Becoming a Pit Bull Person

January 23, 2012  

An artist and author tells the story of how he came to share his life with pit bulls

By Todd Parr

You may have seen this on the Web: “Pit bulls can’t be trusted, they steal your heart.” Many of you already know this, and I learned it 14 years ago on my way to a grocery store on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, Calif. I wasn’t shopping for a dog, but there he was, in a box, shivering from the cold and scared. I picked him up, put him inside my coat pocket and went into the store. I bought dog food and treats, all the while thinking, “What am I doing?” I walked through the store thinking this little guy needs me, but I didn’t realize until later how much I needed him as well.

His name was Bully, named after one of my paintings. When I found Bully, I didn’t really think about what kind of dog he was. I did think he might be a pit bull, but I wasn’t sure. It just didn’t matter to me. A dog is a dog, right? I grew up with dogs all my life and never thought about their breed.

Well, as I started to introduce Bully to the rest of the world, I quickly realized that he was not just a dog, he was a pit bull! We would be on our walks, and people would cross the street or walk out into the street just to avoid us. When Bully was off leash at the dog park, people would pick up their dogs when they saw us coming. I tried talking to everyone with a dog so that I could let them know how friendly and great Bully was, but most people couldn’t be bothered. They had their opinion about pit bulls, and there wasn’t much I could say to change that, despite how lovable Bully was.

At first, I was always on the defensive with people over their reaction to him, and then it turned into an “education” mode and finally to the “I don’t care what people think” mode. The one thing I quickly realized was that I was going to have to be extra careful with Bully around other dogs in a scuffle. Chances were he would be blamed, even if he was not at fault, all because of his breed and the negativity surrounding it.

(Photos of Bully above by Jerry Giovanini)

It’s not just a “pit bull” thing. Anyone with an animal has to be responsible and committed to making sure that their pets are well cared for and trained. You can never assume that licking your face and cuddling on the couch will make them exempt from being provoked into bad behavior.

Over the years, Bully developed many health issues, including tumors, rectal bleeding and cancer. We did everything we could do for him, and like others do for their pets, we spent thousands of dollars to keep him well.

After Bully’s last surgery at the UC Davis, he was lying on the bed and I whispered to him that I would do everything I could do to keep him well and that when he was ready to go I would be very sad. I asked him to please not make me decide for him. He died in his sleep several months later while I was out of town.

It took many months of tears before I could even entertain the idea of another dog, but when I felt I was ready, I went to the Berkeley Animal Shelter and spent time with many different dogs. How do you decide? There were so many dogs just waiting to go home with me. It overwhelmed me and I had to leave.

A couple of months later I went back to the shelter and spent more time with the dogs, playing with them, holding them and hand fed some that wouldn’t eat their food. Again I left, overwhelmed. A couple of days later I decided to go back and not over think the process, and this time I ended up with two dogs, Pete and Tater Tot. Pete is a pit bull mix and Tater Tot is an American Staffordshire Terrier. They are the most amazing, loveable and resilient dogs. I look at them both and ask them how I got so lucky. Like Bully, they are bed hogs, lap dogs and kissing machines, always ready to play and just full of love.

I want to mention that the volunteers at the Berkeley Animal Shelter, like those in so many other shelters, were amazing throughout the process of adoption.

I was talking about Pete and Tater at a school a couple of months ago, and one student asked me why I like pit bulls so much. I said, “I like all animals, and I would take every single one if I could, but there are so many pit bulls that need good, loving homes.”

I do believe there is nothing like the unconditional love you get from an animal, but if you want that love multiplied times 10, adopt a pit bull.

(Photos above of Pete and Tater Tot by Jeff Fielding)

A special thanks to StubbyDog for doing what they do and to all of you who make a difference in the world for animals.

Editor’s note: To learn more about Todd’s books and artwork, visit his website.

« « Rebranding the Pit Bull | Pit Bull Mother Hens » »


20 Responses to “Becoming a Pit Bull Person”
  1. krsosnoski says:

    Don’t want to be too New Agey, but I’ve been reading about animal guides/spirits/shamans (for a story line in a novel) and it sounds as if Bully’s connection with you only deepened the theme already present in your children’s books, that everyone is unique and stereotypes shouldn’t blind us to each person’s or in this case each dog’s potential gifts of love and fun. I was so sad when I heard that your dog Bully died, even though I didn’t have a dog at the time or even much like them. Since then, I adopted a dog for my kids’ sake and am floored by the love and good times she adds to my life as well as theirs. Thanks for being an advocate for dogs of all kinds!

  2. What a wonderful love story! Bully was beautiful as is Tater Tot (love the name) & Pete. It take a special person to love these dogs and it’s clear you have it!

  3. CherylLagow says:

    Incredible story! Thanks so much for sharing! I would love that every person’s life who has been changed by loving and being loved by a pit bull would reach out and educate others in any way possible! I was once someone who believed the hype, and oddly enough my favorite breed was always the Rottweiler (another “vicious” breed). But my daughter brought home a pit bull puppy and this dog has totally changed my way of thinking and I strive to explain that change to others who have been blinded by the media hype and negative stereotypes. Thank you for rescuing from a shelter and always hold true that Bully was brought to you for a reason and that you both enriched each other’s lives. Dog people are incredible people!

