Mind Over Misconceptions

June 20, 2012  

A black belt in martial arts who loves pit bulls talks about his first-hand experiences with stereotyping

By Matt Slawson

Herman and I spent two wonderful years together. He came into my life when I agreed to help a friend whose daughter had been trying to care for Herman but could no longer keep him. Herman was a clown and had a zest for life I fell in love with. Herman had two passions in life, playing with his Kong toy and snuggling, and he wasn’t shy about either. He would come prancing up to me, his Kong swinging from one side of his mouth, and give me “the look” as he dropped his favorite toy in my lap. The other passion, snuggling, never left Herman satisfied with only being close to daddy, as he would try to be absorbed by me as we snuggled. Herman loved stretching out under the window and bathing in the sun, leaving me convinced he was hiding a solar battery somewhere. He became part of my family. Our time together was all too short, but I’ll never be the same. Sadly, Herman passed away in April of 2012.

I introduced myself to a pastor at a local church I had been attending. As we were chatting, the pastor asked about me. Ever the proud pit bull parent, I couldn’t resist showing him pictures of my Herman. I was always proudly showing off pictures of my lil’ guy to anyone who would look. When the discussion turned to my other hobbies, I casually mentioned studying martial arts. That’s where the conversation took a detour. “You’re a black belt and you have a pit bull!” the pastor exclaimed. The implication was clear: the two had to be connected. One statement with two stereotypes: martial arts equals “tough guy,” and pit bull equals “dangerous.” In one breath two separate misconceptions had merged into one giant myth that pit bulls, as well as their humans, are dangerous. Pit bulls were being judged by their humans, and their humans judged by their dogs. To be fair, the pastor didn’t outright say he thought pit bulls were all evil, or that I was trouble. Still, I told him as nicely as I could that the dedicated martial artists I knew went out of their way to avoid any potential fights, and the pit bulls I knew were as human friendly as they come.

Another day I found myself talking with a nice, friendly woman when the subject of dogs came up. When I mentioned I had a pit bull, the woman, wide-eyed with shock, blurted out that I was “too sweet” to have a pit bull. I thanked her for saying I was sweet, then proceeded to explain that despite the hype, pit bulls by nature are the friendliest dogs I’ve ever been around, so, being sweet as I am, a pit bull was the logical choice.

Two separate conversations with two separate people both provided an opportunity to educate in a friendly, non-confrontational setting. The end result of either conversation may not have entirely changed their misconceptions of pit bulls, but it’s a start.

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30 Responses to “Mind Over Misconceptions”
  1. millermorgan says:

    I rescue rats and sometimes I carry pictures of them with me. I’ll show them to people and they “oooh and aaaw.”
    “Aren’t they cute? What are they? Hamsters?,” they’ll ask.
    “No, they’re rats.”
    The picture didn’t change….

    • StubbyDog says:

       @millermorgan We would love to hear more about that, if you want, can you write a little something up for us and email laurap@stubbydog.org. Your point transends the type of animal. Thank you.

    • pitbullsrock says:

      The same has happened with me and one of my dogs (the one that does therapy dog work). Scene: young child petting/throwing stick for my dog; Mom of child: “That’s one of the nicest dogs I’ve ever met, what is it?” Me: “Pit bull mix.” Mom grabs child and scurries away.
      P.S. I love rats. They are so smart! My boyfriend in high school had a white rat named Rastaman and he would entertain us for hours. We took him everywhere. Just a totally awesome pet. RIP Rastaman.

      • StubbyDog says:

         @pitbullsrock So sad people have a knee jerk reaction to a pit bull…or a rat for that matter after enjoying the animal’s company. As long as we keep showing pit bulls as great dogs, sooner or later, people’s perceptions will change.

    • Matt.S says:

      @millermorgan. Totally feel ya. Rat or pit bull, the problem is perception. Sorry that happened to you. I actually have a neighbor who met Herman shortly after he came to me who complimented him on his friendly, gentle disposition right up to the term pit bull was used. Said neighbor never went near him again. Go figure.

