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When photographer Lynn Terry aimed her camera at two pit bulls in a photo booth, a kind of mesmerizing magic happened. Gleeful entertainers Willis and Bumper were facing the camera, when Bumper, with his impressive tongue hanging out, turned to kiss Willis, and then turned to face the camera, both dogs wearing ridiculously clownish grins. The indelible shot capturing love in a photo booth transfixed viewers around the globe.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Lynn Terry
 

And then there’s the gripping story behind the cheery faces. Bumper, once “owned” by a dogfighter, wouldn’t participate in the blood “sport” and was saved by a young boy. Willis’ mother was pregnant with him when she was involved in the largest pit bull fighting raid in U.S. history, in 2009, when 500 dogs were rescued; Willis was born two weeks later. And since then, Bumper and the prodigiously blocky-headed Willis, whom Bumper mothers, are adored companions in a paradise of a home, where a pit bull isn’t a pariah, a murderous weapon, too dangerous to live, but a beautiful, loving, friendly, loyal, and fervently devoted family member with a hugely exuberant approach to life.

The Myth of the “Dangerous” Pit Bull 

It is one of the enduring myths that only the most contemptible and boasting toughs strut around with these “dangerous” dogs or, more often, keep them as chained up, captive prisoners. And yet, like Bumper and Willis, millions of pit bulls live happily and peacefully every day with their families. They are dogs, like all other dogs, enjoying life.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

According to the American Temperament Testing Society, Inc., which tests dogs for stability, aggressiveness, and friendliness, the American Pit Bull Terrier achieved a passing rate of 86.8 percent, which is better than collies, golden retrievers, and beagles, ranking pit bulls fourth in highest passing grades of the 122 breeds tested. Pit bulls have been bred for companionship and have always been admired for their rock-solid and even temperaments.

Cindy Marabito, founder of Reunion Rescue, a nonprofit that saves as many pit bulls as it possibly can, says, “Pits were bred to be human-friendly. The goal was to be able to reach into the pit (for fighting) and grab the dog without getting bitten…. They bond to their humans and make crummy watch dogs because they are so people-friendly.”

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

And with their legendary desire to please, pit bulls are often the dog of choice for the depraved— dope dealers, thugs, and illegal dogfighters, with their horrific mistreatment and jackboot tactics, making a living abusing, torturing, starving, and trying to make vicious these magnificent and highly sensitive dogs. Often, the most loyal are the most victimized, done in by those whom they love the most (it is well-documented that in the ring, dogs will fight to the death to please the one cheering him on). Such abusers create deadly situations, and what may provoke a dog bite is more about environment than genetics.

Pit Bull Injustice

As Karen Delise writes in The Pit Bull Placebo, pit bulls are the targets of “every type of positive or negative emotional and physical circumstance humans are capable of imposing on dogs,” thus the emergence of “canine profiling,” or breed-specific legislation (BSL), also known as breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), with its sudden seizures and killings of dogs in many towns and cities around the country, whether innocent or not, friendly or not, pit bulls or not.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

Bans don’t differentiate among the various individuals labeled as pit-bull types, belonging to the bully breed. (A pit bull is not a breed but a commonly used term to describe an athletic-looking class of terrier that includes the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and mixes of those breeds. There are over 25 breeds of dogs who are routinely mistaken for pit bulls).

As John Adams famously said, “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

According to the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), based on a study from the Center for Disease Control, there is no scientific evidence that one kind of dog is more likely than any other to cause harm to a human being.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

South Dakota’s Sen. Dan Lederman, who introduced the bill that will create equality among all breeds in the eyes of the law in his state, said, “The fact is, a dog’s breed has nothing to do with how the dog behaves. Dog bites are not a breed problem.”

Indeed, they are a negligent or reckless guardian’s problem. Many have long recognized that it is the humans behind the dogs who must be held responsible. As Sen. Lederman concluded, “This legislation takes the focus off Petey [the beloved pit bull from “The Little Rascals”], and puts it where it belongs”—on the guardians of animal companions. “It’s part of being a good steward for the animals in our care, and part of being a good neighbor.”

