Pit Bulls are family dogs beloved by millions of people all over the world. To get a feel for who these people are, check out the I am the Majority project with photos sent in by everyday folks with their Pit Bulls, including firemen, teachers, accountants, real estate agents, nurses, police officers, and veterans. The purpose of the project and others like it is to demonstrate that law-abiding citizens have Pit Bulls in their families. It is not right that these Americans should be discriminated against because they love Pit Bulls, who have been unfairly demonized by the media.
The media focuses on the evil people who have forced Pit Bulls into fighting by means of horrific abuse. As family pets, Pit Bulls are just like any other dog. They have been known in the past as the “Nanny Dog” because of how well they play with children.
The facts show that Pit Bulls are no more dangerous than any other breed of dog. According to the National Canine Research Council, “There is no scientific evidence that one kind of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog.” The NCRC also points out that the media regularly describes dogs as being certain breeds without any more evidence than hearsay. An article by Maddies Fund, ”Incorrect Breed Identification Costs Dogs Their Lives” describes how experts often fail to correctly guess which dogs are Pit Bulls
The Media, “Gangstas” and Pit Bulls
The media attack on Pit Bulls started in 1987 when Rolling Stone magazine did a graphic article about “teenagers, inner city gangs, violence and the horrific abuse of Pit bulls.” That story launched the media frenzy about Pit Bulls in the inner cities, according to The Pit Bull Placebo, The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression by Karen Delise, published by the National Canine Research Council. (p.97)
The media was just fascinated with inner city drug dealers, partly because of the HBO series, The Wire, which started in 2002 and continued for 5 seasons, gave the American public graphic images of that culture. Americans love cops and robbers, and The Wire was a big hit. It glorified the life of inner city “gangstas,” and increased the public fascination with them.
As for Pit Bulls, there was an avalanche of media stories demonizing them after the Rolling Stone article was published. The 1987 Sports Illustrated cover story had a photo of a Pit Bull with teeth bared and the headline “Beware of this Dog.” The article described the “sport” of dog fighting and portrayed Pit Bulls as vicious dogs who were unpredictable and would even turn on their owners. Also in 1987, Time Magazine published an article on Pit Bulls called “Time Bomb on Legs.” The Time article irresponsibly included a “formula to torture, abuse and create a dangerous dog.” (p. 98, Pit Bull Placebo)
Sensational media stories about Pit Bulls created myths that are meant to horrify, including the lie about their “locking jaws.” In The Pit Bull Placebo, we see how incidents with Pit Bulls are covered hundreds of times in the national media, while incidents with other breeds are given limited local media coverage.
This kind of media obsession has occurred before in American history with different breeds depicted as “vicious” for decades: Bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. These days, it is Pit Bulls who are characterized as “vicious” dogs by the media. The other side of the story – of Pit Bulls as members of loving families – is rarely told in the mainstream media.
Michael Vick and his Fans
The arrest of Michael Vick for his Pit Bull dog fighting ring increased the media hysteria. In 2007, Vick was sentenced to 23 months of prison. The public horror over Vick’s abuse of his own dogs seemed to generate even more sensational stories in the media about Pit Bulls.
After Vick was released from prison, the Humane Society of the U.S. trotted him out to tell inner city youth not to get involved in dog fighting. Since Vick makes millions in the NFL, it is hard to imagine that he can make a convincing case that dog fighting would ruin anyone’s life.
In an a 2011 interview, Vick blamed the inner city lifestyle for his crimes:
“You got the family dog and the white picket fence, and you just think that’s all there is. Some of us had to grow up in poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods, and we just had to adapt to our environment. I know that it’s wrong. But people act like it’s some crazy thing they never heard of. They don’t know.”
And here’s another quote from the same article:
“For a while, it was all ‘Scold Mike Vick, scold Mike Vick, just talk bad about him, like he’s not a person,’ ” he says. “It’s almost as if everyone wanted to hate me. But what have I done to anybody? It was something that happened, and it was people trying to make some money.”
Michael Vick has never shown any remorse. He has never expressed any interest in his dogs who were rescued and rehabilitated by Best Friends in Utah. Here is an update on Vicks’ dogs who are now happily living in families.
