by Maka MacKenna
IT HAPPENED AGAIN THE other day. I was walking my dog when a stranger approached us. Maggie trotted up to him, tail wagging, and politely sat, waiting to be petted. He swept past and sneered, "Oughta shoot that thing."
What's the problem? Maggie is a pit bull. She's supposed to be a baby-killer, but in fact she's a creampuff. She behaves like Lassie, but gets treated like Cujo. She's a victim of the last politically correct stereotype, the bias against "killer dogs."
I used to be afraid of pit bulls. Then one day this bedraggled dog appeared at my door, obviously needing a square meal. The cat was outraged, but the dog was too sweet to turn away. I fed her a bowl of Special K and she crashed on the patio.
The next day, we went out looking for her owners.
The neighbors had seen her scrounging for garbage, but no one knew who owned her. When they told me she was a pit bull I almost fainted.
I called in her description to the animal shelter ("female rednose pit" -- the neighbors knew the jargon) and went to the library to look up pit bulls.
All the literature said the same thing: They're not vicious unless you make them that way. In fact, said one book, the early breeders who wanted them for dogfighting culled out any people-biters because they were too hard to control in a crowd. "Not recommended as a first dog," said another book, because they demand too much attention. What was I getting into?
Reading the books, I picked up some useful dog terms. When a breed is described as having "a lot of spirit" that's a shorthand way of saying they're not too bright.
The stats were there, too. Pit bulls are in the middle group for intelligence, as rated by dog trainers. (Yes, I knew you'd want to know: They rated Australian Shepherds the smartest and Afghans the most intellectually challenged).
More stats: Pit bulls are fourth from the bottom in terms of likelihood to bite you. The dog most likely to snap at you is a Spaniel, but who'd notice?
By the time it was obvious Maggie's owners weren't going to claim her, she'd been named and was sleeping with us. My 18-month-old nephew loved her. We have a photo of little Alex poking two fingers into her eyes while attempting to detach one of her ears. She's grinning with all her teeth showing, like the "JAWS" ad. If the focus were better I could have peddled it to the wire services with the headline, "Baby Mauls Pit Bull."
You should never, of course, leave a baby alone with any animal, not even a bird. Nothing is safe from a baby.
No dog is perfect, but Maggie comes close. She doesn't chew things, she doesn't dig up the yard, or drool or shed hair all over the house. Okay, she killed a rooster once, but this was after months of hanging with other chickens without incident. There were no witnesses to the fatal encounter but obviously the rooster must have gotten smart with her.
Of course, she has faults. For one thing, she thinks everyone's her friend, which doesn't make for an effective watchdog. Also, you get out of the habit of locking your car, figuring no one will bother it with a Killer Dog in the passenger seat.
As for fighting other dogs, she stood by and watched while the Akita from down the street took a chunk out of my other dog, a Shepherd mix who can't fight his way out of a paper bag. She could have at least barked a little.
So when the gangstas invade my house, will Maggie charge to the rescue? Or will she trot over, panting to be petted, willing to be co-opted for the price of a Milkbone?
I hope I never find out.
Maka MacKenna is a Eureka free-lance writer.