pets: Pit bull for the last time: How media hype is destroying a once-secure breed
Photo courtesy of saveabull.com
I bet a lot of people are going to click on this article simply because the word pit bull is in the title. Frankly that fact sickens me and gets directly to the root of why I've decided to write it. I have generally chosen to steer clear of the ongoing pit bull controversy and, with all due respect to those who are passionately engaged in the debate, my reason is that the discussion is riddled with ignorance, insensitivity and flippant assumptions that I find unsavory at best.
But I've reached my breaking point.
Personally I would like to see the conversation take a more productive trajectory, or just end altogether. In an effort to support a constructive debate, I will tell you why I think the topic is being grossly perverted by the media and, in my opinion, becoming more dangerous with each passing day.
Photo courtesy of pbrc.net
The word “pit bull” is now used by many as a term, not a breed.
Although there is an exact pit bull pedigree and various breeding campaigns have produced relative breeds from those bloodlines, these days, especially in the news media, the term is used liberally to describe a range of dogs with similar physical characteristics — whether those doing the describing are aware of it or not.
Perhaps part of the reason is that original pit bull bloodlines have been used to produce various extensions of the breed (Staffordshire terrier, bull terrier, American pit bull) and in many instances, for a variety of reasons, the characteristics of these subsequent breeds have been altered by a myriad of other breeds.
The interesting thing about the “real” pit bull is that it is a longstanding breed, and despite the fact that it has been wildly popular for quite some time in many different parts of the world, including the U.S in the early 1900s, the breed has never before been regarded as overtly aggressive toward people.
Not until fairly recently.
Historical statistics confirm that there aren't too many dog breeds that can boast a cleaner record than the pit bull in the department of aggression towards humans.
So, first question: Who is this contemporary pit bull, making atrocious headlines? What is the dog we are talking about?
This is the question that eats at me.
Breeding, and the results thereof
When I was a kid living in Detroit, German shepherds and Dobermans were the big scary meanies, and yes, people did get bitten by them. Both breeds were very popular and easy to come across, as they were often used for home security.
Honestly, in those days, if I came across a dog that looked like what everyone today is calling a pit bull, it didn't trigger the fear that folks nowadays associate with the breed. But a Doberman, whoa! I'm outta here.
In the case of the German shepherd, the popularity and controversy surrounding the breed eventually resulted in a virtual washing-out of healthy bloodlines and re-establishing the strength of the breed is a work still in progress today.
You don't need to understand that much about “line breeding” to get the idea that, in order to create a breed (or intentionally transform one) you must first know what you want. The vast majority of recognized breeds were envisioned first in the mind's eye for a specific purpose.
With patience and a gene pool to work from, humans have demonstrated their clever ability to create a stupefying array of breeds and alter the confirmations of existing ones.
Ironically, the effort to resurrect the American bloodlines of the German shepherd, including, in part, the introduction of lines from other breeds to correct genetic imperfections, a process which is intended to save the breed, is the very same process (in reverse) that is playing out in our collective “mind's eye” and threatening to decimate the bloodlines of the pit bull — an inherently trustworthy breed.
A search through history doesn't seem to suggest that the pit bulls making bad headlines are a demon risen from our past as much as a product of the present and a promise in our future. It doesn't take long for a cultural obsession to alter the genetics of any breed, usually for the worse.
If I only make one thing clear in this article it is this: We are creating the breed we fear through our portrait of the situation in the news, and it's not a pit bull.
We'll wish we had the pit bull back.
A dangerous replacement is up for election!
The psyche of a fighting dog breeder
The practice of fighting dogs has evolved from a sport (if you can call it that) to a business. It isn't about who has the scrappiest little pit bull anymore. Not unlike many of our own professional sports, it's about the biggest, toughest, most aggressive — and money, of course. Cultural infatuation with danger doesn't help matters.
So if you want a pit bull, I'll make you one. A dog that looks like your idea of a pit bull is every bit as formidable and tenacious, will fight if you put it in the ring, and, although having some on hand wouldn't hurt, I won't need one drop of pure pit bull genetics to do it.
