A Punk Rebel's Defense of the Pit Bull

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.”

But critics of the studies, mainly pit bull advocacy groups and animal rights activists, claim that many dog attacks are not reported and the figures cited in the media are misleading.

“Chihuahuas bite all the time, but they’re tiny, so you don’t see that in the newspaper,” says Rebel.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), “despite this bad rap, a well-bred, well-socialized and well-trained pit bull is one of the most delightful, intelligent and gentle dogs imaginable,” something any responsible pit bull owner knows well. Pit bulls were well loved here in the early 20th century, with Our Gang’s Petey becoming an icon and Sergeant Stubby the most decorated dog in World War I (his military rank is actual, not symbolic). Other pit bull heroes (like Weela, who saved 30 people, 29 dogs, 13 horses and one cat during the 1993 Southern California flood) even have their own “hall of fame” at Breed Specific Legislation News’ web site.

Dávila’s plan with the nonprofit Heaven Sent is to train pit bulls as companion animals and, most importantly, as “service animals, [for] search and rescue, therapy, public education, or any other special needs that are requested.” She then adopts them out for $150. She’s turning her Judson area house into a training facility and remodeling will be finalized in late May, thanks to donations of time, skill, and funding.

Dávila, who suffers from a seizure disorder, is a true believer. “I had Pluto trained to be able to tell me eight to 10 minutes before I have a seizure,” said Dávila. “Now that I have him, me and my kids can go to the grocery store or the movie theater, things we couldn’t do before I had him. We wanted to share that with the world, especially with that long waiting list of disabled people who can’t pay the $15,000-$20,000 that it costs to get a trained dog.” At Heaven Sent, certified volunteers train the pit rescues.

The benefit concert at Hi-Tones has a $3 admission, but you can also buy a $1 raffle ticket to have a chance to win gift certificates from Vegeria, Green Vegetarian, movie passes, concert tickets from Twin Productions, and more.

“Christine came out of nowhere,” said Dávila. “She wrote me on Facebook telling me she wanted to do a benefit for us. When people do that it’s the greatest feeling in the world… Christine has a heart of gold.”

Pitty Party feat. Langton Drive, Dance Like Robots, DJ Terpsi (benefiting Heaven Sent Pit Bull Rescue)

9pm Sat, May 11
621 E Dewey

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