It’s Pit Bull Awareness Month!
It’s no secret that pit bulls have gained an unfavorable rap through the years, but how accurate is their representation in the media and among people in general?
History shows that these dogs went from being bred in the 19th century for farm herding and family companionship and then were appropriated for bull baiting and underground dog fighting rings. In the 20th century, they became the face of WWI America, and it just so happens that the most decorated dog veteran is a pit bull named Sergeant Stubby. In the early days of Hollywood, Petey stole our hearts in The Little Rascals. Today, they are on the banned breeds list of most property owners and still face serious discrimination.
So, what happened?
Bullies, Breeders, and Baiting (oh, my!)
An LA Times article cites instances such as Theodore Roosevelt’s pit bull biting the pants off of a French ambassador as the kind of shenanigans that gained the breed their unfavorable reputation. However, there is no one incident we can point to.
Before the 1980s, stories of pit bull attacks were rare. Throughout the decade, however, stories like this one began to emerge, changing people’s perception of pit bulls. A child being killed by a pit bull is undoubtedly horrendous, but the article uses this incident as a launching pad to attack the entire breed. The article quotes several animal control officers who make generalizing claims about pit bulls with no evidence to back their statements, and the rest of the proposed “facts” about the breed are speculative at best. What this article does do is highlight the cruelty of the people who breed pit bulls for fighting and other personal gains.
Scientific research on the pit bull’s genetic predisposition to violence is both inconclusive and contradictory. People will breed dogs with the most desirable genetic pool, but what is considered desirable is entirely up to the owner. If someone wanted to breed a pit bull for fighting, they would probably go for parents who had great strength and agility, but that does not make the resulting pups vicious by nature; that comes from human conditioning.
Here at Fitdog, we see all kinds of breeds come through our doors. If there’s anything we’ve learned in our seven years of operation, it’s that a dog’s breed is not indicative of its behavior, and one bad dog’s behavior is not representative of the entire breed.
Modern Pit Bull Advocacy
Today, organizations all around the world are speaking up for pit bulls through action and documentation. In 2010 Libby Sherrill released Beyond the Myth, a documentary that exposes pit bull discrimination as a social stigma with little scientific evidence to back it, featuring personal testimonies dealing with the strict regulations cornered against the breed.
In 2015, a documentary called Champions was made about the falling out of Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation, and visits some of the survivors who went on to live happy, safe, and rehabilitated lives.
Photographer Sophie Gamand‘s photo series “Flower Power” is composed of portraits of pit bulls who are up for adoption at the time of the photo shoot. Her goal is to raise awareness by “shortening the emotional distance between the viewer and this misunderstood breed” and has resulted in adoptions all over the country. Her series will be shown in a Brooklyn gallery this month.
Nonprofits and other organizations that either specialize in bully breeds or stand behind them are ample. Los Angeles-based Angel City Pit Bulls started as a small group founded by like-minded pit owners and has since grown into a well established nonprofit, seeking a better future for pit bulls through education, rescue work, and adoption. Online communities such as Pit Bull Rescue Central have been established in order to better place pit bulls into responsible, loving homes, facilitating national adoptions through their site.
It’s time to change the dialogue on pit bulls. We hope to one day see a world where dogs can live happy, fulfilling lives without being discriminated for their genetics. So tell us, what will you do to advocate for pit bulls this month?