Sure, Baltimore has always been a great place for people, but lately it's really gone to the dogs—and cats, and ferrets, and finches, too. Witness the boom in first-rate dog obedience schools, self-serve dog washes, doggie day care centers, bustling dog parks, and AKC-worthy groomeries. With that in mind, our pet primer aims to help you find everything you and your little buddy need—from organic oat grass for your tabby, to the perfect playdate spot for your pug, to a first-rate obedience class for your (mischievous) malamute. Read on, and happy tails!
GROOMERS & SPAS
Bark 'n Bean, 130 Hillsmere Dr., 410-268-7387. We'd be hard pressed to find a cuter concept than the one behind Bark 'n Bean—a coffee bar and dog wash all in one. This dog wash is both self-serve and full-serve, and no appointment is necessary. You can do-it-yourself with one of four easy-to-use wash systems or leave the washing, drying, combing, and ear cleaning to one of the pros and sit back and enjoy a Café Cubano (as well as free Wi-Fi access) under this Annapolis shop's private label in the coffee bar or adjacent lounge, where you can also shop for unique pet products.
Fells Point Pet Center, 1916 Fleet St., 410-276-2433. The best human stylists have a way of connecting with their clients—and that's true of dog groomers as well. At Fells Point Pet Center, groomer Diane Wallace (who has groomed several first-place American Kennel Club and Eukanuba champions) understands that getting beautified can be a stressful experience for your pet. To ensure the experience is a pleasant one, a single session can take up to six hours with plenty of naptime, walking breaks, and TLC in between bathing, shearing, and blow-drying sessions.
The Groomery, 1619 Sulgrave Ave., 410-367-3647. Human hair salons have come and gone in the village of Mt. Washington, but The Groomery—open for grooming since 1986—has stood the test of time. Owner Kathy Phillips runs her shop like an old-fashioned business. She doesn't have a website, she doesn't take credit cards, and she doesn't use any of the new-fangled equipment you see at more frou-frou shops, but she works wonders with hand scissors, a blow dryer, and the knowledge that a Portuguese water dog has different needs than a Lhasa apso. Phillips's fans include Nest magazine editor/former Baltimore resident Joseph Holtzman, who commuted from Manhattan for years so Phillips could groom his standard poodle, Guido.
Pampered Paws Salon, 203 Old Padonia Rd., 410-628-7055. Donna Weiner's groomery is set inside a charming old, yellow clapboard house with pink and white zinnias spilling out of window boxes. Everyone feels at home here, and dog owners (including WBAL-TV anchorwoman Marianne Banister with her King Charles Cavalier, Kelsey) linger to catch up on their canines or eat a Hershey's Kiss out of the crystal candy dish. Groomers Beth Bachran and Kelly Ingman—who have nearly 50 years of experience between them—hand fluff and hand dry every dog, and treat every furry customer like their own.
Scrub-a-Dub Dog, 5909 Falls Rd., 443-919-7909. Giving a dog a bath can be a full contact sport, but the days of wrestling your bull mastiff into the kitchen sink are behind you with this newly opened dog wash in Mt. Washington. Self-serve washing and blow-drying stations, plus stacks of towels and disposable aprons, help make washing your dog hassle free. Scrub-a-Dub also sells a unique line of Uppity Puppy spa shampoos, Revitalize doggie vitamin waters, William Wegman-designed dog beds, and a doggie treadmill for those down days when Rover wants exercise, and you don't. Send in a photo of your grubby dog for the dubious honor of winning the monthly "Dirty Dog" contest. (The winner gets a free makeover!)
Wash the Wag, 3508-3510 Harford Rd., 410-366-PAWS. At Wash the Wag, you can stop by for a self-serve pet wash, a lion cut for your cat, or a cutting edge 'do for your poodle from one of several experienced groomers. But the experts at this year-old Lauraville-area shop also aim to shower you with useful information on what to do when your tabby has itchy skin or which holistic supplements add luster to your dog's coat. This dog wash is also one of the few we've found with a special hydrotherapy bathing unit for thick-coated dogs or dogs with skin conditions.
