Pit bull confusion

People in the streets usually identify the fellow above as a pit bull.  To a “pit bull person,” he actually looks more like a mastiff/labrador mix.  Not having had a DNA test done, the answer is elusive.  But I can tell you for sure that if he does something naughty, he’ll be labeled a pit bull.  If he saves his family from a fire, he’ll be called a mixed breed.

The term “pit bull” has become a colloquial synonym for unrelenting strength coupled with an aggressive demeanor.  Annoying politicians, bullying attorneys and generally dislikable prominent public characters are often labeled with what is now the consummate adjective for negative tenacity.

But what exactly is a pit bull, really?  Municipalities take into account several breeds of dogs when enacting breed specific legislation.  Denver CO’s law, for example, defines a  “pit bull” as “any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds. (DENVER, COLO., REV. MUNI. CODE  § 8-55(a) (2001).

So in simpler terms, if it looks like a duck, it is a duck.  This means if you have a medium sized dog with a dome-shaped head, short fur and muscular body, your dog is at risk of falling under a breed-specific ban even if he is perfectly socialized and behaves as a normal household pet.  Conversely, if you have a shi tzu or retriever that is known to bite people you will be safe from this type of breed specific legislation.

Proponents of BSL argue that pit bulls should be banned because they are the ones doing the most harm.  Therefore banning pit bulls = safer neighborhoods.  I won’t go into the countless well documented articles that have been written refuting this argument but will note that the CDC itself stated that breed specific legislation is unconstitutional and does not ensure safer neighborhoods: ”

“constitutional questions concerning dog owners’ fourteenth amendment rights have been raised: first, because all types of dogs may inflict injury to people and property, ordinances addressing only 1 breed of dog are argued to be underinclusive and, therefore, violate owners’ equal protection rights; and second, because identification of a dog’s breed with the certainty necessary to impose sanctions on the dog’s owner is prohibitively difficult, such ordinances have been argued as unconstitutionally vague, and, therefore, violate due process….Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive. From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or nonfatal dog bites.” http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf

If you create a Google search using pit bull terminology the results will tell a disturbing tale.  You will find a plethora of news stories on pit bull attacks; link after link to people selling pit bull puppies; a variety of public figures being labeled as pit bulls for some nefarious reason; a strong smattering of grievous cruelty uncovered; and the ubiquitous “crackdown” on the latest dogfighting ring, along with an array of pit bull advocate blogs and rescue organizations.

There will also be a news story about one city considering enacting a pit bull ban, while another considers repealing its longstanding legislation.

The only thing clear in all of the above results is that when it comes to pit bulls, there is no clarity.  People are confused.  In 1987, Sports Illustrated sported a snarling dog on its cover with the headline:  “Beware of this Dog.”  In 2008, the same magazine lauded rescuers involved in breaking Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring.

Does the calmer, more rational 2008 cover indicate that public perception is moving toward higher tolerance and an educated response to pit bulls?  It would be nice to think so, but the continued heated discussions from breed advocates and adversaries and municipal ban propositions indicate that the “pit bull issue” is nowhere near resolution.  

Perhaps the reason lies within the fact that people continue to create mythology around what is indisputably, a carbon-based life form that is no more supernatural than any creature with whom we human beings share this planet:  in other words, another animal.  

Pit bulls are not demons from hell forged by some satanic occult magic.  They are dogs.  They have never been anything but dogs.  The fact that some may bite and others may fight, does not arise from their being a special tribe of creature that lurks forth created to wreak havoc upon mankind – but reading media articles and web commentary would indeed lead one to believe so.

So whence the hysteria, the blind hatred and civil legislation enacted toward punishing these dogs?

To answer a question with a question:  What would we have to do if we were unable to place the blame on the dogs?  Who must we punish if not the dogs, and how?

By creating a “vicious breed” myth and marketing this image of pit bulls as cartoonishly evil super-villains, municipalities can create the illusion of a pro-active and concerned government taking action to safeguard its citizenry by killing the Bad Guys. In this digital age, the murder of thousands of dogs may give an angry public the video-game like satisfaction of shooting down the “enemy.”  Something has been done.  Action has been taken.  The Good Guys are kicking butt.

Species eradication may work in a video game, but in real life we will dispose of the small bodies, smack our hands in satisfaction and look around, only to see the real villains still standing.

Dog fighters.  Irresponsible breeders.  People buying pit bulls and kicking them into guard-dog aggression.  Children lynching young pregnant pit bull females.  Boys pouring gasoline on pit bulls and setting them on fire, thinking it’s okay because pit bulls are evil.   

Yet we continue to blame the dogs, because if we stop doing that, we might have to face a mirror and question ourselves.  Better to agree, “the only good pit bull is a dead pit bull.”  And leave it at that.


About beautifulpitbulls
This blog is dedicated to the responsible and loving people who see beyond stigma and myth, and have thus enriched themselves with the purest of love from these so-called "dreaded pit bulls."

2 Responses to Pit bull confusion

  1. Pingback: Stupid people + salacious media + lynch mentality = pit bull hysteria « Beautiful Pit Bulls

  2. Thank you for writing a much needed article. I wish I could get the news media to read it as part of their nightly reporting.
    In 2009 Good NewZ Pittie Pups rescue was founded for the purpose to do something positive in direct response to the Bad Newz club and Mr. Vicks dogs.
    We rescue pit bull puppies from our local county shelter that are as young as 1 week old and up to senior ages, that were all on the euthanasia list.
    Thank you again for “CLARIFYING” the most misunderstood & most abused breed of dogs to date.

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