Your Pit Bull

Dear River,

I want to tell you a story about your dog, Zoe. We found her cowering at the pound. She wasn’t barking like the other dogs. She was simply laying there, looking up at us. The tag said, “lab mix” and she was slated to be killed in a week. We fell for it, thinking we were buying a lab.

She is not a lab. She is a pit bull.


As Zoe grew, we came to realize the pound had lied. I was scared. I felt irresponsible for letting this type of dog into my home. All of the stereotypes, preconceptions and worries filled my mind. Should I take her back? What would people think of us?

She is the definition of disenfranchised. When first time guests visit we lock her in her cage, not because she is dangerous, but because of unspoken fears. She receives wary glances from strangers as they attempt to veil their tentative skittishness.

You can almost hear them thinking:

“Should I pet her?”

“Don’t look her in the eye!” (something we are all told not to do with Pit Bulls.)

Then Zoe goes to work breaking down walls. She knows what she needs to do. When people visit, she locks on my queues. I put my fingers by my side and snap. That’s all she needs. She rolls on her side, exposes her belly and shows the room that she knows her place, that she is safe to be around.

She builds the bridge. How tragic.

River, imagine a life of assumed mistrust and immediate barriers. Guilty until proven innocent. Imagine the tentative, wary interactions that would fill your day. This is Zoe’s life.

Yet, as a pit bull she is stubborn to prove them wrong. We brought you home from the hospital and her strong, gentle spirit shined. She sniffed you twice, glanced at me for approval then laid at your feet. She can explode into a maelstrom of muscle and speed but has never knocked over your older sister. She is gentle and strong, protective and loving. I feel shame for doubting her, for believing the pundits about her breed.


As a middle class white girl, you won’t experience life like Zoe. People won’t cross the street to avoid you. You won’t be hassled at the airport, searched while driving near the border, followed in stores, or questioned by police (unless you deserve it). “Probable cause” will be a foreign term to you.

River, you will encounter many people like Zoe as you grow, and you always have a choice. You can either embrace them or shut them out. Beautiful, strong, caring, and lovely people are all around.

Zoe is a pit bull, that’s a fact. A few years ago I stopped thinking of her as a pit bull, however, and started thinking of her as simply my dog. I stopped defining her by her breed and started defining her by her species.

The same goes for people. Before there is white, black, muslim, and christian, there is human. Individual dogs. Individual humans. Individuals with fears, hopes, dreams, pains, and loves.


But, never stop there. You see, eventually I began to love and appreciate Zoe’s breed. I no longer needed to look past her breed to feel good about my dog. I was proud to own a pit bull. I began to appreciate her strength, attentiveness, and tenderness.

Of course, Zoe knows no different. She isn’t separate from her breed. It’s an integral part of who she is, and it’s one of the many reasons that I love her.

And that is the goal.

Pursue holistic love and respect for every person. Sure, you may need to search out individuality and humanity to make a connection, but never stop there. Press on to marvel at the beautiful and unique characteristics of the whole person. What is uniquely beautiful about your Muslim friend, or your black friend? What is it about the particular race or religion that shines, that sets them apart? What can you learn from both the person as an individual and the person as part of a larger community?

River, like Zoe, you can be a hurricane of peace. You have the power to build a bridge, to destroy fears, and to weave harmony into the fabric of your community.

Love with all your heart. Watch and learn from those around you. Be an agent of peace.

Unleash your inner pit bull.

– Love Dad

Ryan Eland is a regular blogger on the Dad Letters. He is also the owner of Follow Ryan Eland on Twitter here.

Get your #agentofpeace Zoe t-shirt today. Buy the shirt, take a selfie with your pittie in the shirt, then upload to social using #agentofpeace #unleashyourinnerpitbull.

zoe t shirt

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  1. I love this post. We adopted a “lab mix” from the ASPCA 11 years ago. He turned out to be a pitmix and I was scared as well. I didn’t like what I read about the breed and felt uncomfortable. He was wild and didn’t know how to behave. I hated that dog and I told him so one night.
    He had spent his puppy life in a kennel, of course he was wild. Of course he didn’t know how to behave.
    He is going to be 12 next year and I am scared, I am scared of loosing my boy. He is the best dog we ever had, he is a Mama boy, he is my boy.

  2. Same story here. We were duped by the animal shelter, but have come to love our pit mix for his wonderful mix of traits. First and foremost, he is the most loving and affectionate dog you will find. Whoever had him last had him trained, and he will sit and stay, drool running like a river from his mouth, waiting for the okay to eat. I can count on him to heel with military precision through a long run without any danger of him taking off or veering in any direction. That’s 60 pounds of muscle on a regular leash. It’s pretty remarkable, really. I’m still afraid of meeting random pits out on my runs, but I have an appreciation for the breed that replaces the fear I had before.
    And this highlights the point you were trying to make about people. After Paris, one of the many thoughts that went through my mind, after the more fear-based ones dissipated somewhat, was that I just wanted to meet some Muslims for coffee, not to talk world politics, not to discuss religion, but just to talk, to reinforce my view that we are all striving for the same things – happiness, security, love, and peace.

