The Pit Bull is the most common dog breed (along with pit bull breed mixes) found in shelters in the United States. They are also the most abused, and the most euthanized. Three strikes against them, the very moment they’re born.
Watch: Love for the 1st time after a life of dog-fighting
For the sake of this post, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT), American Bullies and mixes of these breeds we’ll refer to as “pit bulls”.
Once Celebrated & Decorated:
At one time they were celebrated heroes. From Helen Keller, to the US military, to Hollywood, the Pit Bull was prized. Yet within decades Pit Bulls became greatly feared by society. What happened?
A Brief History of Dog Fighting:
The majority of blood sports can be dated back the Roman Empire. And so, prior to the well-known concept of dog-fighting we associate with the Bully breeds today, a breed of Bull Dog was used in the inhumane “bullbaiting” entertainment within the lower classes in the UK during the 1800s.
Bullbaiting was the first step prior to taking a bull to the slaughterhouse, for the belief that the experience made the meat taste better. To prepare the bulls for events, people forced peppers into the bull’s nose, a method of angering a calm animal.
Pit Bulls were bred not to bite humans, and their focus was to be on other animals. While in the midst of bullbaiting dogs were to bite/catch the snout of the bull, or it’s head, and they equally avoid the bull’s horns while tethered to a grounded leash of sorts.
Bullbaiting died out, not initially from its animal cruelty, but due to the ruckus it caused in the community. People replaced it with dog vs. dog fighting.
When immigrants from Europe came to United States, both the breed, and the sport were brought along as well, permeating it throughout society.
Why the negativity?
In the beginning of its time in the USA, farmers used to the breed to protect the land, and to “catch” other animals. And its loyalty to the family led to the nickname, “nanny dogs” for their great care to children.
However, all of the positivity changed. According to Karen Delise’s book, The Pit Bull Placebo (available free to read here), the latter part of the 1970s marked a pivotal time in American history when the positive perception of the American Pit Bull unraveled.
As the awareness of dog fighting grew in the USA, the media focused its attention on the brutal realities of it. The public was informed of the breed’s association with criminals and drug dealers; the super-abilities the breed contained such as the mythological and infamous locking jaws, caused the Pit Bull breed to no longer be associated with wealthy elites & nanny-ing abilities, but rather as a the substandard breed of society, the criminal’s pooch.
Since there were increasing crackdowns on organized dog fights, the breed was being publicly rescued in large numbers and portrayed on screen. Viewers were provoked, and the emotional reaction was a hot bed the media could not resist. Any dog that walked like, barked like, or moved like a pit bull, in the media’s eyes, was a pit bull! And so began the demonization of the Pit Bull.
From 1965-1975 there was only one reported attack of a dog that even resembled a Pit Bull in the USA. By 1986, there were 350 reports of the breed attacking people. The reports even frightened owners of the breed, which led them to start euthanizing the family pet for fear it would “turn” on them. When reports of incidents with dogs were casually mentioned, the media turned a light situation into an intense one.
And in 1987, after all the reports. Sport’s Illustrated cover, solidified the fears that would begin to haunt society.
What’s Happening Today?
Although awareness of the nature of the breed is being brought to the public, the scars from media portrayals have left 200+ cities banning or restricting the Pit Bull (and 20+ other breeds).
An account from Delise’s book traces a Texas family with a Pit Bull puppy who needed to pee outside just as Animal Control arrived in Denver, CO. The officer indicated that he’d take the puppy and have it euthanized immediately so the family wouldn’t have to incur charges. The couple pleaded and begged for their pup, but were not able to stop the officer. They ended up at the shelter, located their pup and were able to get their puppy back after much negotiation.
Documentaries like Beyond the Myth, are now helping to bring about even more awareness to society.
Watch the trailer here
Rescues Working to Save Lives and End the Stigma
Thanks to organizations like Chews Life Rescue in Los Angeles, their dedication to help erase the stigma associated with Pit Bulls, is helping recondition everyone’s mind about Pit Bulls and helping to save the breed from underground dog fighting organizations in Southern California, neglect, abuse, and high kill shelters.
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Right now you can learn about ways to help Chews Life Dog Rescue here, or you can donate to help them continue doing their work.
Chews Life Compilation of Pit Bulls Video:
For more information/sources