KENNELS/DOGGIE DAY CARE
Best Friends Fur Ever, 1009 Philadelphia Rd., 410-671-7529. With an acre-and-a-half area for swimming, sunning, and sniffing; large indoor areas with radiant heated floors; and a caring, dedicated staff, Best Friends Fur Ever is the kind of day care center and boarding facility your dog will never want to leave. With a 24/7 on-site manager, Best Friends is also one of the few outlets in the area that boards geriatric dogs, many of whom are often turned away by other kennels because of their special needs (be it incontinence issues or requiring middle-of-the-night medication). It's nice to know that when it says forever—er, furever—it means it.
Camp Bow Wow, 7165 Oakland Mills Rd., 410-964-BARK. Just opened in August, this day care and overnight boarding facility in Columbia is one of 90 Camp Bow Wows across the country (and the first in Maryland). Playtime prevails in spacious indoor and outdoor play areas supervised by one of Camp Bow Wow's certified camp "counselors" trained in dog behavior, pet first aid, and CPR. Overnight accommodations include comfy, cozy cabins with sleeping cots and a fleece blanket, a frozen peanut-butter-filled Kong campfire treat, and classical music to lull your lovey to sleep. Joys of modern technology alert: A high-speed webcam allows you to check up on your little guy anytime, day or night.
Cat Hospital of Towson (CHAT), 6701 York Rd., 410-377-7900. At CHAT, one of the few feline exclusive veterinary and boarding facilities in the Baltimore area (and the U.S. as a whole), staffers understand that cats are not small dogs but their own unique furry beings. "Cats have different needs and different personalities, and that's what we focus on and celebrate," says Dr. Jane Brunt, owner of CHAT. Located inside a 1920s colonial home, the bark-free atmosphere is so cozy, your cats will be purring in no time as they enjoy a sleepover filled with plenty of playtime (think catnip pillows, mylar sparkler teaser toys), brushing, and healthy treats. Other options include medically supervised boarding and nutritional and behavioral counseling.
Charm City Dogs, 401 N. Gay St., 410-637-3647. Charm City Dogs operates more like a preschool than a pet day care center. There are two cage-free playground areas filled with brightly colored Little Tykes toys, a time-out area for those in need of a little downtime, and a dry erase board with every dog's name to help keep all the details (medicine, snacks, bathroom times) straight. Owner David Crowther greets his furry charges by name, and thanks to a focus on socializing, your canine will be as dog-tired as you are at the end of each day. Don't expect to receive that annual goofy preschool picture, though. Instead, three webcams enable you to get your Fluffy fix in real time as you procrastinate over that pile of paperwork.
Good Doggie Day Care, 3500 Ash St., 410-889-3031. What is it about Good Doggie Day Care that makes clients so happy? Is it the ultra-professional staff? (Owner Jo Anne Garrett, a former accountant and Peabody classical ballet teacher, favors hiring women 40-plus who have raised children.) Is it the playtime periods with loads of great toys in more than 9,600 square feet of space? Is it the ridiculously inexpensive pick-up and drop-off van service ($4 from Hampden to Federal Hill, for instance)? Is it because the center is so spotless it could double as the Board of Health headquarters? All of the above, no doubt, but we think it's the puppy love that exudes from every corner of this cheerful, wonderful place.
Reisterstown Boarding Kennel Pet Resort and Spa, 14454 Hanover Rd., 410-833-2090. Feeling guilty about that upcoming vacation to Tahiti while your furry friend stays home? At Reisterstown Boarding Kennel (RBK) your cat or dog can enjoy a little R and R time, too. The choices are endless, from visiting the indoor heated pool (for aquatic conditioning or therapeutic swimming) and great grooming services (coat conditioning, a facial and paw scrub) for your dog, to playtime with toy mice, scratching posts, and bird watching for your cat. "Room" upgrades are also available. (The Taj Mapaw suite is our personal favorite with a color television and plush bed for your pooch or a four-level "townhouse" with a handmade oak bed from Maine for your feline.) But whatever your wallet, every RBK guest is treated like a V.I.P. (That's Very Important Pet!)
