Friday, March 18, 2011

The American Pit perspective

     The news lately has been rife with new reports of attacks on human and other animals by "Pit bulls" or Pit bull-type dogs. One has to wonder why this breed (or combination of breeds) appears to be the chief offender in such attacks. Some argue that the media is more attuned to reporting Pit bull attacks and is more apt to identify the breed in their reports. While this may be true to a greater or lesser extent, there is no denying that fully half of the fatal attacks in the US each year involve dogs that are described as "Pit Bulls". Rottweilers also account for a lion's share of fatal attacks. These facts along with some unreasoned fears have led some communities to enact "breed-specific" legislation, effectively banning folks from owning, breeding or selling some types of dogs within their jurisdiction.
     Generally, Americans abhor violence. I'm speaking of true violence as opposed to the simulated stuff that is so prevalent these days. As a society, we would never allow, say, an execution to be broadcast in the media. We deplore anything that smacks of cruelty. Dogfighting and the sister "sport" of Cockfighting have both fallen into disrepute here. Both of these activities are now illegal and punishable by significant fines and/or imprisonment in our country. Even a former sports hero like Michael Vick came to be almost universally despised when people learned of his involvement in dog fighting and the breeding of fighting dogs. We seemed not to be able to think of enough epithets to hurl his way.
     The problem with pit bulls, as I see it, is that this is precisely the culture that gave birth to the breed. The dog was developed and honed for the sole purpose of defeating other dogs of the same type in the pit. The qualities the breeders selected for were gameness ( a rather nebulous term that mainly connotes a willingness to fight to the death), endurance (or "wind") and strength. Most breeders back in the day did not breed them to be aggressive, not toward other dogs or toward humans. The fact is a man-biter was generally frowned on by the dog-fighting community and it wasn't uncommon for them to be put down, thereby removing these animals from the gene pool. This was done in part because of the proximity of the people in the pit to the dogs that were fighting. In the course of breeding these dogs, they also became endowed with other secondary attributes including speed, athleticism, and a punishing bite.
     Now we fast-forward to today, where these dogs are bred without any thought to their disposition. Everyone with a backyard is suddenly a Pit bull breeder. What we have seen is the development of dogs that are human and dog aggressive, that have been outbred to Molosser dogs (generally breeds that are human-aggressive)  to enhance their size and physical appearance. Many have freakishly large chests and heads that would have doomed them in the dog pit. I have seen in our own Post and Courier dogs advertised as Pit bulls that were in excess of 100 lbs. No self-respecting dog man of yore would have purposely bred a dog over 25kg (55 lbs) at chain weight or street weight.
     I like Pits very much. They can be playful and comical. But somehow, responsible owners and breeders are going to have to take charge and clean up this underground breeding mess and police themselves before people become weary of the continued carnage and start enacting laws. How can they do this? Frankly, I don't know.  I don't think it will be easy.


  1. Good piece. In a pharmacy I worked long ago and far away one to the items sold under the counter was epinephrine amps for those scalawags who raised cocks for fighting. I refused to sell the amps. Needless to say I didn't work there too much longer.