Bad Guardians, Good Dogs

It was dogfighter Michael Vick, who awoke the world to the horrifying physical and psychological ravages pit bulls endured. With the signing of Vick, to the New York Jets, in March, Tessa Stuart in the Village Voice, wrote, “In addition to plunking down $34,000 to buy the Smithfield, Virginia, property where dozens of dogs were chained to car axles buried in the ground while they fought, sometimes to the death, in front of betting spectators, Vick and his co-defendants admitted to killing at least six (but perhaps as many as eight) dogs who did not display sufficiently aggressive traits during the ‘testing’ process. Several of those dogs were shot; at least two were hosed down, then electrocuted.”

In the backyard, there were graves of pit bulls Vick fought or had been torn apart serving as bait dogs during practice. Those who managed to survive were found beaten, starved, tortured, and chained to concrete slabs. After much public debate, they were not euthanized, because, as Malcolm Gladwell, wrote, “The betrayal of loyalty requires an act of social reparation.”

Hero Pitties 

Here is the other side of the equation: the history of pit bulls is crowded with beloved companions — the iconic Petey, war heroes, poster dogs — pit bulls were so revered that the U.S. Military used an image of a pit bull on war posters — television stars, savers of lives, companions to such celebrated personages as Helen Keller, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall, among innumerable others.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

Let me enumerate all the ways in which pit bulls contribute to society: heroic and life-saving work with autistic children, law enforcement, animal-assisted therapy, search-and-rescue, nursing homes and hospital visits, drug detection, to name but a few. Mary Tyler Moore’s life depends upon her pit bull Spanky letting her know when her blood sugar gets perilously low. “He helps me with my diabetes—he can sense when something’s not right… He will come and sit and stare at me until I do something about it.”

In an act of great courage, a pit bill called Weela saved her human brother’s life as he was about to be ambushed by a huge rattlesnake, who then sunk his fangs into Weela’s face. A few years later, Weela saved the lives of 30 people, 29 dogs, 13 horses, and 1 cat. Heavy rains caused a damn to break on the Tijuana River and Weela pulled 30 to 50-pound loads of food across the river to a tiny island to feed the stranded animals the entire month they were there.

And there is Dakota, one of the most highly rated search-and-rescue dogs ever to wear a badge. Her reputation is so glittering that NASA requested Kris Crawford, Dakota’s guardian, and Dakota to assist in the recovery of the astronauts after the 2003 shuttle tragedy. Dakota and her two canine siblings, Cheyenne and Tahoe, are also certified hospital therapy dogs. Kris fiercely believes that the public needs to be enlightened about the real spirit of the pit bull. On her site, ForPitsSake.org., the banner reads: Where Heroes Are The Pits.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

I used to take my pit bull, Brownie, with the velvety white tummy, and galactic brown eyes, dappled with flecks of gold, to the local nursing home, where he was greeted by a huge gushing of oohs and aahs and lots of cooing, where elderly hands patted his enormous head and rubbed his belly and treated him like a prince, so enthralled by his lofty status.

These elderly residents became so excited by his visit that now a few remembered their own dogs, sometimes as far back as their own childhood, and were thrilled to tell stories about them, while all the time playing with Brownie, whose tail wagged wildly as he moved slowly from one resident to the other, giving kisses and licks, making everyone feel good and loved.

Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls Photo courtesy of Robin Dorman
 

Brownie was there to please and, for these elderly citizens, this humble pit bull was a divine being, an angel to remind them of blissful reveries. Brownie passed away at the age of 15, in December, and this is my tribute to a perfect companion.

Image source: Robin Dorman 

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74 comments on “Invented Fear and Injustice We Wrongly Place on Pit Bulls”

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Jenni Llessur
4 Months Ago

That cdc report is over 13 years old with reporting data from 1998... @Lynnette that is a certified biased opinion site, please don't use it as a credible source no more than you would use Star magazine.


Reply
Lynnette Orta
4 Months Ago

With that all being said, I have 4 small children and do not let them near pits EVER! http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2013.php.


Reply
Hockey 101
12 Jun 2014

Dogsbite.org , A telephone fortune teller is where you get stats from ?

