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    Posted January 8, 2010 by
    Columbia, Missouri

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    Pit Bulls: Dogs of a Vicious Breed?


    Dear Reader,


    As we all know, American Pit Bull Terriers, like other dogs of “vicious” breeds, have been in the spotlight for quite some time. For the majority of my life, I bought into the portrayal of this breed as blood-thirsty bullies. However, I have come to reconsider the inherent nature of this breed, and I hope that you will allow me to take a few minutes of your day so that I can inform you about these animals. Even if this alone does not change your view, it may create a spark of interest so that you will dig a little deeper into what is known about Pit Bulls and the injustice that has been dealt upon their breed.


    First of all, a little history about the origin of Pit Bulls is useful to understand the breed as a whole. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, Pit Bulls were not bred specifically for aggressive traits. It is debatable exactly what breeds were crossed in order to come up with the Pit Bull, but they are generally aggreed to be a mix of terrier and bulldog. The terrier  contributes to the breed’s gameness while the bulldog adds strength. These dogs were not bred for inherent aggressiveness, but more so to have a high level of strength and endurance. Given these traits, many owners in the dawn of the breed’s appearance trained Pit Bull Terriers to participate in both bull and bear baiting. Pits were also introduced to the realm of dog fighting so that spectators could have a form of entertainment and gambling. Many others, though,  used the breed for more respectable causes such as driving livestock and as family pets.


    Knowing the early history of the breed, one can easily understand why the breed has become stigmatized as an animal of aggressive nature. However, this is simply not the case. The breed as a whole, as I have come to find out, is very pleasant and people friendly. It is unfortunate that what people have done to this animal has created such a level of misconception and deceit.


    Today, Pit Bulls have their place in many other areas. They are used as therapy dogs for the disabled, such as that of Helen Keller’s Pit Bull. Because this breed is very sociable, Pit Bulls are also used in healthcare facilities to comfort patients. They are used as police dogs and service dogs as well as by competitors who harness the Pit Bull’s obedience to become title-achieving show dogs. These dogs’ true natures are that of fun-loving spirits who dream of being sixty pound lap dogs.


    In fact, the American Temperament Testing Society (ATTS), an organization which studies animals’ reactions to startling and provoking situations involving other animals, people and strangers, observed American Pit Bull Terriers. What they found is just the opposite of what most people have heard about these canines. The ATTS found that 85.3% of American Pit Bull Terriers passed all procedures. You may be asking yourself, “What does this mean?” Let’s put this figure in perspective. The Pit Bull outranked the Standard Poodle at 85%, the Golden Retriever at 84.6%, the Maltese at 83.3%, the Jack Russell Terrier at 83.1%, the Australian Shepherd at 81%, the Beagle at 81%, the Weimaraner at 80.2%, the Border Collie at 80.6%, the Chihuahua at 71.1%, and the Schnauzer at 66.1%. Do you consider any of these breeds vicious by nature? Yet, for some reason, the American Pit Bull Terrier is deemed so.


    Beyond the temperament of the American Pit Bull Terrier, these dogs are best described as energetic, athletic, water-loving, extremely sociable, and intelligent. They strive to please their owners in anyway possible. Pit Bulls enjoy being around people and other animals for play or even just to lie down for a bit of relaxation. Perhaps they can best be described as journalist Linda Wilson wrote, “Pit bulls are famous in circles of knowledgeable dog people for the love and loyalty they bestow on anyone who shows them a smidgen of kindness.” With Pit Bulls, as with all dogs, it is important to keep them socialized to both other people and animals or else they may become dominant and protective when placed in new situations. Otherwise, they are easily adapted to any environment in which they may be placed. Also, like all other energetic breeds, American Pit Bull Terriers should be given plenty of time to utilize their energy in positive means. For example, regular play and running time should be allotted to their schedules or they may become frustrated and destructive.


    The reasons the Pit Bull Terrier has been dealt such a tough hand has very little to do with the breed itself and has much more to do with human action. Again, Pit Bulls are very intelligent and trainable canines. Given this and the fact that Pit Bulls are strong, loaded with endurance and are eager to please, they have long been TRAINED to participate in fighting rings. However, fighting rings were only beginning of the stigma that surrounds their breed. Others abuse the dogs’ skills in order to intimidate others from coming onto private property. In fact, manufacturers of methamphetamine often keep Pits around their labs, trained with brut force, in order to behave aggressively to intimidate others from approaching. Again, the Pit Bull is TRAINED to become aggressive.


