Unlike human parents, dog parents don’t have to wait to get a peek at their new additions. Families can walk right into their local shelters to choose their next best friends. And usually, upon first sight, they have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting.
The Ribas family got a surprise last year when they picked out a puppy from a litter that had been dropped off at their local humane society.
The pups were labeled as Lab mixes, which suited the family just fine. They wanted a companion for their aging Labrador Retriever, Allie. Allie was a gem, and they figured another Lab would be a perfect addition to their home. Mom Christa wasted no time getting to the shelter and quickly met one particularly wiggly puppy who was just what she wanted: that trademark Labrador chocolate-bar color. Excited, she took him home that day.
Soon enough, Christa began posting Facebook photos of the new pup they had named Baxter. Just as quickly, friends began commenting on his looks. A handsome boy he was! But that’s not all—the phrase “pit bull” kept coming up. Uh-oh! Vicious dog alert!
A visit to the Ribas’ longtime veterinarian confirmed that, along with Lab characteristics, Baxter had some Pit Bull characteristics as well. (Remember: "Pit Bull" is not a breed, but a commonly used blanket term for various bully breeds.) This situation exemplifies an ongoing dilemma for shelters in America: dropped-off pets and litters.
Shelters are tasked with determining the breed, health, and other details about these animals; litters are especially difficult due to health and nutritional needs of the babies and the availability of space. Pets are left in various states---tied to fences, in boxes, or, in a recent trend, put into “drop boxes” designated by shelters.
Drop boxes, as noted in this article
, are controversial. Some people believe they prevent unwanted pets and strays from being abused or neglected, while others see the anonymous drop-off stations as problematic because they encourage irresponsible behavior.
Although a lifelong dog lover, Christa admits she was wary of taking on a dog who would be stigmatized. A few days into the adoption, she spoke with a friend whose brother had returned a puppy from the same litter after learning of its breed. This is common, unfortunately.
Potential adopters often avoid Pit Bulls or return dogs after realizing there's Pit in the mix. The process of labeling surrendered and stray animals is complicated by both lack of information and time, says Humane Society of Harrison County
Director, Frankie Michelle Dennison:
Animal controls are often so busy that they label them quickly. Rescues often have a little more time to check the animals over and make a better guess; in rare cases when time allows, they’ll refer to veterinarians for help.
Dennison’s perspective deserves a doggone high five:
I personally don’t mind the label ‘pit bull,’ because if someone comes into my shelter and cringes as soon as they see pit bull on the card, I can educate them on what a wonderful breed they truly are and to not judge dogs by breed.
Bravo! Christa's husband, Andy, took a similar attitude when Christa expressed concern. He dismissed the stigma and assured her of their ability to raise their new addition with love and care. Plus, as she said, “We were already attached and deep down knew he was a keeper regardless of the breed.”
Baxter quickly became a special friend for the Ribas' kids, ages eleven, seven, and four. He also became a well-rounded student, attending informal puppy socials from 8–22 weeks old and then obedience classes at a local kennel.
Unbeknownst to the family, the timing of Baxter’s arrival was crucial. Three months after he came along, their beloved Allie passed away. Baxter, they say, was their savior during that period of grief and loss.
While the Ribases fell fast for Baxter, that isn't always the case for those who cross his path. The oldest Ribas child, Zach, has been questioned about his pup when on walks in their community, and neighbors who used to stop by for front-yard chats no longer do so.
The penetrating power of the Pit Bull stereotype has reached the Ribas's extended family too. While Baxter's human grandma doesn't avoid him entirely, she's timid in his presence, and Christa finds herself reassuring her mom that Baxter's rambunctious demeanor is all about being a puppy and not an indication of impending aggression.
Despite the obstacles, Christa and Andy Ribas are confident in the family’s stewardship of their Pit Bull mix. This lucky dog has a mom with the right attitude:
Dogs behave well when their owners are consistent, firm and loving with their expectations! Public perceptions of pit bulls are a result of media hype and lack of education.
These days, Baxter fills his days romping with neighbors’ dogs and chewing his share of shoes---after all, pups will be pups! The only battles involving this Pit Bull boy are when the Ribas kids vie for cuddle time with him. He’s also known to give a kiss or two to a certain little girl who likes to sit next to him while he snacks.
All in all, Baxter Ribas sounds like a pretty cool cat... for a dog. The Ribas family couldn’t love him more and hope their happy ending will serve to raise awareness and acceptance. This puppy love story is a great example of how love is breed-blind and how perceptions can change if you give one wagging tail a chance.