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Cover 05/08/2013

A Punk Rebel's Defense of the Pit Bull

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Saturday's Pitty Party show benefits a local pit bull rescue organization

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Petey, one of America's most famous pit bulls

Christine Rebel always liked dogs, but her love of pit bulls became an obsession after she met Farrah Fawcett. Not the Charlie’s Angel, but Rebel’s own four-legged angel, the same who, on one occasion, resisted a bath, prompting “Scallops” (Rebel’s roommate) to make a desperate phone call.

“Farrah’s got fleas and doesn’t want to take a bath!” a frustrated Scallops told Rebel. “Put her on the phone,” was Rebel’s reply. “What?” said Scallops. Rebel was adamant: “Put her on the damn phone!” So Scallops put the receiver to Farrah’s ear, and Rebel proceeded to talk to her “daughter.”

“Baby, Scallops is going to give you a bath, so you need to go inside, OK?” said Rebel, who plays lead guitar for Langton Drive and drums for Mrs. Howl. Farrah immediately jumped into to the bathtub and waited patiently. “WTF?” exclaimed Scallops. “What did you do?”

Farrah was 12 when she passed away in 2012, and Rebel carries part of her ashes in a pendant with her at all times (the rest is in a box in her bedroom, next to Farrah’s collar hanging on the wall). She now has four pit bulls and a goal: to help San Antonio’s Heaven Sent Pit Bull Rescue become the premier training ground for service and companion pit bulls in the city. With that in mind, she organized Saturday’s benefit show at Hi-Tones with Langton Drive, Dance Like Robots, and DJ Terpsi.

Heaven Sent founder Sherise Dávila told the Current how people at the grocery store come and pet Pluto, her charming, trained pit bull. But as soon as they discover his breed, they stop petting and stand back.

“[Pit bulls are] the one breed that everybody shuts out,” Dávila told the Current. “You can take a Doberman, a German shepherd, or a Chihuahua, you can take any other breed to any no-kill shelter and they will treat it like gold and make sure it’s taken care of and finds a home. But you take pit bulls and they’re just basically doomed, because people are afraid to adopt them for all the wrong reasons.”

That makes life for a pit bull, and responsible pit bull owners, miserable. Originally bred as work dogs, the American Pit Bull Terrier (and their close relatives the American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier) is the favored breed used in illegal dog fighting in the United States, and reports of attacks (many of them fatal and unprovoked) created the image of the pit bull as a monster.

Rebel can certainly identify with the unfairness surrounding pit bulls: she’s a punk-rocker, and a gay one at that.

“Pit bulls are seen as ‘dangerous,’ and musicians often get a bad rap as losers, druggies or party animals,” said Rebel. “And when you tell people you’re gay, some people don’t want to get to know you because they just think of how you are, who you sleep with, or what you do.”

Well-publicized medical studies, like a 24-year study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000 that found pit bulls or mixes were involved in 32 percent of reported dog attacks, and news stories depicting attacks by (mainly) pit bulls, plus a dramatic increase in illegal dog fighting in the U.S. starting in the 1980s, stoked an anti-pit bull hysteria. Counties and municipalities across the U.S. enacted breed-specific legislation that bans and/or restricts possession of “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs, and the pit bull always tops the list. In Texas, section 822.047 of the state’s health and safety code prohibits breed specific legislation, but does allow counties or municipalities to “place additional requirements or restrictions on dangerous dogs.”

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