    In order to reiterate the fact that viciousness has nothing to do with an inherent characteristic of the breed, take a look at the fate of the NFL star Michael Vick and the Pit Bulls found in his possession. As many of you are familiar, Vick had fifty three Pit Bulls he had been using in illegal dog fights. These Pits had been born, raised and trained to become aggressive no-mercy fighters. After this activity came to light and the dogs were seized, the Pit Bulls were placed in the care of a Pit Bull rescue society. Some of the animals were still puppies, others were long-time fighters covered in battle wounds. Yet all but one of the Pit Bulls were successfully rehabilitated and adopted out to caring homes, where they are now pets and therapy dogs. All but one were returned to a state of mind where they once again felt comfortable, trusting and happy to be around other people and animals. All but one. After all these dogs had been taught, after all the physical and mental abuse they had endured and after all the treatment these dogs had received throughout their lifetimes, they still had it within themselves to become loving animals. Does this sound as if viciousness comes naturally to this breed?


    Perhaps one of the leading causes for the unawareness of the Pit Bulls’ true nature is the media. We have all seen, at one point or another, a story loaded in spin so much that what is reported is somewhat unrecognizable from the event that actually took place. Pit Bulls have suffered tremendously from this aspect of misrepresentation. Pit Bull are strong and intimidating looking canines and have a violent history. Many people view these dogs as ticking time bombs of rage. Therefore, it is logical for the media to grab a story, add sensation and demonize an object in order to grab viewers’ attention and increase ratings. In fact, there is an article that discusses the media’s reporting of Pit Bull attacks. It explained that for many of the stories covering dog attacks, the media is actually unaware of what breed of dog is involved. Many times hear-say has turned the story into a Pit Bull attack when, in all actuality the dog involved is not Pit Bull. Meaning, what is reported is not at all accurate. Visit the website I reference at the end of my letter and see for your self how easy it may be to mistake the many different breeds.


    For a first hand example of this point, several months ago a story was run through my local Columbia news station about Pit Bulls who had wandered from home and aggressively approached some passers-by. One dog had actually bitten an individual. I decided to test the theory, so I called the news station with a very simple question: How do you know these were Pit Bulls? I found it unbelievable. The crew was completely unable to answer my question. I was transferred from employee to employee, and finally to a manager at the station. No one had seen any actual documentation showing what kinds of dogs were involved. No animal specialist was at or called to the scene for breed identification. No owners were there to confirm the breed. Nothing but the whirlwinds of tales coming from around the event was reported. These may or may not have been Pit Bulls. Regardless, though, the margin of error when reporting a story without any legitimate documentation of breed is appalling.


    Another aspect of faulty media coverage is the lack of background investigation and reporting with Pit Bulls that are involved with attacks. As we have discussed, this breed is at high risk of attracting owners with malicious intent. Were the Pits involved coming from homes who allowed their animals to behave aggressively? We do not know. This is never thoroughly looked into. All that is typically reported is an owner who says, “I’m shocked. My dog was normal one minute and then neurotic the next.” End of investigation. However, as intense testing by the ATTS has concluded, this sort of behavior is not a trait typically associated with the American Pit Bull Terrier. This raises one serious question to consider. If an owner is responsible for faulty upbringing, such as training the dog to behave aggressively or simply not adequately socializing the animal, is he or she going to accept responsibility? Doubtful. Rather they will place blame elsewhere and point the finger to the only beings involved who have no voice to speak for themselves: the dog.


    Besides lack of coverage regarding the dogs background, keep in mind figures about dog attacks are far from accurate. There is much under reporting of events when the average dog bites or aggressively approaches another individual. People are simply not threatened by most common dogs. When it snaps, snarls or bites, people typical deal with the situation at hand and go on. However, when a dog of a “vicious” breed does the same, it is nearly always reported due to our fear of the animal. Anyway you choose to consider the statistics, the figures are unintentionally skewed which creates an illusion that Pit Bulls and other intimidating breeds are responsible for a much higher percentage of dog attacks than what they are actually accountable for. To know to what extent is impossible without a report of every aggressive encounter with all dogs.


