Monday, November 3, 2014

The Pit Bull Conundrum.

I've been thinking a lot about dogs.  I'm trying to find a new dog.  The search has been more difficult than I ever imagined.  I have a lot to say on the subject, maybe too much, but that's what blogs are for right?  I will get to all of that once I figure out what I am doing.  For the moment, I want to get some of the clutter out of my head. 

I am not trying to start any debates with this, I know that Pit Bulls are a touchy subject.  If there are any Pit Bull friends out there starting to feel like you need to jump in and defend your beloved companion, please, there is no need.  I have nothing against the dogs.  The dogs are not the problem.  The animals are never the problem. 


Twenty years ago, the animal shelter I worked in would not adopt out a pit bull.  That policy had nothing to do with what the people who worked in or ran the shelter wanted, it was a dictate of the insurance company.  The shelter was funded by the county and the county would not fund it without liability insurance.  It wasn't a choice.

I never agreed with the practice, but twenty years ago, it wasn't much of an issue.  In all the years that I worked in that shelter we had ZERO pit bulls brought in.  None, nada, zip, zilch.  To that date, the shelter saw an average on ONE pit bull per DECADE. 

It was just about this time that pit bull advocacy really started gaining ground.  The no-adoption policy was being challenged all over the country.  The campaign to change the negative image associated with these dogs was just taking hold and the crusade to “save the misunderstood pit bulls” was really taking off.  Suddenly, even calling them 'Pit Bulls' was anathema.  They were American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers.

That campaign to end the persecution of the breed hasn't been terribly successful, although they did manage to do away with many of the no-adoption policies, including at 'my' shelter.  The dogs still face most of the same challenges that they did twenty years ago.  However, the crusade to 'save' them has had one major, unintended consequence.  It led directly to a massive surge in their popularity, which in turn means that they are suffering through the biggest Pit-Bull-baby-boom ever.  They are now the NUMBER ONE most often bred dog today.  They are also the dogs most often turned into shelters.  There are more of them now than there ever have been and there are more of them euthanized in shelters than ever before.  They now make up 35% of all dogs turned into shelters in the US and that number is as high as 65% in urban shelters.  Last week, I looked at the dogs available in the shelter where I used to work - twelve out of fifteen dogs were purebred Pit Bulls.

If ever there were a living embodiment of good intentions gone horribly wrong, Pitt Bulls are it.  I see the results of this phenomenon every time I drive into work and it plays out in one of two ways:

Scenario 1:  The gang boys strut down the street with their huge, drooping jeans bagging around their knees, ear-buds dangling.  Each group has at least one pit bull straining at the end of a heavy chain lead. 

These gangs routinely breed these dogs to sell to their friends.  I see at least 4-6 of these dogs each day.

Scenario 2:  A young woman in color-coordinated, matching exercise gear is jogging with her very well-mannered, sleek and shiny pit bull at her side.  The dog is missing half of one ear, has numerous scars on his face and is wearing a hot pink harness with little purple hearts and peace signs on it.  

This is one of the crusaders.  She and the three other young woman I see her with rescued their dogs from the local shelter.  Their dogs were produced by one of the first group.  They are doing a great job of demonstrating that these certainly can be very nice, well behaved dogs.  

I honestly can't decide which of these groups is a bigger problem for these dogs.  On the surface, the would-be gang-bangers are the problem, but it is the tireless advocates that have pushed the dogs into such prominence and they die by the thousands because of it.  

I don't know how to cram this genie back in its bottle.  As long as the would-be badasses think it is cool to have a big, mean dog at the end of a chain, they are going to keep breeding them.  As long as we keep promoting them as the perfect pet, they will remain popular, which is the worst thing that can happen to a breed.  At this point, all these dogs can hope for is that this fad, like most others, will finally run its course and they can fall back into obscurity to lick their wounds. 


  1. Well said. I've met the different pit bulls and so much can be said for how they were brought up...and that happens to go with just about any breed of dog.

