The Pit Bull Whisperer

Jon Bozak looked tough in his black work boots, short cropped hair, stern jaw and tattooed, muscled arms as he walked two pit bulls down a quiet street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
But when one dog excitedly licked Bozak’s hand and the other nuzzled his side, the image dissolved and Bozak appeared to a passersby like the doting dog owner he is.

“Hey, slow down,” said Bozak, pulling on 4-year-old Brinks’ collar.  “Hey, sit!” he said as he snapped his fingers.  The hyper white pit bull sat, and then they continued their walk.

What the public doesn’t know when they see Bozak is that he has owned and trained pit bulls for 20 years and written a children’s story to remind his readers that these dogs don’t necessarily deserve the bad rap they have acquired over the years.

“I understand why the basic John Doe hates them,” he said. “Why would you want something you picture as dangerous on the street?  They are bred to fight, it’s part of their genetic makeup.”
His 14-year-old dog, Demo, the model for the hero in his book, certainly doesn’t appear dangerous as he dawdled down the street with his salt-and-pepper coat and one good eye, the other lost to a mysterious illness a few years ago.  He more resembled an old man on all fours than a vicious killer, although several people on the street didn’t seem so sure.

Parents of a curious young girl with long black braids quickly pulled her past. A father whisked away a small, smiling boy in a puffy green jacket before he could reach out and pet the dogs.  A woman held her little Dachshund close as she anxiously passed.

“It’s not about judging something on how it looks,” said Bozak.  “Your dog is not going to cause problems unless you let him.”

Pit bulls, like any dog, can be violent.  For this reason people like Bozak and other experts suggest keeping them on a leash, being cautious in dog parks, and basically just learning to know your dog and its personality.  That’s a point Bozak and several dog breeders and handlers made repeatedly about the pit bull – it’s much more about their training then the traits they were born with.

“A pit bull can be incredibly gentle, almost child-like,” said Bob Marino, from NYCdog, an organization that represents dog runs and off-leash hours for public parks. The problem, Marino said, is that teenagers and young men acquire pit bulls but don’t know how to take care of them – or, worse, don’t want to.

“What we have now are miscreants that use the dogs as an extension of their anger and power,” he continued.  “It’s juvenile delinquency through the dog.”

The occurrences of pit bull attacks are higher than other breeds but still occur rarely – a fact largely ignored in media accounts. The last study on human deaths from breed-related bites by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported approximately 118 cases of pit bull attacks from 1979 to 1998, or about 6 incidents a year. Rottweilers (67), German Shepherds (41), Husky-types (21) and even one cocker spaniel all made the list.

In the glossy pages of “Demo: The Story of a Junkyard Dog,” Bozak’s self published children’s book, the hero breaks the mold of what the people in the fictional town of Newton expect.  After being kicked out of the junkyard for being too friendly, Demo must go out into the town and find a new home.   While Demo wanders the streets, the people of Newton run away, scared because he looks tough.  Finally, Demo finds a boy named Randy who doesn’t judge him and the two become quick best friends.  When a real threat comes to Newton, it’s up to Demo to show the people what he really is like.

“The crux of the story is that people can look at anything but don’t take the time to look at the whole picture,” said Bozak.

“I just wanted to put a book out there that would plant the seed,” he continued.  “Then maybe the kids would remember the story and not jump to such a negative image of the dog.”