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Sharing Facts, Changing Minds About Pit Bulls

The term “Pit Bull” may trigger different reactions, depending on who you’re talking to. Those familiar with dogs characterized as “Pit Bulls” frequently speak of their loving and positive experiences with their dogs, in sharp contrast to the negative stories and unfavorable perceptions sometimes unfairly associated with these dogs.

Today, many pet lovers and pet advocates are joining forces to tell the more positive side of the “Pit Bull” story, and they’re working to inform the public, media and legislators about the facts relating to “Pit Bulls.”

What Is a “Pit Bull?”

For starters, the very definition of a “Pit Bull” is vague. “Pit Bull” isn’t a breed, says Stacy Coleman, the executive director of the Animal Farm Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to securing equal treatment and opportunity for “Pit Bull” dogs.  “No breed or kennel club recognizes ‘Pit Bull’ so there is no closed and coherent gene pool that genetically defines this grouping,” she explains.

According to Love-a-Bull, an organization dedicated to promoting responsible guardianship and improving the image and lives of Pit Bull-type dogs, “At its most vague, ‘Pit Bull’ may describe a short-haired dog of medium build. From a technical standpoint, ‘Pit Bull’ encompasses at least three breeds—the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier—and may sometimes include Bull Terriers and American Bulldogs.”

While “Pit Bull” often refers to a dog with a certain look, Pit Bulls can be a variety of breeds or mixes, as well as temperaments and personalities. So in essence, the many dogs labeled “Pit Bulls” and assigned a particular set of characteristics because of the way they look are inaccurately categorized – either positively or negatively.

Why Do Pit Bulls Have a Bad Reputation With Some People?

There are a variety of reasons why Pit Bulls have gained an undeserved, bad reputation. In a nutshell:

According to Bad Rap, a non-profit dedicated to dispelling myths and educating the public about Pit Bull-type dogs, these dogs “began to be exploited through dog fighting in greater numbers in the 1980s and were soon associated with poverty, ‘urban thugs’ and crime.”

Then, says Coleman, in the late 1980’s, several high profile magazines ran articles about Pit Bulls, “that were intended to be sensational and entertaining.  The result was that millions of readers were made to be frightened of a kind of dog they had never even heard of, let alone seen.  This is when the term ‘Pit Bull’ became mainstream.”

Pit Bull-type dogs—due in part to their loyal nature—have been unfairly targeted by criminals to be used in illegal dog-fighting rings.  This has resulted in some high-profile raids and criminal investigations, in recent years. While the stories of dog abuse and mistreatment are deeply disturbing, many of the dogs who were forced to fight have been successfully rehabilitated and are living happy lives as companions and therapy dogs.  (Read the story of one Petfinder staffer’s Pit Bull who went from a cruelty case to her couch.)

News stories about individuals being attacked or injured by a dog referred to as a Pit Bull, can add to the negative stereotypes, and may leave a false impression that all similar dogs are dangerous. The reality, leading animal welfare experts agree, is that most Pit Bull dogs can make great pets, and similar to other breeds and types of dogs, do not typically pose a safety risk.

Valued Throughout History

The ASPCA states that ancestors of today’s Pit Bulls traveled to America with English immigrants. In America, early Pit Bulls were valued as working dogs and as family companions, according to Bad Rap. Pit Bull-type dogs have also been used successfully in many working roles, including police dogs and therapy dogs.

Today, Pit Bull dogs are once again growing in popularity as family dogs. Thousands of individuals and families have discovered that Pit Bulls are intelligent, highly trainable companion dogs. In fact, according to Bad Rap, at least one Pit Bull has even lived at the White House, as President Theodore Roosevelt’s dog Pete.  Other well-known Pit Bulls noted by Bad Rap include the dog from Little Rascals and Helen Keller’s own dog.

But despite their popularity in some circles, many Pit Bulls still face negative perceptions –and significant hurdles– to finding a forever home.

Why Is It Hard to Find Homes for Pit Bulls?

Sadly, many shelters are overflowing with pit bull-type dogs. There are a variety of likely reasons for this:

  • Negative media and pop culture portrayal has, unfortunately, affected people’s perception of Pit Bull dogs. For those who have not had an experience with a Pit Bull, or don’t know a family with a Pit Bull, it’s often difficult to change their opinions.
  • Some home insurance companies don’t cover Pit Bulls, or charge a premium to have a Pit Bull-type dog or certain other breeds at your home, although many companies do cover these dogs.

For these reasons, a Pit Bull may face a more difficult time finding a forever home than dogs of other breeds.

What Are People Doing to Help Pit Bulls?

Dog lovers and advocates are fighting hard to change the public’s perception and raise awareness about the unfair labels placed on these dogs.

Organizations like Animal Farm Foundation, Bad Rap, Love-a-Bull and many others work to educate the public as well as shelters about how to best manage the perception of Pit Bulls and find loving homes for the dogs in their care.

Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc. (PFPB) is one organization working to bring positive attention to Pit Bull- type dogs. PFPB was founded in 2005 by Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin to celebrate the rich history of  these type dogs with an annual Pin-Up calendar. The fundraising calendar featuring Pit Bull-type dogs and their parents helps Franklin continue her campaign against Breed Specific Legislation.

And, while negative stories persist involving dogs considered Pit Bulls, more and more stories are circulating that showcase Pit Bulls as the playful, loving and loyal dogs they are. There’s Wallace, the shelter-dog turned Frisbee champion. There’s Cain who saved his family from a fire.  And there’s Blueberry, the Pit Bull therapy dog, who brings smiles to people’s faces every time she enters a room. The list goes on.

If you’re already familiar with Pit Bulls, you know they can be wonderful companions for individuals or families, just like other dogs. If you haven’t had an opportunity to get to know a Pit Bull, a personal introduction may be as close as your nearest shelter or rescue group. We’re willing to bet once you have the facts, and your own personal experiences to rely on, you’ll consider making one of these special dogs part of your family.

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