So You Think You Know a Pit Bull Person?

April 22, 2011  

By Michael Mountain

People are watching as the gang approaches from down the street. There are about 10 of them, each tethered to a pit bull, all in uniform and on a mission.

The location is downtown San Diego. The “gang” is a group of young Southern California women who call themselves “Pretties with Pitties.” And their uniform is a hot pink T-shirt. The dogs are shelter pets sporting vests that say “Adopt me, I love to cuddle.”

“A lot of people have the perception that pit bulls are really for masculine guys and tough guys,” said Kerri Ewing, co-founder of Pretties with Pitties. “We wanted to show people that that’s not the case. They are great dogs for anybody.”

Pit bulls are warm, friendly, family dogs and not at all like the caricatures that have been portrayed as in recent years. Ewing, a graphic designer and social media consultant, is about as far from the stereotype of a pit bull person as you can get.

Ewing, a foster mom to rescued pit bulls, has just placed Harry Potter in a great new home. Harry was found abandoned and starving near the Mexico border.

“He refused to believe he was anything but a lap dog,” she said.

In fact, pit bulls are as much an “everyone dog” today as they were 50 years ago when they were known as “America’s family pet” and, in the UK, as nanny dogs. And while Labradors and Goldens have been claiming that particular title more in recent years, pit bull people span the social spectrum, too. Here are some examples of that.

Lunch is served

At her Hudson Valley estate outside of New York City, Marilyn Cohen is checking on lunch. That would be lunch for China, her 11-year-old pit bull who has cancer and is on a special diet prepared by the chef. Cohen, after all, is in the business of good food – she owns two top-rated restaurants in Manhattan. So only the best is good enough for China.
China is Cohen’s second pit bull.

“My twin sons were teenagers on vacation in Florida 11 years ago when they saw this pit bull puppy on the beach,” she said. “One of them decided they had to bring the pup home, and he paid his brother to drive her back to New York. That way, he could come home a day later and wouldn’t have to have me yelling at him. Of course, I fell in love with the puppy on the spot. We called him Morgan.”

When Morgan came down with lymphoma some years later, Cohen became obsessed with finding a cure – anything that would save Morgan or even just give him a little more time. “I almost gave up my businesses taking him from one vet to another. My dentist told me ‘You’re crazy; you could have bought a condo for the amount you’ve spent on that dog.’ But not long after that he got a dog himself and admitted that ‘I would have spent any amount on that dog. They’re family.’ ”

Cohen’s husband, Dan, is an Israeli film director, who’s worked mainly in Germany and is best known in the United States for his 1978 movie, Madman, starring Sigourney Weaver. Today, he’s at work on a novel that tells a fictionalized version of the family’s pit bulls, which he’s also planning on making into a movie.

Does your State Senator have a pit bull? Connecticut’s does.

Equally passionate, and a staunch member of the unofficial community of pit bull people all across the country is State Senator Bob Duff of Connecticut. “My family and I have adopted two abandoned pit bulls, welcoming them into a home with two small children without fear. We’re proud and lucky to have them in our lives,” he said.

Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Christine Craig grew up in Miami where her parents had emigrated from Haiti in the 1960s. She recently received her MBA, and has been in marketing for several years.

“I couldn’t have told you what a pit bull was,” she said. But she adopted one of the puppies after her ex-boyfriend’s pit bull had gotten together with the Rottweiler across the street.

“I’ve had Diva nine years. I don’t think of her as being a big dog like a Rottie or a German shepherd,” Craig said. “But people still seem surprised that I have a pit bull. I think they see me as a rather demure person who should have a dog who fits in my purse!”

Craig thinks that most people assume that pit bulls are a man’s dog. “Their perception of the dog doesn’t match their perception of my personality. But that just means they don’t know pits!” she said.

In the city of sin

Across the country in Las Vegas, Tino Sanchez believes that most people in his part of the country really do understand pit bulls. He says they know that most of the fear of pit bulls is fostered almost entirely by the media’s negative portrayals.

Sanchez, a disc jockey, is a regular volunteer at the city animal shelter, and helps get the dogs ready for new homes. Right now he has five pit bulls at home, two of whom are certified therapy dogs.

