When I was eight years old, my mom and dad drove out one Valentine's Day and came back with a loving gift for our entire family. A puppy.
But not just any puppy.
This was the cutest, fuzziest puppy I'd ever seen. Black with a fluffy coat and a purple tongue, it look more like a teddy bear or a lion than a dog. We named him Taz, like the Tasmanian Devil from the cartoon, and he became a beloved member of our family.
Taz was a breed known as a Chow Chow. Until we got him, I'd never heard of the breed, so all I knew about Chow Chows was what I learned from Taz.
They make great pillows. They are good foot warmers. They like to cuddle. They are warm. You can brush them for hours and it never gets boring. They like treats. You can teach them lots of tricks and they learn quickly. They like oatmeal, and love eating it from a spoon rather than from a bowl. They like to sleep under the covers, head on a pillow. Kisses are a daily requirement before any person is allowed to leave the house.
It wasn't until he was fully grown that we learned that not everyone loves Chow Chows. We moved to a house in a quiet neighborhood in Jacksonville, and my sister and I were walking him. We were, of course, scrawny and undersized children. Small, blonde, not the kind of kids you'd expect to see walking around a giant lion dog unattended. But like I said, Taz was a giant teddy bear. He was gentle, walked by your side, never pulled the leash. He was a good dog. When we were out one day, a woman stopped us and asked if she could pet him. (We learned later she lived three houses down and her name was Suzanne. Mom never liked her.)
Taz loved to be pet. A pat on the head was second only to a good belly rub in his world, so we told her of course. She praised him and then asked, "What kind of dog is he? He's so good!"
"He's a Chow Chow," we told her.
She snatched her hand away."A Chow Chow? Your parents let you walk him alone? They're dangerous!"
I remember being confused. How was a Chow Chow dangerous? Taz didn't bite people. I'd never even heard him growl at someone before. We told her, "He's not dangerous. He's a good dog." We told her about how the Twins rode him around like a horse. She was appalled that our parents would have a "vicious dog" in a house with four small girls.
She hurried away.
Every time we took Taz our for a walk, someone would comment about how it was dangerous to let us walk him alone. One man even escorted us home and told Dad that he was "concerned the dog would turn on them. Haven't you heard about these dogs?"
Our dog would turn on us?
What were these people seeing when they were looking at Taz?
Is that the face of a dangerous dog about to turn on his little girls at any moment? What exactly where they seeing that seemed so dangerous? Sure, he looks like a lion, but not in a dangerous way! But all of these people seemed so worried!
Dad did some research.
So it turned out that Chow Chows had a bad rap. They were considered high risk breeds. Something about extreme aggression.
Well you know what?
It's bullshit. Straight up bullshit. That dog never in his life showed a hint of aggression. He loved children and adults. Yeah, he was a guard dog. The one time he ever tried acted viciously, and he was protecting our house from someone trying to break in through our back door. It was unfortunate for that man that Taz was sleeping in the den by the back door that night. (He normally slept in bed with us. I can't remember why he was in the den that night, but I'm sure glad he was!)
That Chow Chow was raised in a home with four little girls constantly underfoot, ranging from ages five to nine. Our cousins were often over for visits, ranging from ages four to thirteen. Friends from school parading through, our parents' friends. A constant flow of people in and out of the house. Taz never so much as showed his teeth in anything other than a welcoming smile.
And you can sit there and tell me, "Well, you had the one good Chow Chow. Most of them are dangerous! They've killed people."
There are no such things as bad dogs, just bad owners.
You can take any dog of any breed and turn it vicious. You could make a Boston vicious if you were so inclined. It's not in the genes of the dog, it's in the personality of the owner. I've known lots of Chow Chows in my life, and they were all beautiful specimens and a credit to their breed. Polite, loving, cuddly, and loyal.
I've always said that when I live in a house and I have a yard, I'm going to get another Chow Chow. When we took Penny to her first vet visit, there was a golden Chow Chow in the office. I got really excited and I commented to the owner, "What a beautiful Chow Chow! They're such great dogs!"
She answered, "Are they? I just got him from a pound because he's so pretty! Everyone's been telling me they're really bad pets because they're mean! You're the first person who had something nice to say."
I snorted, "They are not mean! They're great furry children! Anyone who told you that has clearly never owned one. I grew up with a Chow Chow, and he was the best dog ever!"
When I commented to Padawan that I intended to get another one, he said, "Chanel, those are really aggressive dogs. Do you want to risk Choo Choo?'
I berated him for listening to stupidity. German Shepards and Rottweilers have the same reputation for aggression and violence, and my family has owned both. They were all well trained, well behaved, gentle dogs.
I've read articles that claim that Chow Chows do not obey well, that they tend to dominate their owners, that they are difficult to train. I don't know who these people are or what the heck they've been doing with their dogs, but if I could train my Chow Chow to sit, lay down, roll over, and shake within two months as an eight year old, then surely experienced dog owners could do better! As for the saying that they are dogs with the personality of cats, I've never met a Chow Chow who fit the description, and Taz most certainly didn't!
So if you're ever out on the street and you see a dog that the media says is "vicious", pause for a moment before you hurry to get away and think. There is no such thing as a vicious breed of dog. Every dog is different, and every owner is different. Before you label that dog as dangerous, wait and see what it does. Every dog deserves a chance at happiness, and imagine how you would feel if people shrank away from you because they thought you might be dangerous.