Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Truth About Pit Bulls

I've often written about living aboard Drift Away with Ruby and Chevy, our two pit bulls.  Most people who have dogs aboard either have the small yappy variety, or some kind of water dog, such as retrievers.  Not us.  We have to be different.  This is how we came to have them.

A couple of years ago, our neighbor's dog gave birth to eleven pit bull puppies. The neighbor called Pam, who is a veterinary technician, to check them out to make sure they were all heathly.   They were.  She went over a few times to look in on them, as well as their mother.   Mom was loosing weight.  She couldn't feed all those babies.  Pam asked if we could adopt one. 

"No, are you crazy?  They're pit bulls.  They'll bite your arm off!", protested I.

"Nonsense.  Those would be Chihuahuas."

So we brought Ruby home.   We also had a guinea pig at that time that was about the same size as Ruby.

Tony came running over to see the new addition to our family.  Ruby was afraid of Tony and cowered in a corner.  After all, she had seen nothing but her mother, her siblings, and a few people in her five weeks of life.  In no time, though, they became great friends, and they loved each other.  Tony would even tease Ruby by sometimes taking whatever Ruby was chewing on and running away with it.  Ruby got even by climbing inside Tony's cage and eating his food.

When we moved aboard Drift Away, it became apparent that Tony just didn't fit.  We gave him to a new family with a child where he'd have a better home.  Ruby was visibly depressed for several weeks.
About a year after we got Ruby, Pam answered the telephone at work, something she rarely did, but everyone else in the office was busy.  It was a woman who asked if they would euthanize her dog. 

"What's wrong with the dog?", asked Pam.

"Nothing.  My son found it abandoned in a warehouse in Bridgeport and brought it home, but then he moved away and left the dog, and I don't want it."

Or course, Pam told the woman that no ethical vet would put down a healthy dog, but she was worried that the woman might find an unethical vet.   She asked the woman to bring the dog into the office and they'd put it in a rescue program.   The woman did, Pam fell in love with Chevy, and decided that we would foster him until a home could be found. 

We think Chevy was a "bait dog", a dog that was used to train other dogs to fight.  His backside is very scarred, he has scars from a muzzle on his snout (so he couldn't bite back) and the tip of his right ear was cut off.  He weighed only 50 pounds.   In spite of all that, he was a loving, friendly dog.
For Ruby and Chevy, it was love at first sight.  Chevy climbed aboard, trotted into the main saloon, and the two dogs looked at each other.  Chevy smiled, Ruby wagged her tail, and they started playing.   I think that, somehow, Chevy knew he had found his forever home.

Smudge the cat was none too happy, though. 

She'd been through several dogs in her 20 years.  It was bad enough when she had to deal with one dog, and now she had two.

Below is a 3:30 video.  This is how pit bulls play.   One will put a toy in it's mouth and taunt the other with it.  A wrestling match ensues.   Gertie thinks this is great fun too, and her way of participating is to snag tails as they come by.  

Many people have a perception as pit bulls being mean, unstable dogs.   Heck, I thought that too, so I can't be too critical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, pit bulls are very powerful for their size.   At 70 pounds, Ruby can pull harder on her leash than our 150 pound St. Bernard.   But, by nature, they are not mean or aggressive dogs.  They have to be trained to be that way.   Most temperment tests actually rank pit bulls as among the best tempered of dogs.  The American Temperment Test Society ranks pit bulls at 86% compared to 77% for the general dog population.  Chihuahuas rank 71%.  Pam was right.

Pit bulls were bred to be strong, agile, have a high tolerance for pain (Ruby tore her ACL about a year ago, we think, but hid the pain so well we didn't realize it), and to be non-aggressive towards people.  About a hundred years ago, they were the most popular family dog and were called "nanny dogs" because they're so good with children.  Ruby, our female, especially love children, and she's particularly fascinated with babies.

Remember Pete from the Little Rascals?   If any bad guys were after the Little Rascals, they'd yell "Sic 'em Pete!" and the dog would chase them away.

Ruby loves the water.  I swear, she's part otter.  She taught Chevy to swim last summer, and now they both romp and play in the water.  Pits make good water dogs, it turns out.

Ruby and Chevy have become floating ambassadors for their breed.  When people encounter us walking the dogs, they will often cross to the other side of the street.  Those that give them a chance, though, find their tails wagging and hands getting licked.   If they get low enough,  they'll get their faces licked too.

It's just their nature.  They love people.
Pit bulls are protective of their home and families, however.  If the dogs are outside and anyone passes by on the dock, the dogs will bark.   If anyone knocks on our boat, the dogs will bark.   They are excellent watch dogs.  I put my rifle and shotgun in storage.


As you can see by his curly tail and wrinkled face, Chevy is part Shar Pei, which is a Chinese guard dog.   While Ruby will snooze on the foredeck, Chevy is usually patrolling the perimeter of the boat.  He'll even watch  to make sure the Canada Geese don't get too close.

We'll be leaving Annapolis as soon as a package I ordered arrives, sometime in the next day or two.  If you see Drift Away as we head south, stop by and meet the dogs.    They'll bark at you with tails wagging .  Just call them by name and watch them smile.  Bring them cookies and you'll have friends for life.


  1. Love being attacked by a viscious kisses around...:)

  2. Hey Dave, Safe Travels as you head south. I won't try to tempt you as you are late heading south, already.

    But, next spring on your way back up the Chesapeake take the time to go up the Choptank. Our new marina is at the head of Cambridge Creek in a nice little hurricane hole. We'd love to meet those dogs and let them chase ours.