“Yes, I get weird looks sometimes when I take them all out for a walk,” he said, “but nothing like as much as I get positive reactions. People are always coming up to me asking ‘Why do these dogs have such a bad rap when they’re such good dogs?’”

Rags and Riches

At either end of the economic spectrum you’ll find Gary Michelson, a California, Forbes 400 billionaire and the spinal surgeon who invented spinal implants, and David Love, a homeless man in Brookings, a small town on the Oregon coast.

As a dog lover and, especially, a pit bull lover, Michelson is using much of his wealth to help animals, offering $25 million to the first inventor of a safe and effective injectable sterilant for cats and dogs, and another $50 million to support the research and development of the product. His goal is to replace spay/neuter surgery, which is comparatively expensive and time-consuming, and so to reduce the numbers of unwanted, homeless dogs and cats coming into shelters.

In a different way, Love also strives to do the right thing for the world around him. On any given day, he can be found checking on his friend, Buddy, another homeless man, who, like him, gets around in a wheelchair.

Buddy lives more than two miles away. But it’s an easy ride for Love.

“Kitty is my motor,” he said with a grin, referring to the pit bull he adopted and who has become not only his best friend but also his official chauffeur and unofficial service and therapy dog. “I’d always been told they were bad dogs, but it’s all in how you teach them. She’s a very gentle dog and she’s great with kids.”

Love has several medical problems, and Kitty has become his lifeline, who enjoys her daily exercise pulling the wheelchair around town.

“She seems to know I’m going to have a seizure before I do,” Love said. When that happens, Kitty takes over, putting her head on his legs and looking at him. “She blocks me from going anywhere!”

The President’s classmate at Harvard

During the week, David Isaacs is a media entrepreneur, but he often takes time out over the weekend to help find homes for homeless pets. One Saturday morning, he was volunteering for a local rescue group at a table outside a pet supply store on the Upper West Side of New York City. One of the dogs the group was hoping to find a home for was a sad-looking pit bull.

“Molly was cowering under a table, so I offered to take her for a walk,” Isaacs said. “I took her for a stroll in NYC’s Central Park. She had a long scar along her back, and she was just terrified, grazing against the wall next to the footpath. I sat down with her, hoping to calm her down a bit. Moments later, she crawled into my lap, curled up and went to sleep.” Isaacs took her home and she’s been part of the family ever since.

Isaacs studied law at Harvard and then at the Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as Barack Obama. Today he lives with his wife and young daughter in Santa Monica, Calif.

“When we had our baby, a number of people in my wife’s family were concerned,” Isaacs said. “I told them about how in England pit bulls used to be known as nanny dogs. But it was soon clear that my daughter could poke Molly, pull her, even ride on her, and Molly just loved her.”

Isaacs said Molly is also the single greatest lover of cats. “The only risk to the cat is that Molly will suck her in through her nostrils when she gets up close to sniff them!”

So who’s a pit bull person?

From presidents (Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) to pop stars (Pink, Madonna and Usher); TV personalities (Jon Stewart, Cesar Millan, Rachel Ray and Dr. Phil) to athletes (Shaquille O’Neal, Serena Williams, Anthony Kim and Amare Stoudemir); and actors (Jessica Biel, Michael J. Fox, Jamie Foxx and Brad Pitt) to legends (Helen Keller, Thomas Edison and Humphrey Bogart), pit bulls are the beloved pets of people of every kind.

So, you think you know a pit bull person? It’s easy; they’re really no different from anyone else!

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29 Responses to “So You Think You Know a Pit Bull Person?”
  1. SandyZalagens says:

    great article, thank you. i just lost my lab pit mix on friday. she was the best dog and mamma dog to all of my fosters. are you linking the patrick miracle to help change the perception of the pitbull? over 100 thousand people are fans. also, there is a wonderful man down here in s.central “dogman” featured in this months “dog fancy” magazine. he for years has been providing free training to pit bull owners every sunday. his contribution to save the breed is huge. check him out. and you may know john shipe “pit bull blues” song. it’s fantastic.