  2. I thought this was a very interesting post. Where I live, there are no bans on pit bulls, shelters cannot discriminate against them. But it is easy to hold on to the prejudice as far too often we see the Exhibit A gangsters or the after effects of that. I remember when I volunteered at the shelter all I ran into for years were the pit bull crusaders. Never once did someone stop to say, it's not the dogs giving themselves a bad rap, it's the way these dogs are treated.
    I'm not sure I could ever take a stance on this issue as I have seen pit bulls go into the shelter and then stay there for years, but I have also seen pit bulls running to attack my mother and my dogs one of our neighbors screaming for her husband to "GO GET THE BASEBALL BAT THE PIT BULLS ARE OUT". I suppose these "crusaders" do have good intentions, but as you have said it has gone horribly wrong. It seems that many of these "pit bull activists" are caring individuals, but are not actually very well informed on how to handle thse powerful animals. At least that is what it looks like it California, anyway.

  3. I think pit bulls have had a bad lot in life. Having said that, the danger is still there. They can turn on a dime. I wouldn't have one with children or other animals. I'll never have one because apartment complexes and my insurance don't allow them.

  4. As you may or may not know, I am the proud owner of two well-behaved pits. One I got as a puppy and she has no idea that she's technically a rescue. The other was abandoned at a boat launch as an un-neutered, un-trained adult. I love them both to pieces, and they are shining examples of how sweet, friendly, and forgiving these dogs can be.

    They are still TOUGH dogs. I would NEVER advise someone get a pit bull as a first dog. They are STRONG. They are DRIVEN. They have energy. So, so much energy. They CAN hurt another dog (or person) in a way that a poodle just plain can't. They require a ton of exercise, destruction-proof toys, and careful training (they are stronger than I am, and I can only contain them because they have been TAUGHT to listen).

    I can't stand that people are afraid of these dogs and hate them and want to kill them just for the way they look and the reputation they have. I hear people say 'red nose' and 'blue nose' and 'purebred pit bull' and it makes me want to scream.

    I also can't stand the ads showing pits being grabbed by children, with their eyes bugging out of their heads, nervously licking their lips. I DON'T think any old person should own one of these dogs. They can make great family pets, but if you're looking for a suburban house pet who spends 90% of his life in a crate, and the rest in a fenced yard alone, don't get a pit bull.

    I 100% agree with your post. It hurts these dogs to view them as tough guys and symbols of bad ass status. It also hurts them to pretend they would never hurt a fly or that they're just like any other dog. They're not.

  5. My two oldest sons are pit owners....and unfortunately breeders as well. I like their dogs. They are nice well socialized dogs, who are well cared for, and generally the pups all go to people they know. However every time they have another litter of puppies I get sooooo mad! I have finally gotten through to one of them, that there are just so many pits out there in need of homes, and they are only adding to the problem.

    Also I agree with Dom. They are sweet dogs that have the ability to do ten times the damage of most dogs due to their physical make up. People need to understand that.

  6. I like the posts here. So sensible. Yes nurture has something to do with how a dog turns out, but so does nature, and we have bred dogs for very strong breed characteristics for a long time. I don't agree with everything Cesar Milan says or does, but I do think he is right when he says Pits need a strong owner who will do the hard yards to make sure their dog is a good social member. I love dogs and have had them all my life in a doggy family. I learn everything I can about them. I train my dogs every day and spend all day with them. But, I still don't think I have what it takes to own a Pit. Or any other of those guarding or fighting type breeds, come to that. Who needs the stress?

  7. ITS NOT THE BREED ITS THE DEED. any dog can be dangerous if the human has conditioned it to be so . there are great people on FB regarding pits. one is a person that adopted one of Michael Vicks pits (from the fighting club) Hector was his name. He just died last. just search FB for Hector the Pit Bull. You could message them and get some more info. One plus of you owning a pit is WALKS. You are always out walking, have the space etc.

  8. Sounds like pit bulls are kinda like OTTBs. OTTB-crusaders will promise you that they are nice, sweet, calm, tough horses just like QHs or whatever else the native breed is. The ignorant or the gullible will believe them and buy baby OTTBs for their kids, who then get thrown off and the breed's name is dragged through the mud. The fact is that a thoroughbred is not a horse you can kick and pull around like some old Welsh cob. The true masters of horsemanship can make them as quiet as sheep, but it takes an expert to make a TB into a lesson donkey.
    I suppose that's also a problem with the pitbulls - the advocates sing their praises, some poor clueless family ends up with one and one day he gets out of hand and plays too rough with the kids. Cue the owners spreading the words that pitbulls are vicious.
    Awesome, insightful post. Thank you!