When Jen Deane walks her dog Nala down the street, many people cross to the other side.
But when Nala wears a pretty ballerina tutu, most approach and want to pet her. And Nala loves people and to be petted.
She’s a pure bred American Staffordshire Terrier, and “is kind, trustworthy, sweet, loyal – and easily trained,” Deane says. Typical of her breed, she has a nice temperament.
But American Staffordshires, along with American Pit Bull Terriers, are also known as pit bulls – which have a reputation for being aggressive and unpredictable, Deane says. The reason: most dogs called pit bulls are really mixed breeds that are incorrectly identified. “Any stocky big headed dog could be considered a pit bull,” she says. According to Deane, their appearance doesn’t say anything about their personality, because “all dogs are different.”
Regardless, dogs labeled pit bulls are shunned, difficult to place with adoptive families, and owners of these pups often face breed restrictions from home owners associations, apartment complexes and insurance companies, Deane says.
That’s why she dresses Nala in a tutu for walks, and while visiting schools, nursing homes and hospitals. Nala is a certified therapy dog and a representative for Pit Sisters, a pit bull rescue organization that Deane founded with her sister, Sybil Turner.
“Dressing a dog up cuts down on preconceived ideas people have about them,” Deane says. “They are more likely to approach her if she has a tutu on.”
Pit Sisters rescues dogs from shelters and places them in family homes. When volunteers bring the dogs to community events, they often dress the females in tutus and the males in bow ties and top hats, to draw positive attention. Once a potential owner gets close, they can get to know the dog a little bit.
Pit Sisters has rescued more than 225 dogs in the three years they’ve been in operation. The organization strives to bring awareness to the fact that stocky big headed dogs can make great pets.
Deane blames the media and police for pit bulls’ bad reputations. “When a dog attacks somebody, it’s more likely to be called a pit bull,” she says.
Before adopting Nala six years ago, she also just assumed that they were bad dogs. “I believed what I read,” she says. “My husband at the time thought that a pit bull would be a good idea.”
Through research, she discovered “their temperaments are among the best.” She has since adopted Tank, a 7-year-old blind pit bull; Amos, a 3-year-old mixed breed; Pibble, a 1-year-old mixed breed; and Cynder, a 3-year-old mixed breed.
Many of the dogs that Pit Sisters are called to rescue are not actually pit bulls, Deane says. Some don’t even look like them. Some even look like Jack Russell Terriers.
But “we take them anyway, we don’t discriminate,” she says. “We are asking people not to discriminate – so why should we?”
For more information about Pit Sisters, visit PitSisters.org.