  2. StubbyDog says:

    @SandyZalagens Thank you for your comments, we are so sorry for your loss. We will check out the man providing free training to pit bull owners, what a fantastic idea. Our fans are already aware of Patrick as he is quickly becoming another good ambassador to the breed, with his incredible strength to recover and his forgiving nature. Most would say, ‘he’s a typical pit bull.’ Thank you for your support of StubbyDog.

  3. StubbyDog says:

    @DanThompson Thanks Dan! He is quite a beauty, love his markings. If you would like to share his story with us, we would love that. Please email

  4. Astrid_Brett says:

    Love this article 🙂 People always say pit bull / staffie owners must be scum themselves wanting vicious dogs and I get quite offended! Great to have an article to point them too!

  5. StubbyDog says:

    @Astrid_Brett Glad you liked the article and will use it to open some eyes about pit bulls. Thanks Astrid!

  6. chicagodoobie says:

    I am the person that was lucky enough to adopt Harry Potter and I can’t express how great of a dog he is. He is a true companion to me and my other pit bull “Bubble’s”. I encourage anyone thinking of adopting a dog to please look at your local shelter or rescue organizations and consider this breed.

  7. StubbyDog says:

    @chicagodoobie Thanks so much for your comments, we are so glad that Harry is a wonderful addition to your home. Sounds like he was lucky too. And thanks for your message to adopt pit bulls.

  8. JohannaFalber-Mcvay says:

    I live in Atlanta and all of my friends are in animal advocacy, for mostly dogs and almost mainly bullies. There is a huge problem here that ranges from two wide sides of the spectrum – dog fighting is rampant, and then there are those full of fear because of the media’s portrayal, and because of irresponsible people that don’t sp/euter, that don’t socialize their dogs, that keep them chained up and that create strays. The other day, my friends’ son was bathing his newly rescued, stray, red nose pittie mix outside. He was found as a stray near UGA and is being treated for demodex mange. His name is Tyson. New to being a bully caretaker, he asked me for pointers. I came outside and told him how proud I was and explained that he was lifting his paw a lot because the mites were probably really bothering him under his paw….as we’re talking, another neighbor came up. He asked the young man his dogs’ name and then wanted to know what kind of dog he was. My neighbors’ son replied, “Pit/Lab mix, we think”. The neighbor replied, “That’s a weird combination”. I asked how so. He replied, “Labs are America’s sweethearts. Pits are fighters. That’s funny!” I felt my blood boil, but knew that every opportunity is one to educate. I made sure to check my anger before I replied and explained the Bully in American history – war dog, nanny dog, therapy dog, fast forward…..every decade has had it’s “scary” breed….He listened. He looked at me and said, “I had no idea”….and seemed apologetic. I told Mr. Neighbor, “Tyson here is an American hero. He is a mix, he survived the streets and is still wagging his tail and licking your hand, even though he has been scratching and biting at his very flesh due to neglect. The reason God gave pit bulls strong tails is to remind them to wag it and they do this often, if we just give them a chance”. The next day, I walked my own rescued Polly, an American Pit Bull Terrier, down at just the time that I knew he would be getting off of work. I gave him a few days and then walked my other rescue, a chow/pit mix, Lyla, down to see him. The following week, I walked my rescued Retriever, Charlie, down with Polly and Lyla, to show him that they are a typical modern day American family – they’re mixed, they each have a past, but they know no discrimination and without bias, they are a healthy, happy, balanced bunch that are here only to please. Pit bulls aren’t complicated. We are. I thank you so much for what you are doing. God bless you. Jo, Atlanta

  9. StubbyDog says:

    @JohannaFalber-Mcvay Thank you for sharing your story. It is wonderful you used the opportunity with your neighbor to educate him and you seemed to have gotten through to him. Thank you for rescuing pit bulls and setting such a good example for others and being an advocate for pit bulls every where. Together we can all help to change perceptions and you have truly proved that. Thanks for your support!

  10. jeepkmd says:

    I’m can’t imagine my life without my boy Dexter!! He has taught his sister, Molly (a shy, nervous Sato rescue from PR) how to trust humans and that human touch is most enjoyable. He is nothing but a lover and snuggler! He was the Monmouth County SPCA Honorary Chairdog at the 2010 Pet Walk and recently was on our local News 12 The Pet Stop, promoting a great Pitbull Event the MCSPCA just held last week.