RAE
23 Sep 2014

Lynetta not only is dogsbite.org reports outdated and biased, but it is a site ran by a group of lawyers who specialize dog bite attacks. These people prey on the ignorant and gullable like yourself. Just read the small print ;)

RAE
23 Sep 2014

Dean and Lynette - Before making a biased opinion, why don\'t you actually go volunteer or work with these dogs so you can actually make a knowledgeable statement. I have worked with and owned pitties for 20 years now. I can tell you FIRST HAND, that these dogs are not what you claim them to be. I find it laughable that you try to throw statistics out there from a less than credited site, yet you just ignore the real facts given from actual studies done stated in this article.

Lynnette Orta
4 Months Ago

I was terrified of pit bulls, so much to the point I wouldn't visit my best friends house with out having a mini panic attack. Then one day her beautiful female pit came up to me and put her head in my lap.... I suddenly looked into those beautiful brown eyes and realized she was comforting me, telling me it's ok without words...... That moment I realized I was ignorant for thinking pits were evil..... I love that dog and she is a big ole sweetheart!


Reply
Shawnna M Stewart
4 Months Ago

Shari MiRukkah Salomon


Reply
Sierra Jones
4 Months Ago

I was attacked by a pit bull years ago. It locked on and broke my wrist causing serious nerve damage. I now live with chronic pain all the time. True that the owners were training this dog to fight but they are predisposed to aggression and now I am terrified of them.


Reply
Mary-Grace Milner
4 Months Ago

...and Staffordshire Bull Terriers! They also get a bad press! I fed my Staffordshire organic food and filtered water from the day of rescue. I have shown her love, and we have made her welcome in our family. She arrived at the shelter scared, starved and covered in mange. She was severely beaten and used as a puppy farm. She does not have one bad bone in her body. She is a pillar of society, and when she is with her day sitter, she is the alpha female who keeps all the pups in line. She shows them love and life. She is the best dog we could have ever hoped for, and I cannot believe I harboured negative thoughts about the breed - but I did! However, when I saw those pictures of her in the state she arrived in, I changed. I saw that man had done this to her, and that it was not inbuilt that staffs are strong, savage, brutal dogs. It is all about how you treat them. I for one know you can turn the fortunes around for an abused dog just by doing the right thing. Therefore, so can you. Do not judge a breed by bad press - they do not deserve the label.


Reply
Jenni Llessur
4 Months Ago

Dean Lewis where did you find your statistics? Connie Cuellar they were not in fact bred for aggression, while people have raised some to be that way and are a product of their environment, it's not an innate characteristic. While I appreciate you saying "through no fault of their own", false comments like "they are unpredictable and very dangerous" only to perpetuate the false sigma and ignorance towards the breed.


Reply
Dean Lewis
11 Jun 2014

http://www.dogsbite.org/pdf/1979-1988-dog-bite-related-fatalities.pdf

Dean Lewis
11 Jun 2014

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/88/1/55.abstract

Dean Lewis
11 Jun 2014

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8657532

Dean Lewis
11 Jun 2014

http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf

Lynnette Orta
11 Jun 2014

Dean, even in 2013 they were at 78%. Even though people don't want to believe it, it is what it is.

Kim Liongong
4 Months Ago

Dogs, we might say, are advanced mammals because in their next reembodiment they will be reborn as humans.


Reply
Kristy Cav
4 Months Ago

Such cute ....


Reply
Dean Lewis
4 Months Ago

The attack and death statistics tell a very different story, with Pit Bulls ranking highest of all breeds.


Reply
RAE
23 Sep 2014

Dean - not only is dogsbite.org reports outdated and biased, but it is a site ran by a group of lawyers who specialize dog bite attacks. These people prey on the ignorant and gullable like yourself. Just read the small print ;)
Before making a biased opinion, why don\'t you actually go volunteer or work with these dogs so you can actually make a knowledgeable statement. I have worked with and owned pitties for 20 years now. I can tell you FIRST HAND, that these dogs are not what you claim them to be. I find it laughable that you try to throw statistics out there from a less than credited site, yet you just ignore the real facts given from actual studies done stated in this article.



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