PET STORES & SPECIALTY SHOPS
Bark, 5805 Clarksville Square Dr., 443-535-0200. Lots of pet food stores say they carry natural or organic products, but at Bark, all products—including humanely sourced, free-range meats; high-quality natural skincare products (homeopathic flea and bug bite ointment); and non-toxic toys—are carefully screened to exacting standards. There's something for all the pets in your household, too, from natural wheat cat litter and farm-fresh oat grass to preservative-free finch food to organic chinchilla chow. Another reason to celebrate: Bark is situated on one of the healthiest blocks in Clarksville—aptly known as the "Conscious Corner"—where owners Jeff Kaufman and Jody Cutler also own an organic market (Roots), a natural green cuisine restaurant (Sage), and an earth-friendly clothing store (Nest).
dogma—life, with your pet, 3600 Boston St., 410-276-3410. Thanks to this Brewer's Hill boutique, becoming a pet owner doesn't have to mean your sense of style has gone to the dogs. Owners Scott Stanton and Virginia Byrnes carefully select every product on their shelves, including "Who's your doggie?" onesies, handmade snowflake sweaters, natural dye chew toys, collars and leashes from preppy (pink-and-green polka dot) to punk (leather and spikes), and more than 200 upholstery fabrics so that Fido's boudoir bed can coordinate with yours. Finally, your dog can be as fabulous as you are. (Bonus: Dogma groomer Linda Burton is one of the best in the biz!)
Howl, 3531 Chestnut Ave., 410-235-2469. Recent FDA recalls on tainted pet-food products remind us that pet owners need to be more informed than ever these days. At Hampden's Howl, owner Robin McDonald and her expert staff of animal lovers will guide you through the well-stocked aisles of affordable, organic, grain-free dog foods and healthy, high-quality, filler-free cat foods. It feels good to be an educated consumer.
Lucky Lucy's Canine Cafe, 1126 S. Charles St., 410-837-2121. Don't go to Lucky Lucy's Canine Café on an empty stomach or you'll be tempted to try one of their home-baked, peanut-butter crabs and cats, chicken-and-cheese squirrels, mini chicken fire-hydrant treats, or bone-shaped banana bread birthday cakes. (For the record, they're for your dog, not you.) Truth be told, owner Nancy Dixon, who was in the human food business for 15 years, bakes most goodies on the premises of her Federal Hill shop, and, with human-grade ingredients—including unsalted butter, nonfat milk, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, and chicken stock—there's no reason you can't have a nibble. Just no begging at the table.
Paws Pet Boutique, 64 State Cir., 410-263-8683. Located in the heart of Annapolis, this Best of Annapolis 2007 winner has it all—Go Navy dog collars, breast-cancer-awareness leashes, organic crab-shaped catnip toys, and animal-themed apparel, jewelry, and gift items such as baseball caps embroidered with basset hounds. But the best part of this shop (which was featured in the Sarah Jessica Parker movie Failure to Launch) is that husband-and-wife owners Michelle and Larry Ullrich-Kownacki are extremely community minded and support numerous canine causes including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Emergency Guide Dog Fund. High paws all around.
Pet Depot, 2151 Greenspring Dr., 410-561-0931. In a business distinguished by chi-chi boutiques with items that are borderline ridiculous (does Rover really need a gold lamé, monogrammed carrying case?) and mega-warehouses long on volume and short on quality (how many squirrel-shaped plastic chew toys can you throw out in one year?), Pet Depot strikes the perfect balance. The place is big, but not too big, and its merchandise is both fanciful and functional. In addition to a full line of quality products for cats and dogs (and first-rate obedience classes), Pet Depot has a huge selection for every conceivable kind of creature—alfalfa nibble sticks for rabbits, birdseed for cockatiels, and skin and coat supplements for the family ferret. Also, check out the hydrotherapy pool for Fido—the perfect recreation for your four-legged Michael Phelps.
