Pit Bull dogs tend to have a public image problem. They’re consistently viewed as “dangerous dogs”, and regularly vilified by the media. Other breeds get a bad rep as well; rottweilers, and boxers also fall into the perceived danger dog category. Yes, some of these dogs have done the things they’re accused of; – one of the most recent high profile incidents being that of Mickey, an Arizonan pit bull who mauled a 4 year old child.
If this had happened a few years ago it’s pretty likely that Mickey would have been put down, but instead he was given a prison sentence. Yes, a real one. The dog was charged to be neutered and defanged, sentenced to live in a no kill animal shelter inside an Arizona prison. Bizarrely, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, (he of the angry views on immigration) was behind this odd dog life sentence.
I welcomed Mickey the pitbull with a customary k9 kiss. pic.twitter.com/lYLfDO2qXs
— Joe Arpaio (@RealSheriffJoe) May 1, 2014
Artist Douglas Sonders has been working to change the public perception and opinion of pit bull’s as dangerous dogs, and cases like Mickey might suggest that his work has been reaping benefit. Sonders has been working toward since 2012, when he started the “Not a Bully” campaign, to help humanize the “dangerous dogs” breeds.
His journey started at a Petco adoption event. Sonders had been mourning the death of his pet boxer, Winston Churchill, after an aggressive tumor took his life. He felt he was ready to love again, and wanted a pet that he could connect too.
“I saw Emma, my pitbull mix, and fell in love, “ he wrote via email. “She had been in foster care for 9 months because nobody wanted her: because she was black and a pit bull. She was such a sweet girl and I knew that she deserved a chance to be in a forever home where she would be loved.”
This was Sonders first time owning a pit bull and straight away he noticed a difference.. from other people.“People scowled at me on the street, one lady screamed and ran away despite Emma’s perfect behavior. I learned something had to be done to change the negative stigmas.”
To help change the negative perception of pit bulls and other dangerous dog breeds, Sonders created the “Not a Bully” campaign.
This campaign uses Sonders skill as a photographer to show pit bulls in a very different light. Forget those images of slavering jaws and crying toddlers, he shows the dogs as they are, removed from negative stereotypes.
“The goal of Not A Bully is to share the stories of inspiring Pit Bulls that have been through the worst (abuse, dog fighting, bait dogs, etc) and still serve the community in a positive way. We want to show that even in the worst circumstances, these dogs are capable of living wonderfully positive and inspiring lives with the love and care of a responsible owner,” Sonders said.
The Not a Bully campaign features images of pit bulls (and other “danger dogs”) that show other sides to the breed. Here you see dogs at rest, lolling their tongues, looking adorable.. AND incredibly innocuous and harmless. People are encouraged to upload their own pet portraits to the website’s Facebook page.
But can this campaign change the way people think about pit bulls?
The majority of recorded dog bite attacks and incidents do tend to involve pit bulls. We can argue that a lot of this is due to owners mistreating their pets, but the statistics are enough to make many animal lovers feel uncomfortable.
“Many of the negative stigmas towards “bully” dogs have come from bad dog owners that have trained their dogs to fight or be aggressive,” said Sonders. “Pit bulls have been shown in studies to be no more inherently aggressive than any other prominent dog breed.”
Sonders quotes one study, but many others exist and I’m not a fan of basin arguments around specific “studies” as there’s too many differing opinions and ones to choose from.
Sonders rebranding of pit bulls and boxer dogs is a small step in altering public perception of the breeds, but as more owners share stories about how well behaved and beloved their dogs are, we might see change on a bigger scale. With information comes a potential change in treatment and care for these animals, which in turn could lead to less aggression and a better place for all.