    I take pride it educating people who are scared of Dexter just because he is a Pit Bull…after a minute with him…they fall in love with him… My hope is that they will now not judge a book by is cover and treat each dog they meet as an individual!

  11. StubbyDog says:

    @jeepkmd Thanks for your comments and all you do to educate people about pit bulls. Your dog sounds like a perfect ambassador to pitties every where!

  12. SandyZalagens says:

    @StubbyDog @SandyZalagens re the patrick miracle…i have shared your article on their page…people seem to really be appreciating what you wrote. i pray that the 103 thousand supporters of patrick become ambassadors for our sweet pit friends. thank you!!

  13. StubbyDog says:

    @SandyZalagens Thank you Sandy! We hope so too!

  14. seaaphrodite says:

    Just another pit bull person weighting in….my two pups are Ares and Xena, both rescued from Animal Care & Control in NYC, straight off the euth list. They are fantastic…soft, gentle, loving, wiggly, cuddly, and exceedingly tolerant. They excel in obedience class, have boundless enthusiasm, and adore every adult and child they meet (Xena also loves other dogs, while Ares is more selective…but that is something we know and take care to manage). And us? My husband and I are college grads (in my case, an MBA), white collar professionals, own our home, and are expecting our first baby in 4 weeks.

    There are obviously pit bulls who are bad to people (there’s a story in the media daily), and even more people who are bad to pit bulls (just in recent weeks, we’ve heard about Patrick in NJ, who survived, and Snoop in WI, who sadly didn’t)…and I am sure those two ends of the spectrum are highly correlated. But a well tempered pit bull (or pit mix) who is loved and trained and properly cared for by a good owner or family is going to be about as wonderful a dog as you can find. I’ve had shepherd-type dogs before, retrievers, and hounds, and when it comes to loyalty, playfulness, and the ability to really connect with their people, I find pits to be unparalleled.

  15. StubbyDog says:

    @seaaphrodite Thank you so much for your comments. Xena and Ares sound like wonderful dogs with a wonderful family. Congrats on your new baby and thanks for weighing in, it just shows that all kinds of people are pit bull people.

  16. ajacob1046 says:

    This article definitely provoked a few tears. I am the proud mommy of one 1/2 pit 1/2 lab, and one full pit. Both babies were pulled from severely abusive homes, and today both are completely well adjusted family members. I’d like to add that when I was 11 years old I received 300 stitches in my face from a dog attack. It was NOT a pit, it was a completely different breed.

    Gable (now 10 years old, I adopted him when he was 6 months), survived Lymphoma. Much like Marilyn Cohen, I stopped at nothing to get him the treatment her required. I’m proud to report that he has been in remission for two years! Kira (now 9, adopted at 9 months old) was rescued from a fighting ring in the Bronx. I have no idea how she survived that bc there isn’t a mean bone in her body. My mother’s 8lb Yorkie dominates her.

    I will always rescue, and I will always seek out Pits. They are the absolute best companions in the world. Thank you for this wonderful article.

  17. StubbyDog says:

    @ajacob1046 And thank YOU for your wonderful comments. Your dogs sound like wonderful family members and we are so glad Gable is in remission! We are also so glad there are people like you who rescue abused pit bulls and give them a loving home. Keep up the good work. Thanks for your support

  18. 2Encores says:

    Just loved this article. I was one of those OMG they are mean dogs people. Then one day my daughter brought home this adorable red puppy. She told me he was a Jack Russell mix. He was so little and such a love. Our Mastif and him became fast friends. As Short Stuff grew, my friends kept saying he looked Pitty. I told him no way, but because I really had only seen the media version, I looked Pits up. Well to my surprise Short Stuff was a Pit. I asked my daughter where did you get him? Well she bought him off the city street, because the kid walking this tiny puppy said he was kept with the fighting dog. She offered him her whole pay & he handed over the dog. Now Short Stuff, never lost his temper, was super smart, and the best companion. Sadly this wonderful love died from a very aggressive cancer at the age of 10.

    Daugher also brought home a beautiful young brindle pit female who was being ignored & kept only in a crate. This lady is my shadow even at the age of 11. She is the motherly type who cleans the Bulldog as if she bore him, and he is 8.