Pretentious Pooch, 1017 Cathedral St., 443-524-7777. When nothing but the best is good enough for your BFF (best furry friend), head to Pretentious Pooch for exclusive, one-of-a-kind splurges you just won't find anywhere else. (In fact, if you do, owners Christopher Lee Woodside and Tom Berger are apt to stop carrying it.) Swarovski crystal collars, 24-karat gold-rimmed monogrammed doggie dishes, Italian cashmere coats, a full line of Isle of Dog spa products, and an assortment of other over-the-top accessories (amassed from more than 200 outlets) will make your dog the most pampered pooch on the block. What recession?
Gunpowder State Park, 877-620-8DNR. Spanning about 18,000 acres across Baltimore and Harford counties and with many miles of trails, the hiking opportunities are limitless inside Gunpowder State Park. Enjoy a moderate hike with sloping hills and valleys along the Jerusalem Village trail if you have a small dog or, if you really want to take a hike, cross the border with your Border collie into Pennsylvania on the Northern Central Railroad Trail (now known as the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail).
Hannah More Park, 12035 Reisterstown Rd., 410-887-1142. A cautionary "tail": Hannah More's new Baltimore Animal Recreation Center (B.A.R.C.) is the only sanctioned off-leash park in Baltimore County, so unless you want to risk heavy fines, this is your only chance to let Rover roam free. The B.A.R.C. Park includes a one-and-a-half-acre park for large dogs and a three-quarter-acre park for small dogs with water fountains as well as plenty of wide-open grassy spaces to play games of fetch and tug-of-war. Annual dues are $25.
Meadowood Regional Park, Falls and Greenspring Valley Rds., 410-887-3678. This Baltimore County Park is an ideal place to strut your mutt if you like knowing exactly how far you've walked without using a pedometer. Each well-paved loop is about a quarter-mile long, with clean bathrooms, vending machines and water fountains to slake your thirst, a fresh supply of pooper-scooper bags, and a small tributary to the Gywnns Falls just deep enough for cooling those tired dogs (yours and the four-legged variety).
Oregon Ridge, 13555 Beaver Dam Rd., 410-887-1815. For a wide range of trails and bucolic beauty, it's hard to beat the 10 trails of Oregon Ridge Park winding through 1,100 acres. Not much in the way of paved paths here. Think rugged beauty, white-tailed deer, red fox, and some hills so steep, hearty Baltimore denizens have been known to ski here in the winter. Need something short for your Shih Tzu or more substantial for your shepherd? All trails are connected, so you can go under a mile or as many as you like on the site of this old iron-ore mining village.
Quiet Waters Dog Park, 600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., 410-222-1777. This Anne Arundel County Park, nestled between the South River and Harness Creek, has something for everyone, including 340 acres of open woodland space, six miles of paved hiking trails, two enclosed dog parks, and a designated dog beach for the doggie paddler in your family. The park, which sponsors dog-friendly seasonal events such as the annual Howl-O-Ween Barkin' Bash, also has all the amenities that can make an outing more pleasant—an abundance of poop bags, trash cans, water fountains, pet rinsing stations, and clean bathrooms for when you're the one whose gotta go. Closed in the winter (Nov. to March) and on Tuesdays.
4 Paws Pet Services, 410-321-PUPS. When it comes to dog trainers, Joy Freedman is as pedigreed as they come. A dog behaviorist and obedience instructor for 12 years, she studied at the National Institute of Dog Training and, last year, when Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan came to the Hippodrome, Freedman was the only area trainer personally selected by Millan to assist on stage. Freedman—who writes the "Ask the Trainer" column for Baltimore Dog Magazine and makes expert appearances on local radio and television—is a behavioral specialist who recognizes the different learning styles of dogs. "If I'm trying to treat a jumping issue, I'm not going to treat a husky in the same way I'm going to treat a chihuahua," she says. Makes sense to us.
