Strut your pit bull … er, mutt!

This past Saturday I had the good fortune to attend the Best Friends Strut Your Mutt event in New York City and to help out with a little emceeing.

Strut Your Mutt is a fantastic event wherever it’s held (12 cities this year, plus the virtual walk). This one was no disappointment. It was a beautiful afternoon at Pier 84 in Hudson River Park, and the place was packed with folks and their dogs gathered to raise money for New York area rescue organizations. They raised more than $281,000! That’s a lot of money for vet bills and pet food for organizations working hard to save the lives of New York City animals.

My favorite activity at any Strut Your Mutt is dog watching — big, small, old and young. Some are too creaky to get around easily so they spend the afternoon in doggie strollers or in someone’s arms.

I was also really pleased to see so many pit-bull-terrier-like dogs smiling their big cartoon smiles and hanging with all the other types of dogs on the crowded pier. My favorite was a big-headed baby named Muddy from the Town of Hempstead Shelter. I was hoping that he would be in a home by now because he is such a sweetheart, but he’s still on the shelter’s Petfinder page listed as an American bulldog/mastiff mix, which makes sense. Anyway, someone go rescue Muddy!

Whatever Muddy actually is — and regardless of his sweet disposition and highly social demeanor — there is a small but vocal minority of haters out there who never miss the chance to call for the eradication of dogs who bear a passing resemblance to a pit bull terrier, including Muddy.

These rabid folks cite bite reports and data that are by definition flawed, as is their anti-pit-bull advocacy. I say “flawed” with a high degree of confidence because all of their statistics are based on newspaper reports, which are written to sell papers. At the very best, a reporter will learn the breed of a dog involved in a dog bite incident from the responding police office or animal shelter worker, if the reporter bothers to check at all. That’s where the problem begins. With the advent of available and affordable DNA canine testing, several studies have determined that many shelter workers don’t know their bassets from a hole in the ground. The National Canine Research Council has lots of great information about the difficulty of identifying a dog’s breed simply by looking at the dog.

In one study, conducted by an impressive array of veterinarians at the University of Florida and Michigan State University, the vets came up with the startling result that more than half of the dogs identified as pit bulls by staff at four different Florida shelters did not qualify as even one-quarter pit bull or staffie, according to their DNA markers.

Another peer-reviewed study, published by Victoria L. Voith, PhD, DVM, DACVB, and colleagues from the Western University of Health Sciences, originally compared the breed identifications assigned by adoption agencies (shelters and rescue groups) to dogs of unknown parentage with DNA breed analysis of the same dogs. They found low agreement between the two.

And yet, the anti-pit-bull crowd is undeterred by reality. There are a variety of risk factors associated with dogs who bite, including lack of early socialization and whether the dog is a house pet or a yard dog, male or female, fixed or intact. None of the dog bite prevention measures promoted by the CDC mention breed. Interesting.

It is a known fact that two of the leading pittie hate mongers were bitten by dogs they believed to be pit bull terriers, so while understandable, their agenda is hardly objective. The bottom line with dog behavior and ownership is that all dogs are individuals and should be treated that way. And responsible pet ownership is the key to safe and humane communities.

I can’t imagine what the haters would have made of what I guessed were pit-bull-terrier- like dogs (lacking my handy-dandy DNA kit) having such a great time at Strut Your Mutt in New York — especially Cherry, one of the Vicktory dogs who survived Michael Vick’s fighting operation. Cherry was there in his happy-as-a-clam breed ambassador role, getting loved on by people of all sizes and ages, and schmoozing with all the dogs who stopped by his tent to say hello and take a selfie.

Cherry and every other dog at Strut Your Mutt are examples of happy, friendly dogs who have responded to the love and the kindness shown to them. That’s what ALL dogs do and that’s why we love them so much.

Together, we can Save Them All.

Francis Battista