    So now I am an advocate for Pits, especially to the OMG people. When my kitchen was remodeled the guys who worked on it could not believe my 2 Pits. They said the last thing they ever thought was they would be sitting down, eating lunch with 2 Pits laying at their sides! Perception changed.

    Articles like the one above, and others, I believe, are changing media perception for the good.

  19. StubbyDog says:

    @2Encores Thank you for sharing your story of your pit bulls. we are so glad your perception was changed and now you are helping to change others’ perceptions with your sweet dogs.

  20. fkugor says:

    The picture of the brown dog with the Photoshopped eyes is scary! Pit bulls are cute enough without messing with them in PS!

    • JeneenBurns says:


      Conformation for amstaffs are either almond shaped eyes or round eyes. Round is not as common and might startle some people just because of that. Also many pit bulls up for adoption are pit bull crosses. It was noted in the article that the dog was a cross.

    • EpiphanyRatties says:

       @fkugor I think the eyes were photo shopped because the dog looks like it has ectropian (where the eyelids sag).  Where that stupid orange colour is was probably red.  I guess they thought that would look better.  It doesnt.  At least try using black instead, that would be more natural.

  21. rn4pitbulls says:

    WE need to somehow get these pics out to the general public! Senators, Billionaires, Disc Jockeys, So Cal Ladies!!! Maybe a Billboard!? Hmmmmmmmmm

  22. maxiemom says:

    The article should also have mentioned that Fred Astaire was a longtime pitbull owner. I think most people might be surprised by the image of the elegant Mr. Astaire and one of his beloved dogs….

  23. VanesaFeltan says:

    Im a pitbull person!!! And Im so proud of my babies!!!!

  24. NHKatie says:

    I LOVE this article!! If there is a sterilant for animals…think of how many wouldn’t die in shelters!!  Mr Michelson, thank you!!  Everyone in this article rocks!!!!THANK YOU!

  25. DebbieDiFrancesco says:

    An awesome story to send out to the world …..Thank you for sharing, It brought back memories. I am a 57 yr young women, Back in my early years I’ve raised dogs most of my life…All kinds from German Shepards to a Lab, a couple of mixes that we didn’t know who or what they were and I loved them all. The ones who really stole my heart were my pits. Some 10 yrs ago my son brought home a dog he could no longer care for, that was Chloe my first American Staffordshire Terrier.. This dog would and did whatever I asked of her and with no hesitation. She learned to roll, play frisbe and fetch, Plus all the usual things we love for them to do. Before we knew it she came down with cancer, we brought home her sister, a red nose pit named Ginger. What a pair these 2 dogs were. When Chloe passed away my daughter went to college away from home and took Ginger for company, I hardly worried knowing Ginger was their to protect her. Having lost Chloe my heart was broke with the loss of her, I stated I would never have another….. Not long after her passing, again my son brought me a blue nose pit, he was 4 mos old and what a beauty he was. Again my heart was awakend with unconditional love for these dogs….. I’m on oxygen and use to need it 24/7 but now because he gets me out of the house to where I only need it at nite, that doesn’t stop us from walking 3 to 4 times aday, we go everywhere together……He is my life line to good health and good living and loving , I owe it all to him. I am no longer depressed for fear of dying, he fill my days with  love which every person should experience in their life…. A bond between man an animal no one can match or time erase. These dogs are above all the best I have ever had the honor of having, and yes it is an honor to raise these majestic animals. Why men abuse them and make them mean, which any dog can be taught to fight or to be vicious? For power they lack within themselves!!!!! We as the responsible people we  should look to where the source of nelect and abuse is coming from and realize its not the responsible owners..<3 

  26. LindseyTwist says:

    I wish nys could see this! We have such bad insurance laws in this state against pits living in apartments its rediculous! All I want is a nice place me and my pitts can call home with a nice yard to play in and nys restricts them! Come on I’ve seen other dogs do worse in apts and they can live there. I wish the media would stop portraying them as bad when its the people that own them that can make them bad. It bothers me so much when I take my dogs for a walk and people ask me which one is the killer? I always reply with people are killers these dogs are lovers. Love my pups