All Star Canine at The Maryland SPCA, 3300 Falls Rd., 410-235-8826. No one understands the need for a well-trained pet better than the Maryland SPCA, which receives about 2,000 unwanted dogs a year. "Our training focuses on how to live with your pet," says executive director Aileen Gabbey. "The goal is, ‘How can we keep you from driving us crazy so we don't end up giving you away?'" The SPCA has a number of classes taught by expert professionals, including puppy play groups, a six-week doggie basics class, and a free Saturday morning Positive Pooch class for owners who adopt a dog from the SPCA.
Angela Mowry, 16511 St. Mary's Church Rd., 301-928-6686. Traveling professional dog trainer and behaviorist Angela Mowry, who serves all of Maryland (including the Eastern Shore) and Virginia, has trained police dogs and worked in high-end competitions. She has taken on the hardest cases out there: obedience school dropouts and shelter dogs that were scheduled to be euthanized for aggression. So, needless to say, she'll have no problem taking on your little guy, whether he's an excessive barker, furniture chewer, or fence jumper.
B-More Charming School for Dogs, 443-825-1414. Like electrical appliances, a new dog should come with an operating manual, but the next best thing (and maybe even easier to understand) is the B-More Charming School at Howl in Hampden. Co-owners Lauren Bond (whose experience includes therapy dog training, and aggressive behavior issues) and Carolyn Stromer (a former professional dolphin trainer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore) are up on the latest scientific methods to teach new behaviors and break bad habits. Classes and seminars include: Puppy Kindergarten, Basic and Advanced Obedience, and for those who really want to impress their friends, Parlor Tricks.
Rachel Lachow, Positively Obedient, 410-833-4844. Dogs don't just go fetch for certified pet and dog trainer Rachel Lachow. They ring bells to signal they want to go outside or swim to the steps of a swimming pool instead of flailing in the shallow end. In fact, dogs are so obedient around the soft-spoken Lachow that conspiracy theorists believe she wears meat-scented perfume. The truth? After 28 years as a dog trainer, Lachow is just doggone good at her job. She sees the potential in every pet and helps train us to be better pet owners.
Canine to Five, 410-375-9202. The motto for this pet-sitting service, serving Harford County, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County, is "We sit, we walk, we fetch for you." Canine to Five does all that and so much more. Services include pet sitting (includes walking, feeding, playing, paw cleaning), pet walking, veterinary visits, home delivery of pet supplies, and even housesitting. Owner Chrissy Wohltmann has a loyal customer base of retirees, corporate types, and young moms who need a pinch hitter to lead their pack.
Dog House Girls, 410-276-1284. Entrusting your dog (or cat, or bird) not to mention your house keys and alarm code to a stranger can be tricky. Dog House Girls takes all the worry out of going to work or on vacation. Rates are reasonable ($12 for a 30-minute walk), the staff is dedicated and friendly, and the hours are incredibly flexible (7 a.m. to 11 p.m., 365 days a year). Dog House founder Pauline Houliaras is a true pet lover with a great resume: She has a graduate degree in clinical psychology from Loyola (comes in handy for discerning the difference between tail wags and ones tucked between the legs) and is vice president of the Canton Dog Park, which she also helped found.
Gotta Go Pet Sitting, 410-483-4853. With eight pet children of her own (five dogs, two cats, and a horse), we're amazed that Gotta Go's Jenny Hildebrand has time for sleeping, let alone time to own and operate a first-rate pet-sitting service on top of her work as a part-time veterinary technician with Stevenson Village Vets. Hildebrand, who primarily services Baltimore County, lovingly tends to your dog or cat, writes a detailed daily diary, and offers personalized service, whether it's canine car service to the groomer or a rousing game of Frisbee with your Lab.
