Does Southwest Airlines LUV the Pitties or Pity the Love?

Updated: Jul 17, 2014 9:32 AM

Guest blog post by Meghan Turner, Love-A-Bull Co-Founder.

On a recent trip from Austin to KC, I was flipping through the most recent issue of Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine. You can imagine my surprise to spot a letter to the editor responding to a story highlighting military dogs (Update: link no longer available, original title “A Brief But Lucky Encounter”) – including the beloved Sergeant Stubby. Even better, the letter was written by one of my friends in the Austin animal community (and fellow pittie guardian/advocate), Susan Hightower. Susan is a long-time volunteer for the Austin Animal Center, an Adjunct Professor of Animal Law at the University of Texas, and a proud member of Love-A-Bull. Susan’s letter politely but firmly corrected the writer, who described Sgt. Stubby as a “bull terrier,” not a “pit bull” type dog as we know him to have been, and provided a positive plug for all dogs lumped into the “pit bull” category as the wonderful family members we know them to be. Spirit Magazine replied that Susan’s letter had “duly clarified” the topic. I was practically cheering in my seat, nudging my neighbor and showing her my own pittie (proudly – and a bit geekily – displayed on the cover of my iPhone). It’s the little victories, right?

But, my thrill was short-lived, as I turned a few pages and saw this story about workplace politics (Update: link no longer available, original title “My Boss is a [Blank]”). The story itself couldn’t be more innocuous, but the subheading made my heart sink: “Is your boss a pitbull or a prince?” Assuming “pitbull” (sic) was intended to be the derogatory descriptor in that comparative word pair (although, Ozzy can be pretty convincing), this word choice is a stark and disappointing reminder that there is still a commonly held negative association attached to the vernacular label “pit bull.” Just when I had put Sarah Palin’s comparative slur behind me, here is another example of how offensive semantic associations have an unfortunate degree of staying power. The language that we use (and that the media uses) is an important part of changing perceptions when it comes to championing our pitties (check out Stubbydog’s recent blog post on this very topic), and as much as I wanted to enjoy my experience flying with Southwest, this took a big chunk out of the respect that they had earned in my book just a few pages earlier.

Evidently, this issue was not “duly clarified” for Southwest’s Spirit Magazine after all, and more work needs to be done. Journalists and writers need to realize the heft of their word choices – by consciously or unconsciously promoting a message that pit bull type dogs are mean or aggressive (or heaven forbid, slave drivers that make you work overtime), they are undercutting the sweet and loving image that is much more the reality. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but until “pit bull” is not synonymous with fighters and bullies, we will continue to treat it as a HUGE deal.

Ya listening, Spirit Magazine? Give the pitties the LUV they deserve.

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