    1. Hi C2avilez,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I think you hit it on the head. Nothing can replace personal relationship. There is so much fear, especially after things like Paris. I hate letting that fear win.

  3. I recently started reading blogs, and I must say, it’s the best I have read till now, it beautifully embraced Zoe and simultaneously defines what exactly humanity is. Wonderful and splendid.

  4. Truly touching,amazing, and true. I love that you were honest and chose this subject to talk of. The highlight of my day and I will remember this story for years to come. Sadly I have never had a pet. This makes me want to have one bad. Sharing your love with a pet is amazing I’ve heard and I wish one day I can fell the same feelings.

  5. The shelter lied about my dog, too. She was labeled as German Shepherd mix when she is clearly at least half pit bull. Before people abused them and trained them to kill, pits were called the Nanny Dog, because they are naturally so good with kids. I’ve never been afraid of any dog breed, because all dogs, like all people, are different.

  6. I met the friendliest pit bull the other day and like your dog, she had to break down all the barriers. It’s sad that it’s come to this – good people rendered senseless by fears society has created out of thin air. Pit bulls, like any other creature, are a product of their past and present.

  7. Such an inspiring story of Zoe and all she is & has become. I absolutely love this blog!
    Inspiring peace & love through fear of misunderstanding of dogs & humans. Amen!

  8. I can relate to your story completely. We got Kona as a boxer mix but I highly doubt there is any boxer in her. With a household full of kids ( ours and neighbors) we were so afraid at first that we were ready to take her back. She has never shown any aggression toward people, kids or dogs. In fact, she is very submissive around other dogs. We are working on OUR KIDS not to teach her some bad habits. People often cross the street when we walk but I don’t care any more. She is the sweetest, loving, cuddling and obedient dog you could ask for. I’m going to share it on my blog.

  9. With all the mania in the press over islamophobia, I believe this post came in completely perfect timing! Peoples should really start to recognize how racist they can be and address that part in them. I believe there’s a small racist inside each one of us. In order to kill that small racist inside, we need to admit that it exists first. Nice article!

  10. What a lovely, honest post. There should be more stories about these dogs in the media, then maybe they wouldn’t get such a bad reputation. What an inspiring post!

  11. Great Post, Ryan. Zoe looks like our dog, Katie, who we always claim is part pit bull. Although when people ask us, we just say, she’s a dog. But again, great letter to your kid.

  12. Just beautiful. I also own a pitbull. I wasn’t duped into believing he was a different breed, I obtained him with full awareness, but I have never been ignorant to other people’s prejudice against him. My heart feels sad when a child spends 10 minutes hugging him in the local pet food store, and when their smiling parent asks what breed he is, I see fear flash in their eyes and they pull their child back. I spend a lot of time trying to explain and show people why we shouldn’t stereotype dogs based on breed. And the correlation between dog breed stereotypes and human stereotypes often occurs to me. As a white middle class person myself, I am deeply aware that I’ve never experienced discrimination. I’ve never had to feel what it’s like, I’ve never had to feel afraid or sad that I’ve been judged on my appearance alone. I am incredibly lucky. But I’ve seen the hurt and confused look in my dogs eye. I’ve seen it when those children he is so happy to be petted by are wrenched away. I’m glad he can’t understand all the words people say, so he doesn’t have to hear the prejudiced things that come out of their mouth. In that respect, he is lucky, because he’s a dog. The people who experience the same life as him are unfortunately not so lucky.

  13. Awesome post and terrific photos. Zoe is a beautiful dog! I just lost mine
    after 14 years. Too bad folks give in to stereotype, whether it be dog, people or culture.

  14. Unfortunately we are a World full of people who need to have a problem with someone or something.Pit bull dogs.Black cats.
    This is how it is.We have to learn from our Animals.There was a story going around about a boy who lost his dog.The dog passed away.The boy said.”Dogs know love so they only need to be here for a short time.Where as we need to learn to love. That’s why we have a longer time on earth.”.
    From a small boy these words are profound.

  15. I also have one of those dogs that have a stigma attached to her, she is a Doberman. She is an incredible dog, on a daily basis she shows you one of her hidden talents. I say on a regular basis she is smarter than most of my relatives. She is the most athletic dog I have even had, kind of like a 70 lb cat. People are afraid of her but in truth she is just a dog. Unfortunately this what happens when the media gets to define things. Whether it is dogs,people or religions.

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