  4. joann says:

    Your story sounds so much like mine. I wasn’t looking when I found my Am.Staff…Gus…but came to realize later that I NEEDED HIM AS MUCH AS HE NEEDED ME!!! We’ve turned the negativity into education also…and there’s plenty of negativity to go around!! People fear what they don’t know or understand. Gus has changed the opinions of many people…in fact he is a Therapy dog. Good luck with Pete and Tater Tot, and Bully will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge!!

  5. sgreen400 says:

    I never thought I’d be a pitbulls owner until I started volunteering with them – each and everyone was a special pup that touched my heart. And after spending 5 minutes with Nala I KNEW she would be my very first dog. Fortunately we live in a very pro-pit area and have had many positive pibull conversations with strangers.She has a great mix of friends of many different breeds and sizes at both doggy day care and in our neighborhood. I am careful on who to let her play off-leash with, but I think that’s a great habit for ANY dog owner to adapt. I found it’s best just to avoid the park when there are too many tennis balls/fetch toys around as that’s when scuffles are most likely to break out. She did “exchange words” with one of her friends the other night at the park over a ball (Whiskey kept taunting her with it), but once we took the ball away they went back to playing nicely!

    • StubbyDog says:

      @sgreen400 Dogs are so much smarter than us, they never hold a grudge. Thanks for sharing and giving Nala a loving home.

  6. BaltimoreGal says:

    Your reasoning for owning pit bulls is the same as my own. Dogs are great but no type of dog is more in need. Thank you for sharing and doing your part.

  7. mowxdog says:

    I was very privileged to have known Bully from the day Todd & Jerry got him. He was so much more than a dog, a Pitt Bull, he was my friend and I miss him.

  8. BellaDogAuthor says:

    What a great story, thank you! I’m not surprised to learn that Todd wrote “The Peace Book,” which is my 2-legged, 3-year-old little sister’s FAVORITE book in the world. She reads it to me every night! Peace, indeed.

  9. ToddParr says:

    Thanks again to StubbyDog for reaching out to me and for doing all the good that you do. Thanks to everyone else for sharing your stories and the kindness. Love, Todd, Pete, Tater Tot and Bully

  10. LilianaRuano says:

    My husband and I hope that when our loyal companions leave us, they too pass away in while peacefully sleeping on our bed. I can’t imagine life without any of them; I will be HEARTBROKEN, but I can’t imagine life without a dog, it would be so empty.

    This was a wonderful story!

  11. Judithg says:

    I have always loved any kind of animal! Got that from my parents who were avid rescuers. But I never had a pibble (pitbull) until two years ago when traveling for the Easter holiday, I saw two little heads peeking out from the freeway greenery all by themselves. I screamed to stop! Turn around! I see puppies! So we did, and there they were; emaciated and scared. Probably about 3 months old. They were dubious about me but my can of dog food, which I always carry for times like these, was most welcome. After they ate and barked, I sat right down in the middle of them with my back to them and waited. First the sniffs, then a little closer and of course backing away if I gestured in any way. Eventually I got leashes around their necks and lifted them into the back of my car for a 3 hour drive home. They slept all the way home! The next morning I did a more thorough assessment; they were covered in ticks and their ribs were jutting. Of course, they had been dumped. They got de-ticked, spayed, shots and while I attempted to get them placed with a local rescue group, they let me know that they weren’t going anywhere! So I gave up and they joined my pack. Berry is a brindle pit and Jett is black. They are bed, couch and lap hogs and along with my other dogs give me joy beyond measure! I will always have pits. I find them to be amazing dogs and maligned by the actions of the people who use them for unspeakable acts. Americans should be better than this; but apparently, fear and condemnation is contagious. So we change perception, one pibble at a time.

    • CherylLagow says:

      @Judithg Awesome, Judith! You are a credit to the human race and a warrior for our animals in need! Bless you!

    • StubbyDog says:

      @Judithg Oh Judith, your story is so heartwarming. We would love for you to tell us everything in more detail for our site. And include photos, lots of photos. You are truly an angel and would love to hear all about your pit bulls filled with love. If you’re interested, please email thanks for sharing.

  12. lilpenny_21 says:

    What a great story…I couldn’t agree more when Todd said: “I do believe there is nothing like the unconditional love you get from an animal, but if you want that love multiplied times 10, adopt a pit bull.” I too have fallen in love with the pit bull breed (my little Kona is my first), and seem to only want pit bulls now. Thank you for sharing such a lovely story about the amazing breed, I hope stories like these will help others understand how good and lovable pit bulls really are!!!!

    • StubbyDog says:

      @lilpenny_21 That is our goal here at StubbyDog!

    • AmyTeal says:

      @lilpenny_21 My first pitbull was also named Kona, she was a blue pit and the cutest little girl I have ever seen. I have 2 more now (my ex husband has Kona =( unfortunatly) I don’t think I would ever get another breed, they truly are the best!

  13. AdrienneClegg says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I too have had my heart stolen by Pit Bull Type dogs, best theft of my life.

  14. KellyMatthews says:

    Awesome!! 🙂