Breeding a dog that is difficult to control isn't hard — it just takes a little bit of focused stupidity. If I want to breed a dog that will fight and fits the profile of the current cultural candidate, all I have to do is get on the Internet, start reading news articles, blog posts and comment streams, look at photos, and then create the dog that everybody is freaking out about and arguing over. It's that simple.
There are plenty of breed combinations that would almost certainly render a percentage of pups that look like the dogs everyone is raging about and fight just as well, or better. I could then cull out the best, or worst if you prefer, and sell them for good money, maybe holding a “perfect one” back for my next litter.
Here are some likely breed matches...
Jack Russell terrier/Australian cattle dog
American bulldog/Rhodesian ridgeback
If it is big, strong and athletic enough for your liking, you'll buy it and do with it what you will, even if it is the product of leaving my sister's and cousin's dogs in the yard for a while. If you think it's a pit bull and you want to call it a Pit bull, go right ahead. Maybe, someday, you'll even breed her to a real pit bull and get one of those dogs that I saw on TV.
So the story goes ...
Have you ever noticed how just about every smooth coat, muscle-bound, blocky-headed dog that bites someone is referred to in the news as a pit or pit mix, instead of a Boxer mix, a Ridgeback, a Mastiff or a Rottweiller mix? If it's a mix, it's mixed with something right?
This media debate isn't about a bad breed — it's about bad breeding and poor judgment on both sides of the fence!
I often hear the argument, “Maybe pit bulls don't bite as frequently as some small dogs, but when they do, it is more damaging; therefore, they are more dangerous dogs.”
I think this is dangerous thinking.
Of course larger dogs do more damage. Nevertheless, a bite is a bite, one that was fueled by a behavioral imbalance, whether it was inflicted by a big mouth or a small one, a wide one, a long one.
Actually, if a small dog is willing to bite, that is pretty alarming! Dog's aren't dumb. If a 4-pound Chihuahua is confident that it can control a 150-pound person with aggression, just imagine what the 60-pound “pit mix” is thinking!
Every bite should count, if nothing else but for the fact that it is pertinent information. Every time a dog bites a human, there is a chronology that led up to that moment — that is what needs to be looked at.
If, as a society, we are producing, marketing and raising little dogs who bite with alarming frequency, regardless of what the weak link is, there is a likelihood that a similar scenario is occurring somewhere with larger more formidable breeds.
We would be wise to search for the parallels.
How we can change
I realize that, if you dig around, most of what I've said so far has been covered in the plethora of comment streams generated by dog blogs everywhere. So the least I can do is offer some helpful suggestions to be hopeful solutions for a threatening trend.
I'll be the first to raise my hand and take the pledge to maintain an accurate, open-minded discussion with regards to pit bulls and their current status in society.
I would like to see ...
â€¢ The general and casual use of the term “pit bull” cease, across the board. If we're going to talk about a dog, tell everyone who the dog is you are talking about. If you are using the word “pit bull” as a term to describe physical attributes shared by a variety of breeds, be clear in your statement/s. If you don't know the difference, find out before you speak.
â€¢ The news media make an obligation to accurate reporting when covering breed-pertinent issues and not making breed an issue when it's not relevant. It would make a big statement if ...
â€¢ The Humane Society set a precedent by further underscoring the need for breed specificity and by exemplifying it in their intake/adoption programs and related educational materials.
â€¢ A broader documentation of bite statistics that includes all breeds, degrees of injury, information about dogs' owners and status of the people who have been bitten.
â€¢ The more extensive application of genetic identification technology in cases of catastrophic aggression to (to the best of our ability) determine the breed recipe present in dogs who commit the act.
â€¢ Increased effort/resources geared toward advancing the education of animal shelter staff, operators of rescue programs and foster care providers in the area of breed identification and related behavioral tendencies.
â€¢ Pit bull advocates embrace the reality that the dog they love so dearly and its historically commendable reputation is transforming rapidly with not just the help of meddlesome breeding, but also news hype.
â€¢ Pit bull opponents understand that their angst toward the situation needs to be directed (hopefully in a productive manner) at people, for their overall lack of responsibility/skillfulness with regards to dogs, not a breed or dogs themselves.
I am begging, along with the pit bull, for a change in dialogue...
That's it. Pit bull, for the last time.