    • blazer says:

       Ah, same here!  We’ve had three pet rats in our family and loved them eternally. When we’d show off photos or tell stories about them, we’d get the same looks/responses.  Isn’t that funny?  Rats and pit bulls in similar boats? I have a cute photo of our pet rat lumbering around our pit bull in our yard on a beautiful day — it rebels against so many stereotypes!And Herman was a gorgeous dog — the photo of him lounging on the day bed is just wonderful. I too am so sorry their time together wasn’t longer.  Both rats and dogs don’t live long enough.  🙁

      • Matt.S says:

         @blazer  @millermorgan The picture of the rat & pit bull together would be fun to see. Any chance?

  2. DianaJones says:

    I remember a previous story I think you wrote because of the photo. It was how precious Herman saved you at a time in your life when it was looking very bleak. I am so awfully sorry to hear of his passing. He was truly a special dog, and clearly his life was too short. Thanks to both of you for being great ambassadors for who you are.

  3. Matt, it’s great to see your story up here! Thank you for writing it. It’s amazing how preconceived notions can override common sense in a lot of people. I’m sure these two people might have been afraid of Herman just because he was a pitbull…and then realized how very wrong they were once they met him. It’s sad that he’s not with you to dispel these stereotypes. May he rest in peace. 

    • Matt.S says:

      @annedreshfield. Sweet of you to say, thank you. In a way, Herman’s always going to be a part of who I am. He launched me on the mission that I’m on. I still see Herman when I look at the work ahead. Angels live forever.

  4. WillowWonderBull says:

    Isn’t it crazy how people can judge so easily?!  Thank you for educating in a kind, non confrontational manner. 

  5. pitbullsrock says:

    Keep up the great effort, Matt, for getting the word out there. I was recently volunterring at an ORT (odor recognition test) and a woman who owns a purebred breed (think Pres. Obama) told me she believes pit bulls are just different and when she and her husband encounter them on trails or on sidewalks they move their dog out of reach in case of an attack. I, too, took the opportunity to try and educate. Thankfully, another volunteer who is fostering 3 pit bulls right now and owns two mixes was there to chime in. I’m not sure we convinced her but I stressed dogs are only as good as the person handling the dog and asked her not to judge based solely on what she reads or hears.

  6. Matt.S says:

    Thank you all for the encouraging words. Herman was, and is my angel. I was blessed to have the time with Herman, short though it was. I’ve been blessed by the StubbyDog community also. Advocacy is now a life long thing for me and it helps to know I’m not alone in this. Bless you all.

  7. Judithg says:

    Matt, we love pitties!  Thanks for sharing the time with Herman with us.  Hopefully, you will find another friend that you can share your love with when you are ready.   Thinking of you and Herman.

  8. Love the way you handled the both situations.  I get the same look when I folks find out I am The Pretty Chic with the Pits.  When my friends found out I adopted Sasha a pit bull the response was similar “you always have to be different don’t you Kelli?” Why couldn’t you get a cutesy dog, why a rough dog?” When they meet Sasha & Krush they’re all in love.  silly folks

  9. MatinaVourgourakis says:

    Great story, I also am involved in martial arts, nowhere near a black belt!  and I have a pit bull and I’m female, so lots of putting stereotypes on their heads!

  10. ShannonThompson1 says:

    All 3 of mine are friendly and layed back (or devoted lick monsters), and people will be petting my Bucket Boy (after he has rolled over to expose his belly for easy access to the petter) and ask what bread he is.  More than once when I tell someone he is American Pit Bull Terrier/English Bull dog mix, they have said “Hmm…must be the English Bull dog that makes him so nice.”   It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad!

    • Matt.S says:

       @ShannonThompson1 That’s so true. Have you noticed mixed breed dogs with “pit Bull” in the mix are only reffered to as “pit bull mix” when accused of aggreesion? So sad.

  11. Matt.S says:

    Yesterday, I put on my Gi (martial ats uniform) for what was possibly the final time. One last set of pictures to honor my current instructor’s 25 years of teaching. Injuries and medical conditions have ended my training. Herman’s legacy is all that remains of that chapter of my life. As hard as it’s been to accept the finality of that, my future is all about advocacy and that’s alright by me.