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Oliver: Responsible owners more important than dog breed

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Don’t tell Harriet, but I love dogs, too. I’m not sure my beloved 18-year-old tuxedo cat would approve. However, the pets in my home while growing up were dogs.

My earliest memories are of the Yorkshire terrier and Doberman pinscher my parents had when we lived in Lake Zurich. There’s a hilarious photo of me in a high chair looking at the Doberman, named Boots, who was at my eye level. I definitely have a “get me out of here” look on my face, although I don’t appear to be near tears.

When we moved to McHenry, we lived on a 2-acre property just outside of town with plenty of space for kids and pets.

My parents had the foresight to fence in a pretty good-sized area for our dogs. If they had gotten loose, there were many acres of farmland for them to get lost in. No one wanted that.

Our first dog there was a German shepherd-collie mix we named Stormy. She was an odd-looking pup and the runt of the litter. I think that’s what appealed to my brother and me.

Our next dog was another Doberman, this one named Ginger. Her mother was the dog who left permanent scars on my arm when she decided I had gotten too close to her puppies. I had been petting the papa dog over a divider and minding my own business. Mama dog approached and took a bite out of my arm, pulling me halfway over that divider. Very scary, but not enough to make me or my family swear off the breed.

Ginger, on the other hand, was a big goof of a dog, prone to putting her back haunches on the sofa so that she could sit primly. She was loyal to the family and good with us kids.

However, she still was a Doberman. And as such, we always took precautions whenever we had friends over and anyone came to visit. Her breed is known to be protective, and because we never put her into a bad situation, she and all our guests never encountered any problems.

Back then, Dobermans were the breed everyone feared. For a while, it was Rottweilers. These days, it’s pit bulls.

I have to admit that initially I might have gotten the wrong impression about the breed, too.

Part of the problem with pitties is that there are horrible people who use them for fighting. It doesn’t help that when pit bulls are involved in any kind of incident, they make headlines. When someone gets bitten by a Chihuahua or Yorkie, it’s hardly news at all.

So when Animal Planet started airing a show called “Pitbulls and Parolees,” I wasn’t too keen on seeing it. I mentioned this one day to one of my friends. She laughed at me and said I might want to check it out anyway.

Now I’m hooked. Although I don’t have the circumstances to have any dog, much less one that would need to be fenced in, I enjoy watching the general goofiness of the average pit bull. They, too, are loyal to their people and good with kids. But they, too, need to have knowledgeable and responsible owners.

I would suggest anyone who wants to know more about the breed to check out the show before passing judgment. As with anything, knowledge is power, and being a pet owner requires taking on responsibility. With some of these larger breeds, there’s also the burden of other people’s biases.

Still, pit bulls aren’t for everyone any more than Dobermans were when I was a kid.

Of course, pretty much all dogs are out of the question for me at the moment.

Just ask Harriet, who in her twilight years does not need any canine foolishness.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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