    If you were to look up statistics about dog attacks in the United States, you will find interesting figures. The majority of all dog attacks are on children. Even though Pit Bulls are known to be excellent with children, this is an area of concern. Children should never be left unattended with an animal. They are unable to read animals’ gestures to tell they’re becoming annoyed with their tails or ears being tugged, their backs being climbed upon, or their heads being squished into comical faces. Children should be supervised around any animal that could, if provoked, induce injury. Otherwise, however, Pit Pulls are as caring, compassionate and comfortable with children as children are with them.


    You may be wondering at this point why all of this pertains to you and your community. Many areas, on either a city, state or national level, are considering or have passed ordinances and other legislation regarding Pit Bulls and other “vicious” breeds. These regulations require Pit Bulls and other animals of “vicious” breeds to be kept in roofed, high fenced and locked-up pens, to be kept away from contact with other people and animals and to be muzzled when they are out among the public. Some are so extreme as to ban the breed completely. I find this disturbing. Do not mistake me for saying animals should be allowed to roam neighborhoods as they please. With this, I could not disagree more. Animals should be confined to roam the properties of their owners except when walked on a leash or taken within designated leash-free parks. However, I strongly disagree with the much more intense regulation being paced on these breeds. Not only is this unsuccessful at making an effort to keep Pit Bulls out of faulty environments, but it also reinforces the groundless stigma to many individuals who possess little knowledge of this breed. Therefore, their opportunities to become properly socialized are being destroyed. As I have mentioned earlier, socialization is key to making any pet comfortable around other beings. It is clear to see how these regulations actually promote the development of aggressive and protective traits. This makes a blissful dog enjoying its daily walk appear as though it yearns to tear passersby apart beneath the muzzle. These stigmatizing regulations are ludicrous.


    Regulations of, may I correct the phrase, high-risk-to-be-trained-with-aggression breeds should be focused on a completely different area in order to become effective. In order to help these breeds become functioning pets in today’s society, regulations should be focused on screening individuals who wish to adopt these animals. For example, when I chose to adopt my Pit Bull from a Pit Bull rescue in St. Louis, I first had to pass a background check. Why? So that the rescue could ensure I had no history of offenses for which I may be using the dog to safeguard my activities. To ensure I had no history of illegal animal cruelty or charges related to animal fighting for which my dog may become subject to. All in all, to ensure the Pit Bull I brought home had the same opportunity to a conducive and supportive home that your Golden Retriever, your Labrador, your Yorkshire Terrier, or your Beagle has been blessed with. Getting these animals out of faulty environments and into functional homes is the key to saving both the breed and to saving society from the repercussions of these animals when they come from bad environments.


    All pets are extremely vulnerable to the actions we bestow upon them. They have no voice to speak out with reasoning or defense. Like children, they only learn by what they have been exposed to and only know what they have been raised to believe. Therefore, before you form an opinion about the character of the American Pit Bull Terrier, be certain you are well-informed. Make sure you consider all of the facts and circumstances behind this subject. Knowing this, I encourage you to follow-up on this information. See for yourself. With time you will come to see that an American Pit Bull Terrier is no more likely to act out viciously than the Lab next door. It is our responsibility to ensure the best treatment for our family members, for our children, for our friends and also for our pets. Do not unjustly place an erroneous stigma on this enjoyable canine. There may be dangerous dogs, but there are not dangerous breeds. As millions of supporters contest, “ban ignorance, not the breed.”


    Adam Hatfield
    American Pit Bull Terrier Advocate


    NOTE: In order to get accurate information about American Pit Bull Terriers, I am giving you a list of several legitimate sources of information. These provided me with the information I have discussed. This includes the website for the American Temperament Testing Society, the Humane Society, the Animal Planet and Bad-Rap, an organization that specializes in working with and advocating for American Pit Bull Terriers. I encourage you to take a little time to read what each has to say. They have so much more information than what I could briefly present to you in this letter. Also, please take a second to complete the “Identify the Pit Bull” quiz located within Pit Bulls on the Web link. It will aid you in understanding how easy it is to mistake various breeds of canines with the American Pit Bull Terrier. You may find your results surprising.


    American Temperament Testing Society – www.atts.org



    Humane Society of the United States – www.hsus.org


    Our Park, Pit Bull Advocates for Compassion and Kindness – www.ourpark.org

    *Photograph Courtesy of PitBulls.com

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