Pit Bull Type Dogs, Their Images Slowly Being Resurrected


If there’s a dog breed that represents Chicago – it’s actually not a breed but a mix of breeds which offers certain common features – we call these dogs pit bulls.

Pit bull-looking dogs may be the most common dog in the city, and is arguably at the moment among the most common All American dog.

Still, if  tomorrow any dog alleged to be a  “pit bull” attacks and seriously hurts a person in – say Chicago – there will be an instant call for a breed ban, to somehow eliminate all dogs who anyone might call a pit bull. Just as tragic but a far different outcome if a dog of any other breed or mix attacks.

In early January that’s exactly what happened. There was an attack, as two dogs identified as pit bulls attacked a man innocently jogging along South Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. He survived but was very seriously injured. Though, some called for a breed ban, overall, Chicago Aldermen were more enlightened. Still, the incident remained in the headlines for over a week. A little boy was killed that same week by errant gang gunfire; his story fell out of the news cycle in 24 hours.

There could be 500 murders (or more) in Chicago alone in 2012.

In 2010 (the last year stats are available), there were only a few shy of 13,000 murders in the U.S.

The number of deaths due to dog attacks nationwide, around 12 to about twice that many since records have been kept by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC no longer tracks the breed allegedly involved in an attack, though of course not all are alleged to be pit bull type dogs. Certainly one fatality as a result of any dog is too many.

The bottom line is that people are far more dangerous to people than dogs are to people, of any breed or mix – it doesn’t matter. Not even close!

Face it – love ’em or hate ’em – here are some undeniable facts about dogs we call pit bulls:

– There are a lot of them. Because there is no registry to what amounts to a mixed breed, there’s no data on exactly how many. Likely this cross – generally referred to as pit bull-type dogs, are among the most common dogs, right up there will Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Yorkshire Terriers and German Shepherd dogs.

– Some animal shelters are doing so well they are seeking to ‘import’ adoptable dogs form other cities, counties or states. Other shelters remain overwhelmed with far too many dogs (and sadly far too many are euthanized). However, no matter where you are in America most shelters – those doing great and those doing not as great – all have an abundance of dogs called pit bulls. Supply is greater than the demand for these dogs.

– Most dogs fitting the description of pit-bull type dog are upstanding citizens….Some even work for you and me, for local, state or even the U.S. government in many roles, from cadaver dogs to crime sniffing. Every day countless pit bull type dogs work side by side with children, as reading dogs (children read to the dogs) or in animal assisted therapy programs, etc. Some pit bull looking dogs are even assistance dogs.

– I concede – these dogs are also sometimes in the news – in a bad way, involved in dog attacks. There are various reasons to explain this – including that sometimes bad guys use these pit bull looking dogs as dangerous weapons; some not only lack socialization but also may have been abused; I have no doubt very poor genetics may play some role. Also, there are simply lots of them- and the media (an exemplified in the Chicago example above and many other examples) loves to exploit stories when a dog alleged to be a pit bull attacks.

In her blog, Sarah Goodyear calls Pit Bull the ultimate urban dog. She’s right on with that!

And change is coming – slowly, but it is happening.  Goodyear writes about a recent instance in New York City, when yes – the first response was to shoot a pit bull looking dog, but later the dog wasn’t vilified in the press but instead depicted (accurately) as a loyal companion. The dog survived.

Starting in the 1980s, pit bulls came to embody all of the public’s fears and anxieties about what was wrong with America’s inner cities. The dogs have been stock images in a familiar, grim urban picture that includes drug dealing, racial tension, gun violence, and decay. Many cities and counties have banned them; Miami-Dade County in Florida just upheld a 23-year ban on pit bulls and related dogs by a 63.2 percent to 36.8 percent margin. But the law there isn’t enforced, an it seems just matter of time before the breed ban is over-turned, as it was in Ohio.

Doubts about the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation have been raised worldwide, and the same authorities who enacted these bans are now reconsidering them. In Spain, a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior in 2007 concluded that the 2000 Dangerous Animal Act, which targeted several breeds, had not reduced dog-related injuries.In 2009, Italy abolished its breed-specific regulations, which affected to 17 breeds, in favor of legislation that holds the individual owner responsible. A similar approach has been suggested for the U.S. by the American Veterinary Medical Association, among others.In 2008, the Dutch government repealed a 15-year nationwide ban on pit bulls after a government study showed it to be ineffective; education was suggested (and accepted) as a preferred approach. In a recent British poll, 88 percent of respondents felt that current breed-specific legislation in the U.K., which targets four breeds, was not effective, and 71 percent called for repeal

Books have always been an education tool in this country, and there have been many in recent years that simply offer the truth about these dogs, many are heart-warming, and compelling. One is  Jim Gorant’s “The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption.”  I think the public gets (or is starting to), people like Vick are the villains, and the dogs are merely the victims (as is our nation and communities when it comes to dog fighting).

Foster is the author of “The Dogs Who Found Me: What I’ve Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind,” a 2006 memoir that tells how he got through a tough patch in his life thanks to his relationships several dogs  including pit bulls. Foster’s new book offers the most perfect title, “I’m a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America’s Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet”,  published by Penguin in October.

Meanwhile, shelters and rescues are working on marketing approaches, understanding the marketing does work, as they attempt to positively spin these dogs.

Yesterday when out walking our dogs we met two proud new “parents” to a pit bull-type puppy. Their last dog, a pittie, passed away at 13 earlier in the year. They said said it’s much easier today that it was back with their other dog – more people seem enlightened and fewer seem fearful.

I think they’re right….Still, though, as I write this. there are public officials who insist that breed specific bans are a viable solution.

One dog attacks – it is a tragedy, of course…and there should be a response, the owner of that dog (doesn’t matter what the breed or mix is) should be held responsible. One little boy is shot, 100 little boys are shot, likely several hundred for every serious dog attack. Why don’t some public officials understand?