Breed profile: American Heinz 57

“Now, your dogs are full pit, right?”

This is a question I get pretty often. Most of the time it’s our friends asking out of simple curiosity, and there’s no harm in that. One time a guy and his wife pulled over as I was walking Nelson to ask if he had papers. If you don’t know about the whole “type vs breed” thing, I guess I can understand someone asking about it if they encounter one of my dogs individually, but I have to chuckle when someone asks if these three dogs are all purebreds of the same breed.

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Maybe it’s because I grew up riding and owning horses, and thus spent a lot of time differentiating animals based on things other than color or coat pattern, but Nelson, Niles, and Celia look nothing alike to me. Celia is a good three inches shorter than the other two, but she’s by far the most athletic and graceful. She has a pretty, arched neck, powerful shoulders, and one heck of a badonkadonk. She weighs between 40 and 50 pounds. Niles is as tall as Nelson, but he’s decidedly slimmer (proportionally) than the other two and carries himself much flatter from head to tail. He has good muscle tone but no bulk, and he’s not particularly graceful but he’s fast and can jump high when he puts his mind to it. He weighs about 60 pounds. Nelson is not proportional because he has bad hips, but he has massive, muscular shoulders, a thick neck, and an enormous head. He can reach a pretty good speed when he’s flat-out after a ball, but his turning radius is about the same as a tractor trailer and he’s not exactly light on his feet. He weighs 75 to 80 pounds.

Based on those factors alone, I don’t really get how people see much similarity between them. To me, it’s like looking at these three horses and asking if they’re the same breed.

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While all three of my dogs do have the same basic head shape, it’s at the most very basic level, as in “somewhere between greyhound snoot and pug button.” Celia’s ears are the most obvious difference, but Niles and Nelson have ears of different shapes, sizes and sets even though they both fold down. Celia has a minor, adorable underbite, and while Nelson does not, they could both hang onto a toy until Jesus comes if they didn’t find something better to do. Niles has the grip strength of a dead catfish, which is especially funny given that his whole litter came with a bite inhibition protocol when we got them.

All of this actually does have a point, and it’s not that people should be more observant or educated on general conformation or anything like that. I think it’s funny that people don’t see the differences, but I don’t mind. I don’t mind when they ask what breed they are, either; I’m just not shy about launching into the difference between a breed and a type anymore. No, this actually matters because of that whole “Pit bulls all _________.” thing. You can insert any negative descriptor you like, but you know the usual suspects; “are inherently vicious,” “are aggressive,” “have triple-locking jaws,” “are bad with other dogs,” “have mean, little eyes,” “were bred to fight,” “need a firm hand,” so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

My dogs have major physical differences that go beyond variation within a breed, and that’s because they’re not a breed. Nobody should be trying to predict exact behaviors based on breed anyway, but if when people are in the habit of that, I get pretty pissed when they come up in here and try to tell me my dog — who’s a Wheaten terrier/labrador/Afghan hound/pug mix, for all they know — has some kind of honed fighting gene that miraculously got stronger as it was passed through the bloodline instead of diluting. If you’re skeptical as to whether people are really so harsh based on a label, consider this: One of my rescue friends told me that, in her old neighborhood, people used to be really bold about approaching her and her husband to tell them they shouldn’t own such a dangerous breed of dog, let alone bring it in public. To combat this, her husband started making up breed names – “Oh, she’s actually a Siberian Barrow Hound!” – and miraculously, their attitudes would change.

Once again, I’m not offended when people simply ask, because I see it as a chance to educate. Sure, some people look at me like, “Okay lady, it was a yes or no question; I don’t need your thesis,” but that’s all right. I think it’s just part and parcel of having pit bulls, and really, it’s a small price to pay.

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