Luv My Pet, 410-685-6939. The last thing you want at the end of your work day is to find that your flokati living-room rug has been soiled beyond repair, or, even worse, to look into the excitable eyes of your raring-to-go puppy and feel guilty that you weren't around to play tug of war all day. For dependable dog walking or pet sitting 365 days a year, call Luv My Pet, covering Owings Mills to Federal Hill. Luv My Pet owner Jeff Rothschild is a former Morgan Stanley financial adviser who turned in his briefcase for biodegradable poop bags. Rothschild will do one-on-one walks or match your pup to a play group. He comes highly recommended by local day care centers, vets, and high-end condo concierges.
Walk the Dog, 410-366-0400. When Walk the Dog co-owner Molly Doherty walks a city street, it's not uncommon for her to bump into one of her many satisfied customers. "The dogs will wag their tails at me," says Doherty, "and then I have to introduce myself to their owners!" While Doherty and her cohorts—including co-owners Julie Benoit and Kelly Zimmerman—walk up to 200 dogs a day, Walk the Dog maintains a customized approach to pet sitting, whether you need a slower-paced walk for an older animal or someone to look after your cat while you're away. Walk the Dog is one of the premiere go-to pet-sitting services in the city and is known for its reliable staff and philosophy of taking care of all members of the family. (Doherty has even been known to unplug that curling iron left in the "on" position.)
Extreme Puppy Love
Can You Dote on Your Pet Too Much?
When Evan Feinberg, a veterinarian for Pikeville's Stevenson Village Veterinary Hospital, was a graduate student, he treated a dachshund that arrived in a baby stroller because it was too fat to walk.
"She was a sweet lady, and I'm sure she meant well," says Feinberg of the dog's owner. "But especially when it comes to obesity, it's always so much about the owner. This is definitely an area where you can love your dog too much. More food does not necessarily equal love."
Dogs have long been known as man's best friend, but can that love go too far? Is all that puppy love really what's best for your dog?
"Dogs are babied way too much," says Adam Goldfarb, an issues specialist with The Humane Society of the United States. "They are pushed in strollers and carried in purses. This is reflective of a larger problem of people treating their dogs not as dogs, but as fashion accessories."
The ironic part is, dogs actually prefer a little discipline and structure, say experts. "You've got to have the dog work for things," advises Allison Nozemack, a training and behavior manager for the Maryland SPCA. "Nothing in life is free. You have to make them sit for a treat or sit for attention. They need to learn to defer to you, and if they don't, they have lost their place in the family. You have to instill that you are the leader, and if all you do is lavish them with attention, you are doing the dog a huge disservice. It's just like having a spoiled child."
Trainer Joy Freedman of 4 PAWS Pet Services concurs. "People discipline their children," says Freedman, "yet they treat their dogs like stuffed animals, letting the dog run all over them. Something you would never put up with from your kids, you put up with from your dog. People will say, 'My dog jumps all the time,' but you either want it to jump or not. If you don't, it has to be taught that sitting on someone's lap is by invitation only."
Freedman believes that extreme indulgence can actually be harmful to your pet's health. "A dog's total dependence on you can actually be bad for them," says Freedman. "There are people who take their dogs everywhere. I know people who don't go on trips because they don't want to leave their dog in the house or with a pet sitter. The more the dog depends on you, the less healthy and capable it is."
What are some of the warning signs to look out for? "If your dog is growling at your husband when you're in bed, that's ridiculous," says Nozemack. "Put the dog in the dog bed. The problems are often human driven—we create these little monsters by what we do." —JM
More and more shelters are filling up with pit bulls. But are they safe to adopt?
Last spring, Baltimore County speech therapist Dana Schnepf fell in love with Taos, a seven-year-old pit bull up for adoption at the Maryland SPCA. Unlike many pits who end up in shelters because they have been abandoned or who have become too much for their owners to handle, Taos came from a good home and was known for his sweet temperament. Schnepf, who lives with her mother in Owings Mills, was all set to adopt Taos and brought her mother to meet the dog before completing the adoption process.
