Once Revered, Scorned Today

“The very nature of these dogs conjures horrible pictures of relentless beasts. It is a very wrong impression with little fact upon with to base it, but it will take several decades to remove it.”

– Massilon Independent, September 30, 1897

If most had to guess which type of dog this quote by the Massilon Independent was referring to, it’s safe to say Pit Bull would be that dog. The surprise here, especially for anybody 30 years and younger, would be, it wasn’t always that way for these dogs. Matter of fact, numerous types of dogs have been discriminated against in years past, including the Bloodhound, the dog the above quote was describing.

Typically, there are five factors common with each different dog once villianized throughout time. First, the dogs “function,” or what they were used for, is looked at negatively. Myths start surfacing about the way they are different than other dogs. Then, the media jumps on board and writes sensationalized stories in order to sell their news. Other breeds of dogs get lumped in and grouped together with the targeted breed. And last, the less than desirable “owner” becomes attracted to the negative image the dog recieves, and they instantly become associated with the criminal element.

Bloodhounds were known to have an amazing sense of smell that was a great trait in dogs used for tracking activities. Before the turn of the 20th century, Bloodhounds were the dogs of choice for pursuing escaped slaves. The myths circulated about them being “blood-thirsty”  and the media wrote that they were unstoppable and something to be feared. The famous stage show called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” played, and posters were created depicting a scene from the production of vicious bloodhounds with fangs flared and eyes glazed, surrounding Eliza and her baby trying to cross the Ohio River. This performance became the #1 selling novel of the 19th century, and the shows ran from the 1870’s through the 1920’s predominantly. The breed base of dogs known as bloodhounds grew to include several other breeds, and finally, the substandard owner sought out the dog everyone feared to strengthen their image of violence.

Ironically, the Pit Bull terrier enjoyed their greatest success in popularity during this time in American history. They were considered America’s dog, featured on posters representing the United States and their stance in the first World War, became mascots for companies such as RCA and Buster Brown, and of course, who could forget Petey the Pit Bull of the original “Our Gang” series, later known as “The Little Rascals.” Petey symbolized the true fun-loving nature of the Pit Bull Terrier.

As the interest in the successful “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” faded, so did reports of attacks by Bloodhound type dogs, but not until a new dog took his place. On January 1, 1925, the New York Times quoted Magistrate James Conway saying “Savage, vicious and bred from wolves in the city at present time there are thousands of these savage dogs…the dogs should be banned from the city.” But just as a show can vilianize a dog, they can also make him a hero. Rin Tin Tin appeared on television and helped put Warner Bros.  on the map with his performance as a pit fighting dog, who gets nursed back to health by the heroine. He returns the devotion and saves her from an attack by a pack of bloodhounds (of all things), and later saves the day again by killing the villian…a human being. Due to the German Shepherds popularity after Rin Tin Tin, a new breed of dog became Public enemy #1.

Stories began appearing about Doberman Pinschers and how their brain continues to grow as they get older, swelling and adding pressure into their skull making them go absolutely mad. They were viewed as unpredictable and homocidal due to these myths about them behaviorally and anatomically different than other dogs. Even though this urban myth has been proved scientifically unreliable, there are people out there that still believe this is a fact. But like dog breeds before the Doberman, his time as the symbol of devil dog ended and the next dog began his turn. The Rottweiler held this title until the late 1970’s when the media discovered the heinous subculture of dogfighting…enter the Pit Bull terrier.

Media reports made comparisons of loaded guns, ticking time bombs and land sharks when describing “Pit Bull” dogs. Suddenly, news stories everywhere flooded about Pit Bull attacks and the dogs amazing strength unlike other dogs. In July 1987, Rolling Stones, Time, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine all ran articles featuring Pit Bulls on the cover creating mass fear and hysteria not seen in the targeted breeds of the past. One article on March 28, 1989 in the L.A. Times quoted a police officer about a dog fighting case testified in court about Pit Bulls as:

“Pound for pound, the Pit Bull probably is the strongest animal in the world. His powerful jaws have about 1600 pounds per square inch crushing power, about twice that of a German Shepherd.”

Due to the heavy media focus, an attempt was made to eliminate dogfighting, but somehow the victim of this crime, became the villian. 24/7 news coverage and on demand information has placed a scarlet letter across the Pit Bull’s forehead. So much so, that municipalities are proposing laws that will outlaw the ownership of such dogs called Breed Specific Legislation, declaring it an act of public safety and providing the people with a false sense of security. To make matters even worse, there is no such breed called a Pit Bull. Pit Bull dogs are widely regarded at the minimum as three different breeds (American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier), but have expanded to include Boxers, American Bulldogs, Cane Corsos, Mastiffs, and the list goes on and on. Family dogs are taken and killed from homes due to hysteria surrounding discriminated against dogs based on a perception that doesn’t exist. What one fears, one destroys, which should make us wonder, who the true danger is…


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