Pitbulls, along with several other breeds, have been getting a bad reputation over the last few decades, mainly due to sensationalized and incomplete media reports involving dog bites and fatalities. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 78 million dogs are owned by 62 million households. Yet fatal dog attacks are very rare: approximately 20 per year which equals .0000002% of the dog population.
Some states have enacted Breed Specific Legislation against several breeds including Pitbulls, German Shepherds, and Rottweillers and many apartment buildings prohibit specific breeds from residing there with their owners. However, there are individuals and groups out there attempting educate people about these breeds, breed specific legislation laws, and discrimination. One of these individuals is Deirdre Franklin, founder of Pinups for Pitbulls (PFPB), a certified 501c3 not-for-profit organization.
Founded in 2005, PFPB educates people about Pitbulls and pitbull-type dogs, while also doing animal rescue and sponsoring animal rehabilitation. PFPB works with dog trainers, behaviorists, rescue organizations, and other animal welfare groups, creating educational materials and hosting educational seminars and programs, raising awareness of the plight Pitbulls face.
Deirdre had several inspirations for starting PFPB. First was an attempt to rescue a pitbull mix dropped off at a refuge where she volunteered and being unable to due to the refuge kill policy aimed at pitbull-type dogs. It was after this experience Deirdre was able to rescue Carla Lou, another pitbull, from Chako, a Texas rescue organization.
“She was a tenacious, loyal, gentle and loving soul,” Deirdre describes. “Her eyes were very soulful and had powerful effects of healing people who were hurting. She was full of love and grace.”
She was also frustrated by all of the pitbull-type dogs she witnessed being pulled from the streets of the New Orleans/Baton Rouge area after hurricane Katrina. “I was there doing animal search & rescue work with the Humane Society of the United States and In Defense of Animals,” Deirdre said. It was during that trip, she realized she could utilize her pinup modeling work to continue to help rescue these dogs.
“I realized that since I had a great following of my pinup modeling work and those same people helped me raise money to pay for my flight to New Orleans to do my rescue work that I could do something with the attention I had and the faith that people had in me,” Deirdre said.
To help raise money for her organization, Deirdre sells a number of products on her website, including human and dog t-shirts with the PFPB slogan, “Take My Leash, Not My Life”, coffee mugs, hot sauce, and an annual pinup calendar featuring pinup girls and their dogs. “I myself am a pinup girl and had been modeling long before I started Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc. It began to feel empty to me in just creating photographs so I decided to merge my two loves into one: modeling and pit bull dogs. There was a need for education in the dog and non-dog realm and I wanted to fill that gap.”
Part of Deirdre’s wish is to restore the image of the pitbull-type dog’s reputation, a reputation that was once noble and honorable.
“In WWI/WWII era, the American Pitbull Terrier was known as a nanny dog (Helen Keller had one and the dog on Little Rascals, Petey, was an APBT as well). The first dog to cross a bridge in a car was a pitbull-type dog as well. They were used on propaganda posters to illustrate the United State’s ability to be tenacious during hard times. Sadly, since the 1980s they have been vilified in the media as ‘monsters.’ This is a very different image from their heyday,” Deirdre explains. “This is largely a result of poor media reporting. For instance, they are not taking the time to use due diligence in their reporting process. As an example, many dogs in today’s media reports are victims of abuse and live on chains, but the media calls them ‘family pets.’ We don’t treat our family members this way.”
Dog aggression can stem from many variables including: heredity, early experiences, lack of training and socialization, lack of neutering or spaying, chaining them, raising dogs to be aggressive through training for protection and dog fighting, and lack of supervision. While any dog can learn to become aggressive, and size is no barrier to the harm that can be inflicted by a bite, Breed Specific Legislation targets mainly larger breeds that have been demonized in the media after a dog bite or fatal incident occurs.
“Breed specific legislation is a set of discriminatory laws that are enacted to create a feeling of community safety,” Deirdre says. “Unfortunately, banning dogs based on your perceived understanding of breed has nothing to do with how an individual dog behaves. Banning dogs based on breed versus behavior is a waste of tax dollars and resources that could be better used if spent on educating people on proper dog training methods and enforcing existing leash laws.”
One of the unintended consequences of breed specific laws is they don’t make the public safer. When a breed is banned, those individuals who will continue to engage in dog fighting, or who want to own a dog for protection or status, will simply turn their attention to another large breed. After a ban in Iowa on Pitbulls, bites from Labradors increased while a similar ban in Winnipeg, Canada showed bites from Rottweilers increasing. There are other ways to make the public safer. If laws regarding leashes, licenses, anti-tethering, sterilization, dog fighting, and abuse were enforced better, if consequences for breaking these laws were commensurate with the crime, and if owners were held accountable for the control of their dogs, there would be less incidents happening and less dogs being unnecessarily euthanized.
“There is no ‘inherently more dangerous breed/mix’ despite what the propaganda makers want you to believe. Dogs deserve the opportunity to be members of our families and to be spared from suffering. Every dog is an individual and should be afforded the chance to live a good life based on love and positive reinforcement training methods,” says Deirdre.
When it comes to coping with the naysayers out there who don’t have faith in the ability for Pitbulls to be kind, loving animals Deirdre states, “I cope with knowing that we have science and facts on our side. I don’t need every person on the planet to adopt a pitbull-type dog, but what I do need people to understand is that all dogs have the propensity to bite, and regardless of the size of a bite, people can die. It doesn’t matter what the breed of dog it is, a dog can be trained or a dog can be ignored, either way it is the Human that is responsible for the dog’s behavior. All dogs are innocent. Generalizing safety based on how a dog looks is nonsensical and results in continual bite statistics that are maintained or raised due to a lack of facts and human error.”
Pitbulls, says Deirdre, “are gentle, noble, loving and kind. They are very interested in their people. They are the underdog that truly deserves a chance to shine. Many are service dogs, therapy dogs, some work in search and rescue, and some for police investigations. We should love that they are willing to trust us regardless of what we have done to their kind.”
Written by MaryAnn Aquilino | Photo by Celeste Giuliano Photography