Despite efforts to stop dog fighting, it continues to plague the inner cities. In 2012, Calico, a rapper in Detroit, did a video tour of his yard, showing his Pit Bulls in cages and chained outside. He proudly said these are his fighting dogs (he also points out his roosters for cock fighting). Of course, he’s obviously a moron to make that video, and he was arrested. Hopefully, he will be in jail for a long time. The horrifying thing is that he thought that his fighting dogs enhance his image and career as a rapper.
So Pit Bulls continue to be bred for fighting and abused by dog fighters. And the media continues to sensationalize every story about Pit Bulls. This is heartbreaking to the millions of Americans who have Pit Bulls as beloved members of their families.
Breed Specific Legislation
Some localities have turned to Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) that discriminates against Pit Bulls and their families. Studies have shown that BSL does not make communities any safer and it is expensive to implement, as described in BSLTalking Points by the Animal Farm Foundation.
Twelve states have BSL, and none of them have had a reduction in the numbers of dog bites, as shown in the graphic at the bottom of this article. Prince Georges County in Maryland, which is predominantly a black community, has banned Pit Bulls. The county spends about $250,000 a year on BSL and they admit that it has not improved public safety. What a waste of money that could be used to save animals’ lives!
Many studies have shown that BSL fails to improve public safety. The primary effect of BSL has been to increase the numbers of Pit Bulls who have been abandoned at animal shelters and then slaughtered. BSL is an inhumane policy that hurts not only the Pit Bulls, but the many law-abiding citizens who love them.
What Can We Do?
We need to continue working to change the public image of Pit Bulls. This is not a hopeless task. German Shepherds were portrayed as “vicious” dogs around the time of WW I with Germany. The popularity of Rin Tin Tin in films turned around the image of German Shepherds, according to the Karen Delise, “Pit Bull Placebo.” By the time of WW II with Germany, Americans loved German Shepherds and chose not to go back to the ugly stereotypes. That’s the good news. The bad news was that Dobermans used by the Nazis as guard dogs were the focus of media sensational stories about “vicious” dogs.
The Stubby Dog Project is a national organization “focused on changing public perceptions of pit bulls and dismantling the associated stereotypical thinking.” Pit Bull advocates should stay tuned to what they are doing. Locally, we have The Pit Stop at Faithful Friends working on to change the public image of Pit Bulls and provide services to Pit Bull owners.
Every time a media figure makes ignorant comments, we need to speak out. Pit Bull Pride of Delaware’s photo album of Pit Bulls and families is a great answer to people like Kelly Ripa, who recently made an ignorant remark about Pit Bulls being “gangsta dogs” on her morning TV show. The same thing happened nationally about the stupid MacDonalds commercial with negative statements about Pit Bulls.
Public campaigns against dog fighting should have reputable spokespersons. Not Michael Vick. He is exactly the wrong person. If we need a sports figure to speak to inner city youth, it would be better to find someone like Magic Johnson the beloved basketball player who has been such an excellent spokesperson about AIDS.
The cruelty investigative function of the state should be focused more on dog fighting. Too often NKD hears stories of families harassed in cruelty investigations that are based on “unsanitary” conditions in homes – poop on the floor, for example – when the animals are all healthy. Cruelty investigations should be more focused on dog fighters.
Delaware needs to provide more spay/neuter funds and publicity to Pit Bull owners to get them to neuter their dogs.
We must continue to work to reform Kent County SPCA where Pit Bulls are being slaughtered. Going No Kill is the best way to save Pit Bulls.
And finally, while we may not be able to eradicate poverty and drugs in the inner cities, we need to work harder to help the people who live there. Programs that bring jobs and better schools to the inner cities will help the Pit Bulls there, too. If we want to get rid of “gangstas” in the inner cities we need to create jobs other than drug dealing and dog breeding in the cities so that black men and women can provide for their families. Helping those inner city families helps all of the innocents who live there – children, cats and dogs, including Pit Bull type dogs.
There are so many ways we can push for change. We just need to keep the faith and keep working.