Redheaded older lady, in curlers and a house dress, leans out her door one morning on our way by and declares that Stella is a really pretty dog. "Thanks," I say and she asks "Is it a Beagle?" I hesitate for a second and say "No m'am. She's a Pit Bull."
"Oh," she says, her voice skating on disappointment. "Well she's really pretty anyway." "Thank you" I say, waving goodbye. She waits for us to pass before leaving her porch to collect the paper. I wonder as we're walking if I should've just answered in the affirmative and let Stella be a Beagle for the day. She's been mistaken for all manner of dogs over the last ten-and-a-half months, Blue Heeler, Boxer, Catahoula, Foxhound, Great Dane. Beagle was a new one, rather charming but still erroneous. It must have been the white socks and matching tail tip that from a distance cued her thought. A very authoritative-sounding man told his son once that she was a cross between a Boxer and an Australian Sheppard. I had to look away to keep from laughing or having to confirm this notion.
As many of you know, it's not the easiest thing, being a Pit Bull, out in the world anyway. Other, far more qualified people have written about it extensively but the thing I find surprising is that so many people have been conditioned to fear a dog they don't even recognize (beautiful example here ~ poor Otis). I'm torn sometimes between educating the person and protecting the dog. Often they love her until the exact moment they ask the question. The worst of it comes when they're already petting her and she's in the zone and then they ask what kind of dog she is. If I say the word, their sparkling eyes go flat and they immediately stop petting her. They back off. Most of the time it isn't so subtle either. I could I suppose, say she's an American Staffordshire Terrier. While it's true, most people don't know that translates to Pit Bull.
Although I've told a few children that she's an American Daffodil Digger, I've refused the semi-popular cute names (i.e. Pibble). I've found that changing a word doesn't change a perception, however ill-conceived. For example, not so long ago (and still) a population of carnies wanted to be called showmen, for some of the very same reasons. To accommodate them (out of respect) I used the term now and again and it only served to confuse people outside that circle. The general public has no idea what a showman is and they never will. They know carny. Carnival worker. Public relations gurus the world over would likely disagree but from a sociological perspective, (IMHO) the only option is to recondition the spirit of the word. Educate people. Suck it up. Tell the truth. Set a good example, be consistent and patient. That's pretty easy to say; not so easy to do. Would love to hear your experience and/or thoughts on the subject.
Yesterday morning we went walking down along the river. We met a beaver and a homeless man. The man said he'd been feeding a dog that looked a lot like Stella.
"Don't know who it belongs to", he said.
"I do." I answered. "Who?" he asked me.
Here's a great audio-interview from Fresh Air (NPR) on training service dogs in prison.