Pit bull mixes up for adoption

Puppies labeled as pit bull mixes up for adoption at Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.

How did the pit bull fall so far in so short of a time?

I am 30 years old and female. I have a credit score that hovers around 800. I have been at my job for four years. I have a flawless rental history. In short, I am a catch for any prospective landlord. Or at least I should be.

I guess no one is perfect and my downfall as a tenet is the company I keep. Unfortunately, I am inextricably in love and I will not dump them. That's right, I said them and no, I am not polyandrous. They are my dogs. And they are pit bulls. Well, they might be, and apparently that is all it takes to get the door slammed in the face of my otherwise perfect application.

I got my first pit bull 10 years ago, quite by accident. I had a boyfriend at the time who was the type of tough guy that 20-something-year-old girls sometimes fall in love with. Well, this boyfriend had a dog. A pit bull that was meant to serve the same purpose as the macabre tattoo on his forearm - to intimidate. As a dog lover I didn't quite see this as a valid function for an animal so I befriended his dog. It was love and I don't mean with the boyfriend.

Predictably, the relationship ended and the girl and her dog set off into the world alone. I got Cooper neutered, had him licensed and put proper identification tags on him. Tragically, Cooper couldn't stand to be separated from me and one day - while visiting my dad in Phoenix who was dog-sitting Cooper at the time - my dog ran out the door, undoubtably looking for me.

I searched and searched for my boy. The Maricopa County Animal Care and Control is only required to hold dogs for 72 hours before euthanizing them, so every three days I drove down from Prescott and walked up and down the narrow corridors of the pound. I did this for well over a year and never found him. What I did find was other pit bulls. A lot of other pit bulls.

Day after day, week after week, I saw these dogs. Seventy percent of the pit bull-type dogs I saw there died there. Over 9,000 per year. And in the eyes of every one I saw mirrored the same utter adoration of humans that I had always seen in Cooper's eyes. I couldn't understand why they were so hated, so maligned, so disposable.

This was, after all, a dog breed that had once been part of Americana. Pit bulls represent the face of the U.S. on World War I propaganda posters. Helen Keller had a pit bull-type dog. Petey, with the notable ring around his eye, stands sanguinely next to the children he accompanied in the "Little Rascals."

In fact, while mothers snatch their children and grown men cross the street when they see my leashed, tail-wagging, possible pit bull mix coming towards them, elderly people, who look as if they could be blown over by a gentle breeze, stop to pet my dogs saying, "I had one that looked just like this when I was a kid. Best dog I ever had."

So how did the pit bull fall so far in so short of a time? That simple question is enough to write a book on, and many have. There is significant statistical data to disprove much of the hysteria surrounding pit bulls, but enough gaps to leave the rest open to interpretation.

One thing that is not in question is that no matter who you are, finding a home with a pit bull can be a trying experience and is enough to even deter avid pit bull lovers from adopting one. It is little wonder so many end up in and never leave the pound.

"That's exactly why they fill the shelters" said Danielle Lasker, a volunteer with Mayday Pit Bull Rescue.

She advises that people come prepared, look professional, have a city dog license, make sure your dogs are well-trained and offer renter's insurance that extends liability coverage to all dog breeds. Good advice that I adhered to in my search. Unfortunately, when I tried to be up-front and honest I never got past the word pit bull.

Amanda Ahern of Mesa had a similar experience when she tried to find a home with her rescued dog that might be a pit mix. Because of this experience she decided the next dog she adopted wasn't going to be a pit bull-type.

"I didn't want to get another one, especially one that was pure pit bull because I knew I'd have a hard time finding a place to rent," said Ahern, adding that this was the only reason she was reluctant to get a pit bull.

Ultimately, she got one anyway because she couldn't bear to leave it abandoned in the parking lot where someone was getting ready to dump it. For her compassion she will be rewarded by having the doors of many apartment complex rental offices closed to her.

"If that deters people from getting this breed, I'd rather take this on," said Mandy Palmucci, founder of bullyconsultants.com, a site which helps owners of rescued pit bulls find housing.

Palmucci dedicates her free time to be an intermediary between dog owners and property managers. She said having a third party can really help because she is able to answer questions about the breed without having the personal stress of looking for a home.

I wish I had found bullyconsultants.com before I began my housing search. In the end, I had to sneak in the door with the generic term of mixed-breed and then sell myself. Luckily, I found a landlord that cared much more about my dogs' behavior than my guesses at who their parents were. We are happily settled in to a wonderful new home, but it took over two months of searching. Those who are already struggling financially or people who must move quickly often don't have the luxury that I had in finding a place that will allow their companion. And one more pit bull will pay the price.

• Morgan Sailor is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.

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