"Everyone got along fine," recalls Schnepf, "but my mom is a tiny person, and she was intimidated by his size and how big his head and mouth were. She said if I wanted to get him I could, but she'd never feel comfortable with him in the house. I couldn't do that to her."
Schnepf found an Australian cattle dog at The Baltimore Humane Society that she thought she could learn to love, but it just wasn't the same. "After we left the shelter," recalls Schnepf, "my mother told me that if I thought Taos was the right fit for our family then she would not stop me from adopting him. She was willing to give him a try."
A few days later, Schnepf brought Taos home. It didn't take long before Taos ingratiated himself with the whole family. "Now my mom loves him!" says Schepf. "I catch her giving him little pieces of steak and cutting the fat off for him. I had the same stereotypical view of pits, and now my friends who know Taos say, 'I could see getting a pit bull.' I'm glad to think Taos has helped change that perception."
Revere them or fear them, there is no breed of dog that evokes a stronger reaction than the pit bull. The fear is understandable, given the history of these dogs. Historically, pit bulls were bred for the Elizabethan blood sports of bull and bear baiting. Modern-day versions of that—pit-to-pit combat—occur clandestinely in basements and backyards across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report stating that pit bulls were responsible for more dog
bite-related attacks than any other breed during a 20-year period.
Having been banned from some area counties (including Prince George's County), and left to languish in shelters, pit bulls have become the ultimate underdog. "We had one potential adopter who came to meet one of our dogs," says Bonnie Hurwitz, founder of the Baltimore-based Adopt a Homeless Animal Rescue, a group dedicated to helping pit bull terriers and mixed breeds find "forever homes." "She was kissing him and everything and really seemed to connect, and then when a friend said something about the dog being a pit bull, she left almost indignant that we were trying to adopt out this dog."
The plight of the pit is often a sad one, although it wasn't always so. "If you go back in history, Anne Frank's dog was a pit," says trainer Joy Freedman. "Petey from Little Rascals was a pit bull. Through history, they have been known as extraordinarily good dogs. They are easy to train, but if they are fearful, they become aggressive. They are one of the sweetest, smartest breeds, but with all the inbreeding, they have become so foreign to who they really are."
At Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), the majority of dogs are pit bulls and pit bull mixes. "Pit bulls are what's left sitting in our shelter," says Mead, BARCS's executive director. "The other dogs get adopted out." At BARCS, where they get 12,000 animals a year, pits are the most frequently euthanized breed. "It's a shame because they are absolutely wonderful animals and we've had great success in adopting them out," says Mead. "We call them our 'wiggle butts.'"
City Paper managing editor Erin Sullivan helped found her own awareness group, B-More Dog, as a reaction to Baltimore County legislation in the fall of 2007, which would have required pits to be muzzled in public at all times and crated in concrete kennels even when in the owner's backyard. Although the legislation did not pass, "We thought, 'Why stop the momentum?'" says Sullivan, who has owned pits for six years. "Let's start promoting better ownership practices: Keep your dogs leashed in the parks, be careful around small children, get the dogs the exercise they need. Physiologically, they are no different than any other dog. There's no locking jaw, no brain that outgrows their skull—these are myths."
At the Maryland SPCA, the adoption process for pits and pit mixes is more stringent than for other dogs. The application is a two-day process during which the potential owner receives information about the breed as well as training tips and background information on a particular dog. "We have to correct the myth that these dogs are unfriendly with people," says Kat Knauff, an admissions counselor for the Maryland SPCA. "but people do need to know they are a high-maintenance breed."
Experts say that the key to pit bull ownership—as well as ownership of any dog—is knowing their needs. Sums up Sullivan, "I'd like to see the entire universe of dog owners up their game and be more responsible so that no one has to be the pariah in the dog park." —JM