For Pit Bull Owners, Housing Can Be Hard to Find

When Debbie Burns and her husband decided to move back to Utah to be near family, Burns began searching for homes to rent.

She found numerous great properties, but most of them wouldn’t allow her family to move in. Their 6-year-old pit bull, Josser, wasn’t welcome and purely because of his breed.

“I remember hanging up the phone after calling yet another apartment complex and just wanting to cry,” Burns said. “No matter how short the list of banned breeds gets, my dog is always on that list.”

Breed bias
Although it’s illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a person, it’s a different story for man’s best friend.

Landlords and property management companies are allowed to ban breeds they consider dangerous or aggressive. For them, it’s all about liability and making other renters feel safe.

There’s a stigma that pit bulls are inherently vicious and dangerous a public perception that’s fueled by fear and has resulted in pit bulls becoming the most euthanized dogs in America.

“Anywhere I go, people cross the street. They pick up their kids even if my dog isn’t doing anything just because he looks the way he does,” Burns said.

“I’ve had people say ‘Why would you own a monster like that?’ But Josser’s a great dog. He’s kind and excellent with my nieces and nephews. We’ve never had a problem with him.”

A report by the American Veterinary Medical Association says that although pit bulls’ size and strength make their attacks more dangerous, this also applies to other large dogs. The organization goes on to say that pit bulls are no more prone to biting than other breeds.

“Owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma; however, controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous,” according to an AVMA statement.

Tough choices
That stigma has serious implications for pit bull-owning renters though, and sometimes they’re forced to choose between a home and their dog.

For the past year, California resident Carol Devia and her family have been living in their car because they refuse to give up their pit bull, Rocco.

“I can’t find a place unless I give up my dog, and everyone tells me to, but I can’t do that,” Devia told ABC News.

For now, Devia, her husband and her teenage sons sleep in their car with Rocco and their lab mix, Camilla. They drive back and forth between wooded areas and parking lots where they can get Wi-Fi and cook.

But not all pit bull owners choose to keep their dogs.

“By far, the number one reason pit bulls are surrendered to shelters is because of a housing issue,” said Mitzi Bolanos, executive director of Stubby Dog, a nonprofit working to change public perception of pit bulls.

When Burns lived in Maryland, she and her husband adopted a second pit bull, Journey, which had been surrendered to a shelter when the dog’s previous owners moved to Prince George County.

Pit bulls are a banned breed in the county, but Burns owned a home in a neighboring county that doesn’t have breed-specific legislation.

Journey died last year, but Josser made the move back to Utah after Burns found a house in Orem that would allow him. She says their extra umbrella policy helped.

“We have additional insurance policy just to make ourselves more appealing as renters,” she said.

What’s a pit bull owner to do?
Bolanos suggests reaching out to local rescue and advocacy groups or national organizations like Stubby Dog. These groups have experience finding pit bull-friendly housing and can sometimes provide a temporary foster home for the dog while you search for a rental.

Getting an insurance policy on the dog so liability doesn’t fall to the landlord is another option.

Keep in mind that landlords often turn down applicants with pit bulls because of the breed stigma not because of your specific dog. Try arranging for your landlord to meet your dog or have a previous landlord write a letter of recommendation.

Bolanos recommends creating a doggie resume that highlights the dog’s attributes and includes veterinary and training references. She says listing activities your dog enjoys can also help.

“Including things like walking, running, hiking or visiting the dog park shows that the dog will be property exercised and will likely not be destroying the place while home alone,” she said.

You can also offer to pay an additional pet deposit to cover any damages or propose to help the landlord buy a new policy from a non-discriminatory company. BAD RAP, a pit bull advocacy group, maintains a list of dog-friendly insurance companies and agents.

But pit bull advocates say the only way to make a lasting difference is to change the way the public views the breed.

“At the end of the day, I think education and experience will be the key,” Burns said. “Every time I’m out walking Josser and a parent allows their children to pet my dog, I feel there is hope.”

Photo: Debbie Burns, featuring Debbie Burns’ pit bulls, Journey and Josser

More From MNN
Pit Bull is the Face of World Happiness
A Pit Bull Perception Problem: What’s a Dog Owner to Do?
Obama Administration Comes Out Against Breed-Specific Legislation

article by Laura Moss


Christine Jones
Christine J3 years ago

The problem is one of physics. Dogs, like all animals, including people, can have momentary lapses of reason, equivalent to us losing our temper. Sometimes it's provoked, sometimes we'll never know the reason. A small terrier can be nasty and aggressive, but the worst you will get is maybe some stitches. When a large dog of any breed becomes aggressive, animals and people can be killed. I like large dogs but I have unfortunately seen first hand what they can do.

I am currently long-term fostering a dog (mixed breed) which unfortunately was not properly socialized and had some rough experiences. I wouldn't trust him anywhere near another dog, as he is large enough to do serious damage. He's a wonderful dog in other respects, and I love him to bits but I am realistic. Luckily he is relatively young so I am hopeful with some hard work he will have a bright future.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Ashley heffner
Lady Suki4 years ago

Poor dog and owners.

Ashley heffner
Lady Suki4 years ago


angela l.
Angela L4 years ago

It is humans who are created a hostile environment with other beings. it is also humans who are short-sighted, narrow-minded and discriminated with certain breed is aggressive or friendly. The people who came up with such adjectives are the one who build up a barrier to learn about the opposite beings of various forms, shape, sizes and culture; etc...Animals in the wild don't harm humans till humans train them to be who and what they become. As would parents teach their children or how the society expects people to be with the law and rules. It's all a label!!! common sense goes a long way, I hope people drop their discrimination and prejudice, instead read more on animals behavior and get to know them. Any animal can scent whether a person with harm or friendliness. I have never being bitten by a rattle snake on any hike even up close, or deer will walk up to my hands and follow me. I believe that you think and treat other kindly, the reward is never wasted!!!!

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa5 years ago

Thank you

Dale B.
Dale B5 years ago

Hi Shirley S.,
As a dog trainer it sounds to me as if the pit bulls across the street were never properly socialized. There is nothing normal about any dog that growls all the time and it's one of the warnings a dog that is stressed makes before biting. I take care of a few pit bulls and they are normally very gentle dogs. Nice people can be unaware of a dog's needs which often leads to problems down the road. When you say the son was a dog nobody wanted, it sounds like he had a rough start in life. I wish anyone who is tempted to breed pit bulls (or any dog) would go to and see how many are looking for homes. Over-breeding is the reason far too many dogs are euthanized each year, especially pit bulls. I hope I don't come across like I'm giving you a lecture. That is certainly not my intention.

Anne K.
Anne K5 years ago

Thank you!

Silvia Steinhilber

I've met a lot of pits and haven't met a mean one yet. They have all been gentle and sweet. This is a horrible situation and has to!

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobets5 years ago