Organizer Spotlight: NYC Pit Bull Meetup
When Amy adopted her pup, Patti Smith, in January of 2003, she thought she was adopting a Jack Russell terrier. She’d never owned a dog before, and since she lived in New York, she was looking for something small and portable – the kind of dog you can bring in a bag on the subway. The shelter claimed Patti was a terrier, “but over the next two months she gained 20-something pounds and started to look a lot larger,” Amy recalls now, with a laugh. “I had people coming up on the street saying, ‘oh, you have a pit bull!’” Before long, Amy realized those people were right: forget a Jack Russell, Patti was a pit.
As reality sank in, Amy knew she was in over her head. “Everything I’d ever heard about pits was from stories on the news, and they weren’t very positive stories,” she remembers. “I noticed there were people who would squeal out of fear when she was walking toward them, or cross the street to avoid her entirely. I’d never handled a dog, and now I had a very energetic pit bull that I didn’t know how to train or socialize.” Amy started poking around on the internet for pit training resources, but came up empty handed. “I thought maybe I should start my own group,” she says, “and gather pit owners from the community together who might have some ideas or tips for how to train my dog.” In October 2003, the NYC Pit Bull Meetup was born.
“It started with just a couple people,” remembers Amy, “but I got great tips and recommendations from these strangers. We’d go on walks together, and they’d show me different skills to teach Patti.” As the weeks and months passed, the community expanded. As Amy’s Meetup grew, so did her interest in the breed. “I started reading many more articles about pit bulls and their plight, about how they’ve been such a misaligned breed for so long. I started reading about all the pit bulls killed in shelters around the country, and I got to thinking: if I can get a bunch of people together who are like-minded, who want to work on training our dogs together and make sure they’re well socialized, maybe together we can prevent more pit bulls from going back into the shelter system.”
Puppy playgroups abound on Meetup, but pit bull communities face a unique challenge. In addition to holding the requisite dog run socials or pack walks, pit Meetups are charged with combating the negative public perception of the breed. Over the years, Amy has tackled that challenge head on. “We get into the community and do pit bull awareness events,” she says. “We talk about what it’s like to own our pit bulls, talk about the history of the dogs and do our best to stop the negative stereotypes surrounding pits from permeating.” The Meetup also engages in various volunteer work. “We do collections of food and treats for different shelters and rescue groups, and we’ve worked on campaigns to help pit bulls who have been banned in other cities.”
Today Amy’s community is over 1,500 members strong, and Patti Smith just turned twelve. The NYC Pit Bull Meetup may be one of the oldest Meetups on the platform, but Amy knows their work is long from finished. She looks forward to the day that pit Meetups get to be a little bit more like all the other dog-centric communities out there. “My dream for the future of the group is that it would mainly be a place for pit bull lovers to gather and give each other advice, and that we wouldn’t need to be fighting to get rid of this negative stereotype and make people aware of the beauty of these dogs. I wish that one day in the near future we won’t have to be campaigning for them and trying to stop breed-specific legislation from being enacted in different cities, and we won’t need to kill thousands of pit bulls a day. My hope is that one day most of the efforts that we’re currently championing won’t even be needed.”