sometimes you won’t be able to change someone’s mind. This is just the fact of life. Please know when to walk away and then do it.

Have faith in the fact that there are a lot of minds that are ready to be changed, and there are some that just aren’t there yet. And also realize that even though it may appear that you didn’t get through at this point, your message will most likely continue to resonate in the back of their heads, just waiting for the time when the right additional stimulus triggers them to re-evaluate things.

You can’t always see the difference you make, but move forward confident in the fact that every time you chip away at some of the long cemented false stereotypes about pit bulls, we take a step forward in an overall change in public perception for these dogs.

So let’s hear from you.

What have you found to be most effective in your advocacy efforts?
What problems do you find hardest to overcome?
What makes you nervous about the process?
What makes you excited about the process?
What additional questions do you have?


  1. My daughter and I were at one of the local pet stores one day. I had my dog Katie and Becca (12) had her dog Dozer. She was walking around with Dozer and talking to people. One family asked her what kind of dog he was as they were petting him and making a fuss over how happy and sweet he is. When she said pit bull they were astounded. We had a great laugh over that on the ride home.

  2. i love my Pit bull "Baby girl" she is a great dog she is so gentle with everything.. i have people ask all the time why i own a pit bull i respond they are not demon dogs they are lovers this breed is on the top of the nanny dog list they are loyal animals!!
    i didn't choose my pit she chose me!!!
    i love my dog to death i would do anything to save this breed or any breed of dog all dogs deserve a chance!!!
    don't judge a book by its cover!!!!!
    and what ever happen to the saying "ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE" that's not meant for just people its also meant for animals!!!

  3. I have had pitts all my life from a small kid to now at the age of 46 the first one we got was when I was 10 and the friends that we played with Larry Lentz and others would come over ask Mom if Spike could come out and play instead of me do to he was so much fun we would tie him to the merry go-round and hold a frisbee out in front of him and tell him to get it and he would pull it till few kids would fly off and then we would give it to him and have to stop the ride the last two we had would drink out of baby bottle

  4. Great article. Just last week as I was leaving with my pit on a errand, I overheard my neighbor tell her nephew "You better watch out, there's that big dog again, you better hurry before he gets you." Rather than get in her face about how ignorant she was saying such things I took a deep breath, went inside and printed some great articles for her on children and dogs, do's and don'ts and spoke to the child's mother with whom I am friends with. She is a dog lover but admittedly had fear of pit bulls. She was very positive and even met Guero who's worst offense was giving her a great big kiss. Now her son has the RIGHT information on how to relate to dogs.

  5. I never had a pit bull until a few years ago. I will admit i was scared but i didnt know all the facts just what you see and hear about fighting dogs. My first pit i saved from a fighting ring he was the runt and was going to be the baut dig for thefights. He know is a happy healthy blue nose and loves people to death. A fewmonths ago i found my whit pit chained to a tree starving and suffering from bug bites on a hot sunny day in houston. I took him home gave him a bath he has yet to leave my side. I named him.draco hes allergic to the sun, ants and fleas. To this day hes all healthy happy and one big teddy bear..... i have had a lot of dogs growing up such as huskies, pugs, boxers, boston terriers, but i will forget my pits. At tge age of 26 my pit bulls have moved all over with me and i will never livey life with out them.

  6. I love my Delta! She has been such a blessing to me. She started out my boyfriends puppy but I was always home alone and he lives out of town and I didn't like it so he agreed to let her stay with me! It has been alot of work taking care of her. The responsibility of taking care of an animal is simiular to a child. But it has been so rewarding watching her grow and turn into the wonderful companion she is today! She is so GREAT with my child and I really don't think we could have gotten a better dog!

  7. I'm not going to lie. After having little girly dogs all my life, I was a little nervous about adopting my pit mix. And she is certainly a handful, extremely high energy. But I wouldn't give her up for anything, and I've only had her for 8 months. I adopted her at the SPCA when she was six months old, after she had been starving and living on the streets. She is the most intelligent, loving, loyal dog. We can't go to the dog park without her going up to every single dog owner and saying hello